Monday, February 22, 2010

Who you ringin'? (Part I)

When I was growing up on the farm in Carlisle County, everyone had wall telephones. They were very old, even for the fifties, so I suspect the phone company dumped them on country people, who were glad to get any kind of phone.
We were on a party line, and to distinguish who was being called, every family was assigned certain "rings." Ours was two long rings and one short ring; Maw Maw Wilson's was two longs and two shorts. And so on.
Trouble is, our phones were out of order much of the time. Either a tree had fallen onto a line (which took the phone company weeks to remove); a phone had been left off the hook; someone had unhooked the line to our neighborhood so the phones on Hwy. 123 would work. Or some such problem.
When the phones were working, though, it was great. I loved eavesdropping on fellow party-liners; it was like an ongoing soap opera.
Until Mother caught me.
"Get off that phone, Brenda Gail," she whispers, "Now!"
Just about everyone on our party line eavesdropped at one time or another, although Mother and Maw Maw seldom listened unless someone had taken ill or a tragedy had occurred. At times like those, everyone was on the line (like a conference call): "They don't expect her to live through the night." "He was eat up with cancer; they operated on him, but they just had to sew him back up."
Miss Ora eavesdropped all the time. How do I know? She and Dummy lived just across the field from us, and they had a rooster who had a very strange crow (like he had Laryngitis, or something like that). I could hear him crowing across the field and through the phone. But I felt a certain commoradory with Miss Ora, the two of us quietly listening together.
Although most of her phone conversations were boring, I did enjoy hearing the orders Miss Ora left at McKendree's Grocery for her husband: "When Dummy comes in there, tell him to get a loaf of Sandwich bread, a dozen eggs and some Pepto-Bismol."
Sometimes she ordered hamburger "meat," Martha White self-rising flour, cornmeal. One day she added cake flour to the list, and I pictured her stirring cake batter with one hand and holding the receiver with the other, the dysphonic rooster crowing just outside her window.
Gertie and Miss Ninnie had interesting conversations: "I wasn't feelin' so pert this morning," Gertie says, "So I took a Milltown." "Law me, I was just gettin' ready to take one myself," says Miss Ninnie, "I feel a migraine comin' on."
Aloha's mother-in-law (who was also my great-aunt) lived near each other, and they talked each day: Your bedroom light was on at three o'clock this morning," Aunt Mary says, "Was one of y'all sick?" Aloha hesitates and clears her throat: "Looks like it's gonna be a nice day."
Men in our neck of the woods seldom talked on the phone. When they did, their conversations were short. And boring. They talked very loud, as if yelling at each other through megaphones: "Yeah, okay," shouts Daddy, "Alright, then." They never said goodbye; when the conversation was over, they abruptly hung up.
Not so for the women. If there was a conversation going on about someone they knew, they butted in: "Ruby?" says Gertie, "Who're y'all talkin' about?" "When did she take sick?" adds Dorothy.
Occasionally, someone had to make a long distance call, which required "getting through" to the Bardwell operator. One person was seldom able to get the job done, so an all-points plea went out: "Could somebody help me ring Central?"
Eavesdroppers up and down Laketon Road began simultaneously cranking their phones. Again and again. Their reward was listening in on a conversation between the caller and someone far, far away. Maybe Clinton, or some other distant place.
Sometimes our phone began emitting faint, sputtering rings, like it was sick. It was impossible to make out who was being called, so several party-liners picked up their phones, always using the pat phrase: "Who you ringin'?"
Kids seldom talked on the phone. Phones were for adults. If Mother was unavailable, we were allowed to answer, but that was all. It didn't make much difference, though. Most of our friends didn't have phones; if they did, we would have had to call long distance. And long distance was only used if someone's house was burning down or a close relative was dying.
Which is why what Terry, Pitty, Mary Ellen and I did one summer was so out of character for us. I take full responsibility, though. The whole thing was my idea.

To be continued...

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I caught Dudley hightailing it across the yard this morning, a huge hamhock clenched between his teeth. He was very perturbed when I took it away from him. He's been pouting ever since.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Let there be spaces in your togetherness
and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea
between the shores of your souls.

