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Charlotte Boquist grew up in a small town in Wyoming. Even though she was a young bride in 1950, she shares something in common with young people who use iPhones and Androids today – she was puzzled by her first encounter with a rotary-dial phone. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles from a writing class held every Thursday at the Norwalk Senior Center. Curated by Carol Kearns
Village life in Wyoming during the fifties was far removed from today’s hustle and bustle here in Downey, California. At that time television was very new and unavailable outside very large cities. We did have telephones, but it was a time of party lines. Everyone had at least two people on their line and sometimes four. To make a call you lifted the receiver and waited for the operator’s response of “Number please”.
The mode of public transportation was the Greyhound bus. It made the trip between Denver, Colorado, and Billings, Montana, once a day in each direction, carrying not only passengers but mail and daily newspapers that the driver dropped off at each small town they passed though. It was a time of laidback attitudes and slow life.
I had graduated from high school in the spring of 1950, and was married that fall. As a new bride I had set out for Denver to meet my husband who had been saying goodbye to his parents in western Colorado. We had planned a romantic weekend together before his appointment with Uncle Sam. He had been drafted and was to report for induction into the army in Denver on Monday morning.
Friday night I boarded the bus for the five hundred mile trip south. I found an empty window seat and waved at my dad. I was almost too excited to breathe. There was not only the weekend with my husband, but the trip to the city as well. It was the first time I had been to Denver.
As the bus pulled out and picked up speed, I looked out of the window at the stars. It was a clear night, the sky was velvety black. The stars looked close enough to touch. I remember thinking, “I wonder if he is looking at the same stars and dreaming of our weekend together.”
To say that I was inexperienced in the ways of the world would be a gross understatement. The night went on with the bus stopping at every little town. I slept fitfully in the seat.
I took out the worn letter my husband had sent to me with explicit instructions of what I was to do when I arrived at the bus depot in the heart of the city. Since we would be staying a few blocks from the bus depot, I was to call the hotel and ask to speak to my husband. Our plan was that he would arrive in the city from his visit with his parents sometime during the night and go directly to the hotel and get some sleep. When I called him he would come to the bus station and we would return to the hotel together.
Exiting the bus, with suitcase in one hand, the sheet of paper in the other, and my purse dangling from my arm, I looked for a telephone. Spying a row just inside the door, I set my suitcase down and referred to the number written in the letter in my hand.
I lifted the receiver and put it to my ear while I waited for the familiar, “Number please.” There was no female voice, no voice at all, only a loud buzz. This phone was different—it had a slot for a nickel and a dial! A DIAL!!
“Wait a minute, what will I do now?” With not the slightest idea how to use the phone, my vision blurred in pure panic; I was really frightened. “How could I ever find him?” I turned from the black monster with some idea of trying to find the hotel and walk to it. Of course I had not an inkling in which direction it lay. I wanted to scream and cry with frustration but I was too panicked to utter a sound.
I stooped to pick up my suitcase when someone stepped close in front of me blocking my escape. Glancing up, I saw him - my husband, my protector, my savior! With tears of joy and relief I flung myself into his arms.
You can be sure that I acquainted myself with the working of the dial phone before my departure on Monday. My transition from country life to life in the city held many more adventures, though his incident was possibly the most glaring example of the enormity of the differences in lifestyles.
Published: May 29, 2014 – Volume 13 – Issue 07