An Odd Theme
I didn't tell anyone ahead of time we were having a telephone theme. I was afraid people would think that sounded a little boring. But I was excited about it.
Focusing on Phones...of the past
My plan was to remember phones. I was eager to see what everyone could recall of the world before cell phones. What are our first phone memories? Who had party lines? What is the best phone call you ever got? Who remembers staying home to wait for a phone call? What do people do while they chat on the phone. What is the best and the most annoying thing about phones? What movies have great phone scenes? Do you remember what phones used to sound like?
Parents on the Phone
I've always loved this photo of my mom talking on her toy phone. It makes me laugh because I have such vivid memories of her as my mother, talking on the phone. Most of those memories are in kitchens in various houses. When I was very small, I watched her as she cooked on the phone, or sat at the kitchen table. I was in awe as she twirled her hair or doodled on paper, while she spoke. I remember being annoyed years later when she endlessly tied up the phone with real estate calls. If we tried to interrupt, she snapped her fingers to show her authority. We kids laughed years later when she got an extra long curly cord for her princess wall phone so she could practically carry the phone with her to the basement or upstairs. I can still visualize that cord snaking around furniture, knocking things off tables and occasionally tripping a person or pet. My dad? He was never on the phone long, but he had and still has an unmistakable Heeeello! that welcomes the caller with enthusiasm.
Answering the Phone
In my different groups we used phone props and shared all the different ways we answer the phone. We laughed to learn Alexander Graham Bell had chosen "Ahoy" as the proper telephone greeting. We played some games trying to guess who was at the other end of the line. We had a few phone performances, like calling Santa with a request, calling the landlord to complain and nervously calling to ask for a date.
We talked about movies with memorable scenes involving telephones. For some reason there are a lot of suspense movies, like Sorry Wrong Number and Dial M for Murder. And then there's the wonderful song from Bye Bye Birdie that involves a dozen giddy teens singing into their colorful phones, sharing the great news that Kim is going steady.
But the favorite for a few of us, was a scene in Meet Me in St. Louis, when a 1904 era family sits around the dinner table listening to the daughters' phone conversation as it becomes clear she is not getting the marriage proposal she expected.
Of course we had to revisit a few childhood games...
...like tin can telephones and the gossip game, "telephone". Both were as silly as I remembered.
We recalled the day when phone booths were available on many a corner. They had doors to block out the sound and sometimes even seats. Phone booths offered protection from the elements... if you needed to change clothes like Superman. I couldn't find anyone in my groups who had participated in the crazy game of squeezing into a phone booth with friends. 22 is the documented record for the number of bodies, completely inside a phone booth. (1959 at St. Mary's College)
There was a day when we used phone books pretty often. We looked up numbers or we "let our fingers do the walking" in the yellow pages. Some of use remembered with guilty smiles, looking up numbers to make prank calls. Of course there were kinder pranks inspired by phone books. My sister and I once found a strangers name and address in the phone book and sent a surprise postcard.
Just looking at the phone book sitting on the quilt was a reminder of lots of other creative phone book uses. None had ever tried tearing the book in half to show their strength, but a few had used the thick book to press flowers. Many of us remembered using the book as a booster seat for kids and one of us smiled and admitted using a phone book in the driver's seat! We talked about how to recycle all that paper. Decoupage, suggested one of my artistic friends...or paper mache. Another suggested using the thin paper like a rag to wash windows. Only one in all my groups shared this memory of using a phone book. "We used to use old phone books and catalogues in our outhouse." We all got a good chuckle with that shared memory!
Kids and Phones
My last stop was with the kids at the Shelter. I kept things simple and only used this one prop. All the kids wanted a turn dialing the phone and pretending to talk. The first child to take a turn, left the receiver on the cradle and approached the dial with both hands. He put one finger in a hole and then asked. "What do I do now?" That made my day!
What did I learn? Adults and kids seem to be equally intrigued by fiddling with a rotary phone. All were surprised to remember or realize how much work it is to dial a number, especially if the number you're calling is made up of high numbers! Everyone sort of enjoyed feeling the weight of the heavy receiver and hearing the noise of the dial and the clunk of hanging up. Phones long ago, didn't do amazing things like give us directions or play music, but there's something about making a call on a big old sturdy desk phone that makes you feel like you're doing something important!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.