The job wasn’t so difficult –being a sitter and cook for an elderly woman. Mrs. Marvick was just as charming and cooperative as she could be, though she did love to talk. I was fresh ears for the stories her children had heard for years. They were thrilled she had a new audience, but Harry, her eldest son, had warned me in advance.
“Momma was a telephone operator back in the day. You’ll find she is still the soul of information regarding anything you can imagine about Alexander Graham Bell’s invention.”
I told him I delighted to hear real history right from the mouth of experience. “This should be fun for both of us.”
From early morning until after dinner she never seemed to take a breath. It was fascinating to say the least. She even had a pet name for me.
“Bunny,” she would say, “You don’t remember when a person would pick up the receiver and hear a nice voice say ‘number please’ do you?”
“No Ma’am, that was a little before my time.”
I would settle down in the comfortable chair that matched hers, pick up my knitting, and we would rock for hours down memory lane with her as the delightful tour guide.
“In the small town where I was born,” she chuckled at the memory, “the phone numbers were short. My grandmother’s was 4-6. Isn’t that amazing?”
I just nodded. She needed no encouragement.
“All telephones were black. When they came equipped with a rotary dial we thought we had just about reached the pinnacle of technology. Of course the telephone operator was still very necessary, even after that. There was no 9-1-1 emergency number then and after we would say, ‘operator' we heard many serious situations unfold.”
Once in a while I would comment to show I was listening. “I can imagine you have a lot of dramatic stories.”
“My, yes…we directed many a police car, fire truck, and ambulance to panicky folks who only had sense enough at the time to dial zero and holler.”
I leaned forward to hear more.
“Oh…and the party lines.” She put both hands on her cheeks and giggled at that recollection. “Not every one had a private phone back then and a lot of gossip was spread by listening in on conversations. Of course, we, at the telephone, company knew it most definitely was against the rules to repeat anything we had heard.”
As time marched on, Mrs. Marvick became weaker and spent more hours talking to herself than she did to me. On one of her lucid days I noticed she had been unusually quiet, so I sat by her bedside and read my Bible. All at once she became quite animated and her voice was louder than normal.
“Bunny, wouldn’t it be wonderful if God had a telephone and he could call us and we could call him.”
“Why, Mrs. M. You might say He does have one. We can call him anytime, and if we are patient and believe, He will definitely get back to us.”
She visibly relaxed, smiled, and snuggled down in her pillow. She sighed with contentment, “I know... I know.”
“Dear, would you like for me to sing your favorite hymn again?”
“Yes, please, Bunny. Your voice is so soothing and I do love that song.”
When she seemed to be asleep I tiptoed to the kitchen for a glass of iced tea. In a short while I heard her talking again. It sounded like she was on the antique phone that sits right by her bed. I moved closer to her door, but out of sight.
“I am so excited to speak with you at last, “she cooed. “Yes. Uh-huh. I understand. I can’t wait to see you either. I love you too.”
After a few minutes of silence, I went in to check. She still had the receiver to her ear and the most beatific countenance. She was not breathing. It was clear where she had gone. I like to think she had reached the party to whom she was speaking…and that He had reached her. I believe she had made the perfect connection.
Harry gave me that old fashioned instrument she had. It sits on my desk as a reminder that each of us needs to make and answer the most important call there is before we die…and it has nothing to do with telephones. You can look up the right number. It's in The Book.
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