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Telephone Operator - The Unsung Hero
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Telephone Operator - The Unsung Hero
A short story.
[1,455 words]
C Klink
[March 2002]
Telephone Operator - The Unsung Hero
C Klink

The body of land that jutted out into the East and West Bays was fifteen miles long. The farming community was a close net group during the 50’s. To fit into the fold you must join the determination that binds their loyalty for each other. Introducing a new service to the “set in their way” farmers came with a restrictive effect. Jack Malone had debated many hours if he was up to the challenge.

Jack had moved to the area from down state. Full of energy, strong in stature, and eager to establish progress on foreign soil. It took time. Not too aggressive, realizing he could not demonstrate this to his new found customers. Being faithful to his just cause gave way to acceptance. His quick wit and sensitivity to the lending conditions proved productive. He and Marion was a childless couple in their early 40’s. The love for children elevated his respect to a greater level.

At Jack’s former residence his father had left a distasteful reputation. He had multiple debts, creditors lurking around the corner with repossessed household items. Jack was determined to establish a clean slate in his business venture. Farmers had been told by bankers and their creditors they could pay the bill after cherry season. With his eagerness to get their confidence his ability to trust was bending.

He hung out his shingle in bold letters, “THE PENINSULA TELEPHONE COMPANY”. Thinking this was self-explanatory; he was open for business. Located on the Center Road he could “see all, know all and hear all”. Little did he know what his small business was to entail? The telephone had “open” party lines. Anyone and everyone could listen into their neighbors business. Jack knew this and no one was guiltier than he. But when it came to the welfare of the children he felt justified.

Last month on one of the busy lines he had “witnessed” Carrot-top’s dental appointment. First the dentist approached the young girl with her father’s “irresponsible unpaid debt.” This dentist was not going to wait until the cherries were paid off. After extracting the infected tooth he sent the pain filled girl onto the streets. Her mouth filled with blood, crying she set out to find her way home. Walking down Main Street her brother approached her. Together they found safety. Dad was waiting around the corner to take them home. Jack knew the guilt this father felt of unpaid debts. Hadn’t his creditors just repossessed his cherished team of horses? Knowledge through party lines was not comforting.

A week ago Rosebud’s mother heard a cry for help while hanging clothes on the line. They lived on the shoreline with a dirt road butting into their back door. The distressed out burst became louder as the waves beat on the shore. With no means of communication she summoned her husband from the field. Using his son’s rowboat he rescued a terrified young sailor. Jack only “heard “ of this bit of heroism via the party lines. It continued to be a mystery to him. Why didn’t they realize the importance of communication? His patience often ran thin when he would try to relate this to the prospective customers. He found it difficult to withhold his knowledge of family problems, and heroism. Because, of course, he wasn’t supposed to know.

It was in early May. Acres of cherry blossoms had sprung to life. Tulips, daffodils and countless wildflowers were along the roadside. Bay breezes were to be inhaled. On such a beautiful spring day two young inseparable girls were up to the first of many new adventures.

“Why today?”, he thought. With lines to repair, more prospective sales to pursue, he received the first call. “ The girls want to ride their bicycles to the Big Town”, came the telephone call from Carrot-Top’s nervous mother. “Would you keep an eye out, let me know when they go by your place”? Everyone knew Carrot-Top, with her flaming red hair and her friend, Rosebud, with her brown eyes and flashy smile. They lived thirteen miles from the Big Town, and their farms were another four miles separating their close communication. Many never heard the girls God given names. In families the nickname was flippant. Behavior was a priority.

The call put Jack on alert! These kids were always trying to shorten the distance to the Big Town. It bothered Jack that kids now-a- days didn’t appreciate God’s country with a beauty all her own. There they go! Happy as larks, giggling with a carefree air. But they are going in the wrong direction! Don’t they know Town is north, not south? Could Bessie, Carrot-top’s mother, have been misleading in her message? Quickly he placed a call. “They are on their way to get permission from Rosebud’s mother for the long journey”, she answered. If only that large family that lives on the shore could afford a telephone, Jack grunted. Some days he almost, but not quite, felt like giving this “fine new communication” to the low-income families. Mother Nature had not been kind to their crops in recent years. This set the yearly income for many, and the debts.

It wasn’t long before the waving of the girls reflected into his window. The laughter seemed louder this time. The frequent sight of these girls pedaling didn’t seem out of sync. Traffic was never in a rushed manner. Often it was thought that the tranquility of the Bays gave the community a relaxed atmosphere. But today was different; they were headed for the unknown---the Big Town.

Jack knew he had to keep all the lines open. Hoping Mrs. Marshall wouldn’t get on one of her long-winded conversations, or George McKee wasn’t dealing in the price of cherries today. Not everyone had to hear about how she fed Carrot-Top’s horse sugar cubes just yesterday. And the price of cherries wasn’t going to change with that last rainstorm. This seemed so trivial today. However, they were starting to realize the importance of owning a telephone.

He paced, keeping his thoughts on the open lines. Time passed all too slowly. If harm came to the girls, he felt responsible. Why? Because he was now “family”. Friends become our chosen family. The neighbors relied on Jack, the telephone man, to check on their children. Today seemed too close to a danger lurking around the corner. What could he do? Maybe he just knew too much. He continued to pace.

The girls were finding new independence. Knowing an aunt lived on Ninth Street, they rode to her home. She had a telephone. Contemplating on using this they had decided against it. Long distance was too expensive. Collect calls were only to be made in “very severe” emergencies. They weren’t in any danger, and this certainly is not an emergency, so why call? The lighthearted attitude continued as they explored Main Street. The passage of time irreverent.

Dusk came as the phone finally rang with Bessie on the line. His heart skipped a beat (as if it hadn’t been beating too fast all day.) “They are home safe, thanks for your faithful signals from the navigators”. “How did I miss them?”, he replied almost in an audible shout of relief. The girls decided, as an after thought, to come home on the Shore Road. “ We wanted to see more of the countryside, it is beautiful this time of year, you know. The Big Town didn’t really show us much”; the girls had relayed to their mothers. To young girls life seemed very good. But to the few fortunate monitoring the phone lines, a sigh of relief could be heard. The Angels in Disguise on the party lines turned over a new leaf. Peace settled over the countryside with the evening sunset.

Jack Malone did not relax quite so easily. He did not want to be known as the town gossip. Today he would rather be known as the “Town Crier”. A lesson was to be learned today. Farmers, like his father couldn’t pay their debts. They had tried to protect their children from their silenced worry. The headlines should read, “ Dentist Abuses Child for Unpaid Bill”, “Heroism from Shore Man” or “Girls Found Their Way Home“. As he stood on the front porch feeling those bay breezes he tried to sort out the day.

Fathers, like farmers, are a proud lot, with times of shattering pride. Responsibility was a tall order, handled with no training. The burden on their shoulders was overwhelming. The young girls had been taught independence, given safety in this God given countryside. Lessons had been learned and for now he would pray in silence. He, too, had felt the weight being lifted. Another star had been placed on his goals of life.


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© 2002 C Klink
March 2002

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