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South Texas Living

Reminiscing: Remember tin-can telephones?

Reminiscing: Remember tin-can telephones?

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Rainy Days and Starry Nights
March 21, 2012
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We made tin-can telephones when I was a kid growing up on the farm at Kasper. We never had a telephone. It was such a novelty to us, because the only phone we ever saw was the one that was in Kasper School hanging on the wall. I never used it. I never even talked on a phone till I was grown and graduated from Poth and moved off the farm to San Antonio, and had my own apartment! That was when I was 18 years old.

So, as kids we used to play “Telephone” (which was among other games we played, which were always played outdoors, like “Cowboys and Indians,” “Hide and Seek,” “Kick-the-can,” “Annie Over,” “School,” and “House”).

We thought we invented the tin-can phones, which we made by getting two empty tin cans with the lid cut off of one end, and punching a hole with a nail in the other end and tying a long string in the hole, and with the other end tied to another tin can. You stretched the string tight in a straight line and held the open end to your ear, while the other person talked in the tin can at the other end of the string. It worked. It was like magic.

But then I read up on it the other day. It seems sound waves are created as the air vibrates in response to speech or other sounds. The ear collects these sound waves and converts them into nerve impulses, which the brain interprets as sound. When the string is pulled taut and someone speaks into one of the cans, its bottom acts as a diaphragm converting the sound waves into longitudinal vibrations, which vary the tension of the string. These variations in tension set up waves in the string which travel to the other can, causing its bottom to vibrate in a similar manner as the first can, thus recreating the sound.

And I always thought it was magic! You could “play like” you had a telephone. We played “house” where we lined our “house” and rooms with sticks and stones, and put tin cans with boards across them for tables and chairs, and that was our houses. Then we would “call” our neighbors on our phones. What ingenuity that was!

But maybe we got the idea from a book at school or the library! I always thought we invented those tin-can telephones!! So, now all the kiddos have to do is call their friend on their cell phones, or text them on cell phones, and that includes young children 8 years old or even younger! They even have their own cell phones!

I remember when it was a big deal when some parents began to buy their children pagers! That was back in the 1990s. My kids never even had a phone in their room. Everyone had to use the phone on the wall in the kitchen! Everyone! Mom and Dad and four kids ... then we decided to put another phone on the wall in the hall by the bedrooms. Oh, the times I would trip over a cord of a phone stretched into one bedroom or Eddie tripped over it going to the bathroom. Oh, he would get so mad! He threatened to take the hall phone out! If they used the phone, they could sit on the floor in the hall and talk if they wanted to ... or talk on the phone in the kitchen. But then everyone would hear what they were saying. There “was a method in our madness,” we used to say!

I guess I am too old-fashioned. I don’t like a lot of the new technology. Too much information is not good sometimes. I think it’s time we go back to “tin-can telephones” or even one telephone in the whole household!!

Lois Zook Wauson is the oldest of eight children who grew up on a farm in Wilson County in the mid-20th century. After many years living in other parts of Texas, she now lives and writes in Floresville. Her two books are available from the Wilson County News office. Email her at loiswauson@yahoo.com.

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