Sunday, June 3, 2012

Who do you think we are, the Rockefellers?

{Image description: Young woman wearing headphones and a dress seated at a manual switchboard, which is a series of boxes containing lines that plug in and out of circuitry.}

When I was a kid I remember my grandmother saying “Who do you think we are, the Rockefellers?”

She said this whenever one of us said that we liked steak better than hamburgers or asked for a lavish present. But mostly we heard it when we wasted something.

"What do you think this is? The Rockefellers’ mansion?”

I remember looking around when I was very young at our modest home and saying “No, this doesn’t look like a mansion to me.”

This would elicit a reply like “When you marry a Rockefeller then you can leave the lights on”.

I didn't even know who the Rockefellers were.

My grandmother had stories about the Rockefellers and the Kennedys and actresses and famous people of all kinds because she worked as a switchboard operator at  very expensive hotels on the East Coast. She ran the old-fashioned switchboards where calls had to be plugged in manually, like the ones used on Little House on the Prairie. These were still used up until the 70s in those grand old hotels.

My grandmother took a phone call once from John Kennedy Junior who called room service for a favorite treat that the kitchen didn’t stock. He was around our age so my grandmother did what she would have done for us-and sent somebody to a local shop to get it for him. She was thrilled when Jackie Kennedy personally showed up at the switchboard room to thank her for taking such good care of her children.

After that incident, my grandmother began to say things like “What do you think this is the Kennedy’s mansion?” and “When you marry a Kennedy then you can leave the lights on”.

There was just no getting away from it.  But at least I knew who the Kennedys were.

And, overall, my grandmother was very cool. She got Joan Baez’s autograph for me.

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