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Life in Retirement: Address book adventure


I bet you’re right in the middle of writing Christmas cards. I am, although I’ve cut my list down to just a dozen or so in an effort to keep things simple. I’ve always found this tradition to be a top seasonal stressor – as I wrote about in this article that was first published in The Globe and Mail several years ago:

If you are a writer, you have likely suffered the indignation of telling someone you are writing a book and having them reply, “Oh, I should do that.” Easy Street, right? They write their grocery lists once a week and their Christmas cards once a year and they think they can expand that talent into a book. I have directed some harsh judgment at times toward people like that – that is, until this Christmas.

It began when I set out to do my Christmas cards. It wasn’t the actual card-writing that challenged me, it was the envelope-writing. Specifically, it was finding the addresses in my book, the sorry state of which had gone unnoticed until now. The card writing was smooth and nicely tailored to meet the expectations of the recipient. But the address book! The horror of the thing made me flinch. I bristled from the moment I lifted it from the junk drawer. It is 20 years old so I should be more accommodating, but it is in tatters. Loose pages are barely hanging on by the double elastics I had strung around its swollen bulk. It’s like the Dead Sea Scrolls, all fragile and complicated.

I found names of teenage babysitters from a few decades ago when my daughter was a newborn. There are (really) old boyfriends and (hopefully unnecessary) furnace-repair people and (sadly) lots of dead people in there. I should really buy a new book and rewrite the addresses that are still relevant, I tell myself every year. But I never do: lack of time, no need to worry about it until next year, what if what remains shows my life has become painfully devoid of meaningful interaction – you know, the standard reasons.

But some pages are truly illegible. Take the H page. Because of my oldest friends who have moved many, many times (sometimes to very exotic and lengthy address destinations), H is uninhabitable. It has been in that state for so long that years ago I arrowed and asterisked all H’s over to I.

Not many I’s after all. An investment company where my account was dormant for so long that they’ve cancelled me. Someone named Irene is in there, but she doesn’t take up too much room and it says (Chelsea’s grandma) in brackets behind her name and I don’t feel right just abandoning someone of that stature. Unfortunately, I and J are kind of housed on the same page, according to the headings at the top, which has forced some J’s over to the K’s. That was okay, since there’s only one J taking up any room and it is Janice written in my ex-husband’s hand. She likely doesn’t deserve much space in my “scrolls”.

But it’s when it all carries over into K that things get really bad. Do you have a lot of divorced K people? My K people haven’t moved for years, so it’s not their addresses that are causing the scribbles and Post-it notes and general K mayhem. It’s that their names changed to and from and back and forth and I just kept updating the information in K, because that’s where they all started.

Panic really struck as I flipped forward a bit, wondering how broad the carryover would be, and found M completely missing. The page was ripped right out of the book and the realization left me fumbling to remember all the M people. Luckily, as I continued flipping I discovered both M and Mc had been stapled back into the book somewhere near Q.

Along the way, I took to listing people by their first names to avoid any future marital-change address book confusion. First names don’t change, right? Well, talk to my high school friend Beth who now calls herself Liz. Or Judith, whom I worked with at Banff in 1980, who has since become Natasha (I have no explanation). Butch suddenly wants to go by his given name, Douglas, and someone named Winky probably doesn’t belong anywhere (I think there is a Banff connection with that one, too).

So, I’m thinking that all these ‘I write Christmas cards thus I should write a book’ people may have been right all along. As Gene Fowler said, “Writing is easy – just a matter of staring at a blank page until your forehead bleeds.” I stared at my address book and got the same result.

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