Bill Long 9/1/06
I never knew how much making a simple phone call to a person I had met only once would trigger such diverse and pleasant memories for me. To be clear, the memories were not stimulated by the person whom I called, who actually was not home. Memories flooded back when I simply dialed or, more accurately, "punched in" his phone number.
Here is why. I met a man at a conference in Minneapolis last week who now lives in the relatively small town where I grew up (Darien, CT). After the conference, I wanted to get in touch with him. Rather than sending him a letter or fax (I didn't have his email address), I found his phone number and decided to call. The prefix was 655. But when I dialed the "655" I didn't "see" 655. I saw, in my mind's eye, "Oliver 5-." I "saw" Oliver 5 because that was one of Darien's phone prefixes with which I was familiar from my youth. But the prefixes of our youth sometimes tell stories, too.
Growing Up in "Fireside"
My pleasant little town was divided up, as I recall, into three phone prefixes in the 1950s and early 1960s. They were "Fireside," "Oliver," and "Davis." I assume that those names were probably derived from the names of phone company executives, their friends, or geographical features familiar to the executives. In this regard, it might not be too much different from the way that developers name subdivisions. Well, I lived in the "Fireside" part of Darien. Our phone number was Fireside 8-9117. That is how I remember reciting it in kindergarten, when our teacher made sure we all knew something about where we lived. Sometime in the early 1960s we got rid of names and replaced them with numbers. I think zip codes came in around the same time, so everyone had a lot of new numbers to learn around 1963. Thus, my new numbers would be 348-9117 for phone and 06820 for zip code. I, who was mathematically inclined from a young age, was delighted.
Growing up in "Fireside," however, was different from growing up in "Oliver" or "Davis." We whose numbers were "Fireside" were in the poorer end of town. Everything is relative, of course, and the poorer end of Darien was not too shabby in those days, but that was the reality. We not only had our own elementary school and own food market (an A & P in Glenbrook), but our own country club. I can see that your sympathy for me is fading fast. In any case, it was not until Junior High years (1964-67), that I actually had friends who lived in the "Oliver" district.
Now they were richer. They lived in pleasant tree-shaded roads, all of which seemed to have at least two words in their names (such as Hollow Tree Ridge or Deep Wood or Ox Ridge, etc.). This was in contrast to the streets over at my part of town, which all seemed to have short or monosyllabic names. For example, I grew up on Hoyt St, and had my paper route on Echo Lane and Miller Road. I went to Holmes school (thus becoming one of the first "Holmes-schooled" people in my generation...), which was surrounded by Lake Drive and Phillips Lane. The Phillips to whom this referred were the "Milk of Magnesia" Phillips', whose mansion down Middlesex Road in Glenbrook was torn down in my early days to make way for some kind of "improvement." In any case, I grew up in monosyllabic or single word simplicity while the "Oliver" kids grew up in double words. Even our country clubs bore witness to this. I belonged to Middlesex Swim Club, which my family helped to form in the early 1960s, while my friends were part of "Wee Burn" or "Burning Tree" or something like that. Indeed, we called our club a "Swim" club, while their clubs were "Country" clubs.
I was rather oblivious to issues of wealth and social status at the time, and so I developed friendships indiscriminantly in "Fireside" as well as "Oliver." Davis, on the other hand, was a prefix that encompassed people from the other Junior High in town--Mather. I went to Middlesex Junior High and our cross-town rivals went to Mather. Actually both names had long-term resonance in Southern New England, even if the "Mather" of Mather Junior High School wasn't a fiery preacher like his forebears Cotton or Increase in Boston. Thus, "Davis" was a fuzzier prefix for me. I had some friends from church who lived in that part of town, and the prefix seemed to include people from the Oliver to "super Oliver" social status. One of my friends from that part of town, for example, lived on "Salt Box Lane," obviously the haunt of the up and coming.
Only one street in my part of town seemed to break out of this linguistic prison, and that was "Briar Brae Lane." Perhaps the developer wanted to build on those lots and charge people more, simply because the address sounded as if it should be in a more ritzy subdivision. It would not be unlike the phenomenon today were someone will spell the word park as "Parque" or center as "Centre" and then charge you more for the privilege or dining or living in someplace so sophisticated that it could have its name spelled in a French or English way.
The two roads that tended to join the richer and poorer parts of town themselves bore witness to the two or one word phenomenon I have described. Both Middlesex Avenue and Christy Hill Road originated in my part of town but then, as they climbed the hill and headed off towards my Junior High, they disappeared into the "Oliver" district. Thus, we had either multi-syllabic or double word links between the poorer and richer parts of town.
It was not until I actually dialed Robert's number a few days ago, punching in the area code (203) and then the prefix (655) that all of these thoughts came rushing back to me. Funny how that works. This memory is, in fact "worth" nothing. Cultivating it didn't make me richer or more productive. Actually, it probably deflected my thoughts from things I "ought" to have been doing. But, by the same token, I am glad I took my memory detour. It is always worthwhile to think on a past that makes you smile rather than one that makes you cry.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long