The Idle American: Keeping the Phone Lines Warm

What links three of my best friends together? The telephone.

When social distancing and sheltering in place, the telephone is the only way to reach out and touch someone.

A few days ago, my wife and I enjoyed a short road trip. Typically an hour’s drive to Stephenville, this day it was twice that. It took 40 minutes to make it through Granbury, where folks–weary of “sheltering”–seemed happy to be in their cars again, perhaps looking for “essential places.”

Stephenville friendships were renewed. One visit was “through a glass darkly.” We peered through a therapy center window to see a smiling Dwain Bruner, who reported for work daily at the dealership until experiencing a stroke at the end of February.

The automobile executive–selling Chevrolets for 58 years and adding other brands along the way–soon will be 90. However, his smile is ever young–the kind car dealers flash when both parties are happy upon completion of transactions….

Dwain Bruner

   Dwain is getting daily therapy. Daughter Gwyn and son Greg are happy that his room is farthest from the therapy center, so he “gets additional exercise, coming and going.”

We conversed by phone with Dwain, whose carotid artery procedure was “wedged in” at a packed Fort Worth hospital in March. Upon his admission, Gwyn and Greg “signed off” on being with him until the COVID-19 nightmare ends.

Thankfully, they can have “window visits,” as we had.  Phones are blessings!….

   Two other longtime friends have had unique phone experiences. One is AT&T’s Regional Director of External Affairs; the other helped his granddad keep phone lines intact in rural Brown County around 1930.

The latter, Dr. Joe B. Rushing, begins his 100th year of life this month at his Lampasas, Texas, home. He has “hitches in his git-along,” but remains “tack sharp,” this nationally-recognized higher education leader. He founded two junior college districts–Broward County, Florida, then Tarrant County College in Fort Worth.

When his father died in 1928, Joe was age seven. That’s when he and his mom, pregnant with his late sister Cordie, moved in with his grandparents. “We had a ‘crank’ wall phone activated by two long and two short ‘rings.’ After a rainstorm, I’d go with my granddad in his Model A to check on the lines, sometimes re-attaching the wires to fence posts on the roadside between our house and Blanket. We didn’t want to miss important calls, usually from kin in Friona and Eldorado,” Joe remembers….

Don Newbury

The “phone pro” in the trio has been a part of AT&T for 53 years. Linda Caram–self-described as “Ma Bell”–is the “face” of area operations. Of AT&T’s thousands of employees worldwide, she ranks number eight in tenure, longer than any other employee in Texas. Except for one in Louisiana, the six others with longer tenure are scattered on the left and right coasts. Her region includes all or parts of Denton, Parker, Wise, Johnson, and Tarrant Counties.

A public relations genius, she personifies her company as well as any person I’ve ever known. She’s forever “on task.”…


  “Taking one for the team” is the norm for Linda. Speaking at a retirement event for a friend, she decided to “dress the part,” knowing the honoree was big on conservation and recycling. She gathered dead leaves fallen from her trees, gluing them on a big trash bag. She cut head-and-arm holes in the bag, and felt “ready to go!” Or so she thought.

Oh, no! Turns out, Linda was allergic to the leaves. Before ending her remarks, her eyes were watering and she was sneezing. Yep, she’s a team player whose age and social security number are not revealed. (Word has it both are two digits.)

It was 33 years ago that AT&T urged us to “reach out and touch someone.” Such helps when dealing with quarantine. As my old mom would have said, we “kept the phone lines warm.” Much of our “time out” was refreshing, used to “reach out,” including a visit to see a friend’s bright smile–even if through a glass darkly–and reaching others by phone….  


   Dr. Newbury is a former educator who writes weekly and is a longtime public speaker. Comments/speaking inquiries to: [email protected]. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury

Don Newbury is the author of the inspirational and humorous memoir When the Porch Light’s On. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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