Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pen Pals

Last night, I went through the mail and Christmas cards. One red envelope addressed with familiar, but distinct, handwriting and postage stamp stood out. I tore it open first, read the greeting, and studied two photos of a small, smiling blonde boy. He’s growing so fast, I thought. And, his grandmother is so proud of him.

One day my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Bourne, asked if anyone would like to have a pen pal. I knew right away that I did, because my older sisters had had English pen pals when they were in school. Well, our class wrote letters to the address that paired up pen pals. I asked for a girl in England. A few weeks later, Mrs. Bourne gave us our new pen pals. I ended up with a girl a year older than me from West Yorkshire named Denise.

Denise and I became fast friends. We wrote long letters telling about our families, school, and lives. We exchanged photographs of ourselves and our pets. I remember sending a photo of my cat sitting in the yard. Looking back on it now, I recall it being a small dark blob in the center of a green lawn. I wasn’t the most accomplished photographer at that age.

For a short time through high school, I had other pen pals. There was one in Australia, one in France, and another in Hungary. I even had one in Michigan. While we wrote regularly, I eventually lost track with all but Denise. We continued to write through all those address changes that young people go through until settling down.

We did meet once. In the mid 1980s, I traveled to England and stayed with Denise and her family for a few days. Our meeting was even written up in her local newspaper. It was nice seeing places in person that she had described over the years. She was as nice in person as she had been in her letters, and her kids were darling.

Before my mother passed away, she handed me a box with all the letters that Denise had sent me over the years I had lived at home. I had forgotten that I had saved them. Mother had saved them for me. Denise had been a member of my extended family.

In the past few years, email has replaced letters. The email notes may not be as long as handwritten letters, but they are frequent and full of news. It’s been about 43 years since Denise and I began writing as young girls. We grew up together. We’re growing old together.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Barb'ry Allen's Bad Rap

You know, I always thought that Barb’ry Allen got a bad rap. I mean, why should a girl marry a guy she doesn’t love simply because he’s pining away for her? Why would she want to spend her life with someone that weak? Why should she pretend to love him?

If you recall the old ballad, a guy is literally on his deathbed because he is in love with Barb’ry Allen, but she doesn’t love him. He sends someone to get her to come to him as he’s dying. Well, she goes, but she’s really slow about it. When she gets there, she doesn’t offer any false hope of her love to him but simply states the truth that he is dying and begins to laugh.

Now, let’s think about that scene for a moment. Here’s a guy who is so weak that he can’t go on without her love, so he simply lies down on his bed and literally pines to death. She’s slow about getting there, but she did go. She did honor his request. But, should she have run to his side? I don’t think so. To do so would have been dishonest on her part. It would have offered him false hope. When she arrives, she sees a man too weak in gumption to go on living because someone doesn’t return his love, so she begins to laugh. Instead of laughing, should she have told him to get his behind up out of bed, get a job, find someone new, and get on with his life?

As the ballad goes, after she laughs at him, he dies and she goes home. Apparently, others find her hardhearted and chastise her for not returning his love. She sees his coffin and has regret for being unkind to him and asks for a grave to be dug next to him and she dies from regret. In the cemetery, a rose grows from his grave and a briar from hers.

Now, in reality, folks were more concerned about this weak man’s feelings than Barb’ry Allen’s honesty and forthright. Why should she be made to feel guilty for not returning his love? Would those folks want to be with someone so weak that he just dies from emotion? I don’t think so. She was harangued into dieing from regret; she was made to feel guilty for honoring her own feelings. Then to add insult to injury, even in death Barb’ry Allen is shamed by others who allowed a briar to grow on her grave.

She is made out to be unfeeling, but she has a lot of feelings for what others think of her. I realize that Barb’ry Allen is a ballad from another place and another time, but I’ve always felt that she was the victim who was swindled out of her life by a weak man and judgmental acquaintances. Her story needs to be rewritten.