■ By Rob Lindquist / Contributed
I spent a half-hour in conversation with a sales representative in our local AT&T phone outlet at the Hemet Mall last week. Gazing at the expensive hand-helds along the walls, I heard someone say, “Well, this one’s cool; and it’s less than six hundred dollars!” Instantly, I got to thinking of how far Hemet has come from the squatty black Western Telephone Company phones that couldn’t be carried anywhere further than the length of wire running from their wall connections. On the way home, I had this long ago thought of being lifted up to our wall-phone to hear “Happy Birthday” wishes from relatives in 1950.
After dinner that day, I continued thinking about the old telephone; how in time I learned how to place a call by myself. There were no dial phones in our neck of the groves back then, so the procedure went like this once I picked up the handset: The Operator would come on saying… “Operator” (Me) “Yes! I wanna’ talk to Whit Howard!” (Operator) “What number please?” (Me) “Six four, six three!” (Operator) “Thank you.” Hemet’s tiny little Bell Telephone office with its switchboard was “downtown” on the east side of south Juanita St., just behind the Carter Crawl Ford agency showroom and service area.
Our (Lindquist) number back then was 6691 and our phone was connected into one of a number of party-line systems that serviced the valley. This was a “revoltin’ development” for us kids who were forever aching to go play soldiers in the orchard, splash in the flume or climb through the attic of our big old ranch house. Oh, what a time us rascals had back then with “the egg lady” Mrs. Sniderman down the street from us. She could talk to her friend for a half-hour or more about special sales in J.C. Penney’s foundation department while we withered away at our ends of our line waiting for those two old ladies to run out of words. Finally, we resorted to injecting subtle noises into their conversations that caused them to be concerned about their own respective health, diet etc. and that did the trick.
Then, there was Christmas day in 1952, when my cousin Mark Boen came to our house at dusk with his mother. Our moms sat down to talk in the kitchen, while Mark and I headed upstairs. Mark’s family had just moved to Hemet from Corona and I was anxious to show him our attic with its “secret door” that opened to reveal a “treasure chest” of “army things” my dad had used when he flew airplanes. When Mark, who was a whiz at wiring up his new electric train, saw pop’s set of earphones, he turned to me, bright-eyed, and asked, “Do you wanna’ hear China? C’mon let’s go downstairs!” As we approached the den with its lighted Christmas tree, Mark, who was a year older, ordered me to find some pliers. These he used to cut the cord that led to the colored tree lights. Then, my cousin deftly connected the wires from the headphones to the remaining cord leading to the wall socket. Mark then sat me down, put the earphones on my head, and shoved the Christmas tree plug into the socket. When he flipped the light switch on, the earphones made an ear-splitting screech. Instantly, the house went dark, the heater stopped and our mothers came running from the kitchen yelling, “What in the world happened?” “Oh, nothing’ much, mommy… We… were just trying’ to talk to China.” Then Mark chimed in as the smoke cleared, “Yeah, mom, we were as good as we can be, huh?” And I said… “Yup!”