A Salute to Mary the Operator


In another week, Morgan will walk out the doors of the little school in town for the last time. Walton Elementary/Middle is one of those schools, rare in most areas, that run from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. It pulls not just from our little town but from surrounding small towns and rural areas. Even at that, it only boasts an enrollment around 350 most years. For nine grades. That’s an average of about 38 students per grade (some numbering more, some less). It’s a cute little school where everyone knows your name.

Morgan, after receiving an award at the sports banquet a few nights ago.

Morgan started here in 4th grade, Weston in 7th. Ross was in 9th grade when we moved here, so he never went to the little school. I wish he had. It was more difficult for him to make friends at the county high school, which numbers somewhere around 700-800. (Still not a huge school, of course–and that’s drawing from the entire county!) In a small school, kids form tight-knit friendships that carry to high school, and they have all sorts of opportunities that just don’t happen in larger schools. Everyone can be in the class play. Everyone can play on the teams. (In fact, they’re often begging to get enough to make a team. There’s no such thing as getting cut.) Everyone can shine in a small school. There is also a more “child-like” atmosphere retained through the middle school grades as they walk the halls with kindergartners.

I also really like that it’s close by. But my favorite thing, this year, has grown to be Mary the Operator.

As anyone who has kids in school knows, there is phone call after phone call through the school year with recorded messages to notify, remind, and inform parents of this or that. The phone calls really ramp up in the winter when there are repeated calls concerning weather-related events and activity rescheduling. The phone calls are automated messages sent via a dialing system. As the phone calls became a daily event in this past year’s snow-laden winter, somebody somewhere decided to turn Mary the Operator into a character. I’m not sure who or why or just when, but as the winter wore on, I began to stop hanging up on the recorded messages for activity schedules that didn’t relate to Morgan.

Because I had to hear what “Mary” would say at the end.

A call from Mary was, like, the highlight of my day sometimes.

Mary the Operator was an automated voice–one of those mechanical, robot-like voices where you know the words are recorded separately and put together when the message is typed into the machine. You know, where the intonations of the voice aren’t quite natural in the flow of the sentence.

Normally, calls would end with, “This is Mary the Operator. Goodbye.” But somewhere along the line, Mary started saying something else, something quite often ridiculous and/or hilarious right before she said goodbye.

Mary would say things like: “I love my Walton Tigers. All my clothes are green.”

“I love to ride on the school bus. I wish I could ride the school bus every day.”

“I love snow. Snow makes me happy.”

“I’m not married and I don’t have any pets. My husband like to eat dog food.”

(That was my FAVORITE one!!! Look at all the ways that makes no sense. Perfect. I was laughing for five minutes after I put the phone down.)

Calls near holidays always included some special, holiday-related addition, such as Mary isn’t Irish (Happy St. Patrick’s Day!), but she wishes she were. Happy Cinco de Mayo! Mary loves burritos and wishes she could be one!

I have no idea who was typing the messages into the machine. I asked one day when I was in the school office and they wouldn’t tell me. The receptionist said she’d just gotten off the phone with someone who was calling to complain about Mary. They didn’t think Mary was funny! They thought Mary was offensive!

I said, “I think Mary is wonderful. Leave her alone!”

If nothing else, Mary was a genius ploy that made me actually listen to complete recorded messages from the school, even the ones that weren’t applicable to Morgan. And she was a real tension-breaker, often good for a laugh, during the frustrations surrounding severe weather.

Recorded phone messages from the county high school are boring and business-like, and are what I have to look forward to in the future.

I received what may be my last phone call from Mary the other day. The message related, again, to some event that doesn’t apply to Morgan and I never would have listened to the phone call except for waiting to see what Mary would say at the end. She didn’t disappoint me. She closed with: “I’m looking forward to summer. My children and I are going to the beach–but not the same beach. This is Mary the Operator. Goodbye.”

