Every year, in anticipation of the holiday greeting card season, I reach into a back cupboard and retrieve my old Rolodex. I remember buying it from the Burch drugstore a few months before I graduated from high school in 1981. Having my own Rolodex symbolized starting my life as a real adult — owning my relationships and building a network. Nowadays, contacts are casually created on LinkedIn, Facebook and Outlook. But back in the Rolodex era, I had to make a decision to pull out a card and consciously add a physical representation of someone in my world to claim a relationship.
My Rolodex houses the history of my family and old friends. The company has likely gone out of business and I can’t find replacement cards, so the old records tell vivid stories. As I flip through the cards, I spend time with my friends’ messy lives.
I come across Mary, whose husband’s name I’ve long since crossed off, whose trail of addresses has expanded to the back of the card. And what about Tom, who moved with no forwarding address? I flip through and come to my beloved aunt and uncle — no longer living but whose address cards I can’t bear to toss; or the names of my parents’ friends, gone but who were the adults of my childhood — the people who helped shape me.
For a few minutes during the holidays, I pause to remember the missing or the departed and wish I could send a card to say, “Merry Christmas — hope to see you next year.”
I’m occasionally relieved to find a few neat addresses in my Rolodex offering me the stability of family members who have lived in the same house for my entire life. My new friends (those acquired after the late 1990s) doubtlessly have evolving lives, too, but their records live with me in pristine electronic form and only in the present tense. Old addresses typed over and bad relationships deleted. They show their lives to me as a snapshot, not a winding path.
These days, holiday cards almost seem silly. I text pictures back and forth daily with my faraway friends and yet I can’t quite give up the tradition. I love slowing down enough to write an address on an envelope and by doing so, say, “Yes, you are my friend and we share something together on this beautiful Earth.”
Jocelyn Hale is executive director of the Loft Literary Center.