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In Loving Memory Of My Beloved Landline

We are gathered here today.....

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Grave yard scene with a RIP tombstone and a classic rotary dial phone in the ground surrounded by flowers
Margeaux Walters
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Thank you for gathering here with me today as I mourn the loss of the final landline in my home. I went to pick up the receiver of the base in my office, and like the three in other rooms, the line was dead.

Even though I hadn’t used it in a while, I was shocked and a bit saddened. This one-time staple of my outside-of-the-home communication was now officially kaput.

I'd like to give my beloved landline a proper goodbye and say a few words about its impact on my life.

The Early Years

My first recollection was when I was a child growing up in Queens, New York. A yellow landline telephone hung on the wall by the fridge in our 1970s-style kitchen with floral wallpaper and wood paneling.

Back then, the receiver was attached to the base with a coil, so you couldn't stray far from the kitchen to speak on it. It was a rotary phone, so you had to dial each number on a circular dial. When my parents would make a call, they would have to find the phone book my mom kept in a kitchen drawer and look for the number.

We had three phones in total for our family of five: one in the kitchen, one in my parents’ bedroom, and one in our basement. By phones, I mean three bases and receivers — there was only ONE phone number.

Yes, that is right — five of us, and we shared a phone number (I still remember it).

When the phone rang, we all jumped excitedly — especially me. Who could be calling? Would it be for me? It was a mystery since we didn't have caller ID to announce who was on the other end of the line.

If I wanted to call my friends, I couldn't just get them on the phone directly. Instead, I had to take the risk that one of their parents or siblings might pick up.

I'd have to be polite and say, "Hi, Mrs. Jones, it's Randi. Is Jane there?" Sometimes, they would say “Sure” and scream out to Jane right away. But in other instances, they might string out the conversation and make me answer questions before finally putting my friend on the phone.

On the plus side, not having caller ID allowed for a favorite childhood pastime — making prank calls. Dial a random number and ask, "Is your refrigerator running?" When the person said "Yes," we would reply, "Go catch it!" and then keel over in a fit of laughter.

Were you really a child in the ’70s if you never got together with friends and had this experience?

The Teen Years

When I was in 7th grade, I begged my parents for my own phone. I explained that I was older and needed some privacy. I didn’t want to talk about my life in the kitchen where everyone in the family could hear. Finally, they relented when I entered high school. I was ecstatic.

My pink princess-style phone shared the SAME phone number as the house — it was just an extension in my room. So, my "privacy" was that I could close my door. However, my little brothers (and sometimes my mom) could still pick up the extension in the kitchen or my parents' bedroom and listen in. They would say, "Oh, I didn't know you were on the phone when I picked up," but they did and just wanted to eavesdrop on my fascinating teenage life.

In addition to no caller ID, the landline in our family home didn’t have call waiting either (although the feature was widely used in the 1980s, there was an upcharge my parents refused to pay for many years). So, if you called when the phone was in use, you’d hear the dreaded busy signal. That sound seemed to scream, "loser, loser, loser," or at least it felt that way when calling for concert tickets or trying to get through to a friend to find out what time everyone was going out

Years later, I realized that there was one benefit to busy signals — they gave us hope. For example, say you met a guy at the roller rink and gave him your number. The guy might have been very interested, but he finally had to give up because he kept getting a busy signal (and he couldn't just leave a message because the manual voice recorder message machine didn't work that way). If he didn't call, you still had hope.

By the time I went to college, you could get a phone in your room to share with your roommate (rather than taking on a community phone in the hall). But the rates for long-distance calls were high. I remember my mother warning me never to call her before 11 p.m. or on the weekends when the rates changed. I spoke much less to my parents (and high school friends) than college kids do today.

I'll Be Hanging Up Now

At some point, touch tones replaced rotary phones, and cordless telephones became standard, allowing people to walk from room to room while on a call. It was downright liberating.

By the time I was 24, I was married and had a home with several cordless phones (all with the same number) and the trifecta features (caller ID, call waiting and an answering machine). What more could a person ask for?

Enter the cell phone.

It was big and bulky, mainly used in TV shows and movies. But then I saw someone using one in real life. A guy at the supermarket called his wife to ask what cheese he should buy at the deli counter. For the cost of that phone call, he could have purchased a pound of Swiss, Cheddar, and Muenster and saved some money (plus had a lot of cheese to eat).

Several years later, cell phones became the norm. My husband and I had one, and when each kid entered middle school, they got one, too.

With the five of us each having a cell phone, our fixed-line home phone was rarely used. Although I liked the sound quality better on the house line, the only people who regularly called me on it were telemarketers and my parents (and my primary use for the landline was to call my cell phone when I couldn't find it).

In 2004, over 90 percent of U.S. adults lived in households with an operational landline. As of December 2022, that number was less than 30 percent. And with my last receiver unrevivable, I, too, am now part of the majority of homes without a landline.

I’ll miss you.

Do any of you still have a landline? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Lifestyle