Growing up on High Street in the 1950s and ’60s we had a party line. Party lines were the opposite of a private line. In our neighborhood, as I remember now, there were three households on our party line.
Ted Spaulding, then living on the Town Farm in Gassetts, told me there were 10 houses on his party line. These houses were mainly along Route 10.
I’ve tried to remember who was on our line. I know the Parkers and Alice Bliss were. I called Milan Cook to see if his family was on our line. No, they had a private line. Herbie Randall didn’t have a phone; he was too deaf. Blanche and Harry Glynn didn’t have a phone either. Milan told me Harry or Blanche used Cook’s phone if they needed to make a call. The Crockers had a private line. I don’t remember if the Pierces had a private line.
How our party line worked as I remember: the phone would only ring in your home but anyone on your line could listen to your conversation at any time by simply picking up their receiver. Some busy bodies might pick up their phone just to see if they could hear who you were talking to and about what.
Alice Bliss was a wonderful and kind woman. If someone in town suffered a loss, Alice was the first to get in her old black car and drive around door-to-door collecting money that she would then give to the family in despair, sometimes just 25 cents at a time. Alice had been burned out years before and knew the hardship firsthand. Alice talked to everyone she visited as she went around town. Everyone in town knew Alice was a gossip.
I remember my mother on the phone one day when she heard the telltale click of the receiver. After a couple minutes, my mother said, “Alice, hang up.”
Sometimes us kids would hear the click and wanted to have some fun. We would make up some exaggerated story knowing Alice was listening; and if we were convincing enough, Alice would be sure to repeat it. Alice was a good sport.
I remember Chester’s exchange was Tremont and Springfield was Turner. A call from Chester to Springfield was a toll call. If you had to make a toll call, you waited until after 7 p.m. when the rates were lower. Actually, Springfield was a toll call into the 1980s.
Alice was crazy about Bingo. Every week, Alice played Bingo somewhere in the area, quite often at the Grange. I remember her telling my mother when she won big a couple times.
Idlenot Dairy was a large dairy run by the Aldrich family in Springfield. They had smaller refrigerated box trucks for home delivery. The milkman would stop at our house to see if my mother needed anything. If my mother needed anything, he would go out to the truck and get it for her.
In his truck he had cases of milk, orange juice, cottage cheese, butter, and eggs. One summer day the milkman drove in our yard. My mother needed something so the milkman went out to the truck to get it.
On the rear of the truck were two doors that closed together in the center. There was a handle to secure the doors closed. This summer day the milkman forgot to secure the doors. He backed out of our driveway to High Street. Here High Street is rather level, but as you go up to the Parkers or Cassistas the hill is very steep.
In first gear he started up the hill. As he gained speed, he shifted into second gear. The sudden lurch of the truck caused the rear doors to open. When the doors opened, the contents of the truck emptied out in the street. Try to picture a truckload of orange juice, milk, and eggs along with cottage cheese all scrambled up in the street.
I remember Billy Parker and me standing there laughing. It must have been embarrassing for the driver. The mess was cleaned up as best as could be. The mess was pushed to the side of the street. Animals must have had a feast that night.
After this event we kids named the hill, Eggnog Hill. The driver kept his job, but I bet he had a lot of explaining to do.
This week’s old saying: “Ancestors are a poor excuse for not amounting to a hill of beans.”