Vineyard summer, with all its last-minute social scramble, is over, and I’m back in New York. I decide it is finally, finally time, after 25 years, to create a new address book. As a member of the pre-computer generation, I had kept my addresses and phone numbers in a black leather notebook on small sheets of lined paper, and in pencil so that I could make erasures and additions and changes. After all these years it was a mess.
In this enlightened age I know I should have created my new book on the computer, where it would be a cinch to make a clean, quick change whenever a friend sends me a new phone number or street address or fax number. I know — but no thanks. Since I have lived my long private and professional life on paper, I decided to stay with paper and pencil. The complete transfer from the old book to the new book took most of two full days. Much of it was sad, some of it was puzzling, some of it heart-warming.
The names of many old Vineyard summer-person friends did not need to be transferred. Art Buchwald, Beverly Sills, Henry Grunwald, Polly Hill, Bill Styron, Tony Maruca, Arthur Schlesinger, Peter Guernsey — I will never again be phoning or writing any of them. Same for Don Page, Vineyard year-rounder, our friend and architect who designed a sunroom and a new kitchen for our Vineyard house, and who always brought us an orchid from his greenhouse whenever he came for dinner. Same for novelist Mark Harris, author of Bang the Drum Slowly, who never came to the Vineyard but who once dedicated a novel to me because he thought I had made some good suggestions and had cheered him on. Same for David Halberstam, who chose Nantucket over the Vineyard but was a very good guy anyway, as well as a very good writer. Same for Kitty Carlisle Hart, around whose neck I once had the honor of draping my club’s gold medal for lifetime achievement in the arts. And same for my once-upon-a-time teenage close friend, Donnie Wright, who had dropped totally out of my life for 50 years, returning briefly a few years ago for a single last exchange of letters, after which I entered him in my address book. Gone now, like all those others.
Many entries in my old address book are still alive, at least as far as I know, but they are no longer part of my life. Making the transfers from old to new, I had to decide which of them might I ever want to reach again and for what conceivable reason. Some had once been important to me, either as friends or colleagues or journalistic sources. The rule for journalistic sources is draconian: keep every name and number because you never know when you might need them. Yes, but I retired years ago, and I propose a statute of limitations on useful sources. In most cases I invoked it. But I did keep Frank Rich, New York Times columnist, not only because I admire his work and like him personally but because everybody, even a long-retired journalist, should keep at least one hook into the Times. As for all the former friends and colleagues who are now out of my life, I transferred only a few. Time passes, friends die, friends evaporate, life goes on without them.
All of this sounds melancholy, as indeed it is. But I am much cheered by two names and addresses that I did transfer.
In my senior year in high school, long ago and far away in the Philippines, I was happily and thoroughly in love with a girl nicknamed Ginny. Those were unbelievably innocent days and our love affair — one can scarcely call it that in today’s terms — was romantic and sentimental but innocent. Today she is no longer Ginny, she is Louise. I have not seen her in more than 20 years, and since then we have exchanged only one phone call and only one anniversary letter. But of course I transferred her name, address and phone number. And of course I will send her this article for old time’s sake.
I met Don McKinney long before I met Ginny. On the first day at Gordon Junior High School in Washington, D.C., he and I were the only two boys in our class to get lost in the scheduled transfers from room to room. When we finally caught up with our class, we were hooted at. Starting with this bond, we became best friends and remained so for many years. When we came to New York city to begin our professional careers, both in magazines, we rented an apartment together until we both got married. Over the decades we have visited, both at the Vineyard and elsewhere, and we still write each other. This is a name and address that I gladly keep.
I counted up. My old address book had 201 names. My new address book has 108 names. Time passes.
Ralph Graves is a former editor of Life Magazine and editorial director of Time Inc. He is a novelist and a longtime seasonal resident of Chilmark.