I’m excited for you to meet or get to know Deeanne Gist better. Well-read copies of Love on the Line, Maid to Match, A Bride in the Bargain, Deep in the Heart of Trouble, Courting Trouble, The Measure of a Lady, and A Bride Most Beguiling, Dee’s historical fiction, line my bookshelves. I asked her to share a bit about the history of telephones with us today, but first, a couple of fun facts about the award-winning Deeanne Gist.
- Four RITA nominations.
- Two consecutive Christy Awards.
- Featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal when she did a presentation to RWA about Victorian undergarments.
- When Dee was in high school, one of the boys was teasing her mercilessly, so in speech class she used him as her “volunteer” to demonstrate how to tie someone up. Once she got him tied up, she then informed the class her speech wasn’t really about how to tie someone up, but about how to surprise them with a pie in the face…as she hit him with a cream filled pie. That sense of humor is part of Dee’s winning writing style.
We have an old rotary pay phone hanging on a wall in our gameroom. I’d always get tickled when teenagers came over and asked how to use it. Yet I found myself in that exact same position while researching my latest release, Love on the Line. It’s about a turn-of-the-century switchboard operator and a Texas Ranger who goes undercover as a telephone repairman.
The only exposure I’d had to switchboards was from the old Laugh-In episodes with Lilly Tomlin (dating myself here). Suffice it to say, I had a lot to learn. Not just about switchboards, but about how telephones worked back in the day. Since my book is set in a rural Texas town, there were party lines. I wasn’t sure how those worked either.
Then, of course, my hero was an undercover telephone repairman. So, I also had to learn how to repair the phones, string the lines, climb a telephone pole, etc. It was quite the education. Did you know they didn’t use safety straps back then? The men simply climbed the pole, then wrapped one leg around it to hold them steady while they did their work. Crazy!
And the telephone operator did much more than connect two parties together. She served as News Central and answered a huge range of questions. What’s playing at the opera house? Who came in on the afternoon train? Where’s the doc? Are the streets outside of town dry or muddy? I lost my cow, will you find out if anyone has seen her?
Talk about having to know everybody’s business! And the party lines were a hoot. Several people would share the same line. Each family had a specific ring. For example, the Smiths might have three short rings. But the Jones had two shorts and one long. Even still, everyone on your line heard the ring and if they wished to pick up and listen in, they certainly could.
Bottom line, I no longer rib the kids when they don’t know how to use our rotary. I simply show them how it works and feel rewarded that I’m passing along a little slice of history to this generation of techno-wizards.
Dee, thanks so much for joining us here on Hindsight today. What a fun look at telephone history. Thanks, too, for the giveaway copy of Love on the Line!