At One With Aunt Bertha 

When I glanced at my wrist, the girl seated next to me said, “You still tell time on a watch?” When I asked a fresh-faced nurse to call my home phone with my test results, she raised her eyebrows, ”You still have a landline?” “Don’t bother with Snapchat,” a nephew advised, “It’s for young people.”

I’m annoyed when others assume I’m technologically inept because I’m old. But I’m also amused. Their comments remind me of the fun my family had when the telephone reached the rural community where I was raised, and older folks acted like a dangerous stranger had come to town.

Because of Lake Shore’s sparse population and remote location, Mountain Bell took its time finding us. My siblings and I watched the slow progress of the line crews and thought if we got a phone, we’d be too old and deaf to use it. Our cousins who lived in Provo increased our anticipation by demonstrating their telephone’s entertainment value. We took turns calling random numbers and burping at length in the ear of anyone who answered.

After weeks of waiting, the summer day arrived when a lineman, whose tool belt dragged his pants dangerously low, entered our yard and perched atop a pole to connect us. Bob and I, in a frenzy of excitement, provided a demolition derby for his amusement: Bob rushed at me pushing a wheelbarrow with a flat tire; I defended myself with an abandoned baby buggy loaded with Barbara. The lineman looked alarmed and quickened his pace.

After the phone was installed, we stampeded when it rang, hoping to be the one to answer, then stayed to listen to the conversation. When no one else was around, I dialed the operator over and over, disguising my voice each time I said, “Time, please.” My fun ended when an operator replied, “Little girl! Stop it!! Right Now!!!”

Quickly recognizing the possibilities of a two-party line, Barbara and I quietly lifted the receiver and listened when we heard Anderson’s ring. Then Mrs. Anderson stopped by our pew at church and said, “Little pitchers have big ears, don’t they, girls?” She must have been disappointed when we looked puzzled rather than abashed.

Dad said we could not call anyone without permission. Mom explained a new monthly bill made him nervous; he thought we should limit the phone’s use until we knew how much it would cost. She felt certain he’d settle down eventually. But for years, by the time we said the second syllable of hello, Dad yelled, “You’ve been on that phone long enough. Hang up.”

Aunt Bertha

We didn’t bother to stifle our giggles when we visited our great aunt Bertha and she used her phone. She held it away from her ear so her hearing wouldn’t be harmed, then complained that people mumbled. She also spoke tersely and hung up without saying goodbye when she deemed the conversation finished. Eventually, Mom discovered our thrifty aunt thought she’d be charged by the word — like a telegram.

Once, after giving me ice cream and cake to “satisfy my sweet tooth,” Aunt Bertha confided she often ignored her ringing phone, because she refused to be interrupted by an “irksome nuisance people use for no good reason at all.”

Now, sixty-five years later, I drive to Steamboat, ignore the sparkly tune I programmed for my ringtone and feel a close kinship with Great Aunt Bertha.

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69 thoughts on “At One With Aunt Bertha 

  1. I love this. My grandma in Billings had a four party line. She JUMPED every time the phone rang. They all (my aunts and grandma) developed secret codes (numbers of rings) so grandma could get the message (“We’re home” “I’m coming over”) without lifting the receiver.

    I was always amused when my students thought because I was “old” I couldn’t use the latest technology. Finally, one day, I said, “We invented this and taught you to use it. Get a clue!” after a kid had all but taken over the DVD player in the classroom before I even got the DVD out of the package. And I don’t have a landline. It would be nice, though, since I don’t get voicemail at all here in the San Luis Valley, but I don’t like the phone much. Probably channeling my grandmother.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I, too, remember older adults jumping when the phone rang. But, since at first my siblings and I were doing the same thing, I don’t remember laughing at them. Because of the geographical features where our house is, we will have a landline as long as our cell phone reception remains iffy and our grandchildren continue to call. All of my life, I’ve had the ability to ignore a ringing phone; it drives people crazy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Priceless! It makes me wonder whether my grandparents had phones – they must have had, I’m sure we phoned them – but where the heck were their telephones and what did they think of them when they arrived in their world?

