The following article by David Strange appeared in The Courier-Journal on 9 Nov 2014. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
Frank Hatfield is well-known in Bullitt County and throughout Kentucky for his past service as Superintendent of Bullitt County Public Schools, as Executive Director of the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association, and for his community work with Lions Clubs.
But of all his great memories, my favorite is about a 1953 telephone call during the Korean War.
Frank was serving at the time aboard the aircraft carrier USS Tarawa with Naval Group 10, Squadron 105, in the Caribbean. The Red Cross sent word that Frank's mother was ill, and that he should call his father.
A phone call was still a difficult thing to do in 1953, so far from home. There was nothing like a cell phone. Long-distance phone connections could be tricky.
Remember long-distance calls?
To make the call, Frank was flown from the Tarawa to base at Guantanamo Bay. From there he made a call to the telephone operator in Havana, Cuba.
Remember telephone operators?
The Havana operator connected Frank to an operator in Miami, and that is where the fun begins. You see, Miami is of course a very big city with the most modern equipment; but Frank was trying to call his Dad, who lived in the very small town of Glendale, Kentucky.
When the Miami operator asked Frank for the phone number (I can almost hear the classic, "Number, please?"), all he could tell her was that he needed to call Fred Hatfield, in Glendale, and that the ring was "three shorts".
Pause, for the operator to consider that.
Do you remember when telephones were on party lines? When I was a boy, we had a phone that looked like the old desk-top dial phone, but without the dial. We were on a two-party line. Calls to us would be a quick "ring-ring" repeated until the phone was answered. The other party was a slow "riiiing-riiiing", and we knew to not answer that because it wasn't for us. I remember that you could pick up the line and listen in to the other person's call. Um, not that a little boy like me would do that. My Dad still remembers the phone number as Magnolia0842J. Just pick up the phone and ask the operator to connect you to that number. No dials or buttons needed. Come to think of it, I guess we already had "voice-activated" calling way back then.
But back to Frank's story. The Miami operator, accustomed to a more modern system, questioned whether she had enough information to connect Frank to his father, but Frank convinced her to try.
When the Miami operator rang the Glendale operator, and skeptically explained that she had a call for a Fred Hatfield, Edna Crowe was on the switchboard. Frank could hear her voice over the line. Without a moment's hesitation, Edna replied, "He's not at home." The startled Miami operator said, "What?"
You see, in Glendale in 1953, either Mary Alice or Edna Crowe would be at the switchboard, and in small-town America in those days, the operator knew everything; was the center of operations of everything.
Edna said that Fred was not at home, but she would find him, quickly switching the phone to Mr. Hays' Hardware store, and asking, "Is Freddy there?" "No," Mr. Hays replied, "but he's over at Hardy's". Edna quickly switched the phone to Hardy's Grocery and asked if Fred was there. Fred Hatfield was indeed there and was connected to Frank in Havana, by way of a rather stunned Miami operator.
Such were the days of 1953 rural America in a rapidly changing world. Who needed call forwarding, automatic messaging, or voice-command technology?
We might not have had SIRI, but we had something better.
We had Edna.
Copyright 2014 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.