Monday, January 28, 2013

Four Generations of Women on the Phone

I had shown a picture of my mother at her business and a picture of my grandmother at her business to a friend. She told me that I must make a collage photo. That is because the photos show my grandmother at a switchboard about 1910 and my mother at a switchboard about 1969.

In the case of my grandmother, she was the operator at the phone company that was housed in the parlor of her father's house. The switchboard supported 24 lines. The picture of my mother was at her business.

My mother had been a rural school teacher before she married my father. She gave up teaching after she married my father. However, after I was born, I became her pupil. I remember before I started kindergarten sitting on our front steps and my mother teaching me to read.

I don't remember my mother working with my younger siblings as she did with me because she did other things to bring money into her household. She sold cosmetics at home parties and took in ironing. I remember the mangle iron that she had to iron sheets and tablecloths. Everytime I iron a sheet, I think of that mangle of so many years ago.

The mangle was so much better than my European ironing board and iron. The only thing that my European ironing board does better than the Walmart ironing board is that is so heavy that pulling the sheet across it doesn't tip it over.

But I digress ... At sometime while I was in grade school, my mother worked for an answering service in Minnesota. At that time. I had no idea that my grandmother had been a telephone operator. She was simply my grandmother who lived in California. She was old.

I can remember most of the various occupations that my mother while I was growing up. So when we moved to California, I wasn't surprised when my mother secured a job as an operator at an answering service. She shortly became the night supervisor and acting manager when the manager was away. My mother complained enough about the manager and her ineffectiveness to the point that my father told her to start her own service.

My mother took up my dad's challenge and did start her own business that she successfully ran until her death. I found a photo of her taken in the early days of her business. I was away at college at the time my mother was building her business. She worked seven days a week.

After my father and a sister died, I was lucky to find the photo of my grandmother at a switchboard. It was this photo and the one of my mother at her business that I showed to the woman who owns my gym. As I was making the collage of the two photos, I recalled seeing a photo of my sister as a toddler with a play phone and a photo I took of my daughter as a toddler on the phone.

I had an "aha" moment.  I had pictures of 4 generations of women all using the telephone over a period of 70 years. My grandma worked on a 24-line switchboard. My mom had three 100-line switchboards with rotary dial. My sister played with a toy rotary dial phone. My daughter played with a real touch-tone phone. Much has changed since these pictures.

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