I remember glancing through my parent’s address book when I was a young child and coming across an unfamiliar name.

“Who’s Elmer?” I asked my mother.

“Someone we used to know.”

“Why don’t you know him anymore?”

“First they moved away and then we did. Now we both live in different states.” She paused before finishing. “He was your godparent.”

My godparent? Being a godparent varies in importance by family and religion but it loosely means someone agrees to take care of you if something were to prevent your own parents from doing so. Now being or having a godparent in my family didn’t hold a lot of meaning but my parents were close enough  with Elmer that they asked him to hold me during my baptism.  I don’t remember ever meeting him. It was a story I never pursued like the endless names of missing or dead people that clutter the pages of handwritten address books everywhere.


Next month we will be living at our lake house for fourteen years. It is the longest I have lived anywhere since my childhood in Illinois. I like to think that I have kept myself abreast of the transformations around the small community. The abandoned cabins that have been plucked from obscurity by young couples just starting out. The writer who sold his novel and moved to Manhattan. The old man who no longer walks his small dog but now walks alone. This represents physical evidence of the changes that keep taking place around the lake.

I never take the time to scroll through my iphone address book and update each contact. Like most people I make corrections or additions on an as need basis. My hardcopy however is a habit I cannot drop. I flip through the pages periodically and note the changes. It is a stroll through the past outfitted with old appointments, saved Christmas cards and past acquaintances and family members. Each name that gets crossed off tells a story however small about my life since we moved in.IMG_0958

Back in 2003 after a lot of back and forth with the district my son was bumped up to a higher level math class in November well after the class had started. Jon, a colleague from my job drove north every weekend to our lake house and caught Jackson up to the rest of the class. They sat together in the dining room on Sunday mornings overlooking the lake as Jack went through each concept next to Jon who watched the hawks fly across the freezing lake. His address and phone number and friendly visits were so important to us then that I thought he would always be in my life. But now he’s retired and has settled in New Hampshire in his own lake community.
It took months to locate someone willing to tackle the clean-up of the 200 year old Maple tree that fell silently into the lake while we slept one summer night. I wrote about this episode last summer in the post Satan One Us Zero. The tree man was named Gleason- I think that was his last name and we keep his name in the address book waiting for the next tree disaster which at this writing has never arrived.

A carpenter listed as Fred built the steps that connect our upper and lower decks. Before Fred, no one could figure out how to build the steps or else they didn’t want the job. Fred liked to talk about his former life in Alaska. He kept noisy huskies that he screamed at to shut up in the frozen Alaskan nights. He listened to right wing radio all day long hoping Sarah Palin would run for president. The steps were the single best improvement we ever made in our house because they changed how we functioned. We wanted Fred back so he could fix the dock that was smashed by the falling tree. He promised to come later that month but never did. Maybe it was our Obama 2008 bumper stickers on each car.IMG_0948

Plumbers, electricians and other repairman will stay put in the book unless there’s a good reason to cross them off. Dyckman’s Wildlife Control number was added to the book when an injured raccoon sat at the threshold of our open basement door one morning. Upon discovering him I screamed so loud Rob thought someone was trying to murder me. I screamed the same way when I slipped on my aqua shoe and discovered a dead mouse inside or I when I was unclogging the filter on the fountain and pulled out a dead bird. This time my screams made the raccoon run deeper into the basement.Raccoon Head So we had to call in a professional. It’s a good thing we kept his name in the book because a few years later a squirrel fell down the chimney and was trapped inside the fireplace until Dyckman arrived.

The next crossed off name is Alison my former yoga instructor. For years she taught an obscure type of yoga called Kundalani on the dusty community center floor. She made tea and passed out granola bars and told every participant that Monsanto is the devil incarnate. They are, but most of the people who tried the class ate the free bars and never came back. I was the only class member on more than one occasion. Everything Alison does in her life is towards the promotion of health. I desperately wanted to be like her but fell short in too many areas to mention. Before indulging, I sometimes ask myself, “is this something Alison would eat?” Last year she moved away with her three year old daughter but I have her email on my computer so technically we could be in touch. I keep trying to think up something to ask her but all I really want is to roll up my yoga matt and walk down to the community center and take her yoga class.

Our Community Center

Our Community Center

The last name I came to is the child of a friend named Patsy. Patsy died twelve summers ago this May. She never wanted me to move to the lake house and kept looking for houses near her that we could trade up to. She was killed near her home by a drunk driver and I used to think that if I never moved away events would have been altered and maybe her fate would have turned out differently. I no longer think this but each time I read her daughter’s name I say, “I really have to call her up and see how she’s doing.” She’s grown up, married, possibly a mother and working as a teacher. I’m probably never going to call her but I decided not to cross off her name. She and I both know we can’t change the past but seeing her in my book helps me remember it. Maybe that’s why Elmer stayed too.


  1. Susan says:

    wow i have missed a few of these gifts. Phoebe, i am a bit maudlin about the pics of you and Quinn at the same age. not sure why. just such a generational similarity and dissimilarity and of course my own in the midst. thanks for bringing these long lost and buried memories to my frontal lobe. i never would on my own. see you soon

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