My loose-leaf collection of lives in place

I've been using electronic organizers for addresses and phone numbers ever since Sharp first brought out its Wizard in the 1980s. I've carried three Wizards over the years, each requiring special software and having progressively larger caches of memory and more capabilities.

As a reporter and writer, finding and keeping in touch with good sources is critical to my work, so it makes sense to keep such records in an electronic file. Except for some nasty falls from great heights, Diet Pepsi spills, and a few overheatings, my electronic devices have served me well.

However, when I was looking for some old friends from high school today, I found they hadn't been digitized into my current organizer, a Palm. My friends have a very common last name, so I couldn't find them on the Web; I couldn't remember the name of the town they lived in, only the street address and county.

But I did know where I'd find them - in my trusty orange leather-covered loose-leaf address book I bought in 1973. I had everyone in there: all my relatives, my husband's relatives, our college friends' parents' addresses.

At the time, it was the answer to my problems - loose-leaf! I could, and did, remove the pages from the book, type in the addresses, and put the pages back in. This six-ringed wonder had alphabetical divider tabs and seven names to a page. I could mark out an old address and add a new one, all within the correct alphabetical section. "At last!" I'd thought at the time.

If it were only technology that dated this book, it would have been easy to get the address I needed and relegate the pages to the recycling bin. But when I retrieved my friends' address, I realized that it was the only address that was still current, these friends who married before we did and settled on a plot of land in the woods. Some had moved across or out of the country since then, gone in search of their fortunes, following careers or spouses. Too many, though, were just gone.

The street addresses brought back scenes of burning leaves at the curbs, stringing Christmas lights, a welcoming porch light after a long trip, cousins with their faces pressed to the window, waiting for our car to turn the corner, and first glimpses of the real home of a college roommate.

The post office boxes for many of the relatives were in the same small town, a post office I'd walked to with my grandfather in the early mornings, where the retired men would gather to swap stories while they waited for the mail to be sorted directly into their glass- and-brass-fronted boxes with the gold numbers.

For every number, every avenue, court, and boulevard, there was someone with a story whose life was intertwined with ours for a time, some for longer than others, some closer and more painful to cross out. A collection of lives in place.

Today, I have 564 addresses in my Palm. Hundreds more are sources filed by their business cards, and others are logged into spreadsheets. I search electronically instead of thumbing through pages, and the information is easily sorted by name, by city or state, by title - or, for sources, by area of expertise. It's easy to delete an entry. Just touch the screen with the special little pencil, and the name is gone forever. Not only gone, but perhaps forgotten.

It's not gone instantly, though. When removing someone from the address book, the electronic organizer gives you a chance to change your mind. "Do you really want to delete this entry?" The screen displays.

For those in my orange book and for all the others who have so touched our lives, the correct answer is, "No."

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