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April 19, 2014

Points East: The Party Line set tongues a wagging

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — My Dad used to say that he knew exactly how to turn a mouse into an elephant.  He said all you had to do was turn a mouse loose in the head of the holler and by the time it got to the mouth of Blair Branch it would have big long ivory tusks and a snout that could drink the creek dry and everyone in the county would dread to see it coming because the word would spread like fire in a field full of broom sage on a windy day.

We never had a telephone at our house, there on Blair Branch, until I got out of college and got a job that necessitated phone service, because I had moved back home with nowhere else to go.   This was 1971 or 72.  I forget exactly when. 

Anyway, I signed up and luckily, according to Ma Bell, qualified for a party line even though they were more than reluctant to run it up our house.  I believe I’ve told you that the further up Blair Branch you went, the meaner it got, and we lived in the last house.  Technically that’s not true because John and Ida Adams and their bunch of youngens and Hiram and Alta Stamper and their bunch lived on up the mountain above us.  But you have to admit, it’s a good line, true or not.

Anyway, our first phone, there on Blair Branch, was a “party line” shared with several other “subscribers” willing to pay the bill. Almost anytime you picked up the receiver, someone else was on the line and all you had to do to pick up on the local gossip was pick up the phone, cover the microphone end with your hand, and listen in. 

Someone on the line would know the last time little teenaged Sarah bought Kotex and declare her pregnant if she hadn’t been back to the store. “What on earth are Henry and Mable going to do now that Sarah is big bellied?  “I want to hear Mandy explain that one.”

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