Column: Calling our readers! Put down your cell phones, pleaseWORTHINGTON — The boy was maybe 8 or 9 years old and he was talking to his dad on a cell phone. I know this because I heard him say, “Dad?” We were standing in the aisle of a supermarket in front of — I don’t know — perhaps 40 feet of bags of candy. Lifesavers and gum drops and chocolate kisses.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The boy was maybe 8 or 9 years old and he was talking to his dad on a cell phone. I know this because I heard him say, “Dad?” We were standing in the aisle of a supermarket in front of — I don’t know — perhaps 40 feet of bags of candy. Lifesavers and gum drops and chocolate kisses.
I gathered from the conversation, which I could not help but overhear, that the boy and his dad have a candy dish or a bowl that they fill each week. The boy wanted to know what his dad thought he should buy for the week ahead.
When the boy was done with talking I thought he would hand the cell phone to the woman standing beside him, his mother I assume. Instead, he slipped the cell phone into his pocket. The phone is his, apparently. The boy and his mother got two bags of jelly beans and they were on their way.
I thought to myself, “Young man, you just had an experience I never had. I never talked to my dad — I never talked to anyone — on a cell phone in a supermarket.” Then I had another thought.
I thought, “Young man, I’ll bet you never stood on a chair to talk on a telephone.” I was remembering our house when I was 8 or 9 years old. The telephone, a black box with a black receiver on a sturdy brown cord, was on a wall in the dining room. The only way I could reach the phone was to climb on a dining room chair.
Not that I got a lot of telephone calls. I did not. But sometimes someone — oh, a friend of my mother — would call to wish me a happy birthday.
This is surely a measure of changing times.
I remembered a story Emil Wilken told about the bank robbery at Round Lake. In that time, the telephone office was above the bank. Robbers snipped the outdoor cable to the phone center. That was the end of telephone calls into Round Lake and out of Round Lake. No one was going to make a call to alert law men.
This makes me wonder about those cell phone towers that loom everywhere. If a wind blows down a tower, will this be the end of our phoning?
Years ago, Frank Flynn Sr. told me about the telephone office at Worthington. As at Round Lake, Worthington’s telephone nerve center was on the second floor of a downtown building, more or less above El Azteca. Worthington was paving its downtown streets for the first time (1919). Worthington Telephone Exchange had to get a cable buried ahead of the paving.
“There were 800 subscribers,” Frank said, very many of them with black telephones on a wall of their houses. The big switchboard and the telephone operators were in the second-floor telephone office. “They would connect every call, one by one” Frank remembered. “For every call they had to answer and say, ‘Number please.’”
Frank and J.S. Pirtle, whose name is preserved at Pirtle Park on East Avenue, were the crew. Moulton Smallwood and then Charlie Cashel were the managers. The crew worked six days a week, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. As at Round Lake — as at everywhere — if anything happened to a cable, telephone service was out.
“If they blew a fuse on the switchboard — maybe it would be one in the morning — you’d have to go down and take care of that.” I asked Frank if he ever climbed a telephone pole. “Thousands of them,” he said. In all hours and in all seasons.
To salute the memories of some dedicated local residents Frank recalled Cornelia Waite who spent many nights of her life at the telephone office. Other early day operators include Irma Hagge, Nellie Riedesel, Olive Riedesel and Betty Staubus.
And there was a cashier. Alma Connors. People mailed checks for their monthly telephone bills, of course, but many subscribers paid Alma in person. They climbed the steps to give Alma their check or cash.
It all had to do with telephones but it is, as they say, a far cry from what telephoning has become.
“Dad — should I get jelly beans?”
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.