Memory Triggers

by John Delach

Recently my memory was triggered by two serendipitous events: The first came from a fellow member of my writer’s workshop. The second by a bit of news supplied in an email from my daughter.

Party Lines

Joel, a fellow member of my writer’s workshop was reading from a new novel he is writing and presented a passage about the main character, Stan who was talking to his sweetheart, Sheila, on the telephone. He had to remind her when she changed the subject that they were speaking on a party line and this subject was too sensitive for others who may be listening in. He explained that it would be better to hold this conversation until they were alone together.

Ah, the party line. Remember party lines? If you are of a certain age, chances are that you had a phone that was shared with others who were probably strangers. It was also called a multiparty – line, a shared service line and a party wire.

 My mother leased our first phone from New York Telephone (a.k.a. Ma Bell) in the mid-1950s. In those days, you didn’t buy the phone, you leased it. Your choice was limited to a black metal device made by another American Telephone and Telegraph, (AT&T) subsidiary, Western Electric.

My mother deliberately chose a party line to save money. I rarely went near that phone as her words were pounded into my head that phones were a luxury and outgoing calls must only be made for important reasons. Important reasons did not include talking to friends. Like most of you, I remember our first phone number: EVergreen-2-5849, but I don’t remember ever making an outgoing call on it. Mom’s preaching was effective. Of course, making a long-distance call was out of the question.

I think we had three or four families on our party line, but I never picked it up to see if I could listen to other conversations. A lasting consequence of my early relationship with that black gadget, and all that followed including its latest incarnation, my I-Phone 13, is that I hate talking on that evil device. Granted, I’m not as bad as some of my contemporaries who treat it like a pay phone, for outgoing calls only, but I’m not far behind. To me, speaking on a phone, any phone for more than five minutes is a waste of time.

How I Met my Wife and Our First Date

Just last week, my daughter, Beth, sent me an article about a project, still in the making, to restore the towers that are part of the New York State pavilion from the 1964 – 1965 World’s Fair. Beth thought to send this to me because those towers played a role in Mary Ann’s and my courtship in 1964.

My buddies and I, all of us over 18, then the drinking age in New York, figured the World’s Fair had to be a great place to pick up girls. Early in June, we made our way to the Wisconsin Pavilion that featured the world’s largest wheel of cheddar cheese that weighed in at 17 1/2 tons.

 Obviously, it wasn’t cheese we were after, it was girls. Our destination was a bar they called, The Red Garter, where the bands played banjo-centric folk music, then a popular style of my generation that became known as a Hootenanny. The 1964-1965 World’s Fair authorities described it as “An old-fashioned  beer garden with (a) sawdust floor, chilled steins  and banjo music. Manned entirely by college boys and girls, the beer garden is probably the liveliest place at the Fair, drawing heavily from the young element, particularly the collegians. No food is sold after 8 P.M., only beer… (that) goes on until 2 A.M.”

I spotted a group of young women sitting at the bar and, after being rebuffed by the first one, I approached, one of her friends and I hit it off with a lively conversation. Before we went our separate ways, she gave me her telephone number. Her name was Mary Ann Donlon, but contacting her again proved more difficult than I expected. In fact, she was out the first three times I called her. I would have given up trying to contact her had it not been for the encouragement her mother gave me to persevere, Finally, we hooked-up and she agreed to go back to the World’s Fair for an afternoon date on a coming Sunday.

That certainly relieved both of us of our anxiety as this was only a little better than a blind date. A Sunday afternoon date at the World’s Fair should be about as safe as a date could be. Still, I found a way to renew her anxiety by suggesting that we include a trip to that New York State Pavilion. My idea was this would be a great way to get a bird’s eye view of the fairgrounds, but she saw danger written all over it.

It didn’t help that the single elevator couldn’t carry more than four passengers at a time, that there were only a few other fairgoers who joined us on top of the tower, or that it only had a low railing. Mary Ann didn’t get her mojo back until we returned to terra firma. Over a meal at Tad’s Steakhouse, she confessed going to the top of that tower was a bad idea for her.” You see, I don’t like heights.”

Laughing out loud, I replied, “I promise never to take you there again or any other high places unless you explicitly agree in advance.”

Now the state has put $24 million into the towers to stabilize then. A Phase II is planned that: “… would allow for limited guided tours of the towers in the future.”

On behalf of my wife of 55 years and myself, “thanks, but no thanks. 

Note: On the Outside Looking In will not be published on May 3rd, but it will return on May 10th.