17 Apr

One of the best parts about being home at mom and dad’s in central PA is sitting around the table with my brothers and reminiscing about the days of yore.  Specifically, the days when my family struggled with money just a bit.

I have a multitude of favorite poor kid stories, but last night we reflected on one of my favorites: Collect Calls.

In case this doesn’t automatically spring to your memory, Collect Calls were a beautiful nugget in commercialism in the 90’s that, when properly taken advantage of, let you transmit speedy messages to your loved ones for free.  All you had to do was dial 1-800-COLLECT.  An automated operator would ask for your first and last name and the number of the party you were trying to reach.   When the other party picked up the phone, COLLECT would say “You have a collect call from ______________.  Would you like to accept charges?”  and they had the choice to pay for the call or hang up.

Photo of ancient relic courtesy of Kichigai Mentats Flickr. Arrow is mine 🙂

The beauty of this lied in the fact that you didn’t have to pay to dial someone’s number from a pay phone.    So my parents instructed us to make the collect call but fit our message into the space that was reserved for our first and last names.  As a result, we would collect call them after events and they would pick up the phone to hear “You have a collect call from ‘Mom-I’m-done-with-soccer-practice-can-you-come-pick-me-up?’ ” And instead of accepting charges, they’d hang up and come get us. It was a pretty awesome system until messages got far more complicated and we couldn’t fit them in the small amount of space.

We all became speed talkers at a very young age.

There are a myriad of favorite recollections like this from my childhood, most of which revolve around lack of funds.  I feel like I don’t ever as ya’ll about yourselves enough so feel free to chime in.  What are your favorite poor kid stories? Or if you were fortunate enough to not have to do things like Collect Calls, what are some of your favorite family quirks? 



11 Responses to “1-800-COLLECT”

  1. Jules April 17, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    I grew up in south east asia for roughly the first 10 years of my life. I remember my grandpa trading off my pet duck for construction timber. 😦 I’m an only child so I don’t really know the joys of having siblings.


    • Jackie April 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

      Jules, that’s so cool! Not about the duck – about growing up in south east Asia. Do you mind it I ask where?

      Hey – there are perks and downfalls to siblings. Each has its own joys 🙂


  2. wordsweneversaid April 17, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    Oh my – this would almost be a series of separate posts for me!

    We were pretty damned poor when I was growing up (but I never remember it being horrible because of that – just very creative and interesting)

    With Easter around the corner I am reminded of all the programs my Aunt made sure my cousin and I were involved with during the spring (we lived in the city then and there were tons of programs for inner city kids when I was young – swimming at the YWCA and babysitting courses – movies at the library and art programs at the Universities…it was a blast and we were always taking a bus to one thing or another)

    We usually had a hamper for Easter to help us get by (Turkey or Ham was often included) and it was the time we started our seedlings for the community garden plots to store for winter and to help others just like us have a better summer and store for fall (we did what we could then and always shared – that was one of the secrets.)

    I don’t really have any memories that are bad from that time that came from not having enough money – we were raised in such a way that we understood what mattered (family and friends) and what could be looked over (the latest trend or the designer ‘this/that or other’)

    I love that your parents and you had a message system like this *grin* – it will always be a good memory to have and share (so – thanks for sharing this time!)

    Be well,


    • Jackie April 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

      Hear hear! I love how creative being strapped for cash can make you. Thanks for sharing your memories as well – I love your comment about knowing what matters and what can be looked over.


  3. MamaWerewolf April 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    OMG. We totally scammed the collect call companies too. Except, instead of perfecting the talking-really-fast-to-get-the-message-in, my mom found out the number of the payphone nearest to my school. Then – and this is the best part – I got to pick an alias. I picked “Cassandra Bernard” (with soft ‘a’s – drawled almost) because what teenage girl wouldn’t want a dramatic name like that? Whenever I’d call with that alias, my mom would deny the charges and call me back. Of course, the plot was thawed if I was anywhere else in town.


    • Jackie April 20, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

      That is so much smarter. Why did I never think of that?


  4. thesinglecell April 17, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

    Lord. The most specific one I can think of is how my mom used to divide up the “house money” my dad gave her from his paycheck before she went back to work, and put it into envelopes for whatever she had to pay for. Once in a while she had to rob from the proverbial Peter to pay the proverbial Paul. There would be writing on the envelopes: “IOU $15”, etc. And there’s also the story about how I wanted Sergio Valente jeans when I was, what, seven, and she figured out that what I liked was the yellow stitching, so she found generic jeans at Sears that had yellow stitching and managed to pass them off as designer. They made it work!


    • Jackie April 20, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

      Awww I love good parents 🙂


  5. pegoleg April 18, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    I’m 51. When I was a kid, I didn’t really realize that some people had more money than others, cuz we all looked the same. Everyone got a new outfit for school in the fall, and for Easter in the spring. Parents would think it was nuts to spend $$ for kids to impress other kids. We all wore hand-me-downs.

    The first time I was really aware of labels was when Calvin Klein jeans came out in college. Everybody HAD to have them. And so it begins…


    • wordsweneversaid April 19, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

      Had to laugh reading this reply as I was passing through – I remember the Brooke Shields campaign for the jeans…

      “NOTHING comes between me and my Calvin’s”



    • Jackie April 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

      I wish my school was like that. I spent my school years privately wishing I had the luxury of a school uniform.


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