Miller: Party lines, no party

Published 12:41 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2021

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When I was a little girl, my mamaw had a rotary phone with a long black cord. Everyone in the community of Coy, Mississippi, where she lived had their own ring because several people shared one phone line. I don’t know why it was called a party line because it was no party to wait sometimes for an hour or more while one of the long-winded neighbors talked and talked.

Of course, it was not polite for a little girl to speak such a thing about an adult so the long-winded thing was something we all knew, but didn’t discuss. What a long way technology has come in one brief lifetime from those old rotary phones to the cell phones we have today. To think that we can become downright annoyed if we are ever without service even if we are in the boonies shows how accustomed most of us are to being plugged in.

I remember a few years ago my son, Ryan, would carry on several conversations simultaneously by text, and I thought it was so strange. Now, I find myself doing the same thing! Actually, it is quite convenient to be able to keep in touch with family and friends this way, but it took some getting used to. I still really like a voice-to-voice call better. Sometimes the meaning conveyed in a text can be off because the tone of voice carries so much meaning that merely typed words can be misconstrued.

The art of listening is so important to communication, and how does one go about listening to a text? I’m not against all the wonderful things that advanced technology has brought into our everyday lives by any means, but I think there will always be a place for a good old fashioned phone call.

And to receive an honest to goodness hand written letter in the mail is something that doesn’t happen very often these days, but when I receive one it feels like a special event! There is something satisfying about reading and rereading a card or letter from someone who means a lot to you. I keep these items that I’ve received over the years from those I love in a special place and take them out from time to time. They never fail to bring back wonderful memories of the time and place when I first laid eyes on them, and often they bring a happy tear.

I know a text is also a written form of communication, but the form is so very different and often almost abrupt, unlike letters. I remember those first love letters from long ago? I think most of us had a little note passed to us in elementary school when the teacher wasn’t looking that said something along these lines:

I like you. Do you like me?

Circle one.

Yes   No   Maybe

We weren’t very creative, but it is fun to think back on our early attempts at communication!

Jan Penton Miller can be reached at