LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Gabrielle Baker sat in the front seat of my car last Saturday smiling. It was the kind of grin that didn’t brush off easily and, in fact, she’d been wearing it for the past hour. It was the result of the pink rotary phone she had sitting in her lap, whose receiver she would periodically pick up and talk into before descending it back onto the hook.
She’d found the phone after a long afternoon at the peddlers mall in Lexington, a gargantuan place filled with booth after booth of used treasure. The excursion was one my sis-in-law Teresa and I had been planning for a while, and finally we had made it happen. My stepdaughter Gabrielle and my nephew Reece had come too, and we’d had a lovely time browsing, examining and debating.
It didn’t take long for Gabrielle to zero in on the rotary phones, which she found in a small number of booths. I’d introduced her to rotary while we were in the basement of an antique store in Berea a few weeks ago, and she’d gamely dialed her mom’s number to test it out. As soon as the dial started rotating back down the numbers, I remembered that sound. I don’t know what it is about that whirring that is so reassuring to listen to, but it sure is, like sipping from a bottle of childhood.
We had a black rotary phone in the basement when I was a kid, and I would prop myself on the stool beside our 1980s bar and call up all my friends. Sometimes, I would get a pencil and use that to help me dial, zipping the dial around quick and business-like, like the secretaries would do on TV shows. Half the time I would misdial though and have to start all over. Gabrielle experienced this too and commented on how easy it was to make a mistake.