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Incunabulum

 

Here it is.

Tonight we’re addressing Christmas cards. After thirty-plus years, we have the routine down. John does “his” people, and I do “mine,” and I can’t tell you exactly how we know whose names are whose.

I rely on my old, water-stained address book, which sits mostly neglected next to the dish drainer. Hence the water stains. Duct tape binds it together. Ordinarily, my phone provides addresses nowadays, with an occasional boost from the Internet. The faded address book dates from probably twenty-five years ago. It contains much of my life’s archeology.

As I open the book, gingerly, and begin paging through it, I can’t help noticing the deaths. Sometimes, everyone on a page is gone—cousins, elderly relatives, and friends and neighbors. Then there are the people who have moved twice, three times, or more, and their crossed-out addresses remind me of old visits and past relationships.

Without this book, I wouldn’t remember the name of the elderly sight-impaired woman who used to live across the street. I’d forget the homeschooled child who studied Latin with me. My kids’ babysitters? Their names aren’t stored in my memory, but they’re in the book.

My nieces and nephews and kids went to college and moved from place to place: here’s the record. Most of all, I note the friends I no longer see and to whom I no longer send cards. So many relationships fade away. My church closed a few years ago, and though I’ve tried to stay in touch with those friends, some have dropped away. I don’t have much in common any more with parents of my kids’ friends—no more play dates to organize. This old book even contains some celebrities’ addresses and phone numbers, like the writers Annie Dillard, Jonathan Kozol, and Phillip Lopate. I never deluded myself that we were friends, but it was fun to record their contact information after I’d interviewed them. 

In truth, my old address book contains a few names I no longer even recognize. Maryann and Nan and Donna—whoever they are–are not getting any Christmas cards from me.

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