Prank calls and note passing made fun childhood times

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With all the advancements in technology, a silly memory that many of us share has been lost. No more will neighborhood kids place prank calls, because every single person seems to have instant Caller ID.

Even if a kid knows how to effectively block that number from showing up, many of us have learned to ignore such calls.

Before this innovation, orneriness was at the fingertips with one dial-up phone and a few kids with time on their hands.

“Is your refrigerator running?” was one of many goofy questions to ask a caller. “Well, ya better catch it before it runs out the back door!”

Playing radio

One fellow and his neighborhood buddies pretended to be the local radio station, making calls with a transistor radio playing close to the earpiece.

“Name that tune!” one boy would call out.

In today’s world, the caller just simply might not answer, knowing with a glance at his caller ID that this was likely the ornery kid up the street, egged on by his buddies.

We didn’t have the time for such things because the list of chores on a farm kept us too busy, but I do recall lifting the heavy phone to call someone to find a neighbor lady talking.

We knew to politely put the phone down as quietly as possible and wait at least five minutes before trying again.

When our phone line was finally available, it was often a busy signal on the other end after dialing the person we were trying to call. It’s a wonder we ever got through to anybody!

There were times Dad would ask one of us kids to ride our bike over to Doc Smith’s to get a message to him or to pick up an animal medication, rather than wait for the line to become available.

Aside from wondering who was calling when our phone rang, we also had to listen to the particular ring to know if the call was ours to answer.

Different rings

One long ring, and it was someone calling our home. Two short rings meant it was someone calling a neighbor lady, and we knew to leave it alone. My parents told the story of the morning my brother was born.

Dad called home to let his four daughters know they had a baby brother. When he next tried to dial his father’s home, he continually heard a busy signal.

When he finally got through, Dad’s sister told him the neighbor lady had already let them know. She called to tell them the big news, saying “I heard it on the radio!”

The news was too fresh to have made the local radio. She actually had intercepted the news by listening in on Dad’s call to his daughters.

It was a different world, but even multi-family telephone lines proved to be an advancement over what had preceded this — lifting the hand-crank phone and asking the operator to place a call.

Community operator

The operator was known by everyone in a community, and she could conceivably tell a caller, “Oh, you don’t need to worry about taking milk to Ida Mae. Henry Barton is on his way to her house with fresh milk from his Jersey right now!”

Watch an old movie and it will prove the point of how much our ability to have instant access changes even the way a story is told. No need to ride bareback on the farm’s fastest horse to carry urgent news to the neighbor over the horizon, adding to the thrill of a story.

The constant ringing of a dinner bell used to summon all the neighbors for help in a calamitous situation has now been replaced by a small phone carried in a pocket.

No need to even place a call. Simply sending a text has put a damper on an unfolding bit of exciting news. I often think today’s kids won’t have the thrill of an old shoe box filled with silly notes from classmates to enjoy in their future.

Passing notes

At a single glance, I know the handwriting of certain friends all the way back to our early days of learning to write and pass notes in school when the teacher wasn’t looking.

Not long ago, I read one of those great old notes I had passed.

“Circle yes or no if you can spend the night at my house after the basketball game.”

Neither had been circled, but in my friend Kathy’s genteel, perfect handwriting, she instead asked a question.

“Will we have to milk the cows?” I knew to take that as a “no”.

It makes me laugh every single time I think of it.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

1 COMMENT

  1. Prank phone calls are actually pretty huge right now. There are a few channels on YouTube where the hosts make a living doing prank calls. There are several separate communities of prank callers that I know of, such as Prank Call Nation. Caller ID is easily fooled by simple tools found on the internet or on your cell phone, letting you change your ID to show anything you want. This makes prank calling much more believable today than it was decades ago. Prank calling is constantly evolving and it’s far from being a thing of the past.

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