With the holidays nipping at my heels, I sit down at my kitchen table to begin the chore of addressing holiday greeting cards.
In front of me are neatly organized piles: red and green cards with shimmery trees, crisp white envelopes, assorted coloured pens and books of postage stamps. Everything is in place to begin when I’m interrupted by an incredulous, “What is that?” from my youngest daughter, Charlotte. Her eyes have just landed on my rather time-worn address book.
My address book is close to 40 years old; it was given to me by my first employer as a birthday gift when I was still in high school. Its faded, floral cover was once quite lovely, but now it is crisscrossed with tape, an elastic band barely restrains the bits and pieces of paper wedged between the pages and trying their best to escape confinement. The letter-tabbed sections have long ago been filled to the brim with names and numbers, so in order to be included, any new contacts from this century appear on change of address cards (remember those?) or on corners of envelopes torn away to preserve their senders. Each time I drag the book out I tell myself that I really should replace it or find a better method to organize my contacts. But my sentimental bent routinely overrides this urge.
“You still don’t use that old thing, do you? You know there are apps for that?” Charlotte continues. My reply consists of a long sigh rather than an immediate rebuttal as to why I have hung on to this relic from the past. Some people who still observe this lost art of card giving have this task streamlined with names and addresses stored in state-of-the-art computers and labels loaded expertly into printer trays ready to stick in a manner of minutes. But not me. I prefer the handwritten approach, and my recipients are hidden away in the ratty pages of my address book. The whole process is a weird game of discovery as finding the names requires a kind of hide-and-go-seek manner that takes nearly as long as addressing the envelopes.
With energy waning on this rainy day, I stop to consider telling Charlotte the following in defence of my outdated practice:
“Written on these pages are the names of people who were once important in my life. The handwriting is mine, but moves from being juvenile to more adult. When I flip through the pages, I wonder what has become of many of the people – I refuse to scratch out any names (even if they have died). All of these people were once important in my life, but many of them have been lost to time.
“There are names of old boyfriends and their family members from when I was a young and impressionable student. There are contacts for employers who graced many a resume as I found my way to permanent employment. There are numbers for people from the neighbourhood of my first apartment who were always keen to help the young gal next door who was on her own. There are addresses of colleagues whom I taught with over the years – some for decades, others for months. There are people I encountered for a short while and then never saw again, such as a guy who was cycling across Canada to raise funds for cancer research, an interim Anglican minister who pitched in when the need arose, and an elder from a northern First Nation who stopped in for a meal on his protest walk to Ottawa. And, of course, lots and lots of family contacts – though you need to be a bit of a detective or historian as current last names have morphed from the ones listed on the pages owing to marriages and divorces.
“Over the years I have wondered if I will ever see most of these people again and I know the answer is “no.” Why do I hang on to an odd collection of names and outdated whereabouts and numbers? Perhaps it makes me feel important to have a long list of acquaintances (like an antiquated method of measuring success through followers), even though they have been long forgotten. The contacts in my book have memories attached to them and they are frozen in time. When I read through this address book each year, I wonder what the people crammed on and between the pages are doing now – do I dare try to telephone (does anyone have a landline these days, anyway)? I wonder who would answer? Are these people still alive? Married? Successful? Would they remember me?
“When taken as a whole, my address book is really quite a failure as a useful tool.
“Maybe I should buy a new book, or find a more modern method. But I will keep this old, dog-eared address book tucked away to remind me of who I was and the people who shaped who I’ve become.”
My internal speech finished, I come back to the present and realize this musing is too philosophical and long-winded to be of value in my defence. So, instead, I gaze back at my daughter and in a defeated tone say, “Yeah, darling, I know. Why don’t you show me an app to improve this mess some time?”
“All right, mom. Maybe next week.”
Just as I thought. She’s already moved on. It’s a good thing I have my contacts down on paper.
Kelly Griffiths lives in Oxdrift, Ont.