Awhile back we set up a home phone after not having one for 10 years.

“I think we should have a home phone,” Sue said. “What if something happens with our cell phones and our parents or kids want to get a hold of us in the case of an emergency?”

The parents, kids and emergency appeal. I had been boxed into a karmic corner. Should I not agree and a tornado picked up and transported my in-laws to Kansas, I would have some explaining to do.

I wasn’t sure a home phone was possible. Over the years, through remodeling and painting projects, I’d removed the phone jacks. Ripped out the jacks and the telephone wire.

There was still wire attached to the outside walls, in fact the structural integrity of the house no longer depended on nails but rather on abandoned telephone wire, TV cable and satellite dishes, from toggling back and forth between one cable company and another in order to save $3 on our monthly cable bills.

I wasn’t sure which wire was viable because wire scares me. All I can think about is getting shocked and have my hair stand up on end.

A home phone seemed fraught with challenges. Who was our phone company? Given our mix-and-match approach to Internet, cable and cell service, I wasn’t sure and this lack of certainty made me anxious.

Home phones used to be simpler. Simpler and sacred. Home phone numbers were the first things kids learned. People were proud of their phone numbers and if you had a good one, it could be a point of pride.

Most of us will carry our home phone numbers to our graves. When we have forgotten everything else, the memory of Petula Clark singing “Downtown” and our home phone numbers will remain.

My first phone was 324-9562, my best friend Al’s number was 871-6075 and my home phone number as an adult 325-8273.

“I’d like to get a home phone,” I said to the young dark-haired man at the phone store. “We are paying for a landline and we’re not using it and we’d like to be prepared if something happens to the cellular network.”

I might as well have said, “My wife sent me.” It was written all over me like my home phone number.

The young man was geared toward politeness but he looked at me as if I were street crazy. I might as well have stepped out of Betty Younger’s time capsule downtown sporting a mullet and 20 years of facial hair.

I confessed to unwiring the house like a meth addict because of several painting jobs.

“You don’t need all of that,” he said. “If you have internet, a cable hookup and a modem, you’re fine. That’s the way we do it now.”

No more wire? Like Lou Gehrig, I felt like the luckiest man in Bakersfield.

I didn’t begin to understand it but I was grateful and I thanked him profusely.

He suggested that I buy VTech phones. They seemed awfully light and without the gravitas of old-fashioned phones. The old ones were heavy, and if you didn’t have a frying pan handy, you could rip one out of the wall and have it serve as protection against home intruders.

I bought three and installed them. Project finished, problem solved. I was happy and wire-free.

“Did you get the same phone number?” Sue asked when she came home.

I tried. I think I tried. If I didn’t try, it wasn’t because I didn’t think about it but it was that the thought whistled through my head and kept going south.

I gave the number to the kids, the grandparents and a few select friends, emphasizing how important they were to us because in they were the home phone number inner circle.

That was six months ago. No phone calls yet. No tornados either.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or (661) 395-7279.

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