Tucked away in various drawers in my house are four (somewhat obsolete) small notebooks, each listing one of the following: 1) telephone numbers; 2) mailing addresses; 3) professional telephone numbers and addresses; and 4) e-mail addresses and passwords. Each of these books is still in use, albeit in conjunction with ever-growing listings on my computer and iPhone. In addition, we have a little birthday book that dates back to when my husband graduated from the 8th grade of a one-room schoolhouse (really!) — a small gift to him and each of the other three “graduates.” In a box in the attic, I also have the guest book from the cottage where my grandparents lived during summers up north on the Chippewa River.
These books and notebooks all contain many years of entries. My grandparents’ guest book has the earliest listing — starting with visitors to the cottage in 1940. Curiosity prompted me recently to look back through these books to see what all is there.
First, there are a lot of “formers:” former neighbors, physicians, dentists, babysitters, students, and professional colleagues. There are also our previous campus office numbers (“how to get hold of Mom or Dad”), the kids’ piano teachers, a number to call about highway conditions (a reflection of Wisconsin winters), my former guitar group members, airline numbers, Ed’s military buddies (from back in the 50s), and car dealerships.
Second, I found contact information for friends from earlier times in my life — college days, high school days, previous neighborhoods in which we lived. The four close friends I made in graduate school when working on my doctorate are included, bringing back strong memories of a very happy period of time in my life — the “potlucks” that we held periodically to blow off a little steam, the movies we went to for a break, and the intensely substantive and stimulating discussions we had about the courses, books, lectures, seminars, exams (and department gossip) that ruled our lives for those few years.
Among these listings are many family members and friends who have long since died. These names are stirring reminders of the inexorable passage of time for each of us and of our own small place in the grand scheme of things.
I anticipated that the content of the listings would, in at least some ways, reflect everyday occupation and social changes over the years. And indeed, this was the case. The back pages of the telephone directory contain sections labeled for specific service people — e.g., butcher, maid, window cleaner, beauty salon, tailor, laundry; these are not telephone numbers that would be likely to reflect our lifestyles today. A progression of telephone numbers and addresses after the names of some people in the directories succinctly reflect major changes in their lives, such as for one family member (amazingly adaptive) who first lived on the farm, then subsequently in a house on a lake, then an apartment in a retirement complex, an assisted living facility, a nursing home, and then, finally, no more. For other younger people, the succession of numbers reflected changes in the opposite direction — from apartment or condo to owning their own house.
The guest book from my grandparents’ summer cottage was a gold mine of memories for me. On the first page of the guest book are these lines of verse:
Your name appearing on these pages
Serves to retain throughout the ages
Fond memories of such times that you came
To honor my house in our friendship’s name.
The guest book reflects about 10 years of life at the cottage — filled with familiar names of cousins and aunts and uncles and summer friends. “Betty Risteen” is first entered in the book at age 3. Birthdays, picnics, church women meetings and just plain visitors are reflected in the entries across that decade. When we were visiting, my sister and I slept in the big walk-up attic, an experience that included the awesome privilege of using a chamber pot in the night. I can still hear the sound of motor boats on the river, waking us in the mornings. The river was not for swimming, which was a puzzlement to us when very young, and I was absolutely not allowed to go down by the water alone. The warnings were very stern about the dangers of the “drop-off” (to this day, the word “drop-off” strikes terror in my heart). Instead, we spent hours down by the river skipping stones and otherwise amusing ourselves at the water’s edge.
When looking through the materials, I was keenly aware once again of Graham Rowles’ concept of space-time depth. These books of telephone numbers and postal addresses and e-mail addresses and passwords and house guests represent part of the everyday-ness of my whole life. For me, in looking back through these many pages, the sense of lived experience across time and space is piercing and poignant.
P.S. Does anyone know who “Deb & Jerry” are, telephone number 869-1745??
Rowles, G.D. (1991). Beyond performance: Being in place as a component of occupational therapy. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 45, 265-271.