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.