Sunday, 16 December 2012

The address book



It's just a small address book, and I have to rifle through a pile of old bills, used train-tickets and Indian take-away menus before I find it, tucked away behind some tissue-paper at the back of the green wooden cupboard. On the outside it still looks new, the smooth red leather is barely scratched and the band of black elastic holds it tightly closed.

I hardly ever use it now.  New contacts are so much easier to store in the phone that's always with me, and a number for texting serves better than the full address and post code for a letter that never quite gets written. But once a year, after I've lined up the cards on the table, set out the different designs in separate piles, with the right-sized envelopes stacked beside them, I search for a pen that's nice to hold and has smooth-flowing ink, and then I reach for the old address book.

I write the cards in alphabetical order, filling in the names as I go through the book, and as I do, I find myself slowing down, pausing to think about the people who sit behind these names on a page. The aunt in Bristol, who's lived at the same address as long as I can remember, and who I've always called Auntie Tupp, although her name is Beryl. My ex mother-in-law, who used to play such a large part in my life, but who now lives in a flat I've never seen.

There are the friends I used to work with, whose company I valued so much "it would be great to see you in the New Year" I scribble in the corner of their cards; all the people I used to see every day, but never quite found time to see last year. I hesitate as I turn the page to a work-colleague from many years ago. Her husband is very much older than her, and for the last few years I've waited to receive her card, and the long round-robin letter that always comes with it, dreading the year when it will be just her name at the bottom.

As I leaf through the book, I see names crossed out; a sad reminder of relationships and marriages that didn't last. Other names remain, the friends and family I couldn't delete, the ones I thought would always be around.

On several pages there are old addresses scribbled through, with new ones added underneath. I remember all the excitement of friends and family as they moved to new homes and I think about the places I once visited, the houses that felt so familiar then, but that I'll never set foot in again. Suddenly I picture another address book from long ago, where Claire had added our own address and the bold claim "The Longworths - that's us!" with each of our names listed separately. Today, I still can't quite get over the feeling of surprise when I find my children's names next to houses that aren't mine.

The very last entry in the book is my Mum's, her surname for more than thirty-odd years is that of my step-father Albert, who'll be eighty years old this week. I'll see them both on Christmas day, at my daughter's house, with two of my other children and my two delightful grandchildren. No doubt when I see them all, I'll stop to reflect on how some things have changed and moved on, how others have stayed just the same, I'll smile at the people who are there, and think for a moment of those who are not.

It's odd that I hadn't realised until today, how much of all that change is caught in the pages of my small red address book.

9 comments:

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

A little time capsule.

Susan Maricle said...

My mom used to hang Christmas cards that the family received in the shape of a Christmas tree on the living room wall. Your post reminded me of that. Thank you for the memory! Best, Susan

Linda Myers said...

I still send cards, using the address list on my iMac. I remember during one move after my divorce, my address book got lost. I had to piece my past together, and for some names I had to wait until Facebook came along and I could find the friends again.

We have a wicker bread basket with a red ribbon woven through it. It's holding the cards we've received so far this year.

Bill Dameron said...

I rarely send cards, but I am feeling somewhat nostalgic this year and it seems right. This was a lovely read on a snowy day here in Maine. Happy Holidays to you, Sharon!

savannah said...

What a lovely reminder of my past, too! It dawned on me not too long ago that I don't know any of my children's phone numbers anymore! *sigh* Every single number is stored on a device, but not in my memory. xox

The Elephant's Child said...

I LOVED your working through the address book in alphabetical order. It is exactly what I did for the cards I have so far sent. The others. local, I hope to send in the next day or so...

Phil said...

I enjoyed reading your post. I just finished doing my own Christmas cards, pulling out my address book and looking through it for missing addresses. I did have my list on the computer...but wouldn't you know it...I lost it when the machine crashed. That isn't going to happen again! The list has been reconstructed and printed out and put in a safe place.....in my address book!

Mary-Colleen said...

I modeled my address book on my mother's system--write in pencil, so it can be erased when someone moves; add the names of children as they come along, so they can be mentioned by name; never erase or cross out the names of those who have died. It's comforting to pull that old book out a few times a year and take a walk through the paths of memory. You capture it so beautifully. So often, when I read your posts, I find that you have touched on something I'd just been thinking. It's a bit uncanny.

Have a lovely Christmas!

Dicky Carter said...

You know, I wish I had an address book. An old friend has sent me a Christmas card, and I'm sure I have his address somewhere, but where? Lovely piece of writing as always.

Merry Christmas to you and Philip, and a Happy 2013.