For this column I had to move one of our family’s most sacred and venerated books from its place of honor.
We’re not talking about the family Bible or an unabridged dictionary or a rare first edition of Dickens.
No, the cherished book I removed from its resting place atop the refrigerator was what we call “The Brown Book,” a small loose-leaf binder with telephone numbers going back 40 years.
The numbers of our oldest friends and neighbors are near the tops of pages in sections marked alphabetically.
Here are the Bankstons, third from the top on the first “B” page. Above the Bankstons are numbers for Blue Cross and “Bus Station — Continental.”
The 1972 Polk’s Baton Rouge City Directory has the Continental bus station at 222 North Blvd. and Greyhound at 212 St. Philip St., down the hill and behind Continental near the Old State Capitol.
Leafing through “The Brown Book” recalls for me a time when children roamed their neighborhoods, built tree houses in woods that would be cut for subdivisions and rode Greyhound, Continental and Trailways buses by themselves to visit grandparents.
You asked the ticket agent or the bus driver if your child might sit behind the driver or, better, in the first seat across the aisle from the driver.
Continuing to thumb, I found the name of the man who helped me set up an amateur radio station. If there’d been such a thing as speed dial, I would have worn it out with my many questions.
There are phone numbers for our children’s schools, favorite out-of-town restaurants, bicycle shops, doctors’ offices, former dentists, book stores, movie theaters, plant nurseries, banks, auto repair shops, branch libraries, furniture stores, the laundry, Kleinpeter Dairy’s home delivery, Dillard’s and Goudchaux’s department stores, filling stations, Mary Lee Doughnuts, airlines, pet supplies and ice cream shops.
These were all places where people, not machines, answered the telephone.
Leafing quickly to the “Vs,” I find a number for the Varsity Theater where a henna-haired woman once cradled the telephone against an ear while selling tickets.
Why, I wonder, did we have telephone numbers for a doughnut shop and an ice cream store? Did we call ahead to see if the doughnuts were just out of the oven? Did we need to know if the ice cream place had our favorite flavor?
I probably should explain to young readers that before the Varsity was a music venue attached to the Chimes restaurant, it was a movie theater.
Most entries in “The Brown Book” are in my wife’s handwriting and mine. A few are in a child’s handwriting.
We have faster ways of noting and retrieving telephone numbers now, but it’s the little, taped-together book on top of the refrigerator that I consult first.
If for no other reason, I enjoy the time travel.
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