If my mother were still alive, she would be 97 years old today. She made it into her nineties, but not this far. Those of you reading this, with a few exceptions, didn’t know my mom, so why the curious title?
My mom was a switchboard operator for most of her working life. When she retired, she was the switchboard supervisor for a Pennsylvania State Mental Hospital, but I remember her most when she was a switchboard operator for Kaufman’s Department Store in Pittsburgh. By the time my mother began working for Kaufman’s it was operating as a separate division of the May Company.
May Company stores included such well-known names as Lord & Taylor (New York), Famous-Barr (St. Louis, MO), Filene’s (Boston, MA), Foley’s (Houston, TX), Hecht’s (Baltimore, MD), Kaufmann’s (Pittsburgh, PA), LS Ayres (Indianapolis, IN), Meier & Frank (Portland, OR), Strawbridge’s (Philadelhia, PA), Robinsons-May (Los Angeles, CA), The Jones Store (Kansas City, PO), G. Fox & Co (Hartford, CT), and Marshall Fields (Chicago, IL). Eventually, all of these were folded into Macy’s, although some have been sold out of that company’s holdings.
When I was a child, Kaufman’s only operated the downtown store in our area. I remember riding a streetcar with my mom to visit the store during the holidays, to see the window displays and the toy department. We would always take the escalators to the top floor where the switchboard room was located. One of her coworkers had been her maid of honor and was a good family friend. I would stand by Erna while my mom visited with her other friends. Afterwards, we would have lunch in the store’s restaurant.
Switchboard operators had to know the store. A caller might ask to speak to someone in a specific department, but they also might ask if the store carried a brand of baseball glove. The operators all knew the best place to connect the caller. If the call wasn’t answered, the operator would take the call back, ask a few questions, and route the call to someone else. They knew the operating hours, the sales in progress and could give you directions to the store by every means of transportation.
Why do I say, “you miss my mom?” This is how she answered every call:
“Thank you for calling Kaufman’s, how may I help you?”
Don’t you wish you could place that call today? This little bit of time travel is part of Linda G. Hill’s fun weekly series One-Liner Wednesday. If you have a one-liner, or if you would like to join in on the fun, you can follow this link to participate and to see the one-liners from the other participants.