My childhood phone number rolls off my tongue easily. It’s like a rhyme or ditty I’ve memorized. 

When I rattle off that number, I don’t include the area code because we didn’t need it when I was young, at least for dialing within the same city. I only needed seven digits and they began with 829.

Credit: NEOSiAM 2021/

In Bloomington, Ill., where I grew up, the 829 prefix was for the older parts of town, where my family lived. One of my younger sisters once told me she didn’t like having an 829 number. She wanted a 663 prefix, which was attached to the new subdivisions east of us. To her, the cool kids all had 663 numbers.

One of my best friends from childhood, Lisa, had a 663 number and it’s etched in my brain too.

Lisa and I spent a lot of time on the phone, particularly during middle school and high school. It amazes me now that in a household of six people, I would tie up my family’s single line for hours. I would stretch the long coiled phone cord from our wall-mounted Trimline in the kitchen into a straight line. Then I’d slink into the nearby bathroom and shut the door so Lisa and I could discuss periods, painter’s pants and the meaning of life. It’s a wonder my parents allowed this.

I don’t remember my phone numbers from college, or from Springfield, Ill. and Chicago, where I lived after college.

But I remember my first Evanston phone number, which had an 864 prefix. It also had a 708 area code. When my then-husband and I moved here in 1992, we laughed that we were becoming “708-ers,” which was a somewhat derisive term among our friends for those who abandoned Chicago for the suburbs.

After a few years in Evanston, we moved to England for his job. A year later, we returned. Actually, I returned to Evanston alone, with our toddler children. 

Our marriage had fallen apart.

But that didn’t change my feelings about putting down roots here. I wanted to remain a 708-er. He moved back to 312.

But Evanston’s area code wasn’t 708 anymore. Now it was 847. My new number, for my new single-parent household, was an 847 number with the prefix 570. 

I liked having a number with only my name attached to it. Like the little house the kids and I moved into on Wesley Avenue, it felt like a step toward a new life.

Several years later, when I left Wesley Avenue and merged households with my new husband, I brought my 570 number with me. It became my home office number. (I worked from home before it was a thing.)

At that time, the early 2000s, a landline for work felt necessary. I had a cellphone then too, but it was more for emergencies.

As smartphones and Zoom calls became the norm, I gradually quit using my 570 landline. So a couple of years ago, I finally got rid of it. But I was sad to see it go. 

Like my childhood number and Lisa’s number, my 570 number is a reflex. I can say it without thinking. My cellphone number, though, doesn’t come to me as easily. I’ve had it for many years, but it has no meaning. It isn’t affixed to a time or a place.

I can’t remember anyone else’s cellphone number either. If I concentrate, I can conjure my husband’s number and my children’s numbers, but it’s hard, probably because I picture 10 digits, not seven. And I don’t have to remember these numbers anyway.

Cellphone numbers feel more like Social Security or driver’s license numbers. They’re important, but they’re unwieldy and meaningless – the number sequences, I mean.

My mother still lives in Bloomington and, despite having a cellphone, she’s kept the 829 landline from my youth. It is such a small thing, but I love being able to retrieve that number from memory and not from a screen. There’s just something in that process that makes me smile, something that feels like home.

Nancy E. Anderson

Nancy E. Anderson is a writer, communications consultant and swim coach. She has lived in Evanston since 1992.

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  1. I still remember our family phone number from when we lived in Evanston. . We had the 312 area code with 475 as our prefix. My mom always would say it as GR5, having obtained the number when she moved to Evanston in 1947.
    I often wonder who has the phone number now, and wish it were mine for the nostalgia.

  2. I still remember my grandmother’s RR (Rural Route) number, RR3, Box 247A, from down in rural Tennessee. And my first few phone numbers!

  3. You young-uns, Nancy, arrived after the pre-code era some of us recall. My parent’s 1940s-50s number in Champaign was just 8508. Our address was 508 on the 8th street south of the dividing line. By the time I got to Evanston in 1969, direct-dial was common, the entire Chicago area was 312, and Evanston’s exchanges were legendary. In 1989, my Rogers Park townhouse got a number ending, by accident, in 8508. I forget the rest. The cellphone folks later gave me a 773 also ending in 8508. Like (almost) everyone else, I no longer memorize any 10-digit number.

  4. I had a similar thought just the other day! I saw the last 4 digits for my old home phone number in Evanston and was thrown back to being a teenager, having my boyfriend or a friend calling me, and stretching the long cord of the wall phone as far as it would go to try to get privacy! Their phone numbers will be etched in my mind forever! Thank you for capturing this throw back moment so well!

  5. Thank you for sharing your meaningful writing! It also touched a similar spot in me. I have a VOIP phone system that I set up to accept old school seven digit numbers which pleases me greatly.