I grew up in a time when phone calls were not the common occurrence they are now. Sure, each home had a phone, but usually only one. Sometimes bigger homes had an extension - two or more phones that were connected to the same line. This meant that more than one person could be on the same call at the same time, wh ich was convenient for big family calls like on Christmas day, or other similar events. It was inconvenient when you wanted to call your friend to see if she could come play, but your mom was on the phone. If you were sneaky and a light breather, you could listen in on calls that you shouldn't be. Fine, it was eavesdropping.
Long distance was a luxury. Those calls were reserved for either very special occasions (the aforementioned Christmas Day) or emergencies. The cost was measured by the minute and distance, so not a lot of time was wasted on idle chit-chat. You got on, established the other party was who you wanted to talk to, said your piece and listened to theirs, then got off. This led to some very sudden endings to calls, and even when long distance charges were turned into one monthly flat rate, my mother would still end calls abruptly, leaving me looking at the phone, perplexed, wondering if I had said something offensive.
The social norms for calling times were very well established. If you knew someone well or were family, you could call starting at 8:00 a.m; otherwise, nine o'clock was the general accepted rule. And if someone called after 9:00 p.m., they'd better have a darn good reason.
Long distance charges were allowed to stretch the call times for family members. My parents were both early risers, and since long distance charges rose substantially after 7 a.m., most family calls were made before that time. It helped that we lived in an earlier time zone than most of my family. So it wasn't entirely uncommon for our phone to ring before 6 a.m. We were all up anyway.
But when phone companies started competing with the original Ma Bell for business and the flat rates were instituted, the practice of early morning calls lessened. It got to the point where if the phone rang before 8 a.m., you emotionally braced yourself for some bad news.
This morning our house phone rang at 5:15 a.m. Linda was in the shower, getting ready to go teach seminary. I was awake, but only just, and certainly hadn't made any overtures towards actually rising. At first I thought maybe I imagined the sound. I listened carefully, and heard it again. I flung the covers off, opened my bedroom door and stumbled into the living room. (I haven't had a phone in my bedroom since I was the early-morning seminary teacher, as my roommate would receive calls after I had gone to bed.)
The person on the other end couldn't understand why Linda hadn't answered the phone and kept asking me if I was sure I wasn't her. I couldn't understand why the caller wouldn't identify himself. Phone etiquette - one of my pet peeves. After we finally established each other's identities and I assured him that I wasn't going to hand the phone to my showering roommate, but would instead relay the message, things went much better.
On my way back to my room, I paused at the bathroom door and hollered in, "That was the chapel custodian. He wants to know if the heater is working today, so I told him you would call him when you got up there." I paused, and she acknowledged she would do so. Then I said, "And if you could please tell your friends to not call at five-fifteen in the morning, I'd appreciate that."
She laughed, "Yeah, Vern and I are best buds." We both chuckled, and I went back to bed.
I'm still expecting that bad-news phone call, though.