Overall, telephones have been a marvelous tool for communication. However, sometimes they have been a source of aggravation that called for creative problem solving skills.
Many years ago, about a year after Greenville began using seven digit telephone numbers, my parents began to get calls for a new taxi cab company in town. After several calls each day requesting a taxi at some local address, my mom told my dad she was tired of explaining they had called the wrong number and suggesting they call the right number.
Being a dutiful husband, my dad went to the telephone company and requested they notify the cab company that they needed to change their number. The man in charge told Dad he would have to change our number because the taxi company was a business, even if a new one, and they had advertised that number. Dad told them to leave our number alone.
He returned home and began to answer the phone every time it rang. Whenever someone ordered a cab to their address, my dad said, “We’ll be right there.” Within less than a week, we saw an ad for the cab company notifying the public they had changed their phone number.
When we moved into our current home some 49 years ago, our next-door neighbors were senior citizens who lived with her parents. They had been a multi-generational family for many years. Their telephone number was similar to the hospital’s number. Occasionally they would get calls for the hospital. Catherine would patiently give the caller the correct number.
Early one morning she got a call for the hospital. It was an elderly gentleman asking how his wife was. As usual Catherine gave him the right number. Within minutes her phone rang again. Same man, same question. Again she explained. A few minutes passed, her phone rang, and she explained again.
On the fifth call she asked the gentleman his name and told him she would call the hospital for him and then call him back with a report on his wife’s condition.
Every morning for a week, he called Catherine and she called the hospital and reported back to him. Finally he called later one day and told her he wouldn’t be calling any more because his wife had come home.
Back in the days when most homes had only one telephone, we began to get telephone calls after midnight. Bill was working swing shift, so I was here alone with the children one week each month. The phone would ring, and I would fly down the stairs to answer, certain someone was calling to report some calamity.
Every time it was the same caller, someone from a factory in the county demanding to know if “Sam” was coming to work that night (name changed to protect the guilty.) I would explain they had the wrong number, and they should ask their employee for the right number. They would apologize and agree to do that. But still they called.
I told Bill about the calls and he said he would take care of it. He did. They finally called one night when he was home and sound asleep. The ring of the phone awakened him and he answered. There was a moment’s silence then I heard Bill say, “Nope! I quit!” I never did find out if “Sam” lost his job over that, but on the other hand, apparently he wasn’t there very often anyway.
One day I was waiting for a friend to pick me up when the phone rang. It was someone who said she was taking an important survey, and asked if I would answer a few questions. I had nothing else to do, so I agreed.
After almost 10 minutes of her asking inane questions and my giving really ridiculous answers, I began to get bored with the game. Besides, I saw my friend’s car approaching. So I told the survey taker, “I’m sorry I can’t talk any longer.”
She pleaded, “Just a few more questions and you get a great prize, almost free …”
I interrupted, “No, I must go. I hear the rescue squad coming, and I want to get the blood mopped up before they get here.” I hung up.
I’ve always wondered if she sat there in stunned silence. But probably not. Most likely she just muttered, “Smart Alec!” and dialed the next number.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was first published in the Greenville Advocate March 10, 2004.