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Slices of Life Along the Fox: Mom’s phone book provides a look into her life

Notes detail a life well-lived

Have you yet encountered the arduous task of going through boxes and boxes of things after a loved one passes away?

We had done a good job of discussing and dividing up the important stuff while Mom and Dad were still alive. When it was time to go through their house after they were gone, there were no arguments. But there was a lot to pack up and take, sell or give away that took a long time to go through. Every time we thought we were almost done, we’d open a closet door and find more. As we whittled down the piles, we made numerous trips to Goodwill. Yet there remained small items no one wanted, but that somehow needed to stay in the family. That’s how Dad’s totes, folded up in a handy little Scottish plaid case, found their sneaky way into a large box of things I was taking home. That’s another story.

Almost as an afterthought, I grabbed Mom’s personal phone book. We were pretty sure we had the addresses we needed in our own address books, but I thought maybe there would be some for extended family that I didn’t know well or friends of Mom and Dad’s that we’d want to get in touch with some day.

It sat unneeded and untouched for five years with my own phone book. Until the day I decided to get in touch with my cousins from California on my Dad’s side of the family who I had only met twice. Certainly Mom would have had their addresses. And she did … but the search was not quite what I expected.

Her book had a nice leather cover that had held up well. The pages inside, not so much. As I carefully opened it, several fell out, the three metal rings having taken their toll after years of use.

The first thing that touched me was how much I loved seeing her handwriting. It was her distinctive style, beautifully legible because of her years of teaching elementary school children how to write in cursive.

The next thing I noticed was that the names may or may not have been written on the correct page based on a person’s last name. A last name beginning with S (as in Spring, my maiden name) was often in the S section … but for reasons I cannot determine, it also might have been on another page that had many names with all kinds of different last names on it. I found one of my cousins in the S section, and began the search for the other. It was then that I realized that Mom’s phone book was where many bits of her life were recorded.

If you’re getting up there in years and can’t remember where you put notes you’d made, why not write them in the phone book next to the person’s name? So near her sister’s name, I found flight information for an upcoming visit. Also by my aunt’s name was the description of a fall she’d had and details of her upcoming surgery. And next to that was, of course, Aunt Marnie’s favorite bread recipe.

An entire page was devoted to the details of an event at the Chicago Historical Society at which my uncle, an environmental activist, was to receive a lifetime achievement award. He had passed away so Mom was accepting the award for him. The date, time, directions and contact numbers were all carefully noted. Next to them a note: “Buy a new dress and shoes.”

There was a whole page of doctors’ names and numbers accompanied by, of course, appointment dates and times. Near my sister’s name, Mom had written questions she wanted to ask Sue’s oncologist.

Mom and Dad were both educators and felt it was extremely important to keep abreast of world events. That entitled them to express their informed opinions on many topics. Thus, there was a page listing each Chicago TV station with the program managers’ names, addresses and phone numbers.

Thoughts on national issues? A phone number for the White House with specific dial-in instructions to state an opinion.

And finally, as my folks both lived into their 80s, there were the inevitable crossed out names of friends who had died.

I found the second of my two long-lost cousins on a spare page and have, in fact, kindled a relationship with them.

The unexpected detours on the road to finding them offered a treasured look back at Mom and Dad’s life.

As Mother’s Day nears, I so welcome these little remembrances. At the time, that endless stack of boxes seemed quite tiresome. There was a lot of “Why in the world did they need to save this?” or “Seriously, a 20-pound box of laundry detergent for two people? How long did they think they were going to live?”

But looking back … I’m quite grateful that I felt the need to grab that phone book.

“Slices of Life Along the Fox” is a column that runs every other week in the St. Charles Kane County Chronicle. Sandie Benhart has family roots in the Fox Valley dating to pre-Civil War days. She has lived in St. Charles and been active in TriCities life for many years. Feedback on this column can be sent to

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