I spent a bittersweet and humbling afternoon doing a job most people born after 1970 have never done. It was a task familiar to people who buy stamps and send anniversary cards. The kind of person who still writes checks and leaves voice messages. It was a quiet tech-free activity where I spent time with some of the characters who’ve drifted in and out of my life. Like weeding the garden or cleaning out the junk drawer, the task wound up being more daunting than I anticipated. For three hours last Thursday, I rewrote my address book.
For those who grew up with all their contact information stored on their phone, an address book (which for my first 40 years I called a phone book), is a handwritten paper directory with A-Z tabs along the edge. Mine was decades-old, a bulging mess of business cards and outdated details held together with a rubber band. It was both a practical document full of how to get in touch with plumbers and doctors and neighbors and hairdressers. And cousins and lawyers and colleagues and friends. And a repository of lives lived and lost. Restaurants…and people “out of business.” A chapter in the book about me.
It caught me off guard, those hours spent retracing my past. Who do I choose to not transcribe again? Some decisions are more clear cut than others. The vet for my cat who died ten years ago? Out. My first cousin who I lost touch with around the same time? Hmmm, he stays in. That college friend…who stopped calling who? I rolled my eyes at the convoluted way I had double entered certain names for quicker retrieval… under their name… Frank, James…and their occupation…accountant, gardener. The number of Florida addresses highlighted the passage of time. Some of my friends have been at an address as familiar to me as my own…some moved four times. I felt bereft rewriting addresses with half a couple. So many stories.
“Why didn’t you just update your contacts?” asks my daughter. For so many reasons she’d find unreasonable. In no special order, there’s the near and dear issue of WHAT IF. My generation likes a back-up. A “real” address book won’t crash…or become corrupted…or be rendered useless if there’s a power failure or a natural disaster. It won’t be stolen and its hard drive won’t fail. It won’t have to be revived in a bowl of rice if it’s accidentally dropped in the toilet.
The lo-fi list of whereabouts in my kitchen drawer is easy to reference for Christmas cards and party invites. When I recently had to call all my credit card companies and banks, it was handy to have all the particulars in one place. Lastly, in the icky getting-affairs-in-order category, ICID (in case I die), a paper address book is straightforward access to all kinds of stuff.
Anyone I’ve asked who still uses an address book admits it’s been in their lives for so long, it’s “worn and tattered,” and “falling apart.” They share my belief that between its covers are not just organized facts; there’s an accounting of the center stage and bit players featured in our lifetime memories. That’s why when I finished up at Z, I put the old, battered copy…the one with my father’s last phone number and the no longer accurate addresses of places I laughed and learned and grieved… in a drawer in my bedroom. Next to the even older address book in my mother’s handwriting.
There is comfort in the fact that my contacts are in the cloud, preserved in the digital world. Safe there along with the hundreds of photos on my phone. The cloud will never elicit the kind of sighs or smiles as the shelf of a dozen photo albums in my den. Or a glance back through my obsolete, dilapidated address book. It’s good to have back up.