Cards of Christmas Past

Ode to a lonely address book

By Bill Fields

Amid so many uncertainties in the current world, there is an absolute truth: December is the loneliest month for one of my possessions.

Residing in a drawer where it seldom is disturbed, near some old keys and dull pencils, I’m sure my address book feels left out most of the time. But around the holidays — when the contents on its dog-eared pages used to be as essential as eggnog — it must be forlorn beyond consolation.

The state of my address book this time of year is, of course, related to both habit and technology. I still mail holiday greetings to some friends and relatives, but the list is much smaller than it once was. I know a few addresses from memory; others are in the contacts on my cell phone.

I felt quite mature not long ago when I visited a college communications department and, with time to kill before I spoke to a class, looked around the lobby before going upstairs. A display on the history of journalism included a Rolodex, an artifact of an earlier age.

Right out of college, I purchased a Rolodex at Austin Business Supply, a fancy one with a metal cover that went over the rotating spindle and a lock with one of those tiny keys that would go missing in a month. By the time I abandoned my Rolodex years later, it still had plenty of blank cards and wasn’t even in the same league with the bulging desktop index of a former boss in New York. He called in from the road once and asked me to find a number for someone. In flipping through his cards, I couldn’t help noticing how he handled those no longer with us: * DEAD * written in felt tip by their names. 

My address book is nearly 25 years old, purchased not long after the Moleskine notebooks came on the scene. The pages have come free from the binding; the elastic closure has been stretched to where it is like a belt four sizes too long. Inside the black paperboard cover fraying at both ends of its spine are names in and out of my life, relationships that ended and those that endure. If I were so inclined, there could be plenty of asterisks. The book even contains information foreshadowing its obsolescence — a password here, an email there, lines drawn through an old home number in the “H” section that no longer works.

Even though I’ll only send and receive a handful of cards this year, the tradition evokes lots of memories. Growing up, we often taped the cards above the double door to the dining room, where the scotch tape was certain to fail at least a few times. Sometimes they stood on top of a china closet or sideboard. Occasionally, they rested in a basket.

People tended to be predictable in the Christmas cards they sent. Some families chose one with a religious theme each year. You could count on birds from some and snowy scenes from others. I used to be fascinated by the envelopes that contained more than a card: the typed letters of what had gone on in a life in the preceding 12 months. We used to get missives from a divorced distant cousin that mentioned the activities of “Parents Without Partners.” To a kid, all the PWP updates seemed like TMI, even before there was such an acronym.

Mostly, though, it was a joy when the post office box was filled with cards from friends or family who thought enough to take the time to write them. It was a delight to receive a card from my mother even when she was north of 90, her handwriting nearly as neat as when she was a schoolgirl.

Retrieving my address book from its resting place not long ago, I was reminded that it had an accordion pocket. There were a couple of old business cards and return addresses torn off envelopes. In a pleasant surprise, there also were two partial books of attractive “Holiday Evergreens” Forever stamps. The longleaf pine version looks particularly like home and deserves to ensure passage of something better than a bill.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

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