I’m gonna miss Mary. Goodbye, Tigers.


  1. Nancy in Iowa says:

    How cool! Way back when my daughter was in school in Atlanta, there weren’t even boring phone messages. We had to rely on the kids to tell us about school events, and the TV and radio for announcements of school closings in foul weather. Three cheers for Mary the Operator!!! :happyfeet:

  2. Miranda says:

    Great phone messages! I’d have peed myself laughing over that dog food one! Our little rural school has yours beat for smallness, though. It’s a K-12 school with about 90 students, about 7 per grade.

  3. Johanna says:

    Like Nancy, I did not know that schools do robo-calls. I think it’s great to have an enticing message at the end to keep you listening. It’s like movies that put a very special film clip at the very end, after all the credits run. You get a reward for sitting through.

    Well done, Mary!

  4. CindyP says:

    I went to a small school….K-12 (all one building with the gym separating K-6 and 7-12) was about 500. You never forget ALL the people. I think that has a lot to do with how we were taught even. Class sizes were small, there was more one on one. It makes for a sad day when you have to leave that little school….you’re friends with everyone, not just the group you graduate with.

    Good luck at the County High School, Morgan!

    It’s crazy that they’ve found a simple, simple way for you to listen to Mary all the way through though! 😆 Even the one complaining, she listened!

  5. Diane says:

    I love that you posted about something so normal in every day life. lol. Made it into a story. 🙂 I never know what to expect each day on you blog. I have to check in.

    Our school has one of those phone systems. But our superintent records the message. Each morning during the big snow storms we all wonder what Mr S was going to say. He would change up the message each day and it was the highlight of the dreaded morning of having to call off school again.

    I work at the school in the cafteria and we would all laugh over the Mr S’s call of the morning. lol.

  6. CATRAY44 says:

    I loved reading this post! Mary is one of the things that makes a small town a small town and becomes part of the story of who you all are.

  7. Teedee Beck says:

    First time commenter from Canada (eh!) Had to throw that in LOL. My children went to a small rurual school exactly like yours. It was an awsome educational background for them, one I truly wish every child could experience. Everyone knows everyone, from custodians to every teacher in the building, and it carries on in to High School. I even had the pleasure of being a lunch time moniter once my youngest started school. Got to know all of my kids friends quicker and in a natural environment, and their parents as well. Sure wish we had a “Mary” though, that would have been the icing on the cake. Love your site and try to visit everyday. Teedee

  8. Gayle says:

    What wonderful memories of these school years. Of course, you sparked one in me. I grew up in CA in a very small town, orange groves. My country school was grades 1-8 (if we went to kdgn. it was “in town”). I did go to kdgn. I still meet to have lunch and visit with “girls” from those early years. For jr. hi we rode the bun to 9th grade and the following three years we rode a big bus into high school. I so loved my second grade teacher (Mrs. Smith) that then and there I decided to become one, and I did. A few years ago we included her in one of our luncheons…….she was 92 and still as perky and cute as ever. (Psssst, I went to kdgn. over 60 yrs. ago.)

  9. Barbee' says:

    Awww, how poignant, and how clever someone was to create Mary. That was really special in this day and time. I enjoyed reading about her.

  10. Mary says:

    Too bad someone had to complain about Mary. I hope that will not deter her as I’m sure she is appreciated by most. I love small towns and small town schools. Farewell, Mary.

  11. jean says:

    I love Mary. What a great way to add some pizazz to those impersonal calls. My son is graduating middle school this year. He has one of the largest classes our town has ever seen, 189 kids. I wish we had a small school, for all the reasons you mentioned.

  12. Jeanie Bird says:

    That is classic! I wish every child could experience at least one year of the “country school system” I transferred from a medium size school to a high school that became a Nursing home. {Go Tigers} :woof: My education went so far beyond books there..Aww, now I am reminiscing and may have to write my next post about the Lessons Learned in a country school.


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