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The Old Switchboard
Part Seven
by Romaine Walburn & Maricia Mlynek

Updated on Wednesday*:

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Mary Neff and a Dog Named ‘Boy’

 Mary Neff was a tiny little woman with very black hair. She lived in a house just beyond the McKelvey farm. Her home had been in her family for centuries.

She was born just before the Civil War. After her parents died, Mary stayed in the Neff’s home with her little dog, “Boy.” The people in the telephone office could keep an eye on Mary as she walked by on her way to town. As the years went by, her walking days ended, and she relied on delivery men and neighbors for what she needed.

The Haughts watched closely for the Nickles Bread man. He delivered to Mary on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the milk man from Fernwood dairy delivered her milk.

The Fuller Brush man stopped every other Monday, and the newspaper man delivered a paper every day that it was printed. On Sundays, Red Tarbet and his wife took her Sunday dinner.

Sadly, the gypsies also knew where Mary lived and would stop to see her as they passed by. They robbed her blind. Paul was furious when he found out that they had charged her for fixing things that weren’t even broken.

The switchboard lines were hot that day. Paul, who was known to be loud, was even louder as he yelled through the party line to the officers. The police responded quickly and tried their best to keep Mary safe from the transients. They still managed to get to her every once in a while, and the switchboard would be ringing again.

Mary was a bit of a hermit. She didn’t have much to do with the outside world. The delivery people, Paul and his daughter Romaine, and the people from Bethel Church were her only regular visitors.

 She was in her 90’s and still living alone with her second or third dog named Boy. She was very content. Paul would always tell Betty that Mary lived on Mother’s Oats, canned milk, and an occasional piece of fruit.

When he and Romaine stopped in to check on her, they would hear her reading the newspaper aloud to Boy. She read every newspaper cover to cover. Then she placed it on the floor like it was carpet.

She heated with wood and coal in a fireplace in her living room. The church people were very concerned that she was going to catch her house on fire. Every few weeks the switchboard would become busy with “Mary calls,” and neighbors would gather to go in and get rid of the two or three inches of newspapers.

She sat in her rocking chair with Boy beside her. They both growled about the cleaning, but she never said they had to stop. Mary was in her 99th year when the Nickles Bread man came to the telephone office because he couldn’t get into her house that morning, and he was concerned.

Again, calls rang in, and the church people went to her rescue. They broke in and found her lying on the floor in front of the hearth. They were relieved that she was still alive. The local undertaker came and took her to the hospital. She was treated for a cold and exposure, and released to the old folks home in St. Clairsville.

Paul and Romaine went to visit her at the rest home. They were told where her room was located. “Daddy, that’s not our Mary,” said Romaine, as they walked into the room of a lovely old lady. Paul, too, thought they had the wrong room. This could not be the little dark haired, dark skinned Mary that they had visited all these years.

Mary was in that room. Instead of dark tresses and tanned skin, she had long snow white hair and skin as white and clear as a porcelain doll. She had on a beautiful pink gown and robe. On her feet were delicate pink slippers.

It was like viewing the transformation of a sinner to a saint. Mary lived to be 104. She never ate Mother’s Oats again.

Paul went back to the Neff house to check on Boy. He was not in the house, and the rescue crew said that he wasn’t seen during the emergency trip to the hospital. Rumors spread over the old switchboard as stories of Boy began to come together.

The neighbors that were always on the cleanup crew of Mary’s newspapers said that there was never any sign of Boy being in the house when they cleaned it up each time. The delivery man said Boy never left Mary’s side.

Even when treats were offered, he would not leave her. One busybody told everyone on her party line that the truth was simple. Boy was an angel. We wouldn’t dream of refuting this statement.

(continued next week)

This Week's Editorial:

By Helen Morris:

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