I remember a New Year’s Eve almost fifty years ago. My girlfriend Brenda and I were spending the night at my grandparent’s home across town. My Grandma and Granddaddy let us stay up and watch the ball drop on TV. They had long gone to bed.
Of course, midnight took its time coming; and we started playing with the phone calling other girls. All of us were in the same situation. Stuck at home with parents who would let us stay up because it was a special night. Finally, we ran out of people to call; but Brenda and I got to talking about Becky’s cousin Dina who lived in Madison, just 30 miles down the road. We wondered if that was a long-distance call from my grandmother’s house.
Remember when long-distance was a big, big deal. No one I knew called long-distance unless it was a serious emergency. Long-distance calls were expensive. Most people were lucky if their salary was over $10,000 a year, so a few dollars for a long-distance call was serious money.
Everyone’s mothers didn’t work, so families had to make do on $10,000 or less a year. There were no second homes (unless a whole extended family owned it, like a beach house). There were no cell phones or cable tv. We got one channel, a CBS Station. Hardly anyone ate out, except for a very, very special occasion. Those were tight times.
This was also during a time when we only had to dial the last four digits of the telephone number. We decided to dial just those digits of Dina’s number. We got someone else–a wrong number.
So Brenda and I decided that if we could dial the seven-digit number without a “1” or “0” in front, then surely it wasn’t a long-distance call. We picked up the phone and using the rotary dial, we dialed all seven digits. We didn’t even think about the area code, because it was the same all over this part of the state, and to call someone within the area code all you dialed was the seven digits with a “1” or “0” in front.
The phone rang on the other end, and then someone picked up the phone. It was Brenda’s aunt. I got scared and whispered “hang up the phone, hang up the phone”. Brenda hadn’t said anything yet, so she quickly hung. I said, “what if it is still a long-distance call?” “What if my grandparents see it on their next bill?”
And then we both sort of freaked out. “What if there was a dollar amount, just for any call that covered so many minutes, whether you use them or not, like what we would see in the movies when someone was trying to use a pay phone.” We panicked. We were seriously worried, and the New Year’s ball drop later was a little anti-climatic.
Brenda and I worried for over a month, waiting for my parents to begin the inquisition about the long-distance phone call that mysteriously showed up on my grandparent’s telephone bill.
But nothing was ever said, and we worried for nothing.
So here I am almost fifty years later. My friend Brenda runs a day care in a city about a hundred miles away. She married and had three kids. I married and had two. And so she and I talk occasionally about grandchildren, facial creams and procedures, parents long passed and pending retirements. Of course, Grandma and Granddaddy have long since passed.
We talk on cell phones and pay monthly cell phone bills that equal what it used to cost for a mortgage; but there is no worry about how long we talk long-distance because we both have the unlimited calling plans.
And here I sit tonight on New Year’s Eve watching the ball drop on TV. Chuck and I went to dinner, then a movie so we wouldn’t fall asleep too soon. It gets harder and harder to stay awake, especially for Chuck; but it is a tradition that neither of us want to break.
We sit watching New Year’s Eve entertainers who we no longer recognize, and it isn’t just the kids like that sad Miley Cyrus, who unfortunately we actually do recognize. But it is Billy Joel who was entertaining for several minutes before we recognized him. Oh dear! Time does fly!
Happy New Year!