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The Phone Call

by scriever 

Posted: 05 September 2017
Word Count: 483
Summary: For the challenge - the link. A true story.

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This is a true story. It happened to my wife, long before we met. 

It's 1972, in a Forestry Commission cottage, on a bleak hillside four miles from Fintry, a village with a pub, a shop and a church. Pauline, who would one day become my wife, was 12. Times were tough for families of Forestry Commission workers in the 1970s. They had a free house, but it was in the middle of nowhere. And they didn’t have much spending money, for Christmas presents for example.

So Christmas meant the Brian Mills catalogue. During the darkening winter evenings Pauline and her sister Sandra would study every page of the huge, glossy book and pick out what they would like Santa to bring them. They didn’t get everything they asked for, that would be spoiling them. Once the choices had been filtered through their mum, the order form was filled in and posted.

But this year, it was different. For the family home had just been augmented by that most modern of cons: a two-tone brown telephone, which sat, fat and gleaming, on the sideboard. It never rang, because nobody knew their number. But it meant that this year’s Christmas order could be delivered by phone! The occasion took on huge importance; Pauline and Sandra’s mum hadn't used the new instrument before, and wasn’t at all sure that this method of ordering would work. Perhaps the person on the other end wouldn’t understand her? They were calling Newcastle, after all, which, despite the fact that their Uncle Sandy lived there, was in a foreign country.

So it was that on a Saturday morning in November Pauline and Sandra gathered round as their mother pulled a chair up to the sideboard, took a deep breath, picked up the handset and slowly, with great care, dialed the number, which seemed very long. She tilted the earpiece so the girls could hear it ringing. The tension was nearly unbearable. Then, a voice: “Hello, Brian Mills, how can I help you?”

The girls’ mum, for some reason, stood up. “Yes, hello, I’d like to place an order. Do you want my address?” The woman on the other end did. After the address had been spelled out (people from England couldn’t be expected to get words like Gartcarron right) there was a squawk from the other end of the phone, and the girls heard a voice with a strong Geordie accent say “Auntie Eileen, is that you?” It was Frances, the eldest of Uncle Sandy’s gaggle of children. She had been taken on by Brian Mills to cope with the Christmas orders. It was her first week. The Giving of The Order took quite a while. There was, after all, much family business to get through as well. Eventually, however, the girls’ mum put the phone back down.

“That was your cousin Frances,” she said. “Wasn’t that nice?”

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