A list to last a lifetime

I'm a big fan of lists. I have lists on scraps of paper floating around the house, I have lists in journals (and various journals according to category), I have lists in books, I have lists in my own version of a Day-Timer. I even have a list, "Things to Do When I Am Bored," to which I have yet to refer.

But no list compares to my grandparents' list. Theirs is the ultimate, information-rich, pages-thick list that would put any Franklin Planner fanatic to shame.

Whenever I've visited my grandparents, the Ultimate List (my name for it) has met at least one information crisis. The Ultimate List is really an old address book with all its original pages and a plethora of pages the book has adopted, thanks to some yellowing cellophane tape.

The Ultimate List has hand-written on the smooth brown vinyl cover, "numbers, mostly local." This is a misnomer. Once opened (careful! - not everything is taped in), it becomes obvious that the Ultimate List is really an old-fashioned computer.

Instead of residing in document files, things are listed alphabetically by plastic tab. Some files direct you to other files. For instance, under "C-China Kitchen," you might find the note, "see R-Restaurants."

"R" is a big one. There are pages of tiny handwritten lines with restaurants, descriptions and phone numbers. Addenda include tattered restaurant reviews, comments, and notes taped to the pages. There are also movie summaries and reviews, theater and symphony information (including who the current conductor is).

I like the page with my address on it. This tiny part of a page is a small biography that includes my move-in date and excerpts from various phone conversations (also with the dates). There are notes about when my grandparents sent me financial gifts, how much, and when (and sometimes what I might spend it on).

My birthday is included, and - in pencil - whom I was dating and his phone number. Now that we are married, his family's vital stats have been added. Not that they have ever called the Larsens, but....

Sometimes I look up my uncle's space under "W" for Wilson, to see what my cousins have been up to lately. Or I look up various friends to see who has remarried or moved or written a book or had grandkids or had my grandparents to dinner.

One section of the book is a horticultural guide to their yard: What fruit trees were planted when, what color the blossoms are, and what month you might expect them to bloom. Another section includes maps - printed and hand-drawn - coupons, recipes, Yellow Pages clippings, a directory of zip codes, area codes, and international codes. My grandparents are world travelers, so it is always interesting to look at the international codes and scout for clues about their overseas friends.

Grandma often expresses her lack of interest in getting a computer. She good-naturedly says, "I'll just let that part of the world pass me by."

Sometimes I try to convince her how helpful a computer is, how you can store so much information on it and print it out with the click of a button (the word "mouse" would only cause confusion). She just waves her hand at me.

Happily, my grandpa got a computer a few months ago so he could go online and check stocks. He loves it. Grandma still has no interest in learning how to use it. If you didn't know about the Ultimate List, you might think that she is letting the world pass her by.

But after a glance through that smooth, misshapen old address book, you would decide, as I did, that she already has her own information superhighway. And I wouldn't wish on anyone the job of transcribing that document into Word.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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