My address book tells stories, how can I get rid of it?

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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

It was so thoughtful. My daughter gave me an address book for my birthday. She knows the one I have is in tatters. I’ve had it for decades, the brocade cover is worn, some pages are loose.

The gift is charming; the cover is colorful, the pages are cream white. My daughter lives in England and bought it at my favorite department store, Liberty in London. But I don’t feel free to use this gift; I’m tied to my old book.

My address book tells stories. My story, the way I moved. Names added in different inks from times in my life: studying in Winnipeg, working in Saskatoon, then Waterloo, then Edmonton. When I got back home to Niagara, my address book contained the old contacts I needed to reconnect.

There are stories of friendships in this book. The comings and goings of my friends. The rolling stones that kept moving, their address crossed out over and over again, filling in one box after another. I started using pencil for some of them because they took up too much space! The paper in your box is thin, erased over and over again.

And here are the friends who stayed in their four-line box, the steadfast ones who never budged, happy to be settled.

Some friends married each other and there are arrows like combined households. The children’s names were added one by one, pressed on top of their parents’ names. Some get their own boxes as they move.

There are the couples who got divorced, the name of the couple crossed out, the name of a new couple added. Sometimes multiple times.

And then there are the names of people I thought were good friends, but immediately lost touch with, their addresses the smallest of memories. “Why would I have put that person’s name here?” I wonder. Friendship nipped in the bud, who knows why.

This book has my family stories, especially the addresses of my loved ones who have died. Two whole generations of relatives. Grandparents, uncles and aunts. Phone numbers that I know by heart.

I can imagine their houses in intricate detail; the feel of the crochet doilies on Grandma’s coffee table, Uncle Ed’s understairs closet (perfect for hiding from the other cousins), the clean smell of Aunt Lily’s rec room.

The addresses are still there in my book, although the houses are long since vacated as permanently as possible. No forwarding address.

And there are my friends whose recent deaths are still a shock. I sent cards last Christmas, as I do every year. I start with the A names and work my way up. I turn the page and see the address of a dead friend, the sad surprise of it.

“How is this possible?” I wonder. I never cross them out. I want your name there, it’s your place. I don’t want to forget

But this old book barely has any room left unless you start meeting people whose last names start with Q or Z. And it’s tattered and old. Maybe it’s time for smart and stylish.

I can keep this old man tucked away in the attic, after all. I can put it in the box with my late mother’s address book, the one with the white faux leather cover. It’s full of names of people I don’t even know: Millie, Doris, Fred, Helen, Agnes.

I can’t throw away your book. It’s a way of keeping track; this person, these friends, those places. I see myself in his book, crossed out and reprinted, my migrations.

“Don’t you have all that on your phone?” my daughter once asked me when she saw me flipping through my address book. And yes, I also have some of the contact information there. I admit, having it on a device is very useful. My daughter’s generation doesn’t use address books.

But changing addresses on a phone is so permanent that the old address is deleted without a trace. Do you no longer see the person? Press delete. It’s like they were never there. Not even a space where they used to be.

Nobody sends letters anymore, so most of the time you don’t even need people’s addresses. You send them a text or maybe an email. How quick to type a few lines and hit send. It arrives instantly.

Slow communication is an old story. Get out a pen, find some paper. I have boxes of precious stationery. Which card should I choose for this person? Did I send you one with mountains last time? I remember they went to the Van Gogh museum when they were in Amsterdam, I prefer this one with his sunflowers.

It takes a while to write a letter. It’s going to be more than a paragraph, I’m paying for this to reach the whole country. What do I mean?

It may take a few days to write the letter, then seal it in the envelope. What is your address? I take out my address book and copy it faithfully. A stamp… which one? Are these flowery stamps or just a useful generic one? I walk to the mailbox.

For some, this is unbearable even to read, it is incredibly slow communication. But why not? Time is a gift that I give to my friends and I enjoy it.

I imagine them opening their mailbox and seeing the envelope. The surprise of something that is not a ticket. I see them taking it home, sitting down and opening my letter. From my hands to theirs. it’s tangible Keep in touch.

The old address book sits on top of the new one, for now. The magnet in the cover closure is as strong as ever. It closes with such a nice sound, keeping everyone from A to Z in order.

But my new Liberty address book whispers a tale of new possibilities. Space for friends I don’t know yet. I’ll get to that. It’s just a matter of time.

Carol Penner lives in Vineland Station, Ontario.

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