Who the Heck is Wilma?

As I do the closing on PYPT each week, if I don’t say “Bye Wilma”, someone will usually prompt me to do so. Who is Wilma and why do people at PYPT care?

Wilma had a pattern of behaviour that left an indelible memory on my life.

I was raised in rural Ontario in the 1960’s (yes, I’m showing my age). Back then, phones in rural areas were on party lines. No, we didn’t use the phone to play music while we held a party. Several families shared a line with a different ring for each. And you thought ringtones were modern.

In theory you only answered the phone if it was your ring.

Telephone companies were local. When you picked up your phone to make a call, the local operator would answer connect the call for you. Operators were notorious for opening keys and listening in on conversations. Nothing like getting their gossip right from the horse’s mouth.

We learned very early, never talk about something you didn’t want made public on the phone.

Operators weren’t the only ones listening in on others calls.

Say hello to Wilma. Our neighbour on the farm next door. You’d think raising a family, looking after a home and doing the many chores farm wives had to do she’d not have time to even make a call, let alone listening in.

We learned very early to listen for the telltale ‘click’ of another phone being picked up when we were on a call. That was the signal someone was eavesdropping.

Wilma would occasionally ask my mother over to coffee in the afternoon. She took me along on many of those occasions, warning me within an inch of my life that I was not to open my mouth at anything Wilma did while we were there. There was a reason for her to give me that warning.

While we were seated in her living room having coffee. Mother and her were chatting away when one of the rings went off on her phone. I knew it wasn’t their ring, that much I knew. It was another neighbour’s where I visited.

Wilma set her coffee down and nonchalantly reached over to pick up the phone. My mother fell silent and went on sipping her coffee. Wilma listened a few minutes and then gently set the phone back down. Not sure she knew anyone on the line could hear the clicks.

Yes, I kept my mouth shut. Had to bite my tongue, but, I kept silent.

It was a good thing mother had warned me ahead of time. I would have thought nothing of telling Wilma (politely) that listening in wasn’t very polite. She probably would not have been very happy had I done so.

While I was busy biting my tongue, I was rather shocked at my mother’s lack of concern over what was happening. At home, if we even moved in the direction of the phone after a ring wasn’t ours, she’d let out a roar that we dare not ignore.

She never batted an eyelash at Wilma’s behaviour, reminding me later, we don’t tell people what to do in their own homes.

I often wondered how much time in a day Wilma spent listening in to other people’s conversations. She also kept a close eye on what was going on at our house when my parents were away. That was no easy task when there was a pasture and a line of trees to see past.

She became so well known for this pattern of eavesdropping behaviour that we would finish our calls by saying goodbye to our caller and then say goodbye to Wilma who was likely still on the line.

She didn’t often hang up during the call, didn’t want the click on the line to give her away, even though everyone knew she was already there.

You Stab, We Slab Em

One day my eldest brother got one of the cars running (hot-wired it) while the parents were away. He drove it up and down our long driveway for a while and then parked it back in its spot.

The following morning, the phone rang. My brother (yes the same brother) picked up the phone and greeted the caller with “Joe’s morgue. You stab em, we slab em”.

There was a pause on the end of the line before Wilma asked to speak to mother. She was calling to inform her of my brother’s adventure the day before.

My mother thanked her for the call. Put the phone down and started laughing.

“Of ALL the people for you to answer that phone like that to,” she said to my brother “And just where do you get off at playing with the car while we were out?”.

The issue seemed to stop there. It was like my brother got off light because he amused my mother.

A few years ago I told a shorter version of this story on PYPT. Someone commented at the end of the story I didn’t say goodbye to Wilma. It was added to my closing remarks.

If there’s an afterlife, I expect that Wilma is comfortably seated on a couch with a phone to her ear. No comment if that is a torment or heaven for her.

Goodbye Wilma!

Shadowspub is a writer from Ontario, Canada. She writes on a variety of subjects as she pursues her passion for learning. She also writes on other platforms and enjoys creating books you use like journals, notebooks, coloring books etc.

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17 comments
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Goodbye Wilma!

I never knew how the party lines worked. I'm wondering, does this have anything to do with the phrase, "towing the party line?"☎

Wilma thought she was shrewd, eh?
And your brother thought he was so slick.😁

Now I'm in on the inside joke!🤣

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My eldest brother has always had a wicked sense of humour. Never know what is coming out of him next. I remember him once describing a particularly unruly child in the area as a little orangutan attached to his mother's hand. It was so out of the blue I almost spit my coffee out.

Wilma was quite the character for sure. There were likely others around like her, just not living beside us. I don't know if party lines even exist any where these days. Well I do now, a quick search tells me they were phased out by the turn of this century. I'm surprised they lasted that long.

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how interesing, I think most villages had a Wilma, although we didn't have party lines!

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that's pretty old tech although as I just mentioned to Alessandra there weren't phased out until the beginning of this century.

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Biyeeeeeeeeeee Wilma. Haha. I finally got to know the story behind our prestigious Wilma. Haha. What a legend she was.

You sure she isn't one of 'em FBI agents sent to watch over a lady in the shadows? 😂

Oh, my! Technology have really advanced since then, but someone is still listening. There are still many Wilma's out there in phone companies and as bugs in many websites. Haha.

I like how there are serious lessons to be learned in this.

As for your brother, I'm guessing he is the one that grew to become someone that plays around with cars. Hehe. He found his talent very early in life.

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I would hope that Wilma wasn't FBI considering I'm a Canadian. :)

Yes, there are many versions of Wilma exist even today. That lesson about sharing personal information you don't want publicly known is most definitely one for all time. One never knows where the ears are.

Yes, that was the brother who became an auto mechanic and then a auto broker selling vehicles to car lots. He lived and breathed cars from a very early age. Both of my brothers are auto mechanics. My dad used to brag to customers at our store that he had 2 boys and three mechanics in the family. Take a guess who the third mechanic was.

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Um, we used to use that little poem answering our phones, and it went

Max's Mortuary,
You stab 'em,
We slab 'em,
Some go to Heaven,
Some go to Hell---o?```
We loved that little poem, we had a couple of them back then.
Love this story about Wilma, it just cracks me up!!! hahahahhahahaha
How to make your tongue bleed!!!

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yeah definitely learned to bite tongue kind of early. My brother has always been a bit of a wise-ass.

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Your Wilma reminds me of Gladys Kravitz from the old TV show Bewitched.

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Yes Wilma and Gladys had much in common that is for sure. I loved that show when I was kid.

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I am in your age bracket, and I remember party lines. Not sure we had a Wilma, but I do know our mother discouraged us from eavesdropping. My dad was born in 1909, and he had some interesting ways of answering the phone when he was in the mood. He would say, "Bill's Beanery" or "Dottie's Doughnuts" if he felt like it.

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My parents were both born during the Depression. Was interesting times back then. Those born in the late 1800s and early 1900 who lived to a 'senior' age sure saw a lot of major changes in their time.

I looked back over some of the changes my uncle had lived through when he turned 100 last year. It really is stunning to realize how much of how we live has changed so radically in what is a comparatively short time period.

My Uncle wont allow anyone to call him old.. thus the 'senior' use.

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My dad lived to age 99. He, too, saw incredible changes over the years. And even when he was in his 90s he didn't want to go hang out at the senior citizens' center because there were "too many old people there." He and your uncle must have been cut off the same hunk of cloth!

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