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One Photo; One Story: Can you hear me? Hello?

I pulled the old dusty desk phone from a box stored in the attic. I picked up the heavy plastic handset and placed it to my ear. Nothing. Silent yet I held for a second and listened. It had a musty smell that comes with old electrical equipment like an old hi-fi. I rested it back on the cradle and admired the workmanship of the Bell Telephone Model 302 made by Western Electric.

This is a quality piece of American craftsmanship. The receiver at the beginning and the end of the great American landline. It stood at attention in homes from 1937 to well into the 1960’s.

In the days of the Model 302 a phone call was a special event. When the phone rang it brought everyone to attention. Who was on the line? What news would come from the other end. Was it joyful or dreadful? Especially curious during the war years. When the line was being used it sent the caller a busy signal. You paid attention to the callers’ words; it was one on one. Much like a conversation. Today we are overwhelmed with messages.

I was surprised at how heavy it felt. I remembered the rotary dial of old and placed my finger in the number seven hole and turned the dial. I was dialing my childhood number PL1-0053 or 751-0053. I still remember it by heart. It’s one of the first things you memorize as a child. Mom and Dad and then your phone number.

I was amazed at the rhythm of the dial and how I could recall the familiar sound of our number as it traveled through our exchange. The pattern of the rotation as I dialed past the double zeros. It felt good to dial the old number, as the rotary slid past the number three on the final slide through. I listened into the receiver which felt cold to my cheek. For decades after I dialed, after 3 or 4 rings I would hear my mom or dad answer, “Hello?”

Today the phone is silent. No longer hooked into the great Bell Telephone System.

The Model 302, a relic of a different America.

I put the phone on the table in the family room where it sits gathering dust. At times the old warhorse catches my attention. I think of the millions of voices that brought this old telephone to life. The voices that united thousands of families all over the country and world. I let my mind wander to the voices in the 1930’s, calls announcing the birth of my parents. The 1940’s, the journey and stories of their lives in New York City. The gossip in the 1950’s of how Billy and Mary were getting married. My Irish grandmother worried about the slick army sergeant who was half polish and it being a mixed marriage.

The Phone is a relic. A decoration for the coffee table. After adjusting its placement on the TV table, it finally rests next to the digital frame and the internet server for our home. It looks good there mixed with the tools of our generation.

The old phone sits next to the tower which powers our internet. Today we carry cellphones that can perform powerful computer like calculations and take photos that we can share across the globe in milliseconds. A 21st century miracle on our person 24-7.

I have a quick thought about how far we have come in fifty years. The wonder of the America ingenuity and technology. I pick up the receiver one more time and place it to my ear. The earpiece crackles to life and I hear a hum. A current flows through the earpiece, silent these many years. I listen hoping to hear something above the din of the internet noise.

“Hello”? I call.

Noise. The old Bell Telephone is picking up the flow of the internet.

The soothing sounds of my mother’s voice. The lilt of my sweet grandparents’ brogue and the pure innocence of my nana’s, who gave everything she had to her family for them to be able to make it. Their voices will remain in my heart and mind. I can still hear them talking to me.

I look at the phone and marvel at the aura of the electric current flowing between the old and the new and I hang up.

I hear my name. A voice familiar speaks to me in my soul.


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