When I first saw that the Press Herald was asking for submissions on the topic of “Overheard” for their Meetinghouse feature in December, I immediately thought, “Party line.”

I spent my teenage years with a party line. I would talk to my girlfriends for hours, sitting under the desk in the dining room or stretching the coiled cord across the kitchen to sit even more privately at the cold kitchen table, where we mostly talked about boys. At some point, I became aware of other people picking up a phone and listening in on my conversations. Once we realized this, my best friend and I had a great time making up stories about unnamed classmates, neighbors and church members.

We had only one phone in our house, but we had a party line of at least four other households. Mrs. Temple, the shining star of the Daughters of the American Revolution, was one of those listeners. She was more than happy to share conversations overheard with her friends, and before I knew it, everyone at church knew what boys were calling me on the phone and what we were talking about. Our being shy and tentative teenagers, they weren’t hearing much, but by the time my mother heard it in the church gossip, the conversations had gotten much juicier.

But this was small change compared to the world at the farm. My grandparents lived on a farm, and their only access to the outside telecommunications world was through a crank phone in their kitchen that connected them to a switchboard run by the Princeton Telephone Co., in which they had purchased stock for $1 a share. The ladies who operated the switchboard had the best gossip lines in the county. They were first to know of the women who were expecting, as well as pregnant horses, cows and sows. No one dared to share their wheat harvest over those lines, or the farmers in the next county would be beating down the barn door.

Although those days are long behind us, overhearing phone conversations is far from over. Living in proximity with other homes during the summer with doors and windows wide open, the world of phone conversations opens before us. You can even hear the phone ring first, so you can run to the porch or out in the yard and tune in.

Those summer months also open a door to an infusion of the new technology in the phone world: cellphones. In my last home, people would walk by my house, holding their phones in front of them, speaking in a voice loud enough to be heard on the next island across the water. With the speaker phone turned on, we got to hear the other guy, too.

Oh. for the love of phones.

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