After living without a telephone for a few years I got the idea to get Bell to install a phone to the farthest point they would come up our driveway for free. We lived a mile back from the road and it would have cost several thousands of dollars to bring in a hydro line, which is how a phone line got connected in the days before cell phone towers. Bell would come in 500 metres before needing the first pole, so we built a little house, much like people build at the end of a lane for children to await the school bus in inclement weather. This “house” had a window, a door that locked, a shelf along the back wall that the phone sat on, with pen and paper for making notes and a telephone book tucked underneath. It had a chair to sit on and a calendar on the wall. Outside it was painted a cheery lilac and sat next to a decent sized chokecherry bush.
That phone booth saved me tons of time. Before having it, I would have to get in the truck and drive over to someone’s house to make a call. But you could never go to someone’s house and just use the phone, then leave. You first had to have a little visit. Perhaps partake of some libation or other. Sometimes another visitor would drop in and so the visit became prolonged.
The worst part of making calls elsewhere was if whomever I was trying to call was not there (answering machines weren’t common then), or if I was trying to reach a business or a doctor; “Sorry, they’re not available right now. Can I have them call you back?” So I’d leave a message and then go back to my visit, never knowing how long it would take to get my return call. Sometimes the line would be busy, so you had to go back, try again, perhaps several times. This was before call waiting. Meanwhile the day drags on and there you sit. Chores are waiting at home, the garden, the goats, feeding the fires, if it was winter. You start to think in terms of unproductivity. Eventually I’d leave to try again another day.
When I got established well with my friend Judy and used her place to make all my calls, I would bring some other things that needed doing and required hydro; my blender and all the fixings to make mayonnaise for instance. Sometimes I’d have a bath at her house. That was in the early days at the farm before we installed a bathtub. I wasn’t the only one using Judy’s phone and I tried to establish some order into who was using up the long distance minutes. I posted a calendar and hung a pen beside it. Everyone was to write down where they’d called on what particular day. I was pretty vigilant about marking down my calls, but Judy would get phone bills with pages of long distance that no one owned up to. Judy was very generous with her space and her time and helped out a lot of people, but that is another story.
The phone booth at the end of the lane proved to be a real blessing. I would walk the mile out to the end of the driveway to get my mail and then turn around and start back up the hill to my phone booth and ring up anyone I wanted. Sometimes if I was having a phone visit, I’d take my chair outside and sit in the sun. When the berries were ripe, I’d stuff my mouth with plump, round chokecherries, spitting seeds while talking to friends. I could see Hilkaa’s house across the hills while I was talking to her. Once when I was walking past the booth to get my mail I heard the phone ringing! What? I hastened to unlock the door and answered in eager anticipation. It was Lori calling from Palo Alto, California! How amazing. We laughed and laughed, both enjoying the synchronicity. We take so much for granted these days.