Monday, January 31, 2005

In the Beginning there was AT&T ...

. . . and it was good.

I guess. Who knows. There wasn't anything else to compare it with. There weren't any other companies.

Then again, there weren't that many people with telephones, at least, where I grew up.

Having a telephone in your own house was significant. That big, black clunky thing with a rotary dial entered my life long before the road I grew up on was even paved.

I'm remembering Mom showing me how to match up the start of my grandmother's telephone number (MOhawk 9 - 3746; ours was MOhawk 9 - 6378; and City numbers started with PLaza, not that we knew anybody from there. Funny how things stay with you.) with the numbers the first two letters represented, and then letting me dial it. Dear gawd, how hard it seemed to move that dial around with my pudgy finger. And then I'd take my finger out and the dial would slowly clack back into place.

Next number . . .

Then finally, amazingly, the sound of Mam-ah's voice in my ear!

We couldn't use the phone often because it was expensive, but Mom showed me where Mam-ah's telephone number was in case of an emergency. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I was even old enough to know what an emergency was and possibly what the word emergency meant, but I knew how to dial my grandmother in case one happened.

And Mam-ah would call (dial O for) the Operator.

Operators were really smart women (although they talked funny, all in the same exact way) who knew all kinds of amazing things. They knew how to call the fire department, the police, and could tell you the telephone number of everybody in the whole entire world! And they were powerful, too. They'd even let us speak to my other grandmother in Islip.

There was a courtesy involved, though, in just picking up the receiver. You did it gently so that you didn't make a lot of noise and if you heard someone else already talking, you put the receiver back down just as gently so you didn't disturb their conversation any more than you already had. And you watched what you said because Mrs. "T" liked to listen in so she could spread gossip.

If your telephone broke, "The Phone Company" came out and either fixed or replaced it. If something went wrong with the wiring to it, "The Phone Company" came out and took care of that, too. Okay, they might not be out for a couple of days . . . come to think of it. That hasn't changed.

But "the phone company" hasn't been AT&T for two decades. And sometime next year, even the skeleton that's left of what AT&T used to be will be gone forever.

SBC to Buy AT&T for $16 Billion


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kind of a sad irony that the baby bell is the one buying out Ma. My grandfather worked for AT&T -- the cable manufacturing arm of it known as Western Electric -- back when Shockley of Bell Labs invented the transistor. My father worked for AT&T and it was AT&T who moved us out to the desert when they opened a new plant and made my dad one of the managers in it. I worked for AT&T, too, for a couple of summers. And then it was divested and now it is to be no more.
-- gekko

10:41 PM  
Blogger Ocean Guy said...

(Neptune) NE5-9420... made me smile

9:36 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

HAH! My road still isn't paved. Well, not completely, anyway.

I don't remember telephone numbers with letters for the exchanges, but I do remember rotating dials and party lines, and adding an extra digit to the number when you wanted to call another person sharing your party line.

Now I have a phone in my purse that allows me to push one button, speak a friend's name, and call them from across the country and talk for hours, without adding any extra charges to my monthly bill. I'm still teaching Dal to "dial" the actual numbers first, though. Time enough for him to learn the short cuts later.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Don said...

At Grandma's house we only had to dial four digits to call around her small farm town. And it was on an ancient black Bell made in the early 40s. I have that phone, and her four-digit number is still on it. I think it works too, but for one missing brass screw (smaller than 6-32, bigger than 4-40, did they use metric screws back then?), and sits on my repair shelf.

The action is smooth and mechanical and satisfying. Kind of like an old firearm.

4:06 PM  

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