Mission: Find a phonebook (make a friend)

This is a story about one woman in Maine in search of one thing:  a phone book.

It was a Thursday afternoon at the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce when the phone rang.  

“Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, this is Deb, how can I help you?”

A quiet female voice on the end of the landline answered, “I am looking for a phone book for Bangor and wondered if you might have any?”

I didn’t think we had any in our office and as I was thinking of a solution, I asked for her name and where she lives?”  She shared her name is Gail and she lives in Hampden.  I told her I live there too and asked where in Hampden?  She shared her street address and I said, “You aren’t going to believe this but we are neighbors!”

Gail and I live on the same street and we had never met.  Until now.

I promised Gail we would find her a phonebook and if I could find one today I would drop it off at her house on my way home.

We said our goodbyes and our chamber team went to work!   Googling and making calls to libraries, town offices, city hall and random cell phone providers.   “Do you have phone books or know where I can find one”, sparked conversations from the research librarian, to a town clerk to a cell phone customer service representative about the status of phone books.  “Do they even publish them anymore?”  When I shared why we were looking for one, everyone wanted to help and made suggestions of where we might find one.

Still, we kept striking out.

So, we took to social media (the phone book of today) and posted a request for a phone book on several community Facebook pages.  The comments were much like the responses to our phone calls.  Phone books?  Do they even make those anymore?  Are you looking for a door stop?  1980 called.

I left the office and drove home empty handed but hopeful that Facebook would save the day.

As I turned onto my street I saw Gail’s house and pulled into her driveway.  I rang the doorbell.  A petite woman with short hair opened the door and said, “Are you Deb?”.  We had a lovely conversation and I learned she is a recent widow and had recently moved from the former home she shared with her husband to her new home.  She teared up talking about him.  

While Gail and I were getting to know each other, I saw something behind me coming up the sidewalk.  He was a boy, about 8 years old with coke bottle glasses riding his training wheels bike.  He stopped and asked who I was.  He explained, “I am Gail’s friend, I live next door and I saw a strange car parked in her driveway.  I had to come make sure she was ok.”  My heart melted.

Turns out Langdon looks after Gail and is her best protector.  I promised Gail the mission to find her a phone book would continue tomorrow.  We hugged and I left, while Landon went inside with Gail for a cookie.

That evening as my husband and I were enjoying a cold summer beverage on our front porch I shared the story with him and we started reminiscing about phone books.  We grew up in the 70’s and talked about how that book was all we had to use to find people.  With every new edition you would learn who moved, got divorced or died, by their listing in the phone book.   The phone book was our google, our Facebook.

I remembered using mine to make a sit-upon when I was a Girl Scout and how parents would use them as booster seats for their kids.  In my small town in central, PA, the phone books were only about an inch thick, so a booster seat would require stacking them up under your child, risking them slipping out and your child hitting the floor.  It was the 70’s.  No big deal.  The same era when all of us kids would pile in the back of the station wagon (what seat belts?).  

My husband remembered when people would try to rip apart phone books as a  feat of strength?  Setting records in the Guinness Book.

Wikipedia has this to say about the history of phone books:

  • The first telephone directory was issued in 1878 and consisted of a single piece of cardboard.  It listed 50 individuals, businesses, and other offices in New Haven, Connecticut that had telephones.  The directory was not alphabetized and no numbers were associated with the people included in it.
  •  In 1879, Dr. Moses Greeley Parker suggested the format of the telephone directory be changed so that subscribers appeared in alphabetical order and each telephone be identified with a number. 
  • In 1938, AT&T commissioned the creation of a new type font, known as Bell Gothic the purpose of which was to be readable at very small font sizes when printed on newsprint where small imperfections were common.
  • In 1996, the first telephone directories went online in the USA and in the 21st century, printed telephone directories are increasingly criticized as waste.

The next day, my Facebook post was having some success and led me first to a local print shop. I shared the story and they went about checking every shelf and multiple drawers to find one.  They found one from 2017 – I said I will take it!   At least it’s something!   

Then I walked into a hair salon.  The place was buzzing with stylists and customers.  All of the chairs were full.  A lovely woman carrying a laundry basket of towels asked if I had an appointment, to which I explained I had an odd request.  She didn’t bat an eye when I asked for a phone book and led me out to a hallway.  There was a rack full of business directories!  Not exactly the traditional phone book, but I was happy to take a few from several communities to Gail.

My last attempt at finding a recent phone book with both white and yellow pages came from a Facebook message I received from Lindsay.  She sent me a photo of a Bangor Area phone book for 2020.  BINGO! 

I made arrangements to pick up the book at Lindsey’s house.  It was a bit of a drive to get to her, but so worth it!   The drive was lovely and given a year of not going anywhere, any road trip is welcome.  Lindsey met me out front and she handed me the book.  She was so excited to learn about Gail and to be able to help!   

I left and headed home with a pile of books on the passenger seat, enough for a small child to reach the table.

But wait.  There’s more…

Just as I arrived home I received a messenger note from a woman who told me she had a phone book!  She saw my post on Facebook and wanted to help.  I said I would be right over.  I drove to the other side of town, found her house and a phone book tucked in between the front door and screen door .

I added her book to the pile and headed to Gail’s house.

I pulled into the driveway. I rang the doorbell and Gail opened the door wearing a tie dye dress.   I told her we had success and handed her one of the books. The expression on her face, the tears, made the effort so worth it.

But wait Gail, there’s more!

Then I handed her the pile I collected. Some of the books were duplicates, but it didn’t matter.  She was so surprised!   We spoke about how hard it is to find phone books these days and how cell phone numbers aren’t listed in directories.  Gail asked, is the internet the only place to find people?   Yehh, pretty much.  Then we both reminisced back to simpler days with a phone book, a land line and one phone in the house.  The days when you couldn’t tell who was calling you, until you answered the phone.  

Gail asked, “Please make sure to thank all the people who helped find these books.  I promised her I would.

We spoke about as much as things have changed, the important things have stayed the same.  People helping people and how one phone call can set off a series of magical moments, new connections and the kindness of strangers.   We both chuckled at the irony of today’s “phone book” Facebook, helping to locate the phone book of “yesterday”. 

I asked her if Langdon was going to come by and check on me?  She said he had already been over twice today.  We hugged and I promised to give her a call so we can visit again.  I have her phone number.

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