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Operator? Well Could You Help Me Place This Call? by Kim Kankiewicz

While researching telephone history for a writing project, I came across an industry magazine that regularly featured thank-you notes from customers to switchboard operators. Here are a few examples from the late 1940s:

“This is the only means I have of expressing my gratitude to Long Distance Operator 8760 in the Manhattan office. I do feel that her willingness to aid a stranger in distress over and above her line of duty is more than commendable and I think that you are lucky to have such a capable operator.”

“One of your operators really went beyond the call of duty the other day in helping me with a San Francisco number. I only had the remotest idea of the company name; didn’t even know the address. She should have told me to go jump in a lake, but she did not, and I did get the number. This isn’t the first time one of your ‘hello girls’ has helped me out of a tough spot. I want to thank them all in general, and #2641 in particular, for a consistently splendid job.”

“We were faced with the necessity of locating a football team en route from Tampa to Kansas City, in two airplanes which had become separated due to a storm. We had no way of telling where along the airways each plane had been forced down, yet it was imperative that we communicate with them immediately. Your operator realized the urgency of the matter and spent considerable time and ingenuity in her effort to help. We wanted you to know how much we appreciated the service rendered during our emergency.”

Besides expanding my awareness of the importance of operator assistance in the pre-dial era, these notes show me something about the power of saying thanks. I noticed almost as soon as we arrived at Second Baptist that our congregation is in the habit of saying thanks, often in writing. Receiving gratitude warms my heart, as it must have done for those telephone operators, and reminds me to express my own thanks more intentionally. But before this week, I hadn’t considered a particular benefit of written thank-you notes: they are kindling for gratitude.

Seventy years after they were written, notes of thanks reprinted in a magazine sparked my appreciation for the unseen women who worked as telephone operators. Hundreds of readers must have experienced a similar spark when the magazine was published. I’m reminded of a small-scale parallel in my own life. Recently my daughter, Signe, spotted a thank-you card from a Second Baptist friend that had fallen from a book where it was marking my page. Signe read the card and was touched by the kind words. Her gratitude was sparked.

It occurs to me that thank-you notes are often glimpsed by someone beyond their sender and recipient. Whoever reads them, these notes are quiet testaments to the significance of caring acts. Thank you, Second Baptist friends, for taking the time to send them.

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