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A Blonde's Perspective: I thought pen pals were extinct

By Jan Stadtherr

Dear Georgene, how are you? I am fine. Dear Angela, how are you? I am fine. Dear Betsy, how are you? I am fine.

That was the mundane opening for every letter I wrote with a pencil as a child growing up. Thinking back, did I really care how they were and was I fine?

Writing letters is a thing of the past, or at least that’s what I thought. While glancing at the classifieds in last month’s issue of the Senior Perspective, I was surprised to see two ads from people who wanted a pen pal to actually write letters and use snail mail to deliver them. No email? I thought the world of technology had taken over?

I thought pen pals were extinct. But after searching the internet, there are many pen pal organizations that are free or can be joined through subscription. It’s believed that pen pals were started by a teacher in the 1930s as a means of improving literacy, letter writing techniques, and by corresponding with a pen pal in a foreign country, you can learn about their country, the language and make new friends.

Woman writing a letter. Stock image

While in elementary school, everyone in the class chose one pen pal from a list of students in the U.S. and another pen pal from another country. I chose Betsy Leap who lived in Trenton, New Jersey, and Angela Kellett who lived near the city of Leeds in England. Betsy and I didn’t exchange very many letters, but Angela and I wrote for several years and used air mail to receive our letters quicker.

I remember my British friend telling me about a band in England called the Beatles and another group, the Dave Clark Five. Having never heard of the bands, I wasn’t too interested until they came to the U.S. Now we had something in common! I loved both groups as a teenager, but the Dave Clark Five was my favorite. The drummer, Dave Clark, was sooo cute!

Angela shared that she had gone to a Dave Clark Five concert. Waiting at the back door of the theatre after the concert, she was able to see the British group as they left the theatre. She was so excited because she picked up a cigarette butt that Lenny, a band member, had tossed on the ground. I was so envious of her! She sent me a beautiful silk scarf. I sent her a Minnesota magnet and a bangle bracelet. We eventually lost touch, but I wonder what she is doing today.

The first letters I ever wrote were to my very first friend, Georgene. We met before entering the first grade in Cook, Minnesota, where my father worked as a barber. We did a lot of mischievous things together such as stealing flowers from an old woman’s garden and then tried to sell them. We also surprised our mothers by charging groceries at the local Red Owl. The only two items I remember buying was a bag of marshmallows and Aunt Jemima syrup.

As a third grader, my family moved to Babbitt, about 40 miles from Cook. I missed my friend and we wrote letters regularly for several years. We eventually lost touch and then became reacquainted on Facebook about 10 years ago.

There is a friend, Shirley, with whom I recently lost touch and may never be in touch with again. I don’t know her last name. We started chatting (texting) while playing the online-game, Words with Friends, very similar to the game of Scrabble. I usually play with people I know but also receive requests from strangers that I usually decline. I received a request from Shirley, whose picture looked very friendly so we began playing for several months without chatting. We played at the same skill level, with both of us winning and losing close games. She beat me by one point during one game and I messaged her, “Good game!” We began to chat more. Due to health reasons, she lives with her daughter in Blaine and is a couple years older than me. For several weeks she wasn’t playing the game, but I was happy when she reappeared on the screen to complete her turn. However, she also sent me a message and apologized for not playing for a while. She shared that she has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and has refused any treatment. She wanted me to know that she may not be playing anymore, and she hasn’t. This is an internet pen pal whom I never met. I wish we shared our last names. I would have sent her a card. I wish I could meet her, but she may not be with us anymore. I told her I would pray for her.

So, with sincerity I ask, how are you today? I’m doing well and I hope you are enjoying each day to the fullest. Take care . . .

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