My grandmother, Irene Williams, lived to be 100 and passed in 1996. I asked her what she thought were the two most important inventions in her life. She said without hesitation, the ice maker and the telephone: “In the Midwest, in the summer, to have a really cold lemonade and talk on the phone to friends is the best life can offer.” 

We were very close, so I asked why those two things. She told me the story of when she was a child in North Dakota.

Her Dad, Dan Connors, worked for the railroad. Her mother, Josephine Connors, was a teacher and with Grandma Irene being the oldest, she had to keep track of her three youngest brothers, James, Don, and Ed. North Dakota in the late 1800s was dusty in summer and snow-blowing in winter. It was a tough life. Her Dad got a promotion and they packed to move back to Minnesota, with the father going on ahead to get quarters for them all. Grandpa Dan left on a train to Minneapolis, but he got deathly sick on the train and when it pulled into the city, he collapsed.

A kind stranger who owned a boarding house had him brought to her home and for six weeks nursed him with a doctor coming to the house, and finally got him well. Meanwhile back in North Dakota, Grandma Josephine sat with four children under the age of 10, and waited and waited and waited. The railroad had not heard from him.

She sent a telegraph asking them if they knew where he was—no answer. It was six or seven weeks before she knew he was all right and still had a job. At last they all came out on the train and Grandma Irene never forgot about it.

I was named after the schoolteacher, Grandma Josephine and became a teacher myself. Everyone in my family loved telephones, as the story of the Dakota incident made the rounds. It was a treat to talk to my great uncles who moved to New Mexico (even if the long-distance charges were high). It was a once-a-year treat at Christmas to hear their voices. It brought families closer and kept people safe to be able to call for fire or police. Phones = Good.

Then the decades rolled by, and kids in school all had smart phones. School kids, imagine. They sneak peeks at answers to test questions, play games, (Go Candy Crush) and speak over the phone to their friends who are just out in the hall. Families go to eat together in a restaurant and all four at the table have their phones out to read, look up facts, and to get the news. No personal communication is necessary. Read or play, you just focus on the phone. Phones = Bad.

Now we come to my good friends, Al and Kay Chowning. I’ve known them for quite a few years. They come bearing gifts and supper and dominoes. (They kick our butts, but that is another story.) Today I spoke with Kay who was so frustrated. They had had 10 robot calls this morning, all from Affordable Health Care. They are on a “do not call” list, but it does not matter; this company still calls. And their caller ID shows numbers from different parts of New Mexico, like Santa Fe, Deming, Ruidoso, Tijeras, and of course Albuquerque. Kay says that the recording says, “If you do not wish to receive the calls, push 9.” The number is almost worn off the phone and the calls keep on coming. No matter what Kay and Al do, it does not help. Phones = Ugly.

I don’t know about you, but when the phone rings, I run to get it. My Bill says I am ridiculous, but he married me 47 years ago. He knew I was crazy about phones then. The point is, I run. You can break your neck, or you can break a hip, especially when you are 72, which I am. I was the one who got the calls saying one of our pilots had crashed, one of my cousins had totaled his car, or our precious grandbaby was born.

Bill is right, yes, I have said it in print, phones work for us. That is why it is so exasperating when we have no control over who calls them. Bill said you can call or go online to the Attorney General’s Office in Santa Fe. Look for Consumer Protection and lodge a complaint. Gather your data, keep a log and see if they can do something. Phones have come a long way, baby. Use them and call everyone you know, and don’t do business with a company that is that annoying. Dollars talk too. Hang up on them.

Roaring Mouse, trying to figure out my smart phone, out.

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at [email protected]