Hot Times And Party Lines

Chocolate Can Kill (Emily Harris Mysteries) by Annie Acorn

Also available in print, at Amazon UK and Smashwords, and for SonyReader, Kobo, Diesel, Apple, and NOOK!

As one of the worst heat waves in history has swept across the United States, breaking one record high temperature after another, my mind has reverted to how differently we would have handled such heat during my childhood.

For the most part, these were pre-air conditioning, pre-ceiling fan, sit on the front porch kind of days.  Our young family felt blessed to have a 10-inch in diameter fan set within two sliding metal panels that could be wedged into an open window in one of our three bedrooms.  The resultant “breeze” that was generated by these four tiny blades seemed to us to make all the difference.

Those of you who follow this blog will recall that during the earliest days of my childhood our young family lived on one side of a duplex that was known to its residents as The Double.  My paternal grandmother and great-aunt lived on the other side of The Double and owned the twin of our window fan, which was permanently installed during hot summer months in Grandma’s bedroom.

It was not unusual for me to end up taking my afternoon nap on a rollaway bed that was a semi-permanent fixture in my grandmother’s bedroom, as she and my great-aunt occasionally watched other children in an effort to supplement their income.  Two things now fell neatly in place as I napped away from home on these hot summer day’s – the breeze from Grandma’s fan passed directly across my overly warm body and I had full access within an arm’s reach to an extension phone and our neighborhood party line.

I was no longer merely blessed.  I had attained Heaven!

Now something way deep down inside of me knew perfectly well that, if I was caught listening to conversations on this phone, I would be punished.  Still, punishments were never that severe in our house, and previous experience had taught me that party line calls were well worth the risk.  Besides, both my grandmother and great-aunt were known to frequently doze off after lunch in their chintz-covered armchairs downstairs in the living room, so being caught in this despicable act was not much of an issue.

Understand, the gossip transmitted along this particular party line was not, for the most part, all that juicy, particularly when measured against today’s reality TV.  To me, though, it represented a window onto a whole other world, and that world fascinated me then in the same way that the writer in me enjoys observing those around me to this day.

Who knows how many of the characters in my books have their roots in party line calls that I overheard?  I know that at least two of them do.

Our lives in The Double were not laced with much drama back then with one notable exception.  The time Father had misread the vet’s instructions and added two teaspoons of whiskey to our parakeet’s water instead of the one teaspoon called for as treatment for suspected pneumonia had resulted in quite a stir.

Drunk as a skunk, Doc, as we called him, had begun acting strangely shortly after taking a drink of this medicinally offered libation.  Removed from his cage, Doc had rolled around limply on Father’s open hand, before suddenly getting his bearings and flying up the stairs, where he had landed at the top of the railing and proceeded to our combined amazements to slide all the way down.  Believe me, this had been classic entertainment, but then, as previously stated, we lived rather dull lives.

Oh, and there had been that time when my great-uncle Uncle Harold had brought his mistress to visit my grandmother and great-aunt, much to their chagrin.  Born and raised in Victorian England, both of these wonderful women had been left quite aghast when the news of the couple’s impending visit had been delivered in a telegram.

This female affront to the moral sensibilities on the other side of The Double had arrived looking quite elegant, wearing as she was a hat that sported three pheasant feathers, a mink stole that begged me to pet it, and more sparkling jewels than I had seen in my lifetime.

My great-aunt, who had never known an unlikeable person, immediately offered this exotic creature all that she had – a cup of tea and a cookie.  Not completely understanding the situation at age six, I followed my great-aunt’s example, peeking around Father’s leg behind which I had been hiding and sending our guest a shy smile.

“And you must be Annie!”  The object of my fascinated stare seemed delighted by my presence as she took a seat on one of the porch rockers in order to be more on my level.  “Harold, where is that package?”

Great-uncle Harold dutifully produced a sturdy cardboard box.  The lid was opened with a flourish by his mistress, who revealed a lovely bisque-headed doll, complete with real human hair, brown glass eyes, and tiny teeth not much bigger than pin heads, that had been hers as a child.  Clothed in a complete wardrobe from satin shoes with leather soles stamped Size 3 to petticoats to a period dress to a light cloak to a great cloak, this beauty was a sight to behold.

I soon learned that the doll was to be mine, as great-uncle Harold and his mistress were well beyond child-bearing years.  While I treasure the doll to this day, the episode, although pleasant, had not been particularly interesting.  One glance at my mother’s face had told me that this was not a doll with which I would be allowed to play.  No, party line conversations definitely reigned supreme when viewed from my limited perspective.

From overheard calls, I had learned early about my friend K’s surprise birthday party (I was to be invited!).  The S’s Persian cat was about to have kittens (Father unknown!).  The Z’s at the end of the street would NOT be going to Detroit for Thanksgiving as Mr. Z refused to eat another bite of his mother-in-law’s undercooked turkey (NOTE TO SELF: Confirm we would still be going to my maternal grandmother’s for Thanksgiving per usual).

One juicy bit at a time, I learned the true Art of Gossip from the young women whose conversations I overheard, while I passed these long hot afternoons pleasantly cooled by the breeze from my grandmother’s tiny fan, never missing the air conditioning that I had yet to experience.

Now when I go to bed as the world turns dark around me on these hot summer evenings, I lie within range of the artificial breeze forced through the vents in my bedroom ceiling by the air conditioning system.  Occasionally, out of long ago habit, I will reach out my hand towards my Hollywood phone, but alas, the party line concept has long since died a natural death in the D.C. area.

Given that gossip is considered by many to be sinful, this is probably a good thing.  But still, how many great characters could an author derive from such now missed opportunities, I ask you?

Annie Acorn

Murder With My Darling (Bonnie Lou Mysteries) by Annie Acorn

Also available for NOOK!

A Tired Older Woman: Loses Weight and Keeps It Off! by Annie Acorn

Also available in print and for NOOK!

A Stranger Comes to Town (Annie Acorn’s Kindle Short Mysteries) by Annie Acorn

Also available for NOOK!

When to Remain Silent (Annie Acorn’s Kindle Short Mysteries) by Annie Acorn

Also available for NOOK!


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