Long past are the early evenings when leaving the house for an hour or two, the thought of turning on the hall light is far from my mind.
Daylight Saving Time ended last Sunday morning, a week into November. It has been the way things are for a while, but it was this year that that extra week made the transition easier, that and a spectacular sunset that allowed the shortened afternoon to linger, strata of pink and orange with bands of bright blue showing through. It was one of my Marco Polo Skies, from elementary school stories of the explorer returning from the East with brightly colored silks as well as spices and more.
I think, too, of a lady who lived in India when her husband was with the Ford Foundation. She recalled the short years John Kennedy was President not for the youth and glamour that grabbed headlines but for the fact people such as her MIT husband were recruited “to think!” They arrived in India, I do not remember which city, or by which name it was then called, but her remembering their children exclaiming “colors!”
The vivid, lingering sunset, which had been markedly earlier every day for a few weeks, almost offset that first night when so many of us are ready to sleep hours earlier than makes any sense.
Or perhaps it was the weirdly disordered week preceding the change, including a meeting that ended before I am accustomed to them starting and I found myself in my car in the Town Hall parking lot distracted by an odd play of light and color.
I have, for some time, been fascinated by a telephone pole at the telephone building that has such a slant to it that it runs parallel to one of the legs of the
big Erector Set tower behind it. I had not much noticed the slant to the pole in the parking lot, or the pool of light beneath it, but most of all I do not remember even seeing the telephone building, that squat brick-fronted box on the hill, glowing, illuminated from without and within.
It was a moment in time, one I might not have even caught but for fiddling with my phone, realizing the birthday of a classmate had been the previous day. There were five of us in the class for half of our school life, just over sixty students in the whole school and every birthday was celebrated at lunch time with what I did not know was not a universal practice, buttering of the nose to ease the sliding through the next year. The cooks provided someone a dab of butter — or whatever it was — on a piece of waxed paper, and somehow it always seemed to be a surprise.
Looking at the numbers it seems it should have been happening more frequently than I recall. It was a surprise, and not so long ago, to learn it was not
done everywhere, at home if not in schools larger than ours.
It was the connection with our little class, expanded by 25 percent toward the end of first grade when the new telephone man came to work in the new telephone building that made me pause to take the photo. He was, of course, John Donnelly, a WWII Veteran who joined the phone company and kept learning new things, coming here as the microwave guy and the lineman and the installer of new phones. The state even found a “part time” job for his wife, then the mother of “only” four. We were kids, it seemed an incredible coincidence.
Our telephone system was going to microwave, whatever that was, for long distance calls, sent out from a big metal dish set between two telephone poles. It aligned with a similar set over in a field in Narragansett, now just south of the Stop and Shop, beside a tiny brick building. It was replaced by the current tower, so much higher and more modern, reaching, last I knew, a mate on Tower Hill.
I do not remember exactly when it happened, only that it was still in the time when such a looming tower had to be climbed, a flag of some sort planted. That original dish was salvaged, its interior painted black, and put to use as a solar water heater, albeit of limited capacity. Then there was the windmill that blew apart one. . . windy day.
But back in the late fifties, everything new, every house, every student, was an event of monumental proportions. Out was the old phone with the crank on the side and the operator on the other end for even local calls, gone, too the local office with its bank of switchboards, just a space in a building that also housed the Credit Union that was open for a few hours on Saturday.
With the new service came the rotary dial phone, and direct dial, our ability to call, locally, without an operator involved. We dialed only four digits, we had only that 466 — HOward 6 —exchange. Of course we still know the numbers of childhood friends, we dialed them instead of pushing a single button and now, touching a name on a screen.
The telephone building, that brick box on a hillside, is, strangely, prominent and invisible. Perhaps these days it is generally hidden by a few white trucks and the omni-present vegetation. “Glowing” is not a word I would ever associate with it, but there is was last week.
John would have laughed — or offered his particular version of “yeah, yeah” — had he been told the telephone building was part of a nightscape, a tableau of illumination in 2021. And Daddy would have said the box needed a pitched roof.
Tomorrow, the day before this paper will be out, is Veterans Day. I think of the photos Mary D. and her family have of John, and I have of my father, proud
in their Navy uniforms, younger than we ever knew them. At least we did know them, and for that I think I can say “we” are grateful.