It wasn’t any ordinary address book. I received it as a birthday present from my parents over 20 years ago. It was covered in a faux leather red finish and held the names and numbers of many people I’ve met throughout the past years.
The very first people I added into the book were friends I met while going to sailing camp. It was a Girl Guide camp where we learned how to manoeuvre two-person sunfish boats on Hardwood Lake, Nova Scotia.
I don’t remember the name of the girl I was paired with then. Just that she was afraid of the water and the boat and the wind and anything else that had to do with sailing. She wasn’t a good partner and when we fell into the lake one chilly afternoon, the instructor hauled her out of the water and took her back to dry land. I got stuck trying to right the overturned sunfish and then sail it solo to shore. Where she sat watching me.
Her name I did not seek to put into my address book. It was the other girls, who I sang with over bonfires, had meals with in the marquee and who exchanged friendship bracelets with me on the final day of camp. It’s the names of these girls, in faded ink after many years, that I’ll miss.
Another Girl Guide event I attended was Echo Valley 88. It was an international camp for girls in Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan. I was 15 years old and this was the first time I had been on an airplane all by myself.
I got to meet people from countries all over the world such as Japan and Ghana and France. The Japanese girls served us a traditional tea, the Ghanaian girls didn’t like their photo being taken and the French girls had hairy armpits. We were all friends in the end and their names were jotted down in proper alphabetical order in my red address book. Reiko, from Fukuoka, even wrote my name in Japanese near hers.
Reiko and I wrote letters back and forth as I did with several other chums. I like to put pen to paper and craft an exciting message to someone on the other side of the planet. It’s even better when I get a letter back.
By the time I got to university, e-mail addresses were being written underneath house and phone numbers in my book. I was using snail mail less and less as messages went electronic. But I still liked to send a postcard or two. Especially to the boyfriend I had to leave behind one summer.
He stayed in Nova Scotia to work on his family’s farm while I took off to lifeguard at a camp near Stouffville, Ontario. The internet wasn’t everywhere in the early 90s, as it is now, and there were only two payphones for about 30 staff. Keeping in touch meant by post.
I loved getting those letters written in his scrawled handwriting. They opened up his world to me sitting in Ontario. He told me stories about being on the tractor, about hanging out with his friends and about future plans.
A couple years later we went our own ways and I met someone else. This boyfriend went to northern B.C. to work for the summer. He wrote to me when he was working at a mine. He had to record people coming in and out of a giant hole in the ground. He was bored and had lots of time to write. He sent long, long letters and I relished every word.
While these boyfriends are gone from my life, I did like that they had etched their names into my address book. It was a link, a connection that was tactile and real. Not something that could be deleted with just the press of a button.
Today I have two electronic address books but it’s not the same. My old paper book was filled with notes and doodles from family and friends and former flames. I could open a page and see the shape of an S and remember whose story it once told.
The address book is gone. However, the memories are still here. Writing about it has made the loss feel a little less and turned a page for me.