I recently wrote about my beginning education and what it meant to me. The little one-room schoolhouse sitting on a two-acre corner of a pasture is one of the things that brought our rural community together. Parents with children that attended Union Valley gathered before Labor Day to prepare the schoolhouse, outbuildings, and grounds for the coming school year.
Once the outside pump in front of the building was primed, the women tackled the inside jobs of washing windows, scrubbing grimy desks, and polishing woodwork, while mowing the grounds and seeing to the repair and painting of the buildings was done by the men. The kids were assigned jobs like pounding chalk dust out of blackboard erasers, picking up trash, and my favorite—(not)—scrubbing inside the girl's and boy's two-seater outhouses. Yes, two-seaters.
Since the projects often took up an entire day, everyone brought a picnic lunch for the noon hour. This gave them time to visit, catch their breath, and enjoy the accomplishments of getting the job done together. And I like to think the inclusion of getting the kids involved helped teach them how to respect our school and each other.
So, how did we coordinate this community project?
Families were often miles apart from their neighbors in our rural area. So, we often communicated by telephone—on a party line. I once tried explaining what a party line was to a young man. He didn't believe me until he looked it up (on his cell phone). So, for those who've only known a cell phone, here's how our phones with a party line worked.
The picture shown is the phone my husband's parents had. To make a call, we used the small hand crank (attached to the right side) to ring the party line phones. To answer the phone, the person receiving the call would lift the earpiece off the hook on the left side and speak into the mouthpiece on the face of the phone. Each phone on the party line had an assigned sequence of rings, meaning there were numerous combinations to identify each phone. Each different party knew their delegated assortment of rings.
That emergency ring signaled everyone on the party line to pick up their receiver, as there were no 911 calls back then.
Whenever anyone made a call, all phones on the party line would ring, and people could pick up their receiver and 'listen in' on other people's calls. Like a public post on Facebook or Twitter, our phone conversations could quickly spread news and gossip in our community. I can testify to this, as one day my boyfriend called me. Though I don't remember what we talked about, he stopped mid-sentence. There was a slight pause.
"Do you have any corn?" he asked.
"What? Why do you want corn?"
"To feed all these old hens on this line."
Oops! We heard many clicks as receivers hung up.
He laughed at the time. However, one of those "old hens" listening also talked to his mother the next day. He survived her wrath, and today I call him my husband.
FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS
Sometimes calling on our phone wasn't necessary. Impromptu visits were not unusual in those days, and people rarely let us know before they dropped by. When that happened, Mom always had refreshments to welcome them, and if she didn't, she'd whip up something before they'd leave. It's what the women in our area did, and I can still remember one family we visited. Caught unaware, while we visited, the woman of the house simply baked us the most delicious upside-down apricot cake I've ever tasted.
My husband once told me he thought it was strange when a certain group of my neighbors was expected to show up uninvited and unannounced for birthday parties because there were no calls or planning—people simply showed up at the house of the birthday celebrity. No gifts were expected or given, though everyone brought something for a 'lunch' that usually consisted of sandwiches, fruit-filled kolaches, Jell-O salads, cookies, ice cream, and a birthday cake—always a birthday cake.
I've always felt blessed to have been part of that community. Our communications were nothing even close to the cell phones we know today. However, through party lines on the wooden wall phones, we kept in touch with friends and neighbors.