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 shredded. I’ve had it for decades, the brocade cover is worn, some pages are loose.

The gift is beautiful; the cover is colourful, the pages are creamy white. My daughter lives in England and bought it from 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 periods of my life: studying in Winnipeg, working in Saskatoon, then Waterloo, then Edmonton. When I moved back to Niagara, my address book contained the old contacts that I needed to reconnect.

There are stories of friendship in this book. The comings and goings of my friends. The rolling stones that kept moving, crossing out their address over and over again, filling in one box at a time. I started using pencil for some of them because they were taking up too much space! The paper in her box is thin, repeatedly erased.

And here are the friends who stayed in their four-line box, the steadfast ones who never moved and are glad they settled down.

Some friends got married and there are arrows combined as households. The children’s names were added one by one and squeezed over the parents. Some get their own boxes when they move out.

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There are the couples who got divorced, the partner’s name crossed out, the name of a new partner added. Sometimes several times.

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

This book contains my family stories, especially the addresses of my loved ones who have passed away. Two whole generations of relatives. grandparents, uncles and aunts. Phone numbers I know by heart.

I can picture their homes in every detail; the feel of the crocheted doilies on Grandma’s coffee table, the closet under Uncle Ed’s stairs (perfect for hiding from the other cousins), the clean smell of Aunt Lily’s rec room.

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

And there are my friends whose recent death still comes as a shock. Like every year, I sent out cards last Christmas. I’ll start with the A names and work my way through. I turn the page and see a dead friend’s address, the sad surprise.

“How is that possible?” I wonder. I never cross them out. I want her name there, it’s her place. I do not want to forget.

But this old book hardly has room anymore unless I meet people whose last names start with Q or Z. And it’s shabby and old. Maybe it’s time for smart and stylish.

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

I can’t throw away your book. It’s a way to keep track; this person, these friends, these places. I see myself in her book, crossed out and reprinted, my wanderings.

“Don’t you have all of this on your phone?” my daughter once asked me when she saw me flipping through my address book. And yes, I have some contact details there too. I admit it’s super handy to have on one device. My daughter’s generation doesn’t use address books.

But changing addresses on a phone is so permanent that the old address is lost without a trace. You don’t see the person anymore? Press Delete. It’s like they were never there. Not even a room where they used to be.

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

Slow communication is an old story. Pull out a pen, find some paper. I have boxes of nice stationery. Which card should I choose for this person? Did I send you one with mountains on it last time? I remember they were in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh Museum, I choose this one with its sunflowers.

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It takes a while to write a letter. It’s going to be more than one paragraph, I’m paying for it to make its way across the country. What am I trying to say?

It may take a few days to write the letter, then I put it in the envelope. What is your address? I take out my address book and copy it faithfully. A stamp… which one? Those floral pistils or just a usable generic one? I go to the mailbox.

It’s agonizing for some to read about, it’s insanely slow communication. But why not? Time is a gift that I give to my friends and that I enjoy.

I imagine them opening their mailbox and seeing the envelope. The surprise of something that isn’t an invoice. I see them take it home, sit down and open my letter. From my hands to hers. It’s tangible. Stay in Touch.

The old address book is on top of the new one for the time being. The magnet on the lid closure is strong as always. It snaps shut with such a beautiful sound and keeps everyone organized from A to Z.

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

Carol Penner lives in Vineland Station, Ontario.

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