Image

It’s funny how I thought of the huge room that stretched across the front of the building as the “storeroom”.  Many things were stored there in wooden cabinets and drawers.  I remember tools and equipment for the telephone company, furniture from my grandmother’s house after she passed away including her wood-fueled cooking stove, and baked goods for events and the holidays.  (Unheated, the room was the perfect place for the Christmas goodies that Mom made each year.)  There was a pingpong table at one time and always books and games.  I loved the pingpong table but found it a challenge to play by myself.  Young people were rare in our diminished village. i never gave it a thought that the shelves, the wooden counters, and the window that slid up between the big room and the rest of the house were all there for the “store”  It was perfectly acceptable to me to live in a house where one learned to roller skate in the front room.

Then there was “the office”;  that small room adjacent to the store room which held the switchboard, a table, chairs, and comfy sofa.  I remember when the public phone was moved from hanging on the wall of the storeroom into a tiny room converted from the stairway leading fro the office to the basement.  This gave customers privacy and the advantage of the heat or coolness of the house and was Salemsborg’s equivalent of a phone booth.  When I was in high school it was the best place in the world to do my homework.  It may have been off-putting to an outsider, but to the locals it was perfectly normal to make a call from a closet, be invited to share lunch/dinner/coffee at the table, and resting in comfort on the office sofa, to catch up on local news.

The switchboard was the heart of the telephone company.  A big wooden console was equipped with plugs, cords, a headset, and dangling speaker.  All calls for the surrounding area were received by the operator who was responsible for making a connection to the party needed.  A monthly fee was charged for this service and pond-distance calls were extra.  The switchboard now resides in the Lindsborg, Kansas museum.

I have some of the paperwork that was used to send out the bills for those extra calls.  While Dad handled all the maintenance, Mom did the accounting. As the telephone business grew, they had the benefit of hiring a switchboard operator to work during the day.  These amazing ladies were a blessing for my parents who operated a twenty-four hour, seven days a week company.  On Sundays dad would work the switchboard so that Mom could take my sister and me to church.  Sunday was usually a quiet day at the telephone company.  I can’t think of anyone who did not go to church, enjoying a family meal afterwords.  In those days it was truly a day of rest.

There may be others beside me who remember “line calls”.  A line call was the equivalent of what we would today call an email blast.  The operator of the switchboard would signal or ring a “line”.  (A line connected several phones in a specific area , therefore several farms shared the same line.)  Everyone on the line would hear the special ring then “pickup” the phone to he hear the operator giving the message.

“The Salemsborg Church will be holding its annual spring potluck at the church tonight at 7:00.  Bring your covered dish.  Piewill be served by the Ladies Aid Society.”

The switchboard was used to introduce me to the scientific world of electricity and morality.

“Hold this plug,” Mom said.

I naively did as she instructed.

She then touched the switch that sent electricity through the plug and into my fingers.

As a result, I became a great respecter of all things scientific.

Surviving further experiments, I became a teenager and an operatorof the switchboard despite the fact that I sill resented the switchboard for its cruel ways.  On the rare occasions when both my parents went out and I was left alone at the switchboard, I could have used that opportunity to call all my friends, but no, I bore my responsibility as an operator and prayed that nothing would happen that I could screw up.  Thank God that no one made a lot of calls in those days.  

(More of this story will be posted on a weekly basis.)   Thanks Martha

Advertisements