“Was that quick enough?”

Since I don’t want more of you to send front-end loaders to my house, I need to post something. Let’s head back into the dusty files to come up with a story that always, when I post it on an online forum, gets the comment, “Jane, your mom rocks!”

Dial the time machine back to an era where people still used dials. If you can, picture a world where people used to put coins in pay phones if they were out of the house, and where if you were already talking on the phone, the phone company provided a free service in the form of a pulsed buzzing tone to let other callers know that, rather than charging you to interrupt your other call.

At a funeral home for the wake for one of my mother’s relatives, my mother needed to use the pay phone to call someone about arranging transportation for my grandmother. (Have I earned one of Wendy’s patented “old phart” membership cards now? The young’uns reading here are NOT allowed to say, “Pay phones? Don’t you have to pay for any phone?”)

The pay phone in the lobby ate my mother’s change without placing the call, and she didn’t have any more, so she went to find the funeral director.

This story came to light at all because I was arranging Emily’s funeral, and I noted that the funeral director had been more than accommodating. I said, “But I guess that’s to be expected. You’d figure someone in the funeral industry would be very compassionate.”  My mother replied, “You’d figure that, but listen to this.”

At any rate, my mother went to the funeral director’s office to find a toad-like woman chain smoking her way through the final hour of her workday. My mother said, “Excuse me, but the pay phone in the lobby took my change. May I please use your phone?”

The funeral director glowered at her and growled, “Yeah, but make it quick!”

Taken aback, my mother nevertheless dialed the relative who’d be picking up Grandma. She got a busy signal.

She glanced at the funeral director from her peripheral vision. Still the scowl.

So my mom shouted into the phone, ” Your mother’s dead!” and slammed it down.

Then she turned to the funeral director, who was gaping and wide-eyed, and said to her sweetly, “Was that quick enough?”

Mom: 1
Funeral Director: 0


  1. PonyPam

    And the toady-lady quit smoking, pasted a smile on her face (at least at work) and became a human being forever afterwards? 🙂

    1. philangelus

      If that makes you sleep better at night to believe, sure.

  2. Loriendil


  3. Diinzumo

    Hoo… your mom rocks. And yes, payphones earn you an official Old Phart(TM) Membership Card.

    My dad’s wife worked as a telephone operator when she was much younger. She often had to listen in on calls and press a button so that the phone would collect the caller’s coins when the caller hung up. She said she should have lost her job a couple of times when she took pity on the caller (a college student out of money or someone down on their luck) and “forgot” to push the collection button.

    1. philangelus

      Aww…that’s so sweet. 🙂 I wonder how many people had that happen and felt especially blessed that day. :#)

  4. Deb Salisbury


  5. dana

    I used to be a long distance operator: back when there were party lines and pay phones. It was my job when placing a collect call to ASK if the call would be accepted. MANY times, before I could ask, the caller would interrupt with a verbal shorthand. But I had fast fingers.

    I would listen as the collect caller would start with “YOUR….” and pull the cord out of their socket on the switchboard, ending the call.

    I now wonder how many “…mother’s dead!” calls I cut short.

    *snort* You mom was a fast thinker.

    1. philangelus

      There’s a family story about a time someone was trying to send news home, and they arranged by letter that when the thing happened, they’d call home collect, and it would be refused. But if the caller used one name (“John Smith”), the news would be one thing, and if the caller used a different name (“Jonny Smithson”) it would be the other. Apparently the people doing it had no money.

    2. cricketB

      My roommate used to place a person-to-person call to herself, who, naturally, wasn’t home. Then her parents would call her back on their dime.

      I couldn’t be bothered with anything that complicated. I paid the dollar to call home ask them to call me back.

  6. Sara Ann Denson

    Loving these family stories!

  7. Matt Paust

    Great story, told with panache. Your mom DOES rock, and so do you.

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