Editor's note: In the early days of telecommunications, switchboard operators in rural northern Minnesota filled an important role in helping small communities and farms to connect with one another. "It brought the whole world together," said Lowell O'Brien, son of Blanche O'Brien, who operated the Hines switchboard from 1917 to 1956. Part 2 of this two-part story introduces three Bemidji switchboard operators whose daily work provided a significant contribution to their communities—and many pleasant memories.
Thad Bowman sits inside the Surgery Center waiting room at Sanford Bemidji, watching for the monitor with the list of the morning's surgeries. He explains to me the color-coded lines on the monitor. It's a light schedule today—the day before Christmas. A few surgeries are already in progress; others are coded yellow for "Pre-Op." Just one person sits in the waiting area, a man reading a book—waiting for someone's surgery to be completed.
The earliest telephone systems in Beltrami County connected people, eased some of the loneliness and isolation of homesteaders who lived far from other family members, provided alarms in times of emergencies, and introduced people to the forerunner of social media. The party line was an eavedropper's dream. For the switchboard operators, the job of connecting people with cords and plugs could be demanding and the hours, long. Today, the switchboard operator is a memory, a photograph in a museum. But the ladies who worked the boards have clear memories of this bygone profession.
Thanksgiving and the beginning of the holiday season with its focus on giving brings to mind a favorite book -- Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.”
BEMIDJI—The year 1968 had been a turbulent one for the U.S., beginning with the Tet offensive in Vietnam, protests across the country, the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, race riots and the largest number of deaths (more than 16,500) of American soldiers in Vietnam of any year of the war. In December, the most optimistic report from Vietnam was that the death toll for the third week of December was the lowest in five weeks—just 151 Americans killed in action and 838 wounded.
Autumn teased me with memories of Indian summer days, sun catching the scarlets, rusts, and golds of maple, oak, and poplar and cloudless skies warming a sweatshirt-clad back to just the right comfort zone. One fall, when the kids were still in grade school, Gary came home with a 1986 Winnebago. The one previous owner had taken good care of it. The camper had been to Alaska and back, among other places.
Let me preface this story by saying that I am not afraid of spiders. I like spiders. They are helpful creatures that do their best to control pesky insects. They weave artistic, transparent tapestries that capture morning dew and catch the light to reveal their intricate construction. Frequent readings of "Charlotte's Web" when my children were young convinced me to relocate rather than destroy spiders.
A pretty common thing happened the other day at a local establishment: I used a $20 to pay for something that amounted to about seven bucks. The young clerk put the bill into the cash drawer and read the register's amount as to how much change to give me. She struggled to get the change and bills to add up. Then she told me the amount the machine had told her and handed me a wad of bills and coins.
Editor's note: The Beltrami County Historical Society is partnering with the Pioneer on a series of monthly articles highlighting the history of the area. For more information about the Historical Society, visit www.beltramihistory.org As students, teachers and staff head to school, many for the first time, there will, no doubt, be challenges and adjustments, but in the early days of Beltrami County, the teacher's job had its own unique challenges.
Recently my 9-year-old great niece Libby spent a few days with us. It's been 18 years since I've lived with a 9-year-old, so I was a little rusty. Libby's mom had left a Ziploc bag with three glitter-coated dollar bills. "Libby lost a tooth today," she explained. "She knows only the sparkly bills are authentic Tooth Fairy (TF) currency. I put in extras in case she loses another tooth while she's here."