Day by Day

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Number, Please?


The dial telephone did not come to Point Arena until approximately 1954. Up till then, we had crank telephones. You started the call by turning the crank, then you lifted the ear piece out of the cradle and waited. Soon the operator, usually Pearl Warren (and before her, Dorothy Halliday), would come on the line: “Number, please?”

Our number was 41W. Two rings. We were on a party line with the Methodist preacher. His number was 41J. One ring. Most of my friends had private lines, with numbers like 2, and 45; you could tell the ones with private lines because they didn’t have a letter after the number.

When Ron and I came home from school, for one reason or another we would usually want to get in touch with Mom. If we weren’t in a hurry, or just wanted to go downtown anyway, we could tell Puddles to “find Mom.” But if we were in a hurry, or wanted to let her know we would be at a friend’s house, we used the phone.

“Number, please?”

When we were little, we used to just tell the operator the place we were calling – “Motel, please” – instead of the number. Now that we were big, we used the numbers.

“36, please.”

“Mike, your mother isn’t at the Motel,” Pearl might say. “I just saw her walking up the street. I think she was going to Disotelle’s. I’ll ring the bar for you.”

The telephone switchboard where Pearl worked was in a building in the center of downtown Point Arena, next to Titus’ Sweet Shop, with a big picture window that overlooked Main Street. Between keeping track of everyone by their phone calls, and watching their comings and goings on Main Street, Pearl usually had a pretty good idea about where most of us were at any point in time.

Today we have cell phones, and pagers, and all sorts of other sophisticated electronics. None of them work worth a darn in Point Arena. After more than sixty years have passed, and after all our progress in electronics, we still got better service in Point Arena when Pearl came on the line: “Number, please?”

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