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MARILYN HAGERTY: There's nothing like having 8 choices

There's no going back. We are surrounded by iPhones, iPads, Wi-Fi and Nooks. The world is good, and progress is all around us. Twenty years from now the iPads may be only a memory. That's why I love to read and re-read a commentary on telephones ...

Marilyn Hagerty
Longtime Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty and her review of Olive Garden going viral is the Herald's 2012 story of the year. Grand Forks Herald photo by John Stennes.

There's no going back. We are surrounded by iPhones, iPads, Wi-Fi and Nooks.

The world is good, and progress is all around us. Twenty years from now the iPads may be only a memory.

That's why I love to read and re-read a commentary on telephones written by Helny Ohnstad, a retired English teacher at the old South Junior High School in Grand Forks.

She sits down occasionally at her typewriter and lets her thoughts flow. She has one essay entitled, "There is Nothing Like Having Eight Choices."

She writes, "Sometimes I long for the days of old when I could just turn the crank on the old farm telephone." Then, she says she could be assured that a live operator, Ida Latulippe, would immediately respond to the ring from the farmer-owned telephone system.

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"If one needed the doctor, Ida didn't need to look up the number. She knew it!

"If someone desperately needed to know whether there was coal on the track today, Ida would look out the window and be able to report what seemed to be going on at the co-op elevator.

"What a contrast to the frustrating service of the modern day!"

Helny continues, "I don't mind pressing a button instead of turning a crank, but I do miss having a human being answer my call. One would think that a giant corporate telephone company could have an extra phone or two with a human being available to answer a call instead of giving you the run-around with a mechanical voice offering you a choice of eight answers that may or may not be the answer you need.

"The questions:

• Was there anything interfering with good reception?

• Did I have any problems with my bill?

• Did I wish to speak with the CEO of the Telephone Co?

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• Did I?

• Do you?

• Was there?

"...And so on down to number 8. Nothing came close to telling me the name of the repair man. Furthermore, the mechanical voice spoke so fast I had no time to digest what it was saying.

"Finally in desperation, I pressed as many of the eight choices as I could handle -- all at the same time. To my amazement, a man with a human, pleasant voice answered. In 10 seconds he gave me my answer, so I thanked him very much... eight times!"

Helny Ohnstad grew up in Fairdale, N.D. She has written that being in Paradise was about the same as having a chance to go to the dime store in Grand Forks.

She got that chance as a child when she fell and hurt her leg. "Grand Forks was 90 miles away," she wrote, "and the Model T wasn't too reliable.... So Dad asked George Johnson to take us in his Essex to see Dr. Eggers."

After seeing the doctor, she describes hopping into Woolworth's where she bought a red fountain pen. "There were no ball points back then," she notes.

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She recalls the red fountain pen had a "dandy" clip -- all for 10 cents and no sales tax.

Reach Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.net or (701) 772-1055.

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