I approach each New Year in a frenzy of resolutions, cleaning, and planning. “Out with the old, in with the new” is my mantra from December 1 to 31 as I clean files and drawers and closets. Throwing out old things makes me feel refreshed and ready to face new challenges. But this year I learned a lesson about old things. Some are worth keeping.
“I need a new address book,” I thought several times as I wrote my Christmas cards. My old book is frayed and bent. There are doodles on the back cover and coffee stains on the edges. There are entries crossed out and notations in the margins. The “S-T” tab is held in place with tape. I imagined a new book with a pristine cover and blank pages ready to be filled with current information in my neatest handwriting.
I almost wrote “address book” on my shopping list. I meant to do it as I finished the last card. Instead I hesitated and turned to the inscription on the first page of my worn-out little book. “Dear Gary and Mary” it reads, “God bless you richly. We love you. Adult II Sunday School Class.” A wealth of memories came flooding back. I remembered friends and neighbors who helped care for my children after I had surgery. I remembered Buck, who made violins in a shop behind his house. And Hazel, who baked cookies and listened to stories and treated my children like her own grandchildren. If I had closed my address book and packed it away they might have been forgotten in the hustle and bustle of my current life. And my new book wouldn’t have a notation in the margin that Buck died. Or that Hazel moved to a nursing home.
So I sat for a time and just read my address book, not as a tool for recording names and addresses, but as a diary of my life. There are entries for former employers and schoolmates, friends and neighbors, in-laws and exes. On the inside of one of the divider pages is a Christmas card list of the employees I worked with at a hospital in California. On another page is the address of the truck-driving school where my husband found his second career. I can follow my friends’ and children’s moves, marriages, and divorces by the crossed out addresses and name changes. The death of a dear friend noted and below it the address of her daughter. There are old friends and new among the listings, some who never write anymore, and those who write often.
Perhaps it’s because I’m over fifty, but my memories are dear to me. The people who have touched my life remain alive in my mind and still help me when I’m trying to make decisions or cope with difficult situations. That’s why I’ve decided to keep my old address book. It will probably need some more tape in order to make it through another year. I may even have to add a few new pages to accommodate new friends. But I can’t bear to throw out the old ones. As I’m flipping through pages next year, I want to remember Buck and Hazel, and dozens of others who have helped make me the person I am today.
Shakespeare said it best, “I count myself in nothing else so happy, As in a soul remembering my good friends.”* If you don’t believe it, just read my address book. Or better yet, read your own.
*from: Richard II