BYRON CRAWFORD'S KENTUCKY
Miss Edna's call forwarding
Before phones were smart, operators were the brains
Many years before today’s fancy smart phones, Glendale had “Miss Edna.”
I never drive through the scenic Hardin County railroad village that I don’t recall a story told by Frank Hatfield, who grew up there during the 1940s.
In 1953, Hatfield, who now lives in Bullitt County, was serving as a plane captain aboard the aircraft carrier USS Tarawa in the Caribbean, when the Red Cross notified him that his mother was ill and he needed to contact his father back in Glendale.
Frank was flown from the ship to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba to make the call.
When he told a telephone operator in Miami that he was trying to reach Fred Hatfield, the operator asked for the phone number.
“I don’t have a number,” he told her. “All I know is that our ring is three shorts.”
He had never much needed to remember the number, he said, because in those days his family mostly wrote letters instead of making expensive long-distance calls.
When the operator tersely informed him that she’d need a number to make the connection, Hatfield assured her that if she could reach Glendale, the call could be completed.
He heard operators connecting in Atlanta and later in Elizabethtown, then heard the familiar voice of switchboard operator Miss Edna Crowe say “Glendale.”
The Miami operator explained that she had a call for a Mr. Fred Hatfield, but that she didn’t have a number.
“Edna didn’t hesitate,” Frank remembers. “She said, ‘Well, he’s not at home. Just a minute, I’ll see if I can find him.’”
Hatfield and the surprised Miami operator held on as Miss Edna, in a manner befitting Sarah, the mythical Mayberry operator on The Andy Griffith Show, began ringing phones around Glendale.
“I heard her ring up, and A.T. Hayes said, ‘Hardware,’ and she said, ‘Is Freddy in there?’ A.T. said, ‘No, I think he’s over at Hardy’s.’ So she rings up Hardy’s general store, and Floyd Hardy answered and said, ‘Yeah, he’s right here.’”
The Glendale telephone exchange was located upstairs in the post office building where Miss Edna and her spinster sister, Mary Alice, the other operator, could look out on Main Street and see most of what was going on in town.
Folks often alerted Mary Alice or Edna when they planned visits around the county, in case anyone needed to reach them. Many farmers called the sisters when they had cattle and hogs to ship to market, so the operators could relay word to livestock haulers.
Hatfield, a former superintendent of Bullitt County Schools and executive director of the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association, said he recounted the story for an AT&T consultant some years ago.
“She was explaining to me how call forwarding worked and how much it was, and I said, ‘Well, shoot, we had call forwarding in Glendale in the 1950s, and didn’t pay for it.’”