Part 5 of the Growing Up Kansas series
We country kids invented LOLOPS long before LOL(laugh out loud). LOLOPS: Little Old Ladies of the Partyline Society. We called them the Lollipops.
Unlike city folks that live so close they can hear each other pass gas, rural neighbors live miles apart. When we say, Yeah, I grew up next to them, it means we lived in the same county.
The community thread connecting neighbors was the Partyline, a shared phone line between neighbors, not the dogma of the Communist Party. One had to be careful to make that distinction if you didn’t want to show up on Sen. McCarthy’s or the Lollipop’s list of Communist Sympathizers.
If you wanted to make a phone call on the Partyline, you picked up the receiver and listened in to make sure no one was talking before you dialed. It enraged the Lollipops if you started dialing while they were talking.
A distinctive click alerted you that someone picked up the phone. Whomever was gossiping, er, talking would stop, listen, then ask who joined the call: “Helen, is that you?” If it were my mom, Helen, she joined the gossip then hung up two hours later; Mom was a bona fide Lollipop. However, if one of us kids picked up the phone, we’d wet ourselves and run outside as fast as we could.
When the phone rang, you had to make sure it was your ring before you answered it. Ours was two short rings. Greenwell’s was one long ring. One old man in the ‘hood decided to answer it no matter whose ring it was. My sister from back east kept calling to tell the folks she’d be a few days late, but the old man kept answering our ring. She finally made the old codger jump in the car and drive to our house to deliver the message. Carrier pigeons from New York would have been faster than that old geezer; the old man I mean, not my sister.
Long distance calls were only made in the case of an extreme emergency like when the Russians finally attacked. Our number was: 321-5067. Only you never said three-two-one, five-o-six-seven: you said, Davis one, five-o-six-seven. If you did make a long distance phone call, you called the operator first then had her dial the number. She often listened in to the call. I am not kidding.
You also called the operator if, say, someone was breaking into your house and you wanted to call the sheriff or if you just whacked off body parts with a chainsaw and needed an ambulance. But first, you interrupted the Partyline by declaring, “This is an emergency! I really need to call the operator so I can call the Sheriff.”
However, one first had to be vetted by the Lollipops. They asked why you needed to call the sheriff then chatted a while about the times they called the sheriff. Sooner or later they decided whether or not you really needed to call the sheriff, but by that time, you didn’t need to because the robbers took everything, including your phone.
Most of the gossipers on the party line were bored little old ladies. This was in the era when women stayed home and tormented their children. Several ladies on our Partyline managed to run their children off so they had nothing better to do than watch General Hospital and talk about the miscreants in the area; namely, the McNary children. The Lollipops was a clandestine society complete with secret handshakes, code words, late-night meetings with coal-oil lamps and Ouija boards. We lived in total fear of them.
My next older brother, Mike, was a cross between Gandalf and Gollum. He was wise and magical at times, then bad-tempered and dangerous at others. I lived in that dark chasm between abject terror and hero worship.Being the youngest of six and not in the original family strategic plan, I came along later after Mom and Dad thought they were done. I vehemently argued they saved the best for last, but my older brothers claimed I was a mistake and should have been born wearing rubber booties.
Mike finally cracked the code on the Lollipops. He worked for an electronics business and brought home a speakerphone that was the size of a toaster. This was high excitement on the farm! Remember, transistor radios were the pinnacle of technology during that time.
The idea was to take the phone of the hook, place the receiver in the cradle, and chat away doing whatever you wanted while you talked on the speakerphone. I am not making this up; the cover on the box was a photo of a lady ironing while she talked. My mother thought this was a marvelous idea; she could talk all day while ironing Dad’s underwear. I am not making that up either.
Long before the NSA figured out how to spy on our cell phone calls, Mike figured out how to spy on the Lollipops. If you unscrewed the mouthpiece on the phone, the person on the other end couldn’t hear what you were saying. Mike unscrewed the mouthpiece, laid the phone on the apparatus, and the Lollipops began questioning.
“Who just picked up the phone?”
“Gertrude, did you just hear a click? I thought I heard a click. You sure you didn’t hear a click?”
“Why yes, May Belle, I’m sure I heard a click, too. Did someone pick up the phone? Please identify yourself?”
“Well, it was probably them darn McNary kids.” Gertrude fumed, “their as worthless as tits on a boar hog anyway.”
“You know how them preacher’s kids are. Their Daddy’s a preacher and he’s a good man but them kids of his is a sinnin’ all week long and it wears him plumb out. He’s got patches on his knees from praying for those little heathens?”
Have I told you yet my Daddy was a preacher? Well, that’s a whole ‘nother set of stories.
We were pretty darn cute listening in to the Lollipops until they bought up the topic of mountain lions eating some of the local rancher’s calves. Solomon said that too much knowledge brings sorrow. However, he should have said that too much knowledge scares the crap out of little kids.
We had enough goblins to fear such as cows, coyotes, my niece Colleen and hateful crawdads; we didn’t need to add mountain lions to the mix. The UFO coming to get us was an isolated moment of terror that could be reasoned away during daylight, but roaming mountain lions made us keep a Daisy Rider with us at all times. No one in the War Department trusted the rank-and-file with live ammo.
In the 40 years since we eavesdropped on the Lollipops, I’ve heard the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks deny, deny, and deny again that there are mountain lions in Kansas. Even if you have a picture with a mountain lion eating your leg near your mailbox to verify the address, they quote the old Groucho Marx line, you going to believe me or your lying eyes? Naturally, I believe everything the government tells me.
On the other hand, I have people that I would trust much further than I can throw a government official say they’ve seen mountain lions in Kansas. I believe them.
I’m still not sure why we were surprised each time our espionage plans backfired. We laid a lot of traps as children and got caught in all of them, eaten by the same prey we tried to snare. Not one more night on the shed or in a tent was spent during our Kansas summers without the expectation of being eaten by mountain lions. Those lions would have found our young, hairless bodies nice, tasty lollipops.
It took us a lot of years and foiled plans to learn this lesson: never, ever, try to outsmart a little old lady. They’ll always win even when they don’t know they’re playing a game.
The photo, Shadow Dancing, is mine. It was taken near Whitewater, Kansas.