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    • Based on my experience in Lake Shore, I’m sure it was a big deal when the first telephones for your grandparents arrived. We knew about telephones, had seen them in the movies, but it took forever for them to reach rural Utah. And, yes, it was a mighty big deal.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well…I have to admit I am not a Techie. I have given up my land line, and have regretted at times,but there were just to many bills and I needed to simplify things,My cell phone isn’t as smart as the ones my children use and I can’t even get the time changed to DST.Theirs changed all by themselves.
    I remember my grandmother having a phone that we told the operator what number to call up for us. “Call Suzy Please.”We miss a lot by moving into a faster way of doing things.

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    • I certainly agree with your last line; and I know my parents felt that same way when they were older. But our world seems to insist on movement, growth, change. We have to keeper landline because the cell phone reception in our house is iffy at best, but I, too, wish we could get rid of it and simplify things.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This rekindles my telephone memories too. There were places we did not have one, and I remember how envious I was of others who listened in on party lines and could actually make a call ourselves. I just graduated to a smart phone and see what I’ve been missing. A flip top just doesn’t make it. Though Google got it wrong today when I asked if it would rain; there will be rain between 11 and 4 o’clock. It is now 1 and no rain in sight.

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    • Forecasting the weather does seem to be one thing that technology hasn’t noticeably improved. I think we can track it better when its happening, but I still prefer to look out the window and make my best guess as to what the day will bring. I had a flip phone way past its time because I didn’t want to have to learn a new system, but the difficulty/impossibiity of texting on it finally drove me to a smart phone; and I haven’t regretted the change.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. When iPhones were still new, a friiend (who was very tech savvy) was told by a smart young salesperson that she probably wouldn’t manage one. Of course she bought one. Was it very smart marketing or genuine ageism??

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  6. I love this post, Janet. I love the humorous way you walk us through these interesting history.

    We started out with a party line, but the rules around the use of that phone were many and carved in stone. It’s funny what things we remember about our parents and our relatives. My grandparents wouldn’t let us grandkids even use the phone to call our parents. We had to tell them what we wanted our parents to know.

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    • I laughed aloud at your description of your grandparents, Dan. Was it all the grandchildren all the time or did they seem to apply the rule more often to you? Just asking. Thanks for your kind comments on my writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The other grandchildren all lived within walking distance. I had to call for a ride when I wanted to go home. I think they would have let my brother use the phone – there was a little favoritism going on.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh my, what memories this brings back. I remember my Grandmother had a two party line and the same phone…until the day we moved her up here to a senior living apartment. And that was in the 1990’s! I remember the phone being so heavy. When I was growing up, we too, had a “ring code”. And when we got the second phone line…wow did we have fun. We had the “teen” line and the “parent’s” line. If we were upstairs in our bedrooms and needed something, we would just call our parent’s line! What fun we had! We finally this year took our our home phone. The only calls we received on our home phone were sales calls or those pesky “roto” calls. We never answered it, so after 39 years of having the same phone number, we finally cut the cord. It’s amazing how quiet things have become. We both have cell phones, but without the sales calls, they are usually pretty quiet. Our daughter who lives on the East Coast (we are in the midwest) will do a video call with us so we can see and talk to our only grandchild. My how things have changed! Loved your post! Brings back great memories of such a dear Grandmother! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad my post brought back happy memories to you; and the memories you shared in your comment made me smile. Isn’t it wonderful to do video calls with your grandchild? I have a friend who had two daughters who each had a son about the same time. When the cousins were around a year old, their moms put them on FaceTime together once a week, a habit they continued from then until now. The boys are four and met recently and started chatting and playing right away.

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  8. Hi Aunt Beulah
    My grandchildren are a touch horrified that Nan and Pop don’t have a landline or internet connected, only wireless on our mobiles, Ipads.
    I recieved my phone bill and it was $74.00 above what I normally pay. After a lengthy conversation with our phone service provider I was advised that games were being purchased and added to my phone bill.
    My grandies had hit a few wrong pop ups on my Ipad, my server kindly waived the extra charge and I swiftly put a block on my phone for games with fees attached.
    Now my Grandies are finally convinced that Nan and Pop are total tech nerds and simply just don’t get it.
    Great Aunt Bertha had things covered and I shall take a leaf out of her book and like you Aunt Beulah, I have put Ed Sherran’s latest tune ‘Perfect’ as my ring tone.
    Now I don’t want to answer my phone , I just want to sing along with the song, it’s a beautiful tune.
    Another great story you write, times have changed in a big way since we were kids and modern technology was futherest from our minds.
    Love always Aunt Beulah
    Hugs from across the miles
    From
    Annie in Australia 🌴🌞🌊❤❤❤❤❤

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    • As always, I enjoyed your stories, Annie. Our grandchildren shake their heads sadly when we ask them for help with our technology, but they do help. Recently one told me not to bother with Snapchat because it was only for young people. To his credit, he said it with a twinkle in his eye. They do like to tease us. Love to you and hugs returned!

