Rural Living

Cell Mates

Rural residents everywhere relate to the cellular connection disconnection


by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Writer

Margo Oxendine

Can we talk? About rural phones?          

Those who live in or near a city simply do not understand. But chances are, if you’re reading this magazine, you’re well aware of the quirks and quandaries of country calling.

First thing a visitor or new rural resident learns is this: All cell phone providers are not the same. Around here, if you have AT&T or Sprint or really, anything but Verizon, you can’t rely on cell phone service.

Case in point: I whipped off the highway and turned into my driveway last week, only to find a woman in a Mercedes parked there. In answer to my questioning look, she smiled and shrugged. “Sorry,” she said, “This is the only place I can get my cell phone to work.” Being the truly helpful rural dweller I am, I told her to feel free to consider my driveway her “call center” any time.

My own cell phone is never turned on unless I am traveling, or need to call ahead for to-go food while running errands around town.

My cell phone cannot be used for texting, at least not to my knowledge. It does take photos, but I have no idea how that works. Lurking somewhere in its innards is a photo of the inside of my purse. I took it quite by accident, and have no idea what to do with it.

Folks in Bath County have had to learn to live with hoots and hollers and guffaws from urban visitors when they spy our phone books. Forget Superman; a toddler could tear our little 8x5 phone book into tatters.

Bath County residents are served by no fewer than, I think, five different phone companies. If you live in Millboro, chances are you must make a long-distance call to reach McClung, just a few miles down the road.

It wasn’t too long ago that many folks here had no phone service at all. When I visited Mrs. Brinkley’s farm as a kid, she had a big brass bell outside that she’d clang if she needed help from the neighbors.

When I was in high school, those of us in Hot, Warm and Healing Springs only had to dial the last four digits of the 839- exchange. Now, we must dial all seven. Still, we’re better off than my friends in Baltimore. They must dial an area code to reach a phone two doors down the hall.

Yesterday, I called a friend and got her voice mail. I didn’t leave a message. Two hours later, she called me back, having seen my number on her caller ID. Trouble was, by then I’d forgotten why I called. We had a 20-minute conversation, nonetheless.

In my opinion caller ID is the most wonderful invention since the blow dryer. There are one or two people I know who, should their number appear on caller ID, make it worth every penny.

One of the wonders of rural living is this: Even if you dial a “wrong” number, you will know the person who answers and can have a conversation with them.

This happened to me several times when I was housesitting. The phone would ring. I would answer “Hello.” The caller would say, “I was trying to reach Cathy. This sounds like Margo, though.” Once when this happened, the caller and I yakked for 90 minutes.

The fact that she could recognize my voice, from a simple two-syllable “Hello,” lets me know that I’d better not be making any crank calls anytime soon.

Chalk it up to old age, I sadly guess, but I find myself forgetting whom I called in the few brief minutes it takes the phone on the other end to ring.

Here’s how I usually fix that problem: I simply say, “Hi! This is Margo.” The person on the other end will start talking and, sooner or later, I will recognize his or her voice. Then I blithely babble on as usual. I have, though, actually had to say, “Uh, this is Margo and I’ve forgotten who I called.” In a small rural region such as this, the person I’ve reached can not only tell me who they are, but often tell me the reason I rang them up in the first place.

Come to think of it, we haven’t progressed too far beyond the days when Andy picked up the phone and said, “Sarah, would you get me Thelma Lou?” 


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