I remember our old rotary phone. This phone was a rectangle box firmly attached to the kitchen wall. It was butterscotch yellow and the only phone in the house. Our next door neighbor shared a party line with us, making any private conversations awkward if not impossible.
A relative of mine lived on a farm and had four party lines. Not only could all her party lines listen to each other, everyone’s phone rang at once alerting one and all that someone was getting a call. She knew the call was for her if the phone rang with three quick rings in row, that was her signal. At least our phone rang only at our house.
When I was young, I heard my mother get out of bed at night and go to the kitchen and start dialing on this phone. Now the sound of a rotary phone is unmistakable and loud. Some kind of gears inside that machine would churn and churn in order to move around the dial for each number. So I could hear her dialing and hanging up. Over and over again. Later on I found out she was calling and hanging up on her sister and my father (her ex).
When I confronted her about this midnight habit of hers, she denied it. I insisted that I knew what she was doing and to whom, but she didn’t care. She told me to butt out since it was her business, this business of aggravating other people.
So I wanted to ignore the phone call she made to my school when she called them to send me home immediately. I refused. All the other kids were shocked that some kid wanted to stay in school when they had the option to leave in the middle of the day. But a parent trumped the teacher, so home I went.
But I knew what was in store for me. Dialing that phone. She repeatedly forced me to call my father at home or work and beg him to come back to me and her. My mother was the one that asked for and got the divorce. Now it was crazy town and somehow I was to get back the husband that she dumped over a decade ago. My father wanted nothing more to do with her. So I would dial him up, ask him to come back to us (with absolutely no sincerity) and hang up after he refused.
She was disgusted with me. I was her ace up her sleeve but ended up being of no use to her. One time she pulled the parakeet out of the cage and threatened to kill it if I didn’t make that call for her. I was horrified at first and screamed. Then I just gave up. I told her to kill the bird, kill me, I didn’t care anymore. She put the bird back in the cage and I had a bit of a reprieve.
Until the next time the phone would toll for me.