Telephone exchanges

alisandeApril 9, 2013

I just took apart a picture frame to scan the photo. Backing the photo was a piece of cardboard that was actually a blotter. Remember blotters? We used them all the time when we used fountain pens--another lifetime ago.

The blotter was a piece of advertising from a printer in downtown Manhattan. It reads, DO NOT WAIT - Order your 1963 Diaries & Calendars AT ONCE. The telephone number is CAnal 6-3465. Our home phone number had a RAvenswood exchange.

It seems like a long time since telephone numbers used a word as an exchange. I don't know when they disappeared; do you? Do you remember one that you had?

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Very intersting alisande. So is CAnal 6-3465, really 226-3465? I never understood that part. I am mid-forties, so not too young, but "too young to know". I don't know why exchanges existed? Or why they're gone.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 9:23AM
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When I was growing up, our telephone number was LOckwood 5-XXXX. In the late-1950s, it was changed to 949-XXXX (they let us keep the last 4 digits). My father still has that same phone number. The changeover started in 1958, but was gradual and was much later in some areas.

The change to the all-number system was due to the increased demand for phone numbers. To meet the ever-increasing demand for new numbers, area codes have been split. Maryland and Virginia each had one area code; now Maryland has 4 and Virginia has 7.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 10:24AM
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Ours was ESsex8-7981 growing up...
and it transitioned right into 378-7981 as expected.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 10:29AM
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Back in 1959 when I moved to San Jose, CA our exchange was DRexal and my husband, who lived across the street, was CHerry. I still remember the entire phone numbers. I think the exchange names went away some time in the mid-60s.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 10:44AM
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Interesting jodi, the exchange for our phone in central Pennsylvania was DRexel back in the 50's also. DRexel-7455. When the change was made, the last 4 numbers were kept.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:07AM
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FlamingO in AR

In the early 60's, just north of Milwaukee in Mequon, ours was CHestnut 2- 2712, which was 242-2712. By the time we moved to Thiensville in the late 60's, they were just using the numbers.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:23AM
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Ours was LIncoln 7-XXXX; my grandmother had HAzel 9-XXX (but then along the way, the word was changed to "HAddonfield"); an aunt in another town had ULysses 4-XXXX.

I'm in my mid 60's and don't recall exactly when they dropped the 'names'--but our numbers all stayed the same, we just used the appropriate numbers instead of letters when we dialed (so LI-7 was still 547--exactly the same). I thought phone numbers and especially town exchanges were easier to remember when the words were used.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:50AM
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Our DRexal 83746 phone number (or perhaps it was DRexel like Gazania's) turned into 378-3746. They just took the number assigned to the letters D and R and kept the rest of the numbers when they changed over.

The exchange system I think was so much easier to remember. I can still pick up the phone and call the parents of a friend of mine in first grade because I remember their exchange phone number from 1960! They have not moved. Of course whether or not they remember me is another matter altogether. :-)

We also had a party-line when we were using exchange numbers. That was interesting.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:50AM
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ours was HOllywood 9 was an apt/ we had a switchboard, not a private line...

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 12:03PM
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Golly! Haven't thought about that in years. Our exchange was MOhawk.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 12:05PM
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Veering slightly off-topic, how many of you live where you have to use the whole 10-digit number when dialing? My parents live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and all numbers are dialed with the area code first, even local calls. On the other hand, I live in southern California and we still use only the 7-digit number for local calls, only adding the area code for out-of-area calls. Of course, an out-of-area call could be nearby because we have a lot of different area codes within a relatively small geographic area.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 12:07PM
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Have been dialing all 10 digits her in Western PA for a long time, probably 12 or more years

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 12:15PM
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Ours was LA5xxxxx, in Seattle. I don't know which word the 'LA' began; I'll have to ask my mom if she remembers.

