So here is one tale from far back in that odd creature's past. BTW this essay triggered an idea for a Deirdre O'Dare story which will be out in a month or two entitled "Thank You, Ranch Romances."
Before the Internet…
“Hey Grandma, how did you keep track of your friends and meet guys before the internet?” I expect a lot of us baby boomers have heard this. Here is my answer.
Well, back in those days we actually talked quite a bit, not sitting by a friend with silent mouths while our thumbs fly over the smart phone keyboards or texting to someone farther away, either. While waiting for or riding on the school bus, between classes and at lunch time, we stood or sat around with our BFFs and talked—about clothes and boys and the current music and movies we liked, probably a lot like what you talk about on your phones. We might flirt with some of the boys in school, too.
Then we did use a telephone, just a regular old talk type phone in the house. I was less of a phone person because for a long time my family did not have one and when we did, it was for grown up business and I could only talk for a few minutes at a time but I know some kids spent hours on the family phone. Strange to say, many homes had only one and it was connected by a cord to the wall so you could not take it off to your room. Made things pretty tough to talk secretly!
There was also a strange institution called “pen pals.” This was a favorite of mine. Sometimes there would be a project in a class where students from two different schools, usually in different states or parts of the country would write letters to each other through their teachers. Most kids dropped this as soon as they could but some became friends with a girl or boy far away and kept writing. This was done with plain old letters written by hand or typed on paper, put in an envelope with a stamp and sent through the Post Office! Strange though it sounds now, we were all shocked when the cost a stamp for a letter went up to five cents! I had to collect and turn in soda bottles to keep myself in postage. We waited eagerly for the mail to come every day or in some cases made a daily trip to either a mail box by the road or a box in the local post office. Getting a letter or a greeting card was a very special event.
In fact, the idea of pen pals became so popular that quite a few magazines had a pen pal column. You could send a letter to the magazine and they would print it. Sometimes they gave your address and sometimes the first letter had to be exchanged through an employee at the magazine. When I was a teenager I saw a pen pal request in a magazine called Western Horseman. This was a magazine for people who loved and worked with horses as I did at that time. The letter I noticed was from a girl near my age who said she loved rodeo. She had also included a neat drawing of a horse head that she had made. I wrote her and we quickly became friends.
We’ve stayed in touch all our lives. We heard about each other’s boyfriends and fun things we did growing up, going to school, our first jobs and so on. Then shared when we really fell in love and eventually married, when our kids came along and even after they grew up.
I first met Linda some twenty years after we began to write. She and her husband and two children visited me and my family when I lived north of
CA. They were on their way from Washington
state where they lived to visit relatives in southern . Later on when I was back in California and retired,
Linda came and stayed with me for about a week. I showed her all the local sights
and we had a terrific visit. After my husband had passed away, she and her
husband came by and stayed in the area for a couple of days. Those few visits
are the only times we have been together but we are still truly BFFs and will
be to the end of our days, all because of a pen pal column. Arizona
I had my own letter in the same magazine shortly after finding hers and made quite a few long distance friends but that was only for a season. I wrote to horse loving girls all over the country and to some boys and young men. Some were stationed far from home in the military and some worked on ranches or farms where, like me, they did not have a lot of social life. Those visits on paper were special to both of us.
There was no internet dating yet, but sometimes pen pals would develop into potential boy friends or girl friends. A few of the fellows I wrote to did make a trip to meet me and although none of them ever became long term relationships, I met some interesting people.
I even advanced past Western Horseman to a magazine called Ranch Romances. As the name implied, it published romantic fictitious tales about the west, mostly historical but some in modern (the fifties and sixties then) times as well. They too had a pen pal column, for grown ups rather than kids and teens, where you could post a kind of profile and let it be known you were looking for a special friend of the opposite sex. I wrote to several guys from that source for awhile as well.
One fellow became a long-distance beau for a couple of years. I always hoped we’d meet but that never happened. However he did send me some roses for Valentine’s Day one year, the first real florist type flowers I ever got and the only such gift for many years. We wrote regularly for about three years. Finally I got a “Dear Jane” letter that he had met someone else and it would end. I was heart broken for awhile but later that year met my flesh and blood first love to help me recover from the loss. And that happened in the regular way of just seeing someone and getting acquainted.
So you see, it really was possible to hook up without having Facebook, Twitter, Match.com, or any of the other online resources people use now. I think every generation finds its ways to do what people have always done to let Mother Nature and the birds and the bees work for us! Can you even imagine what routes will be available when you are telling your grandkids about “how we did it in the old days?” We have gone from “Mail Order Brides” in frontier times to eHarmony.com and like sites. Who knows what the next thing will be.