Cousin Annie and Southwestern Bell

Cousin Annie's Phone

Cousin Annie’s Phone

Isaac (Ike) Wilson was my Pop’s best friend, and I loved it when he would come to our home for a visit. Both men were master story-tellers and their repertoire seemed endless. They could remember the names of people with whom they had connections, and some of their stories dated as far back as twenty-five to thirty years.  Usually I wouldn’t say a word but would sit, listen and laugh. I think having an audience of just one spurred them on. Most of their stories I had heard often, but they could add some different twist and still make them funny.

We were related to the Wilson family through Ike’s mom, Annie. Her maiden name was Sheppard, and they could trace their ancestry back to the Three Creeks community in South Arkansas, where the Moore and Sheppard families were original settlers in the 1840’s. Annie’s mother and my great grandfather were siblings, so Annie was called Cousin Annie by our family. When Pop was in a playful mood, he would call Ike, “Cud’n Ike.”

Ike did not inherit his joking and outgoing personality from his mother. Cousin Annie was quiet, thoughtful and very serious. When she was told something she accepted it as fact, and was lovingly known by many as being gullible. She became the object of numerous pranks mostly from family members. Ike had learned early not to tease his mother too often, because it bruised her spirit, and he would get into trouble with her. Others in the family however, were not as thoughtful. Dr. Jack Sheppard, a distant cousin had the reputation as the number one practical joker in the family. He and his brother Dr. Julius were general practice physicians and both were well-liked and respected.

One morning when his patient schedule was slow he placed a telephone call to Cousin Annie and disguised his voice to give her some much-needed information concerning her telephone service. At the conclusion of the conversation, Cousin Annie thanked the caller and promised she would follow his timely advice. She had no idea she was talking to Dr. Jack.

Ike was at work that morning and was planning to have lunch with his mother. She had lived alone for years following the death of her husband, but had very good neighbors in addition to her only child, Ike who checked on her frequently. She never felt alone and was fortunate to have such excellent neighborly and family support.

Upon arrival Ike noticed something very strange on the table which held her only telephone. The receiver was off the hook; it was wrapped in a damp towel and lying next to the base of the phone. Ike said, “Mother, what in the world have you done to the phone? If anyone tried to call you they would only get a busy signal, and you would never know they called.” This was years before call-waiting and voice mail. Cousin Annie said, ” Oh, Ike don’t worry. I’m just following the advice of the President of Southwestern Bell who called this morning.” “Well Mother, just what was his name and what did he tell you?”  “He said his name was Mr. Smith and wanted to warn me about something about to occur today. He said the company was having a system clean-out, and would blow out all the lines so that the phones would work better. There was a good chance all the carbon and soot in the lines would blow into my home as a result. He recommended I take the phone off the hook and wrap it in a large damp towel. He was trying to save me a lot of unnecessary house work, so I thanked him for his concern and did exactly what he recommended.”

Ike didn’t tell his mother she had been pranked again. Instead he told her, “I think the clean-out is already over, so I’ll just remove the towel and put the phone back on the hook.” Ike immediately knew the perpetrator of the call. Only Dr. Jack could think of such an outlandish prank knowing Cousin Annie would fall for it. She was grateful for the advice she received that morning from “President Smith” and never noticed even a speck of dust or soot from the system clean-out.

Dr. John


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