How many of you baby boomers remember reading The Weekly Reader in grammar school? Now, how many of you chose a pen pal to correspond with through the school year?
I selected a girl, whose name escapes me, from England. We wrote for several years into high school. Our interests and course of study were as different as the geography of where we lived and played. I learned a lot about the “mother country” and she about things across the “pond.”
We never exchanged pictures through the six years we wrote. That would astound today’s generation