OPINION: THE IDLE AMERICAN: When phone calls were welcome

Published 12:26 am Thursday, December 23, 2021

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Uncle Mort, a veteran of 108 Christmases, has razor-sharp memories of long stretches of silence at various times of the day. And there were silent nights, too.

Nowadays, he makes Herculean efforts to quieten things down on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This includes turning phones to off position, stilling pendulums on grandfather clocks and carefully determining where the “on-off” switches are on all other noise-making devices. When he can’t locate switches but knows the devices to be “noise makers,” he pulls their plugs for 48 hours.

Then, from the far reaches of his memory bank, he brings happiest memories front and center, unchained from electronic sounds that often poke holes in the soothing breezes of silence.

When we visited recently, he laughed about his folks having a wall telephone when most people only wished they did. Friends, neighbors and even strangers were welcome to use it, he said, but in those days, long stretches of silence often spanned several hours.

“Fact is, I’m afraid I ‘over-prayed’ as a kid,” he grinned. “I remember looking up from my comic book, gazing at the phone and praying to the Almighty to make it ring.”

This was, of course, long before the day of cell phones, spam calls and lures cast by shady characters with offers too good to be true.

“Maybe if I hadn’t prayed so hard for the phone to ring, I wouldn’t be getting so many calls today,” he lamented.

My old uncle–stubborn as they come–won’t give in to the current movement of landline forfeiture. He says the folks he’s likely to welcome calls from have long known his landline number, maybe even have it jotted down. Further, he figures his landline might come in handy if some calamity shuts down cell service.

Over-prayed or not, most of his calls today via landline or cell are unwelcome, and sometimes his responses cross well over the line of civility. One day last week, both of his phones rang at once. One caller–appealing to him to extend his automobile warranty coverage–was put on hold while he answered his cell phone. “This caller wanted to sell me a cheaper phone plan,” Mort moaned.

On rare occasions when bored, he learned out how to reach “live folks” behind the recorded messages. He did so recently upon a solicitation by a credit card company.

He asked the befuddled caller how the kids were doing, what the weather was like and how he felt about family reunions.

Mort prattled on, thanking him for the call. “When they let me out of the penitentiary, they said I wouldn’t be able to get a credit card again.”

Mort reached way back to days of telephone mischief during his teen years.

“One day, the phone operator called, saying, “Long distance from Kansas City.”

My uncle answered, “Yep, it sure enough is,” then placed the receiver back on the cradle.

Then, he tossed in the joke about a Texan placing a long distance phone call from New York City.


Disappointed that the charge would be $1.75, Mort informed the operator that in Texas, “hell could be called for less than that.”

“Of course you can,” the Yankee operator rejoined. “In Texas, that’s considered a local call.”

Mort feels like we need to update several expressions still in use that make youngsters look at us sideways.

Here are a couple that mean nothing to them. “The phone was ringing off the wall,” and “I was so mad, I hung up the phone.” They might reasonably wonder how the phone got on the wall, and blank out completely about “hanging up” phones. “You mean phones have ‘hang-ups,’ too?” they might ask.

Whatever your lot, may you find heavenly peace, even silence, during this Christmas season, remembering that the same God who created the earth–intervenor in the affairs of mankind now and evermore–is still in charge.

Dr. Newbury was a longtime university president. He continues to write and speak regularly. Contact information: Phone: 817-447-3872; email, newbury@speakerdoc.com; website: www.speakerdoc.com. Facebook: Don Newbury, Twitter: @donnewbury.