One of the ironies of modern-day life, with various means of communication, is the ability to hide in plain sight.
Families over a century ago would send letters with strangers who planned to travel “West,” asking them to give the envelope to a family member, if located by means of some unforeseen miracle, who had left on a similar adventure and was never heard from again.
Despite the scope of the grand western landscape, a heartbroken family held out hope that the letter would inexplicably find its way to the one they had lost to the thrill of the wild west.
Town and state
Fast forward to the 1960s. Letters found their way to us when I was a kid with simply a first and last name, town and state.
We were “Rural Route No. 1” in those days, with no road number required for envelopes to arrive in our mailbox.
Airmail, which required a good deal of extra postage in a specially designed, colorful envelope, made its way to us from Fairbanks, Alaska, where my dad’s sister and family lived.
The arrival of those letters seemed a sort of modern-day miracle, and whoever pulled the daily mail from the mailbox had the thrill of announcing its arrival.
I can vaguely remember when the postal service began asking that zip codes be used, and the fury which ensued.
“How can they expect us to remember all those numbers?” people said. Others said, “Oh, we will never have to use those extra numbers here. That’s only for the big cities.”
Robinson’s Rural Directories helped people find one another in communities like ours. The updated listings in these sturdy, hardback books, given voluntarily to a lady in our neighborhood who called every two years, included address, phone number, occupation, names of children and the year each had been born.
After a chat, any updated information was secured and the sale of the new directory was also made.
Some listings offered all of that information but asked their phone number be reported as “unlisted.” I remember my dad being so perplexed by that. Why have a phone if you didn’t want anyone to find your phone number?
It seems we have gone full circle, back to the days of long ago, as people give up their home phones and rely only on a cell phone
Unless you know someone who can put you in touch with them after a call reveals “no longer a working number,” having a cell phone doesn’t exactly provide a sure connection since numbers are not listed in a directory freely accessed.
I can’t help but think how impossible the job of compiling information to publish a Robinson’s Rural Directory would be today. What was once commonplace, prompting a nice conversation about the crops and kids growing up — that particular telephone call would now be met with a wall of suspicion in many.
Those old directories can now be found in unexpected places, such as collector’s book sales, and even on Amazon.
Phone books are quickly becoming obsolete, as well. Looking for a business phone number?
Search for it online, and quicker than finding an old phone book, the number will appear.
Facebook has replaced those old hand-written letters, some with photographs tucked inside, helping us find old friends, but only those who actually want to be found.