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A Mysterious Message On the Wrong Machine

The message on our answering machine was urgent. The voice said: "Hi, Dottie. This is Irene. Sorry, the plans have changed. We meet at 2 o'clock. Wear your yellow costume. For the evening show, it's important that you wear the black robe. See you at 2. Don't forget."

The order was clear and direct. Only one problem: I wasn't Dottie. And I didn't know Irene. Irene had dialed a wrong number.

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When 2 o'clock came, I shuddered to think what Irene might be saying if Dottie didn't show up. Or perhaps she might arrive late but wearing the black robe.

The worst-case scenario would have Irene saying, "Dottie, you're late, and why don't you have the yellow costume on? I left specific instructions on your answering machine."

Dottie would reply: "Sorry, Irene. There was no message on my machine."

The conversation, hopefully, might end there. I decided not to sketch out any more scenarios. I just hoped the two would remain friends.

The early telephones made calling more personal. You'd pick up the receiver, speak into the mouthpiece, and an operator would say, "Number, please." You'd give your number. (In my case, it was "New Rochelle 1090.")

In the rural areas, as well as in bigger towns, there were party lines. There could be four or five people on the line. The operator, Mary Jones, would most often have the switchboard in her home. You'd ask her to ring Sadie Stone's number, 7443. Sadie would hear two short rings and a long one, and she'd pick up the phone.

Of course, all the others on the party line could listen in, too. Quite social, really. If Phyllis was listening in, she might tell Sadie to be sure and be at the sewing bee that afternoon.

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Mel might pick up and tell Sadie that she'd better tell Luke his bull is on the loose. These were probably the first conference calls on record, and much less costly. Just people talking to people.

Come to think of it, that wasn't a bad idea. When I get our monthly phone bills these days, I notice a few 30- or 40-minute calls to our three long-distance daughters. Did we really have that much to say?

Another tantalizing message was just left on our machine. It was short: "Waiting to hear." No name. Just the voice, soft, appealing. Could it have been Irene trying to make amends with Dottie? I'll never know.

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