My Address Book Is Where I Find Myself
Here’s how out of touch I am with modern technology:
A friend called to ask for the phone number of a mutual acquaintance. “Don’t you have it in your address book?” I asked. Silence on the other end. “You know, a little black notebook where you write down names and contact information.” She said she didn’t have an address book. She said she programmed numbers into her cell phone, but she was missing that particular one.
“What if you need to know where someone lives?”
She said she didn’t write letters, so she didn’t keep track of postal addresses.
Once again the latest technology whizzed past while I plodded along in the slow lane. The Internet and uber-phones will do everything short of mixing martinis, but how can anyone get along without a for-real address book? The black, fake-leather cover of mine is creased and floppy with use. The pages for popular letters like H and S and W are crowded. Even their margins are filled with entries written in pencil for easy erasing. Being able to erase is vital. All those births, deaths, marriages, divorces, relocations, and dislocations require a lot of editing.
The earliest address book in my collection dates from my Peace Corps days in Venezuela in 1964. Later I added the names of those I met while teaching in Brooklyn, New York, in 1967, and while living in Japan in 1970.
That first one was barely twice the size of a book of matches, but I knew so few people it was big enough.
A 2010 reunion of members of my Peace Corps group, taken at UC-Berkeley,
where we trained in the summer of 1964
And a reunion in Japan in 2017 with friends I met in 1970. We have stayed in touch for almost fifty years, something made easier with the little black book.
Back in 1964 I could not have imagined that 1) I would become a writer or 2) that my first book would introduce me to this family, the descendants of Comanche leader, Quanah Parker, and his mother Cynthia Ann Parker. This photo of family members was taken at the annual Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock, Texas, where the Parkers invite me to sign copies of Ride the Wind at their table.
I’ve become acquainted with a lot of folks since then. I buy larger address books now and the pile of them has grown in my desk’s bottom drawer. They mark my progress through the years — new towns, new jobs, new relationships—, but each one overlaps into the latest phase of my life. They record a continuing flow of friendships that reach back through the years and circle the planet.
My address book won’t become obsolete. It doesn’t need software or batteries or a wireless signal. I didn’t have to wait for it to be invented, or to develop from a room-sized presence to one that fits in a shirt pocket. It contains easily accessible information from my past that I could never re-create from memory.
Reading it reminds me of the people who’ve passed through my life and who grace it now — those I’ve met on the road and those who have lived next door. I marvel at the fact that many of my friends’ offspring have grown and are raising children of their own. I’ve added their addresses too. I recall the faces of the ones who have died. I feel sadness for once-happy couples who have separated.
An electronic list of contact data won’t do for me. I don’t like the notion of deleting people from my life and memory with the tap of a fingertip. My little black book is where I find myself.
Little could I have imagined, when I entered names in first small address book, that subsequent ones would include contact information from all over the world. And the best part… no computer hacker will ever get hold of that information or compromise it.
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