The ringtone on my iPhone is an old-school Bell telephone ring. Sometimes I’d prefer it had a rotary dial and plugged into the wall, too. But I’m reconciled mostly to being in the 21st Century. Still, every now and then, the phone rings and 1960 is on the line.
It was a party line, if you’re old enough to know what that is.
Bring-briinngg, pause, bring-briinngg. That was our ring.
But sometimes a neighbor would mis-hear or just be nosy
and would pick up the line, too. Conference call, old school.
No spam, no robocalls. Salesmen came door to door instead.
Usually when the man of the house was out–women were seen
as the softer touch. My dad sold Electrolux and World Book.
Only Jesus and political candidates are sold that way these days.
Dad’s 1960 set of World Book Encyclopedias is on my bookcase
and my Mom swore by her Electrolux canister vacuum cleaners.
A salesman’s gift of gab would stand Dad in good stead later
when he sold English Lit. to generations of backwoods teens.
Nobody had an answering machine then. If you missed a call,
tough. They could send a postcard, or they could just drop by.
In the evenings, you could find most folks in squeaky gliders
on their front porch, shaded by the leaves of Dutchman’s Pipe.
I don’t recall using the phone much. I was more likely to
hop on my bike and just knock on a friend’s kitchen door.
I might listen in on the extension while the black handset
downstairs was passed around to chat with distant relatives.
When it would ring after midnight, it meant someone died.
Tucked under the phone was a list of emergency numbers
and all the fire horn codes that told volunteers where to go.
If it blew 888, it meant get to the fallout shelter. Bye-bye.
Colony seven, four eight seven nine has stuck in my brain
all these years. I gave it out to school chaperones, who could
also find the number pinned inside the lapel of my jacket.
It went with me to camp. Mom would ask me to say it back.
Reciting it now makes something ring in the attic of my brain
where all the things of childhood lie in dusty boxes. I climb
the narrow stairs and walk the joists back to that far corner,
where what was long forgotten is found sometimes in dreams.