I have been writing to my pen pal, Ruth, since I was a junior in high school, 63 years ago, when my English teacher told our class that she had names and addresses of students in foreign lands who wanted pen pals. It wasn’t required, but it sounded fun. I chose a girl from Australia and wrote her a letter. She sent a reply back, stating that she had too many pen pals so she had given my name to her friend, Ruth.
Ruth and I wrote to each other quite often. After high school, we both married and had children – she had three children, and I had 14. We always had plenty to talk about. Later, her husband died, and so did mine. We still have plenty to talk about.
In 2000, my children decided it was time Ruth and I met, so for my 70th birthday, they sent me to Australia. Ruth and her daughter-in-law, Ann, met me at the Melbourne airport, and when we saw each other, it was as though we’d known each other all our lives. But, in a way, we had known each other most of our lives. We had a great time getting to know each other in person, and it was a wonderful trip.
Four years later, I went to visit Ruth and Ann again, this time taking my youngest daughter, Beverly, and my granddaughter, Vanessa. Again, it was a great trip, and I even got to see some of the friends I’d met on my first visit to Australia. We did many things while there, including visiting wildlife preserves, where we saw many kangaroos.
Last year, Vanessa graduated high school in Germany, where my son is stationed in the Air Force. As a graduation gift to her, Vanessa’s dad, Beverly and I took her to Australia again, where we once again met up with my old friend, Ruth.
This year, Ruth and I will both celebrate our 80th birthdays. Ruth and Ann had planned to make a trip to the United States to visit me at my home in Missouri, where we had a birthday bash planned. However, due to her health, Ruth decided she shouldn’t make the trip. While we are still planning to go ahead with the party, Ruth and Ann will be greatly missed. All of my children, family and friends were looking forward to meeting this great woman I’ve called my friend for more than 60 years. And I, of course, was excited about seeing Ruth again, too. I guess I’ll just have to go to Australia again.
LaVerne - Pacific, Missouri
It was 1937, and I was an 11-year-old girl. I sent a pen pal request to a magazine my dad read, and it was published. Soon, I began receiving letters from all over the United States, as well as from Wales and South Africa.
I was more interested in the letters from overseas, so I didn’t even respond to the letters from the United States.
A boy in Wales apparently thought Roxie was a boy’s name, because the first letter he sent me was addressed to “Master Roxie Frans.” When I wrote and told him I was a girl, he wasn’t interested in being pen pals anymore.
Later, when I received a letter from an Irish boy in South Africa who also addressed his letter to “Master,” I didn’t tell him I was a girl. He kept asking me to send a photograph of myself, and I kept putting him off. When I finally sent a photo and confessed, he continued to write anyway.
His name was Jacobus, but his nickname was Shorty. He was an orphan living with an aunt in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and we wrote to each other about our pets. We also exchanged photos, picture postcards and postage stamps. We talked about ourselves and told stories about our friends. I felt as if I’d always known him.
During World War II, Shorty enlisted in Prince Alfred’s Guard, and he sent me his regiment’s monthly magazine. He also sent me the names and address of two of his buddies, which I gave to two of my girlfriends so they could write to the boys.
Later, he was sent to Cairo, Egypt. He wrote and told me about visiting the pyramids and a 1,600-year-old monastery.
I later got a letter from him saying he had been wounded – a flesh wound to his shoulder and hip – and that he was recovering. In the last letter I received from Shorty, he said he was out of the hospital and at a rest camp, and he was looking forward to getting back into the battle soon. Sadly, that was the last I heard from him, and I assumed he had been killed.
Years later, I wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper in Port Elizabeth, hoping they would print the letter and someone might know what happened to Shorty, and would write me a letter. I never received any word.
I have a scrapbook of his letters and other things he sent me. I still look at the scrapbook from time to time with fond memories of someone I never met but will never forget.
Roxie - Cameron, Missouri
I became a pen pal in a rather strange way. My husband, Dan, a Christian minister, wrote an article (with an accompanying photograph of himself) that appeared in a popular publication. The article was seen and read by some members of churches where Dan had served as pastor in previous years.
Ladies from two such churches, one in Kansas and one in Texas, wrote letters to the editor of the publication asking that their letters be forwarded to Dan. Both were sweet, complimentary letters, expressing how much Dan had helped their respective churches so long ago.
I wasn’t married to Dan during those years, but I’d always been curious about the places he had served. We were both delighted at seeing such letters, so I wrote back to these two ladies and told them how much we appreciated their letters. I also shared news with them about our current church, where Dan is pastor, and I asked about news of what was going on in their churches.
Both women responded enthusiastically and even sent photographs and newspaper clippings of what their churches looked like at the time. We continued corresponding for several years, exchanging news of family, friends, church plans, local civic events, and even our personal problems, successes, worries and blessings.
Eventually, I lost my Kansas pen pal to cancer, and it was incredibly painful.
I continued writing to my Texas pen pal, who was always inviting Dan and I to visit her. It was impossible for her to visit us because she was elderly and her health was not good. Fortunately, about two years ago, we made the long-promised visit.
Meeting her in person was like nothing I could have imagined. It was as though we had known each other all our lives. She even arranged a get-together in her home while we were visiting, and she had invited all the folks who were members when Dan had been the minister many years ago. It was a thrill for my husband, and I was presented with a cookbook of recipes from their church’s members – a gift I will always treasure.
My Texas pen pal has since passed away, and I’m so glad we had the chance to meet her in person. The Bible teaches us to “love one another,” and if you ask me, that’s exactly what pen pals do.
Hellen - San Diego, California
Looking through some old black-and-white photographs recently, I found a photo of my pen pal from 65 years ago. I was in fifth grade in a little town in Wisconsin, and my thoughtful teacher connected with fifth-grade teachers in several other states to provide each of us with a pen pal.
My pen pal’s name was Annette, and she was from Clio, Alabama. Over the many years since we quit writing, I’ve often wondered if Annette was still living in Alabama and if she’s now a grandmother like I am.
We were never able to travel to each other’s hometown so we could meet, but I cherish the memories of exchanging letters and photos with her from so far away. It was a delightful experience.
Today, I have a new pen pal through CAPPER’S – another grandmother who lives some 800 miles away. Neither of us will ever be 10 years old again, but we’re thrilled with sending letters and photos to one another as we build new memories to cherish.
What’s also exciting about this friendship is that through us, our grandchildren have become pen pals with each other. And I feel like I’m somewhat of a fifth-grade teacher at age 75.
Anita - Eagan, Minnesota
Pen Pals have been a part of my life ever since I can remember. I came by it naturally because my mom enjoyed having pen pals. A few of Mom’s pals were like extended family to me, and we had the pleasure of meeting some of them in person.
I was probably a young teenager when I began writing to my first pen pal, Sandy, who lived in Iowa. Somehow, we lost track of each other. However, over the years, I’ve had a number of pen pals. Those I corresponded with for several years and formed a close friendship with have either passed away, or we just drifted apart as our lives got busy.
I have two pen pals who I’ve been corresponding with for more than 30 years. One lives in Colorado, and I have met her in person. The other one lives in Ohio, and although we’ve never met face-to-face, we have talked on the phone. Then there’s my pen pal of 48 years. I have met her twice.
It is nice to have friends to correspond with. One can never have too many friends.
Joan - Brownwood, Texas
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