It used to be referred to by a full noun. TELEPHONE. Sometimes “phone.” Never “cell.” We had telephones in our houses, connected to our walls or sitting on tables. Usually, there was only one; some fancier families had an extension.
At first, most of them were black. Bulky and utilitarian. They were mounted on the kitchen wall or placed in the “foyer” – easily accessible to everybody in the house.
Later, we could choose pretty colors and sleek styles, like the “Princess Phone” for your bedroom or the cool “Trimline” with the dial in the handset. Every home I lived in as a child had a bright yellow wall phone in the kitchen that dominated the room with its importance.
The cord that connected the two parts of most phones was only a foot or so long, but if you could afford it, you requested a super-long, curly cord attached to the two parts. And, oh, that cord – it was the most important part of your telephone.
First of all, it felt wonderful. It was thick plastic, but flexible and easy to squeeze. It hung from the wall like a braid of hair; usually twisted up on itself. When the phone rang, we ran and grabbed the receiver, causing the cord to start swaying and flopping against our arm.
We twirled our fingers around the loops, poking digits between the coils and twisting it this way and that as we talked. Moving around while on the phone wrapped us up like Houdini; we had to spin around once in a while to get free.
Privacy was non-existent where phone calls were concerned. We were right there, in the middle of the house, and everyone in the house could hear every word we said. Worse, they could see our face. Any slight smile gave us away; nosy brothers and protective parents hovered closer to try and figure out who was calling.
The conversation dictated the function of the curly cord. If the call was not personal, like a neighbor asking a question or a business calling about a bill, we stood right there and talked.
The cord was not important.
It just held the phone together.
But if we got a call from a friend/boyfriend/(even) enemy, that curly length of cord became our best friend. We shuffled to the far side of the room with the handset clamped to our ear and pulled the coils as far as they’d go.
Brothers made kissy noises. Dads warned of the time limit. We couldn’t stay on long; someone might be trying to call.
We squirmed and twisted this way and that, cupping our hands over the mouthpiece to try and muffle our breathy words.
I remember tugging the cord toward the basement steps, at the end of the kitchen, and praying it would stretch far enough that I could reach the first step and pull the door shut.
Years of yanking had loosened the loops and made it possible, but sometimes the phone would wobble on the wall from the pressure.
By the time your phone had been perched in the kitchen for a while, that poor cord was as limp as overcooked spaghetti. Its loops were now just curves, and it swished along the floor when Mom swept near it. It was finally perfect.
We’re no longer tethered to the phone by that wonderful/awful cord. Cell phones are individual devices and we can find privacy anywhere (although many choose not to!).
There are still times, though, that I wish I still had that yellow coil to grasp and twist. It made talking on the phone an adventure.
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Contact Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org