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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Number Please

I’ve been musing on the things we carry with us through life. Like most people I have a personal telephone book. I’ve had it for about 15 years. The pages look bedraggled and more than a few are held together with those little white doughnuts made for use on notebook paper. While adding a new address today I remembered my grandmother’s phonebook. She asked me to look up a telephone number in it once when I was visiting her. “You’ll have to look on the next page after where you’d expect it to be,” Grandma said. “I ran out of room on the page.”

“Why don’t you get a new book, Grandma, and leave out the numbers that aren’t good anymore,” I asked.

“Oh, it’s alright. I know where everyone is.” Grandma seemed to think there was no need in discarding the names and numbers that evoked memories for her. I understand now.

I’ve become my grandmother—or at least like her in this respect. It always was difficult for me to go through my telephone book and eliminate the names and numbers which for whatever reason were gone from my life. A little denial. So after purchasing a nice leather bound book with rings for adding pages I’ve kept the same book for more than fifteen years even though folks have come and gone from my life.

I’ve used the extra pages to cut and paste new information and tape it over people who have moved or moved on. That worked well until I discovered that simply cutting and pasting the return address labels off of envelopes was easier. I give those folks several years to demonstrate that their information isn’t likely to be needed before covering them over. I can trace the many travels of my friend Dianne from the time she lived next door in Nachotta, to Vancouver, to Virginia, to Kent and several stops in between. The information for my father and his brothers will never be covered up. Even though they are gone from the here and now they remain in my heart and phonebook as a reminder of my love for them. Sappy, perhaps, but necessary for me.

Yes, taping new information over someone no longer part of my life is not that different from just eliminating them from my file, but that information is there beneath the new, to be excavated if necessary. Up to now, that has not been the case, but you never know. My grandmother would recognize my phonebook because it doesn’t look that different from hers.

I come from a family of packrats (although that grandmother was not from the packrat side) so perhaps the reluctance to let go of names and numbers scrawled in a book is a part of our family disability. Some of us actually exhibit something that walks a fine line on hoarding. Or maybe I am just reluctant to let go of people once important enough to write down their name and phone number in a book. Can’t tell when that information might come in handy. Are there things you find difficult to update or throw out? Or am I alone on the lifeboat of memories? I wonder what ever happened to Grandma’s phonebook.

Maybe my phonebook is the tangible symbol of my heart and life. Things that get in there stick. Whatever the case, I will leave it to someone else to permanently bury my phonebook when I no longer need the assistance of an operator. Until then I will keep pasting in the new loved ones and fondly remember the old.


Kim Thompson said...

I've had the same address book that I've had for years. I actually don't erase a thing. I keep stuff in there for remembrances, too. Like a friend I've drifted from, relatives that have passed away. It's like a little personal history book of sorts, isn't it?

JosephMcG said...

Your post quieted me. It is wonderful to have a friend who knows how to help me walk through tears and joy gracefully. Thank you, Steph... for helping me to breathe a little deeper

Stephanie Frieze said...

Nice to know that there's others in the lifeboat with me, Joseph and Kim!

Lorraine Hart said...

Count another one rowing, Steph!

Address books and notebooks...trails through the waaay-back star system to navigate by.

I get misty-eyed...and my fingers want to touch old fellowships on the journey. Letter-writers are a semimental bunch. Is text-messaging a trail of breadcrumbs, you think?

Stephanie Frieze said...

Compared to the deliciousness of a letter, textmessages are certainly crumbs. I still write letters--one is winging its way to you, Lorraine--but not nearly like I used to. Don't even CALL people as much as once upon a time.

Kim Thompson said...

I am an e-mail gal. Love the e-mail! My handwriting is poor and typing is so much more fun and easier for me. With little kids pawing at me all the time, it's nice to type a little, deal with them, and then go back to my communications. Talking on the phone is too hard, too many interruptions and I am not patient with that. I don't like text messaging because I freak when I have to abbreviate or speak "text." I am weird that way.

Stephanie Frieze said...

"Back in the day," as the kids say, when phones were corded, my aunt told the story of a friend of hers whose children would get just out of reach of the telephone cord to get into trouble so that mom would have to hang up to deal with it. Of course now we can run them down!

Stephanie Frieze said...

Lorraine, I seem to get more sentimental as each day passes.