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September 30, 1995

Life in a small town offers so many unique advantages. There's a feeling of community, of being part of a group, that just does not exist in most of the big cities. Small town people are different. Most of us know our neighbors and genuinely care about them. It's a sort of frontier, circle-the-wagons instinct; we look out for each other. Here in Perry (pop. approx. 5,000) we enjoy all those good things and a whole lot more.

In a casual conversation the other day, a group was discussing this subject, recalling specific examples. Let me tell you some of them.

Lucille Foster was chief evening operator a few years ago when Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. had its line of switchboards in a second story suite above Davis Furniture in a building where the First Bank & Trust Co. now is located. Lucy is one of the helpful volunteers who shampoo and roll hair for ladies at the two city nursing homes. One of her colleagues in that endeavor is Verna Skouby, who also was a switchboard operator for the phone company in Perry. The two of them were comparing notes on odd happenings back in those days.

Verna remembers getting a long distance call one day for "Melton Skemmerhorn." She didn't know anyone here with that name, but she dutifully searched the directory and still came up dry. "I told the other operator that we had no one here by that name," Verna says, "so the operator asked me to hold while she consulted with the party placing the call." In a few moments, the calling operator came back with clarification. "We are calling for Newton's Funeral Home," she said. The call then was quickly completed, Verna says with a chuckle.

Try getting that kind of service with the computers and robots that now handle telephone calls. Sadly though, even in small towns we no longer have real live operators.

Velva Newton used to tell this one. Her mother, Koto Treadway, was known to her grandchildren as "Nana," and Koto's mother, Mollie Kepley, was "Big Mama" to the great-grandkids. One day the local post office received an envelope addressed only to "Big Mama, c/o Nana, Perry, Oklahoma." The missive was delivered that same day to Mrs. Kepley. Neither rain nor snow nor vague directions deterred the mail carriers in Perry that day. They just KNEW.

In our own household we had an opportunity to appreciate the mail service in a small town. Laura's mother was coming for a visit and she dropped us a postcard bearing her arrival time. It reached the local post office on the day she was coming, but too late for delivery that day. Not to worry. Shortly before noon, Leroy Kelley called us from the post office and told Laura, "I thought you might like to know your mother is coming and will be on the 4 o'clock bus." We greatly appreciated Leroy's call. If not for that kind of special delivery, Mimi might still be waiting at the bus station. But, knowing her ingenuity and innovative thinking, she would have found a way.

Why would anyone want to live somewhere else?