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  9. So funny ! I was ten when we finally got a phone – landline of course. There were waiting lists so soon after WW II, and it was also rather expensive for a war vet who had had to pay maintenance to his previous wife for the first few years of his second marriage, until she died in an accident.

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  10. You bring back a lot of memories for me, Janet.

    My wife and I still have a landline phone, and two portable phones that are tied into the landline’s number. I’m not sure why we bother to keep them. We have cell phones too, and I’m pretty sure we’d get by just fine with only cells.

    See ya–

    Neil

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    • We, too, could do well with our cells, Neil, but they don’t work so well in our neighborhood because of some steep cliffs that edge it. And, being older, we think we should have a phone we can rely on all the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. We had an old, crank phone till about 1965, when a droopy panted chap showed up, took it away and replaced it with a heavy black thing, also on a part line, and no regard for privacy, on the kitchen wall. One cousin stove in the others teeth with it. We were terrible pranksters, oft telling the old lady up the road she had won “The Irish Sweepstakes”. Still dislike phones ,dont have one..Made me laugh. thanks Janet.

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    • Droopy pants seem to be the uniform for telephone employees, huh? Those phones were heavy; I believe you could have done harm to some one’s head or teeth with them. Fortunately, none of us thought of it when we battled one another. I’m glad I made you laugh, Sheila.

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  12. I was a high school junior when our first phone was installed, near the front door. I could sit in the coat closet and have muffled conversations with my friends … but with a ten minute limit.
    I think today’s changes are marvelous and I especially like how messages can be left. No need to hurry to an intrusive ringing phone.

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    • I, too, think the changes are marvelous, particularly the ability to leave messages. I frequently let both my cell and landline go to messages when I’m happily engaged in something and don’t want to be bothered. But I did the same before we could leave a message, telling myself and anyone else in the room, “If it’s important, they’ll call back.” And they did.

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  13. What a delightful way to start my Saturday, Janet! You have me in stitches, once again! And amidst the laughing, I am transported back to when they first installed our Black & White TV – we weren’t the first in the neighbourhood to get one, so it was a stellar day when it happened!

    The world of tech is an exciting but often hair-pulling one. Loving Husband has taken to it like duck to water (and I thought he would be the resistant party); the girls have always lived in this techy world, so they have no issues. It turns out that I am mostly the last one to “migrate over” to the “new features & apps”. Sigh.

    Ironically, when my Dad needs tech assistance, he would often end up with me on the phone, as Tech Consultant Daughter is at school and not available. Stuck with me, it really is a case of Blind Leading the Blind. If you could only hear us ….

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    • I chuckled imagining the conversation between you and your Dad. I have similar conversations with my older sister; we often end up giggling helplessly. I, too, am usually the last to accept and learn to use the latest innovation. Unlike you, however, for some reason I have resisted taking photos with my phone. I always hope people on the street won’t ask me to take a picture of them and their family so I won’t have to confess my ineptitude. Isn’t that silly?

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      • Not at all, Janet – whenever someone on the street approaches me to take that photo, I will defer whenever possible to Husband or Daughter. My reluctance comes from not being able to see if the pic I’ve taken is in focus or not (I don’t usually wear my reading glasses when out).

        I do love my phone camera, though. It means that I can stop and snap a shot even when I am out running …

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      • I’m glad they do, Janet!
        I’ve always loved looking at photographs! I know some folks just politely look through albums and albums of friends’ wedding, travel & family albums; but I actually love this peek into other worlds!

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  14. That was fun. I even remember the old crank phone we had that put us through to the switchboard, and phone numbers were only three digits. We could often hear other conversations on the phone while we were talking to someone else.

