Thursday, March 27, 2014

Addresses and Palimpsest

Life is always busy in December but I usually take time to write Christmas cards, because I do not think we send enough handwritten letters in our technological world. For my Christmas cards, I cannot bring myself to just send out a signed photo. Instead, I take time to write a personal note on each card, even if it is brief.  

At the beginning of December I sat down with my stack of Christmas cards, address book, and stamps. After several minutes I had written my first card of the holiday season. Next, I opened my address book to locate the correct address for the card. As I turned the pages I realized I needed to redo my address book. It should be rewritten to include only current addresses, and I should take time to get rid of all the crossed out entries where friends and family had moved. The tattered little tome was quite messy to look at, the same plain book I had started with decades ago. I even had the idea to type the addresses and keep them on my computer for a more efficient way of organizing them.

As I turned these cluttered pages I realized I had in my possession a priceless, primary source document from my own life. I turned to the D’s, and found the name of a distant relative I had corresponded with over a decade ago; I was certain she was no longer living. She had a lot of interesting information about our common ancestors and shared it with me, and she had taken time to write me long letters as if we were old friends. If I left her name off of a typed or rewritten address list I am afraid I would forget the few years of correspondence we enjoyed.

As I went to the G’s, I saw the names of two couples my husband and I had known when we lived in Idaho. After our family moved, we continued to send Christmas cards for several years until one by one; we no longer received cards from them. I am not sure where they live now but I would not want them off of my address list either. As I read their names I was reminded of good memories we had shared together.

The B’s held an address for our close friends who moved to Scotland for a few years. It is a bit of a novelty to have an address crossed out and replaced with one overseas. Reading their address on Rose Street in Edinburgh brought back memories of when my husband and I visited them. To reach their flat, we climbed an old turret style spiral stairwell in their building which was hundreds of years old. They lived across the alley from a bar so we fell asleep to the clanging of glasses and the hearty songs of drunken Scotsmen. If I removed their address I would not worry about forgetting them like some of the other names; they are the best friends we have ever had. However, this friend died unexpectedly a few years ago and it just would not be right to leave her name out of my address book.

When I read through the K’s and the W’s I saw the addresses of my grandparents. Their street names were both untouched since the day I wrote them in my modest little address book when I was quite a bit younger. My grandparents never moved the entire time I knew them. They have all died now, but I could not cross them out of my book. Their simple addresses carry countless memories of apple trees, rose gardens, horses rides and hydrangeas.    

In seeing my grandparents’ unchanged address I also realized how society has changed through the years. During their lifetimes, everyone seemed to stay in the same town with homes next to one another. In today’s society, family and friends can be found all over the globe, and spread far away from each other. I suppose my address book is more for a time like my grandparents, a time where people stayed in the same place; however I cannot part with its crossed out addresses and changed phone numbers. It is a treasure to me; a journal of sorts, filled with unwritten memories.   

The idea of using the same piece of paper over and over again did not originate with me. A palimpsest describes a manuscript written on a parchment or a scroll that is reused, while still retaining some of the original writing or images. During numerous times in history having access to something to write on, let alone something new, was difficult and often quite expensive. For a document to be reused, the initial writing was washed or scraped off of the original document so it could be used again.

During the 5th and 6th centuries, documents were mostly written on animal hides, called vellum, so scraping off the original writing was possible without destroying the hide. Later on when parchment was used, it was washed off for reuse with a combination of milk and oat bran. In 2013, a new discovery of a medieval manuscript from a Greek Old Testament was found scripted over the writings of Aristotle and Euripides.

Another study of old manuscripts involves looking at classic books, plays and music. Historians study the words that were crossed out of the original manuscript and what was rewritten in their place. This gives an insight into the mind of the writers at the time they were formulating their ideas. This, however, is a luxury we do not have today with manuscripts being written on a computer, not allowing us access to previous drafts and the author’s thought patterns.

Learning and living is all part of a process. We build our knowledge one piece at a time and it continues to expand throughout our lifetime. As we learn, some of the ideas get crossed out and replaced with current ones. But our original ideas, although no longer valid, are important to remember because they get us closer to our final draft. 

Our lives are also lived in steps as we build relationships with others, one person at a time. Some people stay longer than others and some have addresses that we never want to cross out of our address books. Others can study our personal palimpsests and learn a lot about us - where we have been, whom we have cherished, and what we have valued. None of us come here as a final draft; instead we weave our lives in and out of various places and into people’s lives, all the while dealing the best we can and learning from the changes made on our palimpsests.