September 28, 2009
‘Life as a continuum’
If time is seen as a “continuum,” a succession of moments in your life that are, by chance or direction, relative to everyone else’s existence, even if you never meet them, then what I have to report is understandable. If not, it’s interesting, I think. And, again, probably relative to your own experiences.
Once upon a time, though this is not a made-up tale but it was so long, long ago, the sixth grade at North Main Street School in Spring Valley, N.Y., was on Christmas leave, and the day itself was in progress. Presents already unwrapped in happiness, my family was looking forward to a two-mile trip to Nana’s house for holiday dinner. This would be the most satisfying part of the day – physically filling our stomachs and emotionally massaging the heart.
But that trip was a few hours away, and my parents had another present to offer – their bedroom telephone extension. They received few calls, my father did not like being awakened when he was sleeping days after a night shift, and he and my mother knew that two growing boys might have use of a simple phone to talk to their pals.
But how to get it upstairs? My brother Craig and I wanted the phone that very day, of course, but an installation order to the New York Telephone Co. could not be placed until after Christmas, and then there would be a short wait before the installer could come, given the ever-busier Ma Bell, whose Nyack, N.Y.- based installers could barely keep up with new phone orders from suburban tract homeowners in 1954.
My brother and I had a solution. This writer, whose reading material then included “Popular Mechanics,” with its detailed but simple electrical, etc., drawings, thought he had absorbed enough information to move the phone. My father did, too, to his credit. In a flash, the few tools at hand (my dad is not handy) were located, and I eagerly unscrewed the phone terminal from the bedroom baseboard. In those days, the wonderfully heavy and reliable “desk sets” were tethered to these terminals, and you did not normally plug in the phone. Such devices were reserved for the rich, who might bring them outside to their large patios.
I had to measure carefully since I did not have new telephone wire, a product that was nearly impossible to obtain because you were not supposed to touch New York Telephone installations (oops!). The wire measured for usable length, I pulled it off its basement staples, routed it out the sidewall, ran it up to the newly finished attic and then mounted the old terminal on the wall baseboard, just between our twin beds. The final connection made, my brother and I heard the dial tone and, boy, did we feel grown up. The bonus was that the move was completed in enough time to skedaddle to my grandma’s house.
In the years that followed, as a 12- and 11-year-old grew through our teens, that shared phone would be dialed to many a friend, including that new species in our lives – girls.
Now, the “time as a continuum” part. Fifty-five years later, I find myself a trustee of the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack. One of my happy duties is to help fellow Trustee and Master Handyman Lynn Saaby take care of the 1858 home of the famed American realist painter. The main office is being relocated upstairs to a small sewing room (or perhaps it was a bedroom), and a phone line is required.
In much the same manner as that long-ago 1955 Christmas Day phone relocation, I recently strung a line at Hopper House from the original phone terminal upstairs. These days, you can fiddle with inside phone wiring since you own it, but other than that difference, the procedure was the same for me as it was in the sixth grade (though a bit more difficult to get off my knees in 2009).
So, time has continued for me in a succession of events, many connected, all related. What I was doing 55 years ago affects me today and also connects to others, as the new phone at Hopper House will surely bring in calls from around the world.