Friday, September 21

A Trip to the Past

Yesterday I wrote about the imminent departure of our house's land line phone. One of my friends commented on the link I posted to Facebook that his grandmother had a "black dial phone in Brookneal...and back in the 70s when calling to Rustburg (a short distance away) you had to tell the operator what number you were calling from and what number you were calling to." That made me smile - because that reminded me of the fact that at MY grandmother's house - the phone was a party line.

Most of you will have no idea what a "party line" was - unless you remember the episode of the Beverly Hillbillies when Granny Clampett demanded that the Beverly Hills phone company needed to install a party line like she had experienced when she visited Pearl Bodine back in the hills. Basically, the line was shared by several households. When you wanted to make a call you had to pick up the phone and listen to see if it was available. Yes, you could hear the other people conversing if the phone was not available. If it was an emergency then you would announce yourself and ask if they would kindly release the line. Otherwise you needed to hang up and check again in a little while.

Indeed - some people entertained themselves by holding their hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and listening to entire conversations! I was never interested enough in what the other people were saying to listen for very long. But I recall the first time that I picked up the phone to call my Aunt Twizzie and when I started to dial, a rather cranky voice informed me that the line was occupied! I had never heard of such a thing before in my life! Small towns...

There are other things that I remember fondly from visits to my grandparents' house (Mom's parents) such as:

The Flint Hill Volunteer Fireman's Carnival (and Parade!) that happened every August. There were carnival games like ring toss, a dime toss where you could win a large variety of unmatched (and ugly) glassware, some little ticket things that gave you chances to win hideous stuffed animals, and Bingo! My grandfather called Bingo sometimes and I thought he was the coolest man on earth. When we play Bingo at JIFF, I like to think that I'm carrying on a family tradition. When I was growing up the markers for the cards were pieces of corn. Each spring when we would go play at the fairgrounds (everything in Flint Hill is within 3 blocks) there would be a bumper crop of corn growing in the Bingo stand.

There would be a couple of games that we weren't allowed to play - including something called Keno which attracted a large crowd of men who would have handfuls of dollar bills and they seemed very intent on what numbers would come out of a little shaker. We were also discouraged from playing the games that the "rides people" ran...because none of the proceeds from those games went to the volunteer fireman. But every year we would get to spend a couple of dollars pulling plastic ducks out of the carny's "lucky duck" game. Usually one of us kids would win a goldfish. Which would promptly die the next day.

The rides were a lot of fun - from the top of the Ferris Wheel you could see my grandparents' house, and the Tilt-O-Whirl and Scrambler were great for making you feel sick to your I look back on it now - perhaps rides that are taken apart and put together on a weekly basis by people with less IQ than teeth aren't a real good idea. But at the time - it was the highlight of summer.

And every year we would take at least one chance to win the car (I never even KNEW anybody who won - but the drawing was VERY exciting!) and the heifer. Yep...I said in cow. One of the local cattle farmers donated a heifer every year and if you won and didn't have a place to put a heifer, would even buy it back from the winner at market rates. Pretty generous now that I look back on it. The only problem was that on the nights that they brought the heifer to the fairgrounds for people to see it - the stall was right next to the Bingo stand. Heifers don't smell real pretty in August. But I took at least one chance on it every year - always believing that I could bring it home as a pet. I guess it is a good thing I never won - I think that I would have been crushed when Dad said no.

Maybe next year I'll go visit the carnival. Eat some french fries, throw some rings (I bet the dime toss is a thing of the past now), maybe even ride the Ferris Wheel...and I will take a chance on the car and the heifer. Because you just never know - this could be my lucky year!!

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