I enjoy going to garage sales. These are great places to find deals on such things as music CDs, books, electronic, DVDs, and phone books.
That’s right, I said phone books! I bought a phone directory for a quarter just a few weeks ago. I know! I can hear you saying, “What an idiot! Why would anybody pay even a quarter for a phone book?” But this isn’t just any phone book we’re talking about. This is a genuine March 1965 phone directory for Lansing, Michigan, USA.
This little piece of history offers a glimpse into the past. A walk through the Yellow Pages presents a list of restaurants that no longer exist in my home town, hotels that have disappeared, and service stations that no longer offer full-service care.
What’s really fascinating is finding the address of some long-closed business and matching it up with what exists in that spot today. For instance, the little grocery store (Miller Leland Grocery) that once provided food and other necessities for a North Lansing neighborhood is now a pornography shop. Another grocery store (Shop Rite Super Food Store)—and the entire neighborhood it once supported—is long gone, erased by the highway that now runs through that area.
A stuffy office in which I spent six years working had been a variety store back in 1965. Above the office, what I’d known only as a dark, water-damaged void had been a furnished apartment occupied by the woman who ran the variety store. I know her name was Lula Wint. That’s all the information a phone book will offer.
The night club (The Silver Dollar Saloon) where I spent most of the 1980s drinking and partying to hair metal bands had been an indoor golf facility (Golf-O-Tron) in 1965. There are a few picture of this on a Facebook page dedicated to the now-demolished club.
An interesting observation is in what wasn’t here 49 years ago. There were five McDonald’s carry-out restaurants in the city back then—modern dine-in McDonald’s locations didn’t appear in our area until the early 1970s—but there were no Burger King restaurants. In fact, neither were there Wendy’s or Taco Bell or any other fast food operations (apart from a single Kentucky Fried Chicken). Dominoes and Little Caesar’s Pizza chains both got their start just down the road from Lansing, but neither had opened a kitchen here at that time.
A dip into the residential pages brings a brush of fame to the experience. The father of former NBA superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a Lansing Native, is listed as residing at 814 Middle Street. The budding basketball hall of famer would have been in elementary (primary) school back in 1965.
Infamy lies in there as well. Donald Basinger is listed as living at 6271 Marywood Street. Mr. Basinger would, in December of that year, take a hammer to his wife, two of his children, and the family dog, killing all involved.
March of 1965 was a full two years before my birth. It’s interesting to find my father’s name listed at an address at which I’d never lived (my parents had moved by the time I came along). He and my mother were 19 years old; newlyweds; kids, really, just getting started in life. My older brother hadn’t quite reached his first birthday, and my sister, her entrance into this world was yet a month away.
I lost my father two years ago. I’ve lost each of my grandparents, as well. They’re all in this phone book, listed at addresses I know from my youngest of days on this planet. As are my long-departed great uncles, who owned and operated a small business that once chrome-plated every bumper and every door handle on every Oldsmobile built in this city.
Even the once-mighty Oldsmobile and all of its support businesses are no longer among the living.
It never dawned on me that something so mundane as an old phone book might hold a treasure trove of memories. As a writer, I find inspiration all around me. Finding this simple directory at a garage sale has already inspired several ideas that, with a little nurturing, will one day become short stories or essays—like what I’m writing right here.
So the next time you find an old phone book, pick it up, thumb through its pages, search out the past and bring it into the present. Trust me, you’ll get a kick out of it.