Last In Translation To Telephones

Touchtone telephone buttons with "Q" and "Z" added, photo AP

After living almost 50 years without a telephone, 83-year-old Alma Louise Bolton can now plan on spending a little less time on the road.

"If we needed to borrow something, like a cup of sugar, we walked to see if we could get it," Bolton, whose nearest neighbor is 1½ miles away, said Monday as she described life without telephones. "If we wanted to talk to anyone we walked there, or drove if it was too far."

Bolton's town in rural Louisiana had been one of the last places in the nation without telephone service.

"I just couldn't believe anybody in the year 2004 or 2005, wouldn't have a telephone," said Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell.

That all changed Monday when phones were finally hooked up in Mink, a settlement of about 15 families that was established in 1959. BellSouth had to extend its wires 30 miles to reach Mink.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco ushered in the town's new era in communications with a ceremonial phone call to Bolton.

"How are you enjoying having that telephone?" Blanco asked Bolton.

"I'm loving every minute of it," the Mink resident replied.

"I tried to call your line a little bit now, I got a busy signal, and I was wondering if telemarketers had already gotten to you," joked Blanco.

"Not yet," replied Bolton.

But it didn't take resident Elaine Edwards long to see the downside of telephony.

"It wasn't 15 minutes after that phone was in before a telemarketer called me," Edwards said. "But that wasn't really a problem. I just told him I wasn't interested and hung up."

The community celebrated with a fish fry Monday — gathering at a church and dishing out catfish, okra, hushpuppies and slaw to about 100 residents, friends, public officials and others.

BellSouth Corp. spent $700,000 — or about $47,000 per phone — to extend about 30 miles of cable through thick forests to Mink, about 100 miles south of Shreveport. Phone customers around the state will cover the cost by paying a small monthly charge on their bills.

Cell phones had operated in Mink, but only in a few locations.

Some residents had the old style, bulky portable phones. Called "sack phones," they were more powerful than most cell phones and would work at the crossroads store — next to the trash bin.

"You use to see people gathered around there making calls," said Julian Ray, 57. "But they were analog phones and that service is done with Feb. 1. So we got the new phones just in time. We're going to get together there on Saturday and dump those old phones into that Dumpster."

Mink is not actually the last community in Louisiana to get telephone service: Black Hawk and Shaw, across the Mississippi River from the state penitentiary at Angola, will be wired by the end of March.

The governor got a busy signal when trying to call Bolton, by the way, because Commissioner Campbell was using Bolton's telephone to remind Blanco to make the call.
  • Lloyd Vries

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