The Gazette front page story about Edu Comp closing its retail store (Oct. 2), describes a previous use of the stately brick building that marks the entry to downtown Vineyard Haven, but omits a critical function the building served previously: it was the telephone company.

The Vineyard still had operators placing calls five years after the mainland had gone over to rotary phones. You picked up the phone, the operator asked, “Number, please,” and you gave the letters of the exchange or the town and four numbers. (When we rented a house in Menemsha for many years, we were on a party line. We couldn’t call out until anyone else using the line hung up, but we could listen to their calls.)

I remember this function distinctly because of an incident in 1960, when my family had borrowed the house of a friend on Middle Road. My brother was working at Humphrey’s, making doughnuts and bringing home bags of doughnut holes; I had just returned from my single attempt at summer camp as an alternative to a Vineyard summer. My brother had a date. After dinner, he headed down the hill to the little parking area that was not visible from the house. He returned in a minute: the car was gone. (Families then mostly had one car, shared by all the drivers in the household. This was a spectacular car that I had picked: a two-toned lemon and lime convertible Chevy with big fins.)

My father called the police and was describing the car when the operator broke in: the car had just passed the phone building! The thief was headed to the ferry. He was apprehended as he tried to board. The next thing I remember is that my parents and I were sitting in the police station in Vineyard Haven. Opposite us was a lanky young man in bare feet, with one missing toe. My mother felt sorry for him, did not want him prosecuted.

But for the operator looking out the window of the phone building on the corner as she listened to my father describe the missing car, he might have left the Island with our car.

Chris O’Sullivan

West Tisbury