Finding Home When The Internet Is Down

Cleaning out drawers a while back, a long while back, I came across an old personal address book stuck in the corner of an even older piece of furniture. It was the small ring-binder variety that theoretically lets you add or subtract pages as the need arises, and I could buy refills for it whenever space ran low. My first instinct was to add it to the pile of other stuff heading to the trash. But as I am wont to do, I examined it (Mistake #1) before tossing it…just to be sure. Mistake #2 was making myself a cup of tea to settle in.

The smallish leather book’s service spanned a few decades. It contained the names of people with whom I’d long ago lost touch and hadn’t thought about in years, girlfriends whose last names had been crossed out and new names added in the margins, and other entries that required a bit of mental mining to jog loose. Then, of course, there were those old relatives who had passed, unwittingly leaving their names and phone numbers safely with me for eternity. There were ancient land-line area codes usurped by newer cell phone numbers, and zip codes that had grown to hyphenated proportions. Some entries had a “See…” notation, which usually indicated that the family had children who had grown into entries all their own.

The address changes made me tired—especially my own. As fast-track young adults my husband and I had moved quite a bit and this book held the burden of proof. Reviewing each address caused a fleeting and not unpleasant stopover at an earlier time and place, where possibilities seemed limitless and the future lay ahead as big as the sky.

My penmanship, like my life, matured over the years from a tentative scratch to a what-the-hell scrawl (save for a short period during which I liked to print). And I wrote with pen and indelible ink implying a visceral, if somewhat wide-eyed, assumption that the important things in life were forever. Tucked inside the book were a few old greeting card envelopes I’d apparently saved for the now-outdated return addresses, along with a couple of postcards I’d saved for who knows what.

These days, my address book has morphed into a digital contacts list, where personal entries have merged with the business variety, much like my friends. Social media, I think, has caused this convergence, since there seems little barrier between those with whom I share my vacation pictures and those with whom I share my business updates. I don’t have time to stratify my “friends,” though I probably should. I get a lot of likes, so I’m in no hurry.

In the name of ease, digital contact lists may be updated or deleted in the blissful blink of an eye with little to no drama or reminiscence. On the other hand, I probably won’t remember where you lived when we first met or that your job right out of college was in Minneapolis. Sometimes I wish I would.