Janet Sheridan: At one with Aunt Bertha

It’s not that I can’t operate a cell phone.

I used one regularly when I traveled as a consultant: I checked road conditions as I drove to Granby, Leadville and Aspen. I called home without punching in a series of codes on germ-infested motel phones. I entered contact numbers I could call if delayed by heavy hail or a herd of sheep.

But, to me, a cell phone is a useful tool, not a must-have communication and entertainment device. The Sandrocks impede reception at our house, so, since I retired, I forget to turn my phone on for weeks at a time and can’t remember how to use it when I do.

Our children and grandchildren can’t believe that our landline is the best way to reach us, that we wear wristwatches to tell time, and that we don’t text or Twitter.

Their incredulity reminds me of my disbelief when the telephone reached Lake Shore, and the older generation acted like a dangerous stranger had taken up residence.

Mountain Bell took its time reaching our farming community of sparse population and remote location. My siblings and I watched the telephone crews creep closer, thinking that when we they reached our house, we’d be too old and deaf to call anyone.

Our cousins who lived in Provo increased our anticipation by demonstrating the entertainment value of their telephone whenever adults weren’t present. We learned to request the time from the operator, listen in on party-line conversations, and ask the checkers at the IGA if they had pop in a can.

I remember the day a lineman, wearing a tool belt that dragged his pants perilously low, entered our yard.

As he perched atop a pole to connect our line, Bob and I, in a frenzy of excitement, entertained him with a demolition derby: Bob tried to destroy me pushing a wheelbarrow with a flat tire; I defended myself wielding an old baby buggy loaded with Barbara.

After the installation, whenever I was alone with our phone, I called the operator for the time as often as I could. Once, instead of the hour, I heard: “Little girl. Stop.”

Barbara and I would quietly lift the receiver and listen when we heard Anderson’s number ring, though we never learned anything of interest. One Sunday, Mrs. Anderson stopped by our pew and remarked “Little pitchers have big ears, don’t they, girls?” She must have been disappointed when we looked puzzled rather than abashed.

For the first few weeks, when our phone rang, we stampeded toward it, elbowing and kicking, hoping to answer.

Once the novelty wore off, we yelled, “You get it. I’m busy,” like jaded sophisticates.

Dad announced we could not call anyone without permission. Mom explained that a new monthly bill made Dad nervous; he thought we should limit the phone’s use until we knew how much it would cost. She felt certain he’d settle down eventually. But for years, about the time we pronounced the second syllable of “hello,” Dad would yell: “You’ve been on that phone long enough. Hang up, now.”

We didn’t bother to stifle our giggles when we visited Great-Aunt Bertha and she used her phone. She held it away from her ear so her hearing wouldn’t be harmed, then complained that people mumbled.

She spoke few words and hung up without saying goodbye when she deemed the conversation finished. Eventually Mom discovered that she expected to be charged by the word — like a telegram.

This lovely 90-year-old once confided in me that she often ignored her ringing phone. She refused to be bothered by such an “irksome nuisance.”

Now, 60 years later, I drive to Steamboat Springs, ignoring the sparkly tune Joel programmed for my ringtone, and feel a close kinship with Great-Aunt Bertha.

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