Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A big brown desk, a small address book, and what it means to be a grown-up

I don't know where it came from, how much it cost, or whether it had any particular significance to my mom, but her desk was a source of fascination to me. It was a small to medium-sized, medium-brown-colored wooden roll-top desk. Two shallow drawers on the top held small items out of reach of little hands, while two wider drawers at the bottom held paper and folders and less interesting items. When the roll-top was opened, it exposed several small nooks and drawers for envelopes, stamps, and other miscellaneous office goodies.

The general rule of the desk was that we ('we' being my sister and myself - dad was probably implied, but not as strictly monitored) stayed out of mom's desk and only removed items from it with her permission or when asked by her. The really sharp scissors typically lived in the top drawer and were the item we would most commonly beg to retrieve. The scissors themselves changed out over the years, but the all-metal, shiny, unbelievably heavy sewing scissors were always my favorite.

The second-most-commonly-retrieved item was almost a sacred relic in my mind - my mom's address book. Small and spiral bound, the book bristled with various scraps of paper - some with neatly cut edges, others torn carefully from a larger something. Each time someone moved, my mom would carefully cross out the previous address and neatly add the new information in her enviably perfect cursive on the following row. The address book was typically only fetched during one of the two prime thank-you-note-writing times of the year (post-Christmas and post-birthday) and was immediately returned to the desk after use.

I've always wanted an address book of my own like the one my mom had - it was a fascinating work, detailing the movement of family and friends across the country and world. It followed the creation of new families and, in a couple sad cases, the dissolution of old ones. The pen changes, the ink color changes, but the handwriting remains the same throughout. I've never successfully kept an address book myself, preferring (out of frustration with my own attempts) to keep all my addresses on my computer - convenient but impersonal, lacking the subtlety and depth of my mom's book. On more than one occasion, I've selected a book and entered a few addresses, only to become frustrated with my inconsistent chicken scrawl and mixed use of nicknames and "real" names.

A beautiful address book, like a handwritten thank-you note, has become a much rarer item these days. Most people I know keep their addresses online or in various digital gadgets, sending emails and texts for all but the most serious occasions (weddings and funerals are still paper-only affairs nine times out of ten). When I was little, my mom's desk and address book were to me the most concrete displays of what it meant to be a grown-up. Now that I'm arguably approaching grown-up myself, I realize my mom, through these two everyday items, taught me a few important rules to live by: be organized and prepared, be conscientious, care for others and follow their lives and lastly, it's okay to keep a couple nice things (like the really sharp scissors) for yourself!


ladylinoleum said...

I love this post. Thank you for sharing such an intimate portrait of your mother.

Orionmoon said...

It is both gratifying and frightening to encounter your memories of growing up...we love reading the good ones and are horror-stricken that a bad one might show up here one of these days (most likely about me, as Mom didn't really have any bad ones). Thanks for a wonderful memory...by the way, you have 5 entries with two last names, all the way back to Berry College...
Love Dad

Miz K said...

Hmmm, well you don't have to worry too much about the horrifying ones - now you have a blog too, dad, so I would have to worry about retaliation through terrible old pictures and embarrassing childhood stories! Is the desk still around?

Orionmoon said...

Oh yes...and the other day I made the mistake of looking for something in it...Bad Dad, sit!