In Oregon, they have also been using 10 digits for at least 5 years. Here in the bay area, we just started and it's annoying!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 12:27PM
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The little town I grew up in were all HU2 numbers. I think it stood for in Humble Field, which was an oil well area. The next town I lived in when I graduated from high school was OL8, which stood for Olfield....I don't know where that name came from. Maybe Oilfield?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 12:38PM
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In Bakersfield, CA my home phone was FAirview 3-0613. In 1960-61, my first year in college, it changed to 831-0613. In the late 60s, CA had only 3 or 4 area codes and working for the phone company, I had them memorized. When a friend wanted to call another part of the state they could ask me for the area code. I have no idea how many area codes CA has now but I would guess at least 20, maybe 30.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 12:43PM
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I remember when the phone numbers in Bakersfield were just five digits.
My mom really hated it when they added the FAview part.
And my sister lived in a really tiny town and the phone numbers were only three digits.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 1:22PM
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Chicago and suburbs was once all area code (312), so you just dialed seven numbers. Once the area split into several more area codes you had to dial ten numbers. Then, you had to dial a 'one' now we are dialing eleven numbers -- plus all the 'prompts' when you call a business!

Life was simpler when I was a little girl. Our suburb had an exchange independent of AT&T. You lifted the phone receiver, dialed "O", and waited for the OPERATOR to say, "Number, please." Our number was (similar to) 1234R -- four numerals and the R for residential.

We shared a 'party line' with one other home. If you lifted the receiver and heard a conversation, you quickly hung up and tried again later, unless it was an emergency.

Before THAT... Oh, come on, I'm not THAT old.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 1:26PM
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From the net, in case someone stumbles on the questions:

"Richard A. Stanley, Mon, 23 Sep 1996
Named telephone exchanges were introduced in the 1930's and 1940's when 5 digits were no longer sufficient for the number of subscribers. They became mandatory in the 1950's when 7-digit dialing was instituted throughout (most of) the United States. It was believed that a word plus 5 digits would be easier to remember than would 7 digits. Many such words caused endless confusion, however (e.g. MUrray Hill in New York City was frequently dialed as MH). They passed from the scene when it became increasingly difficult to find words to match with all the required exchange codes needed."

With the advent of cell phones, people keep their number when moving, it's not unusual to have to dial all 10 digits even if the person is standing right next to you. I imagine such will be the case for time to come. No one in my family owns a landline, save for my father who also has a cell phone. He lives high up in the mountains and it's more reliable. I can see all landlines being decommissioned much like the move to digital television from analog in 2009. What will be more interesting is going to additional digits!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 1:45PM
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My mom is 95 and has had basically the same phone number for 63 years. The exchange and area code has changed but the last four digits have been the same.

She has an old local cookbook that lists five digit phone numbers, no exchanges. I remember ours was WElsh Valley and later that changed to MOhawk. When I lived in the city it was SAratoga. Other common ones around here were LAwrence and MIdway.

My mom still says MO-X-XXXX once in awhile.

Our area code changed from none to 215 to 610. Then they added 484. I have to dial ten digits just to call across the street!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 2:28PM
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My grandmother worked for Ma Bell into the early 70s. The names kind of dropped out of favor once 7 digit dialing became the standard and more automation was used.

I do recall exchange names being used into the late 70s in the burbs of Chicago and there were some companies that continued using the exchange name in advertising (anyone remember "Hudson three two seven hundred"? I know Empire Carpet used their exchange for a long time until they went 888 and national.).

In any case, exchange names were originally designated service areas and managed a set number of lines. Names with a small series of numbers was determined to be the easiest to recall for those using the existing 5 digit dialing so they added the two letter exchange designation and kept the original 5 digits.

