Making Connections The Hard Way
ONE half mile didn't seem far to go to phone a friend, unless it was midwinter and the snow was deep and cold. This was a spring evening, however, at the end of a long day of spring cleaning, and the idea of talking with Val appealed to me. The children played outdoors all day as I cleaned. I heated water on the wood-burning cookstove in big pots, preparatory to the dish washing, counter, and window cleaning I wanted to do. I hung the living-room rug on the clothesline in back and beat it vigorously. I swept and mopped the floors, filled the kerosene lamps, and washed the lamp chimneys. Then I began heating water for evening baths.Skip to next paragraph
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My husband had been out on the ranch all day irrigating the fields by hand, opening up a ditch here, closing a ditch there, using a shovel as his only tool as he walked about in his high rubber boots.
I went in and out of the house on my cleaning errands under the quiet, expansive sky, with only the sound of the sandhill cranes, the killdeer, and the children's laughing voices to keep me company. I hadn't been lonely, but somehow it seemed good, after dinner and conversation with the family, to stroll down the road in the twilight to phone Val.
``Our'' telephone was located in a hunting cabin a half mile away on this quiet 1,200-acre ranch. It wasn't our phone, but our employer had given us full use of it. He paid the bill monthly, then mailed a copy to us so we could figure our calls and reimburse him.
The delightful news was that a call to Baker City, 45 miles away, was not long distance, so a call to my friends cost me only the ambition of a half-mile walk down the road and the willingness to sit in the dark if I happened to get there late in the day.
None of the buildings in Whitney, Ore., had electricity. They were all remnants of an old lumber and mining town and were now incorporated into the big ranch we worked on. Sometimes I took a candle to the ``phone house.'' Other times I watched the dusk deepening as I sat talking and listening.
This particular evening I was without a candle and had decided not to encumber myself with a flashlight. I was confident that I was starting early enough for a lovely walk, a pleasant talk with Val, and a stroll back to the house in time for lamp lighting.
All would have gone just as planned except that when I reached the cabin and wound up the phone (a still workable relic from who knows when) there was no response. I tried a few more times, hoping to get an answer from a Portland operator, who no doubt would question me about where Whitney was, ``Is it on the map?'' and marvel over my living conditions. This was a common occurrence when I called, especially with new operators. They mused over our phone number, Whitney III, and wanted to know how I came to be living in such a place.
BUT tonight the phone was definitely dead, and I stepped onto the front porch of the cabin and began to resign myself to my fate of living in an empty northeastern Oregon valley without a way to get in touch, for the moment, except by letters. A letter to my friend would have to be taken to the nearest town, 13 miles away, to mail. Of course one could phone from there, too. But a letter would take a day or two to reach its destination. By then perhaps I'd plan a trip in for groceries, and why write?