When Antiques Ring True

Over the past few years, I’ve taken quite a liking to antiques. I enjoy collecting them but I’m also very fond of the activity itself. It’s an adventure to step back into a world that was so different. I often compare antiquing to a museum where the exhibits are for sale.

I recently purchased a black rotary telephone. It’s in mint condition and the receiver has a satisfying heft that makes me smile. The dial rotates with an enchanting trill that dings when it returns home. I set it atop my secretary (a lovely birth-mas gift from my husband) because where else would an office phone go but on a desk?

I’ve played with the phone nearly every day, dialing Jenny (867-5309), my childhood home number, and any one of four plumbing services whos’ jingle is always stuck in my head. I love the novelty of it and wondered who used it in its glory days.

Busy Signal

My mom is currently in a rehab center recovering from an extensive orthopedic surgery. The facility where she is staying provides direct phone lines for its residents, and I decided to check in and give her a ring. When I first dialed her number, I almost didn’t recognize the sound that greeted me. I hung up, re-dialed and was again met with a nagging, pulsing tone. Then I realized it was a busy signal. I can’t remember the last time I heard a busy signal. Hold music, yes. Voicemail, of course. But a busy signal? What year was this? I was annoyed. Not so much that I didn’t get through to my mom, but that there would be no record of my attempt.

Busy Signal

I tried for over an hour to get through before I gave up, wondering if the phone was off the hook. I was getting all these phone flashbacks. Like when your kitchen phone cord was long enough that you could get a little distance from your siblings, but when you came back it got all tangled and swirly. You’d have to drop the receiver on the floor and let it unspin. When we finally got cordless phones, we’d forget to charge them, or we’d lose them, or we’d break the antenna. The reception was terrible, the original “Can you hear me now?” game. Or that magical moment when *69 debuted, and we could find out who called–but we weren’t supposed to do it because it was expensive. Remember those times? If you don’t, that’s cool. Just play along.

Obviously telecommunication has come a long way since the rotary dial debuted in the early 20th century. Just the advancement in mobile devices in the past decade is mind-bending to me. Now I can video chat with any number of apps. I can voice to text. I can make hands-free calls in the car with my Bluetooth speakers. My niece, when she was 10, wanted desperately to invent a teleporter that ran on grape juice. The Princess-Lea-call-for-help-holograms are coming soon, folks.

My goal isn’t to hate on new tech. God knows I’d be in a world of hurt without GPS, review apps, instant fact-check capability, camera, and social media apps. I’m just as much of a phone junkie as the next American.

Wake Up Call

But I have noticed a few things about myself. As my communication options have increased, the quality of and time spent with family and friends has decreased. I spent more time with people before I had unlimited cell phone minutes. I emailed people more when I had limited texting. I used to call and actually talk with friends on the phone. I would sit down and have a real conversation. Now it’s on-the-go and drive thru chats. I think I’m multitasking–because why not FaceTime while grocery shopping? But more often than not, I’m not really focusing, and I don’t remember half of what was discussed. Then I feel like a complete ass when I must ask for the details of the coffee date we just set up.

I bought the rotary phone for aesthetic purposes only because it was just too cool. But somewhere between my old-timey Operator roleplay, and the rehab busy signal from hell, I got a bit of a wakeup call. I don’t want to get so lost in the playground of my phone’s features that I forget to go play with my friends. My phone is primarily, or should be, a communication device. One that allows me to strengthen current relationships and cultivate new ones. That might mean that I need to sit down at my desk or in a chair as though my cell were chorded, and give that person my full attention.

What kind of phone(s) did you grow up with? Did you have your own line in your bedroom? Did your family have an answering machine? Share some of your memories in the comments below.


  • We never had a rotary phone, and I honestly don’t remember when I got my first (corded) phone. I shared a room with Brian growing up and we didn’t have a phone jack in our room. I do remember having a phone or two, complete with curly cord, at some point, because I remember throwing them away. I did have a cordless phone here while we still had a landline, but now I have a smartphone. I used to talk to my college friends on the phone quite a bit, but now I’m not really into talking on the phone. My phone is basically another computer for me.

    • I didn’t have my own phone either. We kids were all about listening in on each others conversations and trying not to get caught.

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