Life In Ancient Times

A story by Sherman London

Some 20 or so years ago when my grandson was in elementary school, they had Grandparents Day. We were all supposed to talk about what life was like going to school when we were young. The discussions went beyond just attending school but included life as it was in ancient history times. One of the things the youngsters could not fathom was the telephone system. They could not believe there was any such thing as a party line telephone. Were there really different rings for the different parties on the line? Could you really listen in on someone else’s calls? I told the class about a friend whose family had a telephone with a limited number of calls allowed without paying extra. Whenever he wanted to call me, he let the phone ring twice and hung up. I knew who it was and I called him because we did not have any limit on the number of calls we could make. Even earlier than that, you never dialed a number. You picked up the receiver and a woman (it was never a man) said, Operator and you just told her to whom you wished to talk. She would tell you if the line was busy. One of the ways everyone saved money was when you were out of town visiting relatives. When you arrived at their house, you called the telephone operator and asked to make a person to person call to your house and asked to speak to your dog by name or to someone you knew wasn’t there. Your family knew you arrived safely and refused to take the call. I suspect the phone company knew what was happening but just ignored it. One of the students asked if we had air conditioning in our rooms. Of course, we said, we opened the windows. Then we were asked if we had fans in our rooms. Only one parent said yes. The parents were all surprised. But then she explained she went to school in India. There were no television sets in those days and not too many of us had radios. School wasn’t canceled very often because of snow storms, but when it did happen, everyone was notified at exactly 7 o’clock in the morning. Every factory in Waterbury blew the factory whistles for about a minute. That meant no school. By the way, there were no school buses. Everyone walked to school. For those few children who had very long walks – way over a mile – they could buy bus tickets for the regular buses. The ticket cost five cents.

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 ancient history,factory whistle,Grandparents Day,operator,party line,snow days
  Waterbury, CT
Feb 26 1940


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