In this day of ubiquitous cell phones, it’s hard to imagine not being able to call someone to find out where they are, or at least send a text message. But back in the day—this was in ’74—people made do with pay phones, and you never called long-distance unless it was an emergency.
Sometimes it takes a while to realize that it’s an emergency.
We were moving—again—this time to Pinewood, SC, a central location between my new teaching job and his. We’d rented a house out in the middle of cornfields where we had to buy stock in an electric co-op to get electricity, and our phone was on a party line, That means that several families shared the same landline, and only one of the customers could use it at one time. Cable TV was completely out of the question, and we didn’t have a TV anyway. I think of those as the Lake Woebegon years because our main entertainment was public radio.
Again, the Plymouth was packed with things that would not fit in the rental truck, and I headed down the highway towards Pinewood, which is southeast of Columbia. I lost track of the rental truck that the hubby was driving, but I thought that we got separated in traffic. The car was making a strange noise, but it made a fair number of strange noises, and I didn’t worry about it of it until I got to Camden, about halfway to our destination. I decided to wait for him to catch up, and parked at a service station. After an hour, he didn’t come, and I started worrying.
Why I didn’t ask the service station manager to use the phone and call my mother-in-law collect, I don’t know except that 1) she would only worry too, if there had been a breakdown or a wreck, and 2) you didn’t call people collect or long distance unless it was an emergency. I didn’t have enough cash or a credit card for the call anyway.
I was concerned about the car, and did ask the service station manager to listen to it. Turns out, the car had thrown a rod. So I was stuck, with no money to fix the car, on a Saturday afternoon, and no sign of the significant other. The station manager kindly offered to take me on home. He was black, and I am white, and this was the 70s. Seems ridiculous now.
I was afraid, but on the other hand, I couldn’t stay there. He took me home—more than an hour’s drive one way for him. He would not let me pay him, and he took off back to Camden. Like Blanche DuBois, I had depended on the kindness of a stranger.
When I was able to call, I found out that there was a mechanical problem with the rental truck, and my hubby was at his mom’s house, back in Charlotte. We hadn’t made a plan for keeping in touch while on the road, and I should have gone back to find him as soon as I realized he wasn’t behind me. Hindsight.
I remember thinking on my wedding day that I could take my husband anywhere I wanted to go. But I missed this early clue that I needed to make sure he was going in the same direction I was, and discussing where we wanted to go would have been a good idea instead of wandering wherever one of us could get a job.
I needed to check in more often and make sure there was a way to communicate even if it meant a long distance call, because there was more distance between us than I realized, then and later on.