~Kahil Gibran~

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

William Shatner: Kicking & Rolling

While surfing the TV channels the other night, Bill came across William Shatner. He was interviewing Larry Flynt on his talk show, Raw Nerve.
"Shatner's face is red," Bill laughed, "You think he's been drinking?"
"I wouldn't doubt it," I said, "I once saw him when he was feeling no pain."
It was in the late eighties, and Victoria, a good friend of mine and a lover of horses, wanted me to accompany her to a Hollywood charity horse show.
"It'll be fun, Brenda," she said, "Go with me!"
I finally agreed, but I almost backed out when she told me the admission was one hundred and twenty dollars, payable in advance.
"That's a lot of money, just for a horse show," I said, "Besides, I might not even go. I want to see the sights."
"But that includes the private reception," she said, "Not just anyone can get in!"
A couple of weeks later we were flying to L.A.
As soon as we checked into the hotel, Victoria headed to the horse show. I spent the day touring Universal Studios, strolling down Rodeo Drive, checking out the Hollywood Walk of Fame and other places I had read about in the movie magazines I so coveted as I was growing up. After a while, though, I got tired of roaming the city alone. So I decided to go to the horse show.
I was shocked when I arrived. It didn't take me long to realize this was not just any horse show. Riders sat ramrod straight in their English saddles, guiding sleek, high-stepping horses over three-foot fences. They rode with grace and style, rising and falling in their saddles as though they and their horses were one. Next came stoic gentlemen in two-wheeled carts, followed by women in four-wheeled carriages, trotting gracefully around the arena. Both horses and women had attitudes, and they were dressed to the nines, diamonds glittering from fingers, necks, and ears.
"Well, look who's here!" Victoria said.
A horse was trotting out of the shadows, William Shatner in the saddle.
He was an excellent horseman and his horse performed well. But his best performance would come that evening. At the Hollywood reception.
We dressed carefully for the event. I wore a pant suit (borrowed from Victoria's mom, who gave me free reign to her extensive collection of formal wear). It was black silk, with huge shoulder pads. So huge, in fact, that my shoulders looked as wide as John Goodman's. (I was in style, though; it was the-bigger-the-better eighties)! I slipped my feet into black spike heels (hoping I wouldn't trip) and clipped on my huge gold earrings. Victoria looked like a star herself in her little black dress and black hose, many gold chains draped around her neck.
We were met by crowds of people upon our arrival, flash bulbs popping, scents of expensive perfumes drifting through the air. A doorman stood at the entrance, checking the list before removing the chain and allowing guests to enter, and limos as far as the eye could see were depositing impeccably dressed women and their handsome escorts at the curb. One was Miss America. I remembered seeing her on TV, tears rolling down her cheeks as they placed the crown on her head.
Behind us in line were Patrick Duffy and his wife.
"Where are you ladies from?" said Patrick. (He must have heard our accents!)
"Paducah, Kentucky."
"Oh! I've been there!" Mrs. Duffy said, "I performed there when I was in a ballerina troupe."
"Wish we had brought our cameras," Victoria whispered as the doorman checked our names off the list.
Inside, champagne flowed from a gigantic fountain, chocolate from another. Tables were loaded with lobster, crab, shrimp, black caviar, white truffles, hot and cold hor derves, salads and vegetables of all descriptions. Chefs hovered nearby, grilling steaks and slicing standing rib roasts.
I was overwhelmed. "The buffet alone is worth that hundred and twenty dollars!"
"Nothing but the best for the beautiful people!" said Victoria.
As we were being shown to our table, we passed model/actress Christina Ferrare and her Greek billionaire husband, Tony Thomopoulos. "Hi," he said, "How are ya?" Christina smiled and nodded.
Victoria and I looked at each other. "They act like we're one of them," she said.

In a corner, I spotted Frank Loggia, who played the mafia boss in Scarface. He was obviously being interviewed; the man with him was taking notes. I considered stopping by and telling him how great his performance was in Scarface, but I didn't want to appear to be a star-struck fan (even if I was; the man was very sexy!).
The band was cranking up as we finished eating, so we moved to a table near the dance floor. Christina and Tony were nearby; her plate was piled high and she was eating with great gusto. "Honey, bring me another plate!" she called as he headed to the buffet.
There was a big crowd at the next table, one of whom was a tall, slim man in a tuxedo. He seemed familiar, and when I looked closer I realized the man was Lyle Waggoner from the old Carol Burnett show. He looked at me and grinned. I smiled back, just being friendly, when all of a sudden he began moving his eyebrows up and down, his grin becoming lavicious.
Oh, my god, Brenda, he's trying to flirt with you!" Victoria said, "With his wife right there!"
Victoria was soon having problems of her own. A David Niven look-alike and his beautiful young date had joined us at our table. He pulled his chair closer to Victoria, staring at her with goo-goo eyes.
His young companion scowled and turned to me. "I've just about had it with him," she said, fondling a diamond necklace lying between a pair of the largest silicone breasts I had ever seen, "He does this every time we go out!"
The band began playing Bob Seger's Old Time Rock & Roll, and beautiful people from all over the room jumped up and headed to the dance floor. William Shatner and his wife were already there, she swaying like a graceful swan, he standing at attention, a surprised look on his face.
Across the room, I watched Patrick Duffy and his wife leave, his hand at her elbow; Tony Thomopoulos was heading toward the door, motioning to Christina, who was still eating like a starving trucker. She grabbed a couple of shrimp and stuffed them into her mouth before catching up with her husband. Lyle Waggoner, his back to his wife, sat staring off into space, as was Miss America, who was sitting all alone. Frank Loggia had apparently left the premises.
"Brenda!" Victoria said, stifling a laugh, "Look at William Shatner!"
He was pressing his body to his wife's, pelvis moving up and down, from side to side. He let go of her and backed up, gyrating and spinning, dropping to his knees, ending up flat on his back, feet in the air, body rolling back and forth. His wife began clapping and dancing around him as he lay on the floor, the beautiful people joining in, clapping and swaying, moving backward to give him more room as he kicked and kicked and rolled around and around.
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley