Matthew Cohen for Reader's DigestMy granddaughter visited last weekend, and while she was here, I asked if she had her brother’s new address, as I had something I wanted to send him. She scrolled through her phone, and I marveled again at the convenience of technology. A phone, not an address book? While I’m not entirely techno-illiterate—I type, after all, on a laptop—I find it hard to grasp the changes that happen so quickly.
“Here, Gran,” said Carly when she found the address. “I’ll write it down for you.”
“Will you put it in my book?” I asked, pointing her to the phone table in the hall. They probably don’t have phone tables anymore, either, I mused.
Carly picked up the well-worn address book and looked inside, a curious expression on her face. “There’s hardly any room left to write numbers,” she said with a laugh as she wrote what I needed in the margin. “And it’s full of names you’ve scratched out.”
“Well, dear, those are people who’ve passed on,” I explained.
“Dead?” said Carly.
“Dead,” I echoed. “I can’t press ‘delete,’ so I just scratch out the names.”
“Oh,” she said, looking a little horrified. “That’s so sad.”
After Carly left, I picked up my address book and took it into the living room with a cup of tea.
I flipped the pages to the beginning and found a date, 1955. That’s a lot of years, I thought, and while I never considered this book as being sad, I also never looked at it as anything more than a place to store information.
But opening the pages, I could see the stories it represents, a repository of lives lived and lost, marriages, births, friendships, changes.
I’m 91 years old, and I’ve outlived all my siblings. Two sisters and five brothers, with a history of where they lived and how to contact them neatly written, then gradually scratched out as they succumbed to whatever ailment took them to the next world.
But their offspring live on, and the K pages, for Kirkpatrick, bleed over into the L pages, as there are so many nieces, nephews, grandnieces, and grandnephews to carry the family name. So much for the L’s; it’s lucky I don’t know many of them.
Here’s my youngest daughter … Oh, how I remember how her dad and I fretted when she moved to that apartment in New York.
She was just 18, but she was determined to make it in the theater world.
Jay, my husband, took a trip a few months later to make sure she was OK and phoned home with the proclamation that “no daughter of his was going to live in such a rat-infested dive!”
I’m sure the rats were an exaggeration, but West 11th Street was scratched off the page and a new apartment was found, along with a little monthly allowance from home to make it work. (This is what you need do to before moving into a new apartment.)
There follows a page of crossed-out entries, tracing her moves to Hoboken, New Jersey (scratch); Weehawken (scratch); West Orange (scratch); West Caldwell (scratch); Lincoln, Massachusetts (scratch); and Bedford, Massachusetts—each with a story.
Turning the pages, I find my best friend, June, who died three years ago but whom I miss every day still. We had such fun when we were younger and living in Vancouver, British Columbia (Address 1), so when she moved to Salt Spring Island (Address 2), I wasn’t sure how I would get along without her.
That move is a smudge in my book; perhaps I cried as I wrote her new address. I certainly remember feeling bereft.
As fate would have it, I also left Vancouver for Salt Spring after my husband died, and June and I shared ten more happy years as friends. That was before Address 3 signaled her move to a nursing home and the end of life as we knew it.
There are no active entries for friends I knew from my old life in Vancouver; it’s inevitable someone will be the last “man” standing, I guess. Ours was once a very social life with a large circle of friends, but no one exists anymore outside of a memory and a crossed-out name in an old book.
More recent entries herald a different kind of life, albeit a much slower one. They paint a picture of the community I found on this little island in the Pacific. Fewer friends, perhaps, and those I do have are all younger, though I don’t mind being the “grande dame.”
My handwriting is a little shakier than the bold strokes that marked the addresses I included 60 years ago (oh my, has it really been that long?), but the stories are as vivid.
I close the book and feel the well-worn leather cover. A smartphone is convenient—I keep thinking I should buy one if my grandchildren will have the patience to teach me—but it can’t replace the memories held in these pages.