8.28.2019

Googling old childhood friends isn't easy when they have a very popular, average name. Plus: The Big Blue Marble Pen Pal program of the 70's.


When I was about twelve years old, my family took a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Our family traveled cross country all the time but we never, ever stayed in a hotel.  We were a camping family.  (Well, we did stay in a hotel ONCE.  When I was about two or three years old and I only had one baby brother at the time.  We visited South Dakota and I believe we stayed in a hotel in DeSmet.  I remember giggling and rolling around on the bed because I'd never stayed in a hotel before and it was so fun and exciting.)

But we never, ever stayed in a hotel again, even though we traveled all over the United States - all the time - until I moved out when I was 18.  Frankly, we just couldn't afford to stay in hotels.  My Dad was a police officer, we lived in a very small town in the heartland of the Midwest and they were raising a family of six on a pretty paltry paycheck. 

We were a camping family. 

Photo from Wikipedia


So on this particular trip, I recall staying in a campground somewhere near Yellowstone.  When you are a kid and you stay in campgrounds, you automatically keep your eye open for new friends.  You hope you find someone the same age and gender as you to connect with, but depending on the number of people staying in the campground, sometimes your pickings are slim.  This time around, I ended up making friends with a girl who was two years older than me.  For the couple of days we stayed at the campgrounds we were best friends from sun up to sun down (when we weren't sight-seeing with our parents and families).  I recall many conversations over the course of those couple days and that she had a younger brother.  She was very friendly and sweet and didn't treat me like an idiot because I was only twelve to her very cool 14.

And when we said goodbye and went our separate ways, we traded addresses and became pen pals.  We spent the next two years writing back and forth, but because we lived about 1800 miles away from each other, we never visited or saw each other in person again.

We lost touch when she was about 16, I was 14.  But I recall a nice two year pen-pal friendship and we traded many photos and stories of our family and friends.

I've thought of her over the years and I recall what she looked like enough to think I might recognize photos of her if I was to find her Facebook page or other photos of her in them.  On a few occasions when I was wasting time online but had come 'to the end of the internet' and was thinking of something to look up for fun, her name was on the list of 'old friends' I'd do searches for.

But I've found it's much more difficult to find old female friends than it is males.  Mostly because of the tradition of the females taking the males family name when they marry.  When you only know their maiden name, and very little else to go on from a memory of when you were a kid, it's pretty difficult.

And what makes it more difficult?  When they have a very, very popular name.

Like... Laura.

The name Laura was HUGE during the years I'm guessing she was probably born.  I'm assuming she would have been born in either 1968 or 1969.  Well, apparently, Laura gained the most popularity as a baby name in... 1968.  Almost 19,000 babies were named Laura, which was almost 60% of the baby girls born in the USA that year.

If she had had a last name that was just different enough to get the ratio down, it would have helped but nope.  Her last name was... Wilson.  According to Wikipedia, Wilson is the tenth most common in the United States.[6]

Needless to day, I have no idea who she is today.  But I have some fun memories of our friendship and our years as being being pen-pals.

There is another pen-pal I did actually find online last week and it made me smile.





Back in the days of Saturday morning cartoons, there was a program called the Big Blue Marble, which had a pen pal program featured.  You would send your name, address, gender and a few things you were interested in or hobbies, to the address and they would match you up with a pen pal.  I sent in my name from my tiny little Midwestern town and waited not-so-patiently for a response to come in the mail with the name and address of my new pen pal.

One day it came...  it was a girl in Southern California named Lilia. I still remember writing my first letter to her, as I assumed everyone in California lived among movie stars, went to the beach every day and found huge, beautiful conch shells on the sand, which they would take home and display proudly.

I was fairly young (I am thinking maybe 4th or 5th grade?) but my first 'get to know you' letter included asking about sea shells and what famous actresses and actors she had met or seen.

I smile with a bit of embarrassment now.  But remember, back then the world seemed a bigger place.  We didn't have 24 hour television, the internet, cellphones... nor did people travel like they do today.  If you knew someone from another state, it was a BIG deal.  It was common for people to never leave their hometowns or if they did, they might venture to the bigger city near them or even to a neighboring state, crossing over the state line; but for the most part, our world was much  smaller and I knew little to nothing about kids growing up 2,000 miles from me.

She and I didn't actually have much in common though - even though The Big Blue Marble supposedly took that into consideration.  The only thing that we had in common was our age and gender.  I was into reading and books, learning to cook.  She was into sports.  All sports. Nothing but sports.

Our pen pal friendship struggled along for about 2 years but the letters were forced as we had little in common.  One night I had a slumber party at my house and a couple of my friends found her last letter to me, decided to write her back pretending to me and made up all sorts of crazy tales.  It was mailed off the next morning in a fit of giggles and I'm pretty sure we never wrote again after that.

I actually moved out to Los Angeles a few years later and would have loved to have looked her up but again, the internet didn't exist back then so 'looking someone up'  meant you called information on your landline telephone and asked for the city and state of the person you needed and then gave their name to the operator, who checked listings.  That, or your traveled to that city, found a phone booth on the side of the road that had a phone book in it and looked up the person's name in the white pages.

No... I obviously didn't look her up when we lived in Southern California.

But other night, she popped into my head.  I still remembered her name after all these years, and I remember her softball team photo and individual photo she sent me; I can see it perfectly in my memory.

I looked her up and instantly saw her name come up, as well as her married name.

And her married name made it easy to find her as she was still in California and started a photography business so she was trying hard to market her business and her name.

Her photo popped up and YEP that was her.  Absolutely, 100% her. Not one iota of doubt as it was that obvious.  It's my old Blue Marble pen pal circa 1980 (or so).

No... I didn't try to contact her.

Not everyone has a memory like I do.  (I recall memories back to when I was about 18 months old, which is not typical for most people) and my friends often give me a hard time for my ability to remember everything... everything.  I know voices on the phone even though I've not heard them speak in 25 years.  I recall tiny details that mean nothing and shouldn't stand out in anyone's memory, but they are in my head and play out easily like a photograph or a movie.  So...  no, I didn't reach out to her.

She probably doesn't remember me.  And even if she did recall me after pondering it awhile, we had very little in common back then (bookish geek verses softball queen) and looking at her lifestyle today (from what I could deduce from what she has online of her life, lifestyle, interests, etc.) we still have very, very little in common.

But it was so awesome to see who she is today verses the girl she was back when we were childhood pen pals.
 
Thank goodness her name was Laura Wilson.





Well, my morning coffee break is over.  Time to get back to work.  Don't dwell on my posts too long... I don't.  It's just the coffee talking again.




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