Our telephone, a beige Western Electric with a rotary dial, held a place of honor in our old house in Asheboro: perched in a built-in phone nook in the hallway.
Our telephone, a beige Western Electric with a rotary dial, held a place of honor in our old house in Asheboro: perched in a built-in phone nook in the hallway. It was hardwired into the wall, and, persuaded by that Bell Systems TV commercial to “reach out; reach out and touch someone,” I’d camp out in the hall after supper and call someone from school.
I had my own personal address book, pink vinyl with a Holly Hobbie illustration on the cover. My grandmother had a metal, flip-style directory with a slide that corresponded to the alphabet and a button that popped the cover open to the last name. I loved that thing. She used it for phone numbers, but also recorded details like birthdays and anniversaries in it. In our house, a shelf beneath the phone held the city phone book. Back then, aside from the Bible and maybe a set of World Book Encyclopedias, I can’t think of another book that was in every household besides a telephone directory.
I called Asheboro’s Time-and-Temperature line. I called the library’s Dial-A-Story. When we moved to our new home near Farmer, I was allowed to pick out my own phone for my room. I chose a canary-yellow Trimline with push buttons. I stayed on the phone so much that I could even tap out songs. (In case you wondered, 1-1-2-1-#-6 plays “Happy Birthday.”)
The older I got, the more the phone became a lifeline. It was the first thing I packed when I went off to college, calls from friends a balm during the coldest winter at Appalachian State. Maybe you know that when I was hired at this magazine 25 years ago, my first job was to answer the telephone.
Eventually, time and technology moved forward, and my phone usage diminished. I abandoned a landline for a cell phone years ago, voice communication largely replaced by emails and texts.
Recently, I got a voice mail, a short, 30-second message from a man named James McGee in Asheville. He called simply to say that he was enjoying the magazine. He didn’t ask for a return call, but I made one anyway.
We talked for nearly 45 minutes, and the veneer of strangers fell away as he told me about growing up in the “Land of the Sky,” the place that he loved most until he discovered the “Southern Part of Heaven” in 1948. Of course, I knew what he meant, having heard that same endearment from my dad, and I laughed, and Mr. McGee kept the stories going as I listened, riveted. He recounted drives from Chapel Hill to Greensboro in his black Plymouth for dances at “the WC,” and he didn’t say, but I could imagine the strains of Art Mooney looking over a four-leaf clover. He talked of stopping at Brady’s on Durham Road for fried chicken, and finishing pharmacy school at UNC and moving back to Asheville and buying Kenilworth Drug Store and marrying his sweetheart, Margo, a schoolteacher, 69 years ago on December 28, the same day as her birthday so that, as she told him, “You’ll never forget our anniversary.” He told me that Margo died two years ago and I heard the catch in his voice, over the phone, through the miles, across the radio waves, how much he misses her.
All week, I’ve been replaying that conversation with Mr. McGee and how much I enjoyed it, an unexpected connection that reminded me of the gift of voices, the ones we all need, the ones that ease us through our times of silence.
Editor in Chief