Reach Out and Touch Someone

Nowadays, no one gives a second thought about picking up their telephone to call someone. It doesn’t matter if they live across the street or across the country. It doesn’t make a difference.

Back in the dark ages when I was a kid, or even in the not so distant past, everyone thought long and hard before making a call.  You factored in the distance, length of the call, and time of day. Everything added to the cost. Late night and weekend calls were cheaper. (Telephone costs were like buying airline tickets: the more inconvenient the time the cheaper the cost.) If you were making a local call, which was in your town or a nearby town, you could chat until someone in the family kicked you off so they could make a call.

When I was in college, no one had a phone in their room. The only way to make or receive a telephone call was by using the phone in the dormitory hallway. Good luck if someone called you, because no one wanted to be the one to answer the annoying ring and then have to track down the recipient of the call. Usually, what would happen was the ring would be followed by a yell. That was how I soon learned there were 3 Karen’s on my floor during my freshman year of college.

Because of the lack of privacy and cost, the calls were short and infrequent. I never called home every day, and when I did call, I had a planned list of topics to discuss with Grandma and Grandpa. To fill in the blanks with less important trivia, we wrote letters home. I remember how excited I would be to receive a letter from Grandma with a dollar or two tucked inside or one from one of my friends also away at school.

When I was dating Dad, he was always on the road, but his company allowed him to call me every day for a whopping five minutes. Again, you didn’t waste words with so little time. (“Don’t talk long. It’s a toll call!”) Kelly, you must understand what we went through because you experienced this when you went to Paris and Casey, you did too when Chris went to Africa.

Now, we call each other without a thought to the time or day of the week. We call to talk about nothing and sometimes fill the airwaves with silence when we don’t have enough to say because we do this so often. You have all become so accustomed to instant communication that, at times, I may receive a call on my landline followed by one on my cell if I don’t answer the call. Maybe I’m in the shower or outside or, since we have caller-id, I know who is calling and I choose to ignore the call.

Although I enjoy connecting with family, friends, and acquaintances on my phone, via email, texts, or Facebook, I sometimes feel nostalgic about the way it was. There is something so nice about receiving a letter–not an email–but an honest-to-goodness old-fashioned letter delivered by my mail carrier. It is great knowing who is calling, but at the same time, there was something fun about wondering who would be on the other end of the line. And since I love surprises, I love picking up the phone to someone I haven’t spoken to in years. That’s when the end of long-distance charges is really a welcome change.

Preschool Way Back Then

None of my friends went to preschool—at least none that I am aware. I wasn’t sure if it even existed in Boonton in the mid-fifties, so I went to a Boonton Facebook page to research this.

It turned out there was a preschool in town. The school, Miss Prall’s Nursery School, was located across the street from Aunt Marian and Uncle Tony’s Cornelia Street house. I now remember walking home from school on Church Street and seeing the playground equipment in her backyard. I recall being jealous of it, but I don’t think I knew why it was there. I am sure money was the biggest obstacle to me attending nursery school.

Preschool for me was a television show called Romper Room. By the age of three, thanks to Miss Joan, I was a pro at reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I learned good posture by walking around the living room with a pot on my head singing The Posture Basket Song

Not only did I learn my manners from Grandma, there was also Mr. Doo-Bee, a giant bumblebee who taught me good behavior by instructing me to: “Do Bee good boys and girls for your parents.” I learned safety from him when he told me to “Do Bee a sidewalk player, don’t be a street player.” He had a catchy little tune from which I modeled my behavior and explains why I remain perfect today. It began with:

I always do what’s right

I never do anything wrong

I’m a Romper Room Doo-Bee

A Doo-Bee All day long!

I did my exercises along with my Romper Room class while, of course, singing a song:

Bend and stretch, reach for the stars

There goes Jupiter, here goes Mars.

Bend and stretch,reach for the sky

Stand on tippy-toes, oh so high!

I prayed before my snack:  God is great, God is good, Let us thank him for our food. Amen.

For live playmates, since I had no siblings until I was four, and Aunt Ar wasn’t even a useful playmate until years later, Grandma would input a cousin or two or export me to one of their houses.

Kindergarten back then was primarily to learn socialization. I am not sure if we were even taught our numbers and letters, so there were no expectations when you started school.  Reading did not ever begin until first grade. The biggest accomplishment was learning how to tie our shoes. So thanks to Romper Room, I was good to go by the time I stepped over the threshold of good old School Street School in 1960.

Me-- Age 3
Me– Age 3

We Did What at that Age?

When I was in fifth grade, I had a diary. I wrote in it religiously every night for about five weeks, and then sadly, I stopped. Those thirty-three entries paint a picture of my world at that time.

At the age of eleven, I was allowed to walk downtown with my friends for french fries and a coke. We’d go to the “Sweet Shop”, which was on Main Street across from the library.

On a half day in January, I walked with my friends to John Hill School to watch some basketball games. I mapped it and was surprised that the walk was only one mile each way. You know the route: Down Cornelia Street to Main Street, left at the Town Hall onto Lathrop Avenue, and then less than half a mile further to the school. Would I let you all do this today? Maybe, but the answer is not a definite yes. Back then, Grandma would not give it a second thought.

That year I was allowed to go ice skating on the Main Street rink with my friends. At age eleven this was apparently not a big deal. However, I did find it incredible that Grandma allowed me to take seven year old Aunt Ar with me. Apparently, while I skated with my friends, she was supervised by nine year old Gail. Would Grandma have approved of that? Did she know I had passed on my responsibility to my younger cousin?

Okay, maybe that was not a big deal, but wait until you hear what I also learned from my diary. On Grandma’s birthday, I walked downtown to buy her a birthday present with Aunt Ar and Aunt El, who was only four. It was a Saturday afternoon, Grandma was at work, and I imagine that Grandpa was stuck home babysitting my not quite one and three year old brothers. Did she find out later and get angry with Grandpa, or was this just another common occurrance?

My guess is that we went to Newberry’s, which was similar to today’s dollar stores. Back then, they were also known as “five and dime stores.” (Side note family trivia: Thirty-seven years earlier, where Newberry’s sat in 1966 was the exact site where Grandma was born in 1929.)

Today was Mommy’s birthday. She still went to work. I took Arlene and Ellen downtown to      buy her a gift. We chose a pretty pin and earring set. Later I went ice skating. Tonight Mommy and Daddy went out, so Janice came to babysit. When I left for Gram’s, it was snowing hard.

The following day, I was put to work performing manual labor.

When I awoke it was still snowing hard and there was a lot of snow on the ground. After breakfast, I went out and shoveled. The snow is wet and heavy. I shoveled snow many more times.

Grandma worked as a switchboard operator at Community Medical Group in town. I mentioned earlier that my first job was working there. As long as I can remember Grandma had that job. She worked in the evening from 4:00 until closing and also on Saturdays. She would have dinner started, but I had to help get it on the table and babysit until Grandpa came home.

After school, Karen and I went saucer riding in back. We really flew. I finished making supper.

We were given more responsibility at a much younger age than today, and as you can see, we also had more freedom to wander around town without adult supervision. Sadly, those days are gone forever.

Mom in Snow aroun 1966
       Mom in Snow around 1966
Aunt Arlene and Billy
              Aunt Arlene and Billy