Days Gone Bye: That Good Ol’ Party Line (Retread Column from 18 Aug 1999)

Published 3:51 pm Sunday, July 23, 2023

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Our dear friend, Margaret Carter, came by, and was talking about her late husband, Pete Carter,
who she always called “Mr. Pete.” Anyhow, we got to talking about old timey Central telephone
operators and party lines. Margaret related several stories about those good times.

Mr. Pete had a sister name of Lillian Hopper, but Mr. Hopper died, and she remarried a Lindsey
over in Orville. To reckly, when a brother of Mr. Pete’s died over in Georgia, the family asked Margaret
to get up with Lillian, but Margaret had forgotten her new name. She called up the operator in Orville,
and asked for Lillian Hopper. The lady at the switchboard asked if she really meant Lillian Lindsey, and
then the operator located Lillian in a beauty parlor over in Selma.

Then good Ol’ Margaret figured she ought to tell a tale or two about those party lines, which I
remember well from Linden Town. Sis, which was family nickname for Margaret, recollected their
number down in Myrtlewood was three long rings and one short, being on the tail end of a party line
with eight other households. Anyhow, Sis recollected a kin of Mr. Pete’s, who was hard of hearing, was
trying to talk, and asked the operator to try to get a better connection, which didn’t help. The kin
shouted into the phone, “I still can’t hear you!” With that, a lady on the party line, who shall remain
nameless, spoke up on her phone, and reported, “Well, I can hear every word she’s saying, Miz Bonny.”

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We don’t have our good ol’ central operators now, but we might get finger fatigue dialing all the
numbers we might need on some calls, but here is the way we used to place a long distance call: We’d
ring up Central, and tell her we wanted to call long distance. She’d get the number, and tell us to hang
up. Anywhere from five minutes to an hour later the wall phone would ring, and Central would tell us
she had our party on the line, and we could commence talking, being careful of what was said on
account of all the folks on the party line.

Sollie was the name of our main operator in Linden in the middle forties, and up in the fifties ‘til
we got dial phones. We’d ring her up to ask what time it was , or if we heard the fire serine go off,
everybody’d ring her up to ask where the fire was.

During the World War, Ma and I went to the picture show in Linden one night. While there,
Daddy placed a long distance call from Fort Knox, Kentucky for Ma. Sollie told Daddy she had seen Ma
and me walking by on the way to the show, and she’d call up J.E. Williams down at the Dianne Theater,
and have him tell Ma and me to come on up to the telephone office, and Sollie would get Daddy back on
the line, which she did. Now, ain’t that the way to run a business?

Let’s finish with this War story. Ma heard somebody at the back door one night. She got a
pistol in each hand, and offered to shoot whoever it was. She then rang up Central, and asked her to
send the sheriff. Shortly, here came the sheriff and a deputy, who immediately asked Ma to lay down
those pistols before they came in the house.

Central had won the day again.