As automation came about, the local exchanges were dropped/closed, which negated the need for names and numbers replaced the name as exchanges were merged/closed/automated. The phasing out happened at different times, with more populated areas impacted first. I think some rural areas continued with exchange names into the 80s.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 3:08PM
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My mother worked for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company as a switchboard operator. The switchboard was in the living room of the house. The house came with the job....a perk, I supposed. It was 4 room, kitchen, bedroom and another tiny bedroom.....and an out house out back! She did it up until I was five years old. One of my first cats was a kitten that showed up at the telephone office and I named him Blue Bell, for the bell symbol on the sign out front.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 3:48PM
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Ours was Victor VO6-XXXX. When I was a kid there was party lines. # homes on one line. We had a private line because my Father was a police officer & in charge of all accidents so they had to be able to reach him at all times. Those were the days.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 5:50PM
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This is so interesting. So, you are now dialing 10 numbers in the Bay area? I guess that means we will be soon here at the southern end of the state, too. :-( I was talking to my mother this morning and she said the exchange where she grew up was AXminster. I wonder where they found all the names. Some like MUrray Hill make sense as they are the name of the neighborhood, but some seem fairly random.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 6:00PM
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My number growing up was Express something or other. When the word was dropped it became 393-8314. My mom had that number till she died. I remember party lines as well.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 6:19PM
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Ours was CRestwood8-XXXX and it was a party line. Remember those? And then we moved to AMherst1 -XXXX which was a private line and then became 261-XXXX.

And now we have to add an area code and I not only have to remember my home phone number but also my DH's and DS1 and DS2 phone numbers and they all live with me. When did it become so complicated?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 6:23PM
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I am 61 and I remember the party line but not what our exchange would have been. I remember when we lost our phone service when we had 3 day blizzards and my dad would pick up the phone once in a while to see if there was anybody else on the party line. Sometimes there was and then they could talk to each other and see how everybody was doing. I think the reason I don't rememeber the exchange is because us kids never used the phone and I don't remember any one ever saying it. It was something that would have had to be 843. Can you imagaine kids not using their phones nowaday? Maybe thats why I still don't like to talk on the phone.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 7:49PM
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Oh my , blfenton........growing up, my exchange was CRestwood and it is near Amherst, as in Central VA!!!!
Party lines were fun.:)


    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 10:24PM
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Ours was KEnwood
DH was VErmont

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 10:24PM
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Interesting responses. We had a party line when we moved here to the country. Quite a change for New Yorkers! One lady down the road used to listen in on our conversations. She also had many phone conversations of her own, conducted in a screechy voice. :-)

I think we were the first customers of our very small, family-owned telephone company to have a computer. My DH had to pay a lot extra to get a private line for our dial-up connection.

My son recently found in the barn an old giveaway from a general store with 4-digit telephone number.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 10:58AM
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I believe ours was CLinton, back in the '50s.

Check out the link below...

Here is a link that might be useful: Telephone exchanges

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 11:16AM
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If anyone has any curiosity about the names that were used as the 2 first #'s all those years ago there is a site that has a lot of the info, or wants to know what you remember and can add to their collection of names.

Jodi, it seems there was a DRexal and a DRexel. When the names were eliminated and went to digits, my Mom's first 3 digits became 378 also. In fact the whole 10 digit # is still listed for her, and she passed away 9 years ago and the phone disconnected. Apparently the # has not been reassigned

Here is a link that might be useful: Look up phone exchanges

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 11:30AM
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Our local phone company directory advertised our suburb with a slogan on the back cover, "Move out of the Smoke Zone into the Ozone". I guess the author was no scientist.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 12:14PM
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alisande, glad to hear you removed the photo so you could scan it, not because it had fell out of favor after such a long time!

I am 52, so only remember a 7 digit number when I was growing up. But I was also a long distance telephone operator for Northwestern Bell Telephone Company right out of High School. I started out in Information (gads, remember Information). It was the pitts of the telephone company and luckily I did not have to spend the requisite one year in that department because the phone company decided to charge .05 cents per call (it used to be free). When in Information people used to call for the most idiotic things. Someone once asked me how to bake a potato. And yes, they walk among us!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 4:20PM
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Funny, now I don't know the number for the people I call most frequently. I could not tell you the number for either of my sons or my brother. I have them in the Contacts in my phone by their first name, or on speed dial, and I just use that. Times have changed.

