Post-holiday musings on yellow phone booths (or: How my grandfather didn’t have a phone for a long time).

before smart phones, cell phones, and other species of personal phones: the phone booth!

Christmas has passed, on quick and quiet paws. My parents and I went to see my grandfather for the holidays; I can’t even remember the last time we did this. I usually simply spend Christmas at their house. The last time I’d actually seen my grandfather was a year and a half ago: my grandmother’s funeral. When I was little I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, yet somewhere between moving to the other side of the country and growing up, there was only little time left.

Long story short: I was really looking forward to the trip. Because of my grandfather, but also because it meant getting away from everything else for a couple of days: restricted internet and cell phone use, please! Merry Christmas to me. However, the 21st century quickly caught up to me. As much as I’ve been trying not to give in: Santa replaced my somewhat crappy vintage phone with a brand new smart phone. Gosh, thanks Santa! I kissed my old phone good-bye (and, possibly shed a tear or two) and welcomed the new one into my life. My software’s never felt more updated.

As my dad tried to explain the basics to me, my grandfather seemed somewhat bemused. He looked at the little device and shook his head. When I still worked at the jobsite, it took me half a day just to place a call, he said, only collect calls back then, and there was only a phone at work. He shrugs, worked fine for us. The government had been too distrustful, cheap – or simply too incapable to provide phones for every household, that’s his explanation anyways. And then in the end (when the government didn’t make these decisions anymore but the big companies did, much like anywhere else), I even got a phone before you, my mom smiled.

I remember how we used to walk to the yellow phone booth together to call my grandparents. How I sat huddled between the phone and my mother as she was talking. I don’t remember, though, how, before the yellow phone booth, my mom had to go to the post office to send a telegraph (like that one time when our car broke down and we couldn’t go see my grandparents. Because it was a Saturday, of course, and the one repair shop was already closed). In times of text messages, e-mail, twitter and the like, it’s hard to imagine such a thing.

All of this makes me thankful. I’m thankful than the idea of sending a telegraph somewhere is only familiar to me from books and movies. I’m thankful than I’m able to prevent people from having a heart attack when I don’t show up when and where I’m supposed to in the blink of an eye. I’m more than thankful that I’m able to communicate with people spread out over many countries (continents even) so easily.

Yet, I’m also thankful for some perspective: I put my smartass phone away at once – it’s back to restrictive internet and cell phone use. Because between moving to the other side of the country and growing up, there’s too little time anyways, and with the important people right in front of you, for a while, you don’t really need a phone, I guess.

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