As he unsuccessfully tried to transfer 3300 missing contacts to my new Verizon phone, he said with a smile, "makes you want to go back to your old phone book."
I did go back to my handwritten tan leatherette phone book during my covid nesting phase. It had been sitting on a shelf alongside old textbooks and tomes for a few years.
Loath to trash it when I edited my bookshelves, I decided it was an artifact and relegated it to the nearby cabinet where I keep mementos from my grandchildren, old cards and memorabilia from my present life.
It was the loose-leaf kind and just the right size to be easy to locate. It came with alphabetical tabbed plastic covers to preserve the writing on the lined sheets. And you could order extra sheets if needed, said the packaging text as I recalled. This was a good selling point back then. Now the two pockets, similar to the inside flaps of book jackets, held paper flotsam and jetsam.
My late mother, Rebbetzin Yehudis Perlow, a"h, was not particular about details of material things. She never said I want this, even if it was a household necessity. She didn't need things, period.
People are more important than things, she would say. But she did want this kind of phone book and I remember her talking about her efforts to find one. One of her summer projects was copying over her phone book once she got the particular kind she wanted.
I "got it" only later, years after she was gone. And then I went out and purchased the phone book. It must have been about 13 years ago. I was careful to write neatly (for me) and in small letters because there was only one sheet or half a sheet per letter of the alphabet.
The phone book traveled with us when we traveled and moved with us when we moved from Brooklyn to the Five Towns, from the Five Towns to Brooklyn and then back to the Five Towns. My need for it waned as my phone contacts grew and trusty search engines yielded phone numbers, addresses, and more with just a few clicks. My bulky phone book outgrew its use and took its place on the attic bookshelf.
It's a record now, a historical artifact but not because of its outdated usefulness. It's a register of relationships and people who are no longer in my life as well as fully present folks. I found numbers of older singles (some of whom got married!), a Partner in Torah, a work supervisor, neighbors who have passed away, a couple who have divorced, professional associates, my daughters' single friends who stayed in touch, and people who have since lost spouses, their faith, and their fortunes.
It's an archive of life's ups and downs, theirs and mine. In the pockets I found a staff list from a job I held, a list of congregants from a previous congregation, annotated paper towels with notes from longtime friend's eulogy, notes on a meeting with a periodical's senior management, part of a punch list, jottings for future articles, and points on exercising faith during adversity.
The ink is blue, black, and marker. The penciled marginalia is still legible. The handwriting is blurry in some places from water stains, despite the plastic sheet covers. Doctor names, and numbers of long lost relatives, plumbers and children of friends crowd the dark cardboard pieces that belong inside the plastic covers. Almost all the available empty space in this phone book has been used, even the YZ page.
My mother's time was up in her sixty-third year. I am soon approaching that age. I've got the tan phone book, the proof positive that relationships counted in my life, and I got her message.
I participated in the JWOW! Zoom class on crafting heirlooms for midlifers. It doesn't work for me. I'm not investing time in artistic creations for my grandchildren. I've got heirlooms. I've got hundred-year-old candlesticks from two great-grandmothers who died in Treblinka to pass on. I've got traditions, recipes, letters, and afghans.
What will document my own accomplishments that I can claim? What will document the values that I tried to live by and teach my progeny? Must I get that years-old manuscript published to have a permanent record? Is it time to write an ethical will?
I think I'll go buy a Moleskine and create my own narrative. I fill it in my own order, with nary an alphabetical tab nor a stain from past history. My Book of Life will not be an artifact. It will tell the tale I wish to tell.