Today I found out that my dad got rid of the land-line at his house. It’s the house I grew up in, and the phone number I grew up with too.
I have a lot of feelings and stories.
When we first got the number, it was shorter – six digits was all that was needed in the early 90s.
I memorised 762631 as well as the numbers of my friends. We all lived in a tiny Central Victorian town called Newstead, so the 762 was a given, and we only needed to remember the last three digits.
Someone could ask, ‘What’s the Culvenor’s number again?’ and the reply would come, ‘627!’ It was a simpler time.
Knowing their home phone number is a good safety skill for children, but it isn’t always enough.
Before my primary school’s Melbourne Camp, we were told a telephone number horror story. A boy from Newstead got lost on an excursion to Melbourne, probably because he wasn’t listening. He had money for the pay phone, BUT he didn’t know he had to use the area code (03) to call home. So, he was stranded. I assume they got him back eventually, otherwise we wouldn’t know about the area code debacle, and there would be no teachable moment.
Anyway, terrifying but we all learned something.
An extra two digits (54) was added to the number when I was a teenager. I coped well. There were lots of changes happening to me at the time, as spelled out in the booklet we received in Grade 6, so the phone number lengthening was the least of my turmoil.
When I was in Year 10 I attended an International Nerd Camp in Melbourne. It was an exhilarating week mixing with kids from all over the world, and staying up past eleven o’ clock. I was having so much fun, that I neglected to call home on the first night, as requested. When I did call, my family members sounded a little miffed that I hadn’t checked in earlier. To make up for my previous tardiness, I called home, reverse charges, for the next four nights, and apparently it cost a lot of money.
When I moved to Melbourne to go to university 54 762631 took on a new meaning. It ceased to be my phone number, but became even more important as my link to home.
My two younger sisters, mum and dad were still living in Newstead so I would call 54 762631 fairly often (after 8pm when long-distance calls were charged at a flat rate) to catch up. At some point in the conversation the family member I was chatting with would yell out, ‘Does anybody else want to talk to Penny?’ There would be a pause and I’d hear some ‘Nahs’ or a reluctant shuffling.
Going home to Newstead for a visit, I would get off the train at Castlemaine station, walk out to the car park and look for a familiar face standing next to a silver sedan. Then I would turn around, and go back to the pay phone and dial, 54 762631. ‘I’m here, I got the 4:15, remember?’
Sometimes I dialled 54 762631 in a crisis. At the end of my first year of uni I had a dark night of the soul and after a short phone conversation, my mum drove to get me.
In recent years, 54 762631 has had problems. The arrival of the NBN was a total stuff-around that involved Dad’s phone being disconnected for three months. Then, it started working again, but 54 762631 connected to next door. This was a definite improvement as the neighbours could run over to Dad’s house and relay messages, but it wasn’t the high-tech future we’d been promised.
They fixed that problem and Dad got a big credit on his account, but when the phone line broke again recently and it was going to cost money to fix, he decided to go mobile only.
My point is, things change. 54 762631 I’ll remember forever.