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    • We never had a rank phone, but I always thought they were cool. I’d forgotten about thevoice-over conversations that could be detected at times on our first phone. Thanks for reminding me, Troy.

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  15. We had a 5 party line and I still remember our number 1696L. The teenage neighbor boy and his girlfriend used to do their homework in silence every night from 7 to 8. Prime Time for phone calls!
    I too can ignore a ringing phone. Especially if the ring tone is Amazing Grace. 😍

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    • I’m impressed; I tried to remember our first telephone number — at one time so important to me — and couldn’t. I can’t imagine sharing a line with five other parties, especially those two teenagers!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m with Aunt Bertha, Janet. Our family had a phone from the time I was born but I’ve always had mixed feelings about phone technology. Yes, it’s good to be connected but I don’t like the feeling of being “on call” and I still ignore both my ringing landline and my ringing cell phone (at least some of the time).
    Like you, I do remember having fun with crank phone calls. I guess that annoying habit has gone the way of the landline!

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  17. I’m smiling as I type this. Remember the princess phone? Remember “Person to Person” long distance calls, when you would call and ask for yourself so your parents would know you arrived safely at college and they didn’t have to pay for the call?

    Bet you have your share of young people following your blog!

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    • I remember all of those things, Shelley, and you reminded of another: calling long distance collect so the person at the other end had to say they would accept the charges for your call.I did that more than once while in college — and my parents always accepted, though I’m not sure my younger siblings would have. I do some younger people who follow me. I guess they enjoy hearing about “the olden days.”

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  18. Now, sixty-five years later, I drive to Steamboat, ignore the sparkly tune I programmed for my ringtone and feel a close kinship with Great Aunt Bertha……Hm…remind me NOT to be calling you anytime too soon! ;>) Another story that has me smiling and thinking of times past…. :>)

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  19. Ahh, Aunt Beulah . . . like you, I too have the knack of ignoring my cell phone when it rings and I’m doing something I like better, so chose the better.

    Text messages are a pain – especially from some folk (who shall remain nameless), as if you don’t answer them within 30 seconds, they’ll send another, and another…. and another. Then … to make sure you aren’t dead, they phone the landline. [sigh]

    I barely take my cellphone out with me nowadays, for I found I LOVE being off duty from being that person always reachable. It didn’t use to be like this. I was never so rude to the cashier when paying for my items to take a call and ignore her. The times I’ve seen this done is just one great big IRK to me. I want to tell the person ignoring the cashier to PUT DOWN THE PHONE AND PAY ATTENTION TO THE JOB IN HAND!

    Aww… look …. I’ve got my soapbox out again. tsk tsk. lol.

    LOVED this post, and seeing the arrival of the new fangled machine in your lives, through your eyes. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

    Sending you hugs and non invasive love (just pick it up when you feel like doing so) lol ~ Cobs. xxx ❤

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    • I like your term, non invasive love to be picked up when I feel like doing so. I think I’ll adopt it and share it with others. It is meaningful in lots of ways. I think you have coined a new, important phrase along with everything else I’m sure you accomplished today. I, too, am irked when people use cellphones in social and business settings. I always wonder what the rest of us are who are within hearing range — so much chopped liver? It’s demeaning. Though I’m not sure young folks see it that way. I love, love, love hearing from you, Cobs.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Loved your post. I remember those days of trunk calls. We used to wait for the connection and shout loudly hello hello and then speak. Now I smile when I think of those days. Life as changed so much.

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  21. Great post. Reminded me of a time a girlfriend and I went into, what was then, the brand new Sydney Apple Store. The store was hardly buzzing and infact more sales people than customers. We browsed as we were interested in purchasing laptops. We couldn’t believe we were ignored to the extent we were. At one point we asked for assistance and were flicked off with such attitude. Fortunately, things have improved in their store since that time but it was an unpleasant experience. We are grey heads but the grey matter is in excellent working order. As for technology – we’re all over it.

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  22. Ah, yes. The old days:). When if a boy called, he had to screw up the courage to ask for you and actually SAY HIS NAME when your father asked who was calling. Kids today just don’t have to build character:).

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    • I enjoyed this funny comment, Kay, and I remembered how important the telephone was for budding romances. Many shy teenage boys found it easier to use the phone to ask for a date than do so face to face. Now, of course, the ritual is even more impersonal with texts and Snapchat.

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