The old black rotary phone

We soon will begin major renovations on our cottage. While we look forward to improvements that will make our lives easier and more comfortable (a new toilet, hurray!) we  also will have to lose some familiar and dear-to-the-heart pieces of cottage lore. But we want to respect the traditions and character of the place as much as possible, so we asked our kids and our niece and nephew, “Is there anything that absolutely HAS to stay?”

“The phone,” my nephew said. “It’s cool. When my friends come in they say, ‘Whoa, look at that!’, and I have to show them how to use it.”

It’s an old black rotary phone, and it is so old, it’s cool again.

I’m afraid I’m too old to appreciate it. The old black rotary phone has only negative memories for me. Dialing was inconvenient. Remember how you groaned when you had to call people with lots of zeroes or nines in their number? And I grew up on a farm with a party line where everyone’s phone rang in everyone’s house with a different combination of rings. Depending on the number of people in the party, the ring combinations could get quite extravagant. Ours was two longs. But there were many others: one long ring, one long and one short, one long and two short, two long and one short, and so on. Imagine how annoying it was when the person with two longs and a short wasn’t home to answer the phone, and two long rings and a short rang on and on . . .

And it’s not like the ring itself was a pleasant sound. It was piercing and annoying so you wouldn’t miss it. On the bus the other day, the cell phone of a young man next to me rang, and the old black rotary phone sound was his ring tone. Who does that to themselves? (According to Bill Bryson in At Home: A Short History of Private Life, early phones made no sound at all—you just had to pick them up now and then to see if anyone was there. I will admit that at least an annoying tone is better than that.)

According to an article in the Ottawa Citizen last week, the number of homes with land lines is declining. Cell phone technology means that people no longer need the phone on the wall, let alone one with a rotary dial. And there is certainly an argument to be made for removing the one at our cottage. We are only there a few weeks out of the year, and we all have cell phones.

But, I have to admit that a blank spot on the wall where that phone used to be would hurt. And besides, removing it would take away a source of cottage entertainment. No one calls us on that phone anymore except solicitors. When it rings, the betting begins. Is it an offer to clean our ducts? (Our cottage as none.) Or our carpets? (Our cottage has none.) Or could we participate in a short 20-minute survey? (Not on our holidays, thanks.)

Whatever else happens at the cottage (a new toilet, hurray!) the old black rotary phone will stay.


About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on September 20, 2011, in Nostalgia and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. We also have an old rotary phone but our is aqua in colour from the first generation of colour phones. When we were forced to give up our analog line (Bell said we were one of the last custormers in our city to have an analog liine,yea right) for digital it stopped ringing and sometimes just clicks. It still work, if i hear a phone ringing somewhere else in the house I can still use this phone. Like your cottage phone, we didn’t give it up because of the the hilarity it caused when young people encountered it and asked how to us it. Many don’t even remember individual phone numbers any more, if it is not in their speed dial or their contact they couldnt use a rotary phone without their cell phone. Who am I kidding. They don’t even talk any more, the cell phone isn’t for phoning its for texting.

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