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Front Porch: Aging address book provides quirky chronicle

Stefanie Pettit’s address book is full and being held together with tape. She is looking for a replacement. (Stefanie Pettit / The Spokesman-Review)
Stefanie Pettit’s address book is full and being held together with tape. She is looking for a replacement. (Stefanie Pettit / The Spokesman-Review)

I’m in the process of replacing and redoing my address book, and I’m finding it more work and more emotional than I expected.

Yes, I still keep an actual address book, complete with phone numbers, birthday reminders and street addresses – on paper. It’s a loose leaf affair that is frankly just worn out from all the additions, changes and bulging front and back pockets filled with notes and business cards that have caused the binding to separate. It’s to the point that there isn’t enough tape in the world to hold it all together.

The first problem was finding an adequate replacement – that is, one just like it. Not so easy in this increasingly online world of data gathering. Why write it down when you can just input it? Because I want to write it down, that’s why.

And, yes, I have a cellphone with phone contacts listed, but it’s not the same thing.

The front page of my address book is a list of physicians – name, specialty and phone number. It’s my pen and paper version of speed dial. On it are the names of any doctor we’ve seen ever, even if just a one-time visit. Looking through the list, I came across names of one or two pediatric specialists I took my sons to when they were little. I might mention that my sons are in their 40s now. Clearly, updating is long overdue.

Then it’s on to the alphabetical listing, starting, naturally, with “A.” Some people or businesses are double listed. For example, if there’s a business I have infrequent contact with, I will list it in two places – an attorney might be listed under “A” as Attorney, followed by name and contact information, and also listed elsewhere just under his or her name. This way I don’t have to strain to recall the name of the attorney we used one time in the 1980s to handle some matter. It’s a little embarrassing, not to mention time consuming, to flip through the 26 letters of the alphabet to find a darn name that I’ve forgotten.

So when I dove into “A,” I found myself flipping back and forth between that section and others as I transcribed and copied over into the new book. But before even doing that came decisions about whether it was worth retaining a particular listing, especially the names of people I’d probably never contact again. There’s no clear formula for deciding how to do that – because you never know, right? — so I had to think about each one of and make individual decisions. Seems like an awful lot of work and attention for just a list of names and addresses.

But before even doing that, there was the decision about the pages themselves. Those tidy little preprinted ones just don’t have enough room for land lines, the individual cell phones of household members, email addresses, summer home addresses, winter home addresses and everything else that is now necessary to keep track of people I want to keep track of. So I found simple lined paper that fits into the book – and I use as much space as I need.

Other decisions include how and where to list married friends who have different last names. Or the sons and daughters of friends and family, some of whom I contact when checking in on out-of-town loved ones. Lots of different last names, so do I list them under the names of my close contact or under their own names or double-list?

I’m tired already.

And here’s where it gets sad. There are so many names of people no longer living – childhood friends, peers, older relatives. I hate to erase them, to not move them forward into my new book because they are still with me in their own way – they just no longer have a street address or phone number through which I can reach them. That kind of communication now happens through the heart.

So many couples have been halved. Tom and Sandy have now become just Sandy, and she’s moved from the area to another state. John and Pam are now just John. Ellen and Chuck, just Ellen. Death has come to so many households. Carol and Charlie are now both gone, and I hate to erase them entirely. Their daughter still has a home on their property. I’ve always had her name and phone number in parenthesis under their name, so does she move up in status and get the whole listing? If so, that requires a change in alphabetical location, as hers is a different last name. Will I remember where to look for her in the book years down the road should the need arise?

For our sons as well, they have moved often as they have pursued interests and careers all around the world. I no longer erase, I just put sticky notes on top of sticky notes on the inside of the “P” index page for them. And that page is getting thick and lumpy with years of additions.

And the pockets on the inside of the front and back covers, filled with extraneous bits of information on assorted scraps of paper, glasses prescriptions and what-not, what to do with them? I know right where they are and pull them out when needed, yet they are an unruly bunch of data that I nevertheless rely on. But they are also that huge lump of materials that helped explode the old address book to start with.

OK, these are first-world problems, and they will get resolved. But on another day, as I feel a need now to call my friend Sandy to see how she’s doing. Good thing I still know how to reach her.