Thursday, December 12, 2013


Along about Christmas there's laughter and cheer
That keep it the happiest time of the year.
Lillie D. Chaffin
Ina had finished her housework and settled herself into the wicker rocker before the fireplace to write a few Christmas letters. She maintained annual correspondence with many friends and family at Christmas. She included long handwritten letters in the cards and received much the same. She loved this part of Christmas – the exchange of holiday wishes and personal updates. When Jack came in from a trip to the mailbox, they sat right down at the dining room table to open the cards and letters. Ina was the designated reader, and Jack gave it his full attention. Most cards arrived closer to Christmas, and then they might spend several hours reading them, but they were beginning to receive a few every day, and they looked forward to it.

The ring of the wooden box phone on the dining room wall startled her. It rang often but mostly the call wasn’t for her house. They shared a “party line” with three neighbors, including the “Junes,” and the calls were most apt to be for Bertha [June's wife and Ina's sister], who loved to gossip. Bertha also wrote the “news” items from this community for the weekly Clearwater Tribune out of Orofino. Bertha had her finger on the pulse of the Gilbert community, no doubt about it.

But this time it was a long and two shorts – Ina's ring -- and she answered it. It was Tom, and he said he was going to Orofino tomorrow and wondered if she would like to ride along. He had business in town and would be there several hours.  Could she be ready at 9:30, he asked. "Oh to be sure," Ina agreed.  

As she replaced the earpiece in its hook, Ina knew that at least one other person had heard the particulars of her trip to Orofino tomorrow. There was nothing private about a telephone conversation, especially on a party line, and one did well to remember that.

So, it was all set and Ina was relieved to know that her shopping would be done well ahead of time. After lunch she would make a batch of gingersnaps to replenish her supply and share with Tom. She would also make an apple pie for him to thank him for helping her.

So, the direction of Ina’s day changed. She left her cards in favor of reviewing her shopping list. It was a considerable task since she had to check the pantry in order to replenish necessary stores and also think through what she would need for Christmas. When she had finished, she tucked the list carefully into her pocketbook. They had only a little cash on hand, but she would have eggs and cream to trade, and that would cover most of her needs.

Ina looked forward to tomorrow with anticipation. Just getting out would do her good. KW


Hallie said...

It would have been interesting to learn some stories about that party line. Who learned what they shouldn't have and how that got them into trouble.

Can you imagine hand writing all those letters to go with the cards? What a task! I suppose in the slow winter months it was something to do. I'm sure it was a lot of fun to get lots of letters in return.

Kathy said...

Listening in, or eavesdropping, was called "rubbering." People might do it on purpose or you might hear something by accident when you lifted the receiver to make your call. I could be maddening if you needed to make an emergency or important call and gossipers refused to relinquish.

My mother believed that any sort of sensitive information should not be shared over the phone. She never believed that a private line was actually private.