VIEW FROM AFAR

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DALE SUDERMAN
The Alphabetical Telephone Directory, Hillsboro, Kansas, corrected to August 31, 1952. Published by the American Telephone Company, 129 North Main, Hillsboro, Kansas, Eight pages, No author listed. -Original text at the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Hillsboro

* * *

The 1952 Hillsboro telephone book is a Proustian document.

A crazy Frenchman, Marcel Proust wrote four volumes remembering everything about one day of his life. He titled it, “The Remembrance of Things Past.”

Opinions about his book have shifted. First, he was thought to be crazy; this slowly shifted to eccentric. Today his book is considered a brilliant literary classic.

But what Proust did in thousands of pages, the half-century old Hillsboro telephone book accomplishes for me in a mere eight pages.

This simple document stirs my imagination, stimulates my memory and recreates my childhood with more subtlety than any memoir or photograph. It evokes not only 1952, but also hints at the development of Hillsboro itself.

In the old days, every phone call had a personal touch. One called the operator downtown and asked her to connect you.

A friend recalls that as a pre-school kid, he knew enough to pick up the receiver and say, “I want to talk to my daddy.” The operator recognized his voice and would connect him.

Apparently, telephone numbers were assigned in Hillsboro in the order in which customers obtained telephone service. Thus, telephone number “1” was for the manager of the American Telephone Co. Groening Produce was “2.” The Ebel Brothers Grain Co. was “3,” Goertz Furniture was number “9,” Klassen Cleaners was “8.”

The history of today’s grocery stores is recalled. Vogts F. D. Produce Grocery is “12.” The Schaeffler Grocery-which evolved from Schaefflers to Paul and Ray’s to Ray’s Supermarket to Dale’s Supermarket was “23.”

Arnold Beauty Shop shared “16” with Arnold Insurance and Real Estate.

The small-town establishment had two-digit phone numbers. Newcomers were given three-digit phone numbers. Those who tried to save a few dollars with city party lines had three digits plus a letter.

Thus, my Grandmother Harder was 218-Y.

Reading-and rereading-this treasure from the past is like eating popcorn. One keeps going back for more.

Abe Dahl-my grade school teacher-was number 582. His kid, Donnie, now goes to the Kansas Legislature representing Hillsboro’s district.

Old-time settler, George Dole had “4” for his private residence at 112 S. Lincoln. In the 1970s, my parents would dismantle his original home to build their retirement home.

The country folk with their party lines had four-digit numbers.

City Hall and the police department shared the number “23.” Not until the 1970s would emergency calls to police and fire departments again be simple with the modern “911.”

Because memory is an elusive thing we are dependent upon story-telling and ancient texts to recreate our past. Few of us can recall our own phone numbers from childhood and fewer still the phone numbers of relatives and friends.

I am grateful to the Tabor College archivists for preserving this simple text-it is a time capsule from our common past.

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