My great aunt had a party line and we loved to listen in when we went to visit. We would start giggling and get in trouble. Wow, you really had to use the honor system and have plenty of self control when you were on a party line!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 4:33PM
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Neesie, the photo was of me looking young and glamorous many decades ago. It will never fall out of my favor! LOL

It was stuck to the glass, though, so I had to scan it glass and all. I've done that before, cleaning the glass first, and the results aren't bad.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 4:35PM
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I'm glad you had good luck scanning through the glass. Now you have your young and glamorous picture transferred to the digital age. Good going!

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 12:11PM
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I grew up in a Chicago suburb where the exchange was FLeetwood 2-xxxx.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 12:43PM
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Ours was EMpire and a party line. That was such fun as we had one neighbor we could always count on to try and listen in on conversations. I can remember my mom saying more than once "Mrs. Level (real name) I know you're listening. Please hang up the phone". She did this to all of us on the party line.

She never seemed to understand there was a distinctive "click" when you picked up the phone.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 8:19AM
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Our phone exchange was Lennox and another was Riverside. I too remember the party lines.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 8:39AM
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My parents met when my father was supervising the installation of a phone system in the Providence department store where my mother was secretary to the director of personnel. I'm writing this, I'm thinking that I never understood what she saw in him. She'd turned down three suitors -- men I met as an adult, all of whom impressed me more! Maybe it was because he wasn't an Easterner.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 2:31PM
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East end of the city was Liberty (54), downtown and west was Jackson (52) and the mountain was Fulton (38). We have been dialing the 10 digit numbers in the 905 area code for about 15 years. Funny we were just talking about the old exchanges at Easter.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 12:03PM
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When I was growing up in the 50s in SoCal, our exchange was SAratoga. Now I live in Saratoga in another state!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 5:35AM
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Ours was ELMwood-XXXX. Dad and Mom have had the same number since 1948.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 8:09AM
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My first phone number was AMherst 9074. we had a "party line" shared with other families. I remember picking up the phone and hearing people speaking. Mom told me it was "bad" to listen. I should hang up and try later. I also remember having to dial "O" for the operator to make a long-distance call from Ny to Florida.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 10:01AM
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Growing up ours was SUnset, one aunt had STerling, another had FEderal, but to call another aunt who was in St. Paul (the other side of the globe by the way my dad figured) you had to dial 112-SPring 7-XXXX. It was a big deal when they dropped the "112" for long distance down to just "1".

My dad hated it when it went to all numbers. He had the idea he knew more where it was at by using the words. I never understood that. I said you still know the numbers and the letters on the phone, if SU was a certain area, than 78 is the same area, isn't it? But he was one who didn't just dislike change, didn't resist change, didn't fight change but declared all-out war on change.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 9:33AM
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Remember when you thought carefully about what you wanted to say before you dialed long distance, because every minute was so expensive? It was almost like planning the wording of a telegram. (Remember THOSE?)

Remember when the operator would have to call you back once the long distance connection had been established?

Remember calling Information and speaking to someone who could help you? (Once 411 became automated you'd never get what you were looking for. Thank goodness for the internet!)

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 11:17AM
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We had an old brown box, a bit under a foot and a half vertically by a foot, fastened to the wall, with mike like a tulip sticking out the front, and a hook at the side where you hung the receiver, which pulled down a bit to cut off the connection when you were through.

Crank on the right side, which you turned to make the two bells on the front ring ... as they did in all of the half dozen or so other subscribers on that line.

Everyone had their own mix of short and long rings, so when someone on our line wanted to talk to us, they turned their crank to make three shorts and one long ring ... which during World War II was the Morse Code symbol for "V for Victory", which one emphasized by holding up his/her two major fingers in the shape of a "V".

