Of course we all knew how to dial a phone. Ours were red plastic, leased from Northwestern Bell, the only phone company we ever heard of. Touch-tone came later, and my parents were too cheap to get it until I was out of COLLEGE because the phone company (again, only one) charged extra. Once. my parents bought one of those novelty candlestick phones, like someone might use in an old movie, and I thought it was cool for all of two days until I tried to do my homework with a friend on the phone. Impossible to write, hold the one part to your ear, and the one part to your mouth without dropping something.
You got the operator by dialing 0, and could also call for the time and temperature, which for some reason fascinated us and we did it ALL THE TIME. My cousins and I played prank calls on people out of the phone book, because we were idiots. There was no 911 one-size-fits-all emergency number, though the operator would apparently patch you through to the cops or a hospital. I thought a phone number ending in 1234 was the coolest number you could have and used to call it sometimes and quick hang up (it was a real estate office). And no one could trace our bad phone behavior because Caller ID and star 69 and all the others weren't in use.
Everyone you knew was in the phone book. We'd heard of unlisted numbers but they were only for the famous. It was super cool when your last name ended up being one of the "guide words" at the top of a phone book page. Every business you wanted was in the yellow pages and we actually used them, didn't just sigh heavily when they arrived and make a mental note that we were going to sign up for that "do NOT deliver these to me" list.
If people weren't home, it rang and rang. No answering machine or voice mail -- if you were out at the time, you got home later and had no idea if they'd bothered to call. If the line was busy, you got a busy signal, no call waiting noise. We called what would become "cell phones" "car phones," because they were huge beasts only seen on TV shows or in movies where people like presidents and spies would have them.
Pay phones cost a dime, and they were everywhere, complete with their own phone books on chained leashes in their little rooms covered with graffiti. 867-5309! (OK, so that was bathroom graffiti, not pay phone wall graffiti.)
Once, over a period of time when I was breaking up with my high school boyfriend, his mom made a rule that we could only talk at either 9 or 9:30 and only for a half-hour. And sometimes he wouldn't call at 9, and I'd tell myself he would call at 9:30, and the closer 9:30 came the shakier I got, because sometimes he wouldn't call then either. I didn't know this Dorothy Parker story, but I lived it.
What telephone memories do you have? Can you still recite your first-ever phone number? Is the call coming from inside the house?