Recently I purchased a new cell phone. This one does everything! One can actually dial a phone number to connect to another person. But then it does lots more too! It takes pictures, constantly displays the local weather, keeps track, through GPS, of my location plus provides driving instructions, turn left, turn right, to any other location. It provides access to the Internet for messages and I'm able to surf the net if desired. And yes it sends and receives text messages although I'm not nearly as fast texting as any kid. Now if I could just learn to use all the things that the wondrous little device, small enough to carry in my pocket, is capable of doing I'd be happy! At the moment that learning is a work in process.
The kids of today all of whom seem to be intimately familiar with and forever tied to their cell phones wouldn't believe the telephones that most of us grew up with. Telephones were those devices in our homes that were mounted on the wall. Most had a cord that was four to five feet long with a chair nearby to sit on and talk. Luxury was having a twenty foot long cord where the lady of the house could tuck the handset under her chin and go about the business of cooking meals in her kitchen. Telephones weren't portable but they were a lifeline to our community and the world.
With real telephones, one picked up the handset and waited for the operator, a real live person almost always female, to request "number please?" Then she would make the connection and ring the phone on the far end. If the destination was a farm party line she manually rang, a long and four shorts was our home ring. Long distance was a little more complex as the operator had to call another operator in a city, say Denver, who would connect to another regional operator and so on. Unfortunately the farther you went the weaker the signal and sometimes the faraway operator would have to relay the conversation back and forth. Unhandy but what the hey we were connected with the world.
Telephone operators were special ladies, I know because I married one. Ann went to work at the telephone company after attending McCook Junior College. The operators worked in the top story of the well made brick building on the corner of west 1st and D Street. The telephone office was on the first floor and one had to have permission to gain access to the operator's floor. Bea Birmingham was her top supervisor and shift supervisors were Ruth Callan and Lydia Ault. Friends, Mary Lou, Rosalie, Sally and Roberta, all about her age, worked there too. Ann preferred working the long distance board but also did shifts on the local and information boards.
Information was called when one didn't know the party's phone number or was too lazy to look it up. On occasion information operators were asked unrelated questions such as what time the Zephyr was due to come in and the operators usually had the answer! One customer would even call to ask word help in completing her crossword puzzle.
It was forbidden, of course, but sometimes the girls would surreptitiously listen in on conversations when traffic was slow so they had a pretty good handle on "what was happening" in McCook. Most could tell you when someone was cheating on his wife and other such scurrilous activities. Sometimes too they played dirty tricks like intentionally hooking a customer up to a wrong number. My sister recognized the mayor's wife who regularly called the Elks Club to ask her husband to come home to dinner and she would sometimes connect the lady to the pool hall -- a place her husband, the mayor, would never set foot. Whoever answered would yell out "Phone call for His Honor the Mayor." Then after awhile "Sorry ma'm he isn't here tonight." Meanwhile the good Doctor's dinner was probably getting cold.
Ann rented an apartment about eight blocks north of the telephone office and walked to and from work rain, snow or shine. She didn't especially care for walking home after her eleven o'clock shift at night but at least felt safe to do so.
This past fall our daughter and children ages 14 and 12 came to visit in McCook. Home for them is in Tulsa and their mom will not let them out of her sight while the children are out of doors. In McCook she allowed them to explore Kelly and Norris Parks by themselves and the kids loved it. "McCook is a safe place!" was her comment.
Sadly though that sense of safety for our community may now have vanished. With the abduction and murder of a 14 year old McCook girl I'm sure that moms and dads will be keeping a more protective eye on their children.
Hopefully the perpetrator of that dastardly deed has been caught. It is now up to the court system to swiftly bring him to justice and remove him from society forever. Where is Judge Isaac C. Parker when we need him?
That is the way I saw it.