When you wanted to talk to someone on another line, you pushed a black button on the left of the box while you turned the crank, and one heard a slight sound like bells ... and that summoned central, so the operator answered asking what number yiou wanted, then plugged the second cord from the one plugged into your line, into the line on which that person talked, then rang their number of shorts and longs to summon them to the phone.

Dad said that once when he called Mom while they were dating, she complained that she could hardly hear, so Dad said that if Mrs. What's-her-Name would get off of the phone, that she'd be able to hear better ... and a snort and a click told him that he'd hit the right target.

Some folks always seemed to be somewhat better informed than most as to what things were going on in the community!

Once when Dad was at an auction several miles from home, some of the guys were complaining about their phone service and the price per month, and Dad chimed in to say that, heck, he was paying a lot more than that ... so they asked him which was his Central, and when he said "Byron" (a village on the edge of London, about 5 or 6 miles from us), they laughed at him ... saying that Dad got a lot more hours per day of service, and of higher quality at that - that they'd be glad to pay that rate if they were on the Byron exchange!

That was during the early '40s. Same game in rural areas in Saskatchewan in the late '40s.

ole joyfuelled

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 6:54PM
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I have the old phone from the farm on which my dad grew up. I should take some pictures of it. Sounds like you probably had if not the same, one very similar there OJ.

Yes, my dad would never spring for a private line. He kept the party line until they totally discontinued them after which he maintained he still had a party line but nobody was on it. Stubborn you say? Him? Noooooo. HE was not stubborn, everyone ELSE was stubborn. Methinks the Joyful one and my dad were somewhat akin... Right down to not parting with the shredded underwear! :)

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 10:21AM
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Our phone number in Riverside was Whitehall 5-XXXX I can't put the number down because I still have the same number 67 years later haha I think Ma Bell should give me a discount for keeping the number for so long.

.My Grandparent's number downtown was Clearwater 3-2124

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 5:59PM
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First to go was the partyline with the wood box phone on the wall. The box held the batteries that powered your voice call and the hand cranked magneto ran all the bells on the partyline. An assortment or long and short rings were used to generate a uniqe call signal for each person on the partyline. You were not supposed to pick up umless it was your set of "rings", but many did not adhere to that courtesy. The caller could tell when others picked up to eavesdrop because as each person picked up a receiver, you could hear the click and a corresponding drop in volume. Sometimes you had to shout to the offenders to get off the line. If you had a good suspicion who eveasdropped regularily, you moght shout our their name and say this is none of your business. Sometimes the offender wold be so shocked to her thier name revealed that they hang up. That was a clue that you may have guessed one name correctly.

Happily, the party line went out with buggy whips.

Telephones proliferated and 7 digit numbers became the norm. At first, numonics were employed to help folks remember the 3 digit number of their exchange. Alphabet characters were used for the first two characters of phone number. These were the first 2 characters of familiar place names. That soon became unweildy and then the 10 digit all numerals came to be. Operator assisted call are now rare and expensive. Everyone dials their own.

That system had run smoothly up until the 1970s and then phone companies forecast they would soon run out of numbers. The proliferation of cell phones added to the crush. Existing area codes were divided into more areas and new area code numbers were generated.

The day is approaching when we again will run short of numbers. Anyone care to speculate on what the next revision will entail?

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 1:55AM
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Chisue, I so clearly remember when a long distance call was an expense to be considered before dialing. When my sister was in college we would all gather by the extensions and wait for her to ring. She rang once and hung up and then my parents called her back so the cost would be on their bill and Sister would not have to have change ready to feed the pay phone.

On the rare occasion that I made a long distance call, I would have to ask permission first, say what I had to say, and get off fast. I also remember saving up my change to go to a pay phone to call my boyfriend at college. Most of the time we wrote letters. I'm not sure I could even find a pay phone today. I'll have to notice when I am out.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 10:14AM
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