ERROL CASTENS: Reasons to miss (and not miss) the good old days



Not sure when my childhood officially qualified as ancient history, but the Coffee Clutchers raised the subject of once-common elements of electronic communication.

Everybody tried to think of the last time they’d made or accepted a reversal of charges.

“Most kids in college have never made a collect call or person-to-person call or even had to consider the expense of long distance,” Pete said. He remembered back in his college days when he’d drive back from home on a Sunday night.

“Long distance was expensive, and I cheated Ma Bell,” he admitted. At his dorm, he would make a collect, person-to-person call to his parents’ home, asking to speak to himself. That was their cue that he’d made it safely to campus, and it didn’t cost anything since they could tell the operator he wasn’t there.

“Now, you can talk to your mama the whole way back,” Pete said.

We considered boundaries as real as the Tallahatchie River that local calling areas created between people when the expense of toll calls was still reserved for emergencies and special occasions.

“We could call local across the next county, but our next-door neighbor, 150 yards down the hill, was long distance,” I said.

Even further back in history, nobody worried about the NSA, but most had spies nevertheless.

“We were on a party line with eight other families,” Bud said. “Most of the time we’d have to wait for Aunt Agnes to finish her gossip with Cousin Peggy or Miz Maude before we could make a call – and then you had to assume several people would listen in.”

I noted one child with whose family my family shared a party line took fiendish delight in listening in on calls while chomping on potato chips.

We recalled that the early cellphones – “car phones” – came in a bag, weighed several pounds, cost a dollar a minute to use (besides a monthly fee) and reached towers only in metro areas.

“Oh, those were a status symbol,” Clyde said. “If you had a car phone, you were really somebody.”

Over prior decades, various Coffee Clutchers remembered, the first TV antenna, the first private phone line, the first color TV and the first satellite TV dish in any given neighborhood had also been status symbols.

The ubiquity of cellphones has made one other once-common technology mostly a museum piece.

“If you have never used a payphone, how do you grasp Clark Kent’s changing into Superman?” Mark asked.

Bud added, “And don’t even try to understand the irony in the line, ‘Here’s a quarter – call someone who cares.’”

Contact Daily Journal reporter Errol Castens at (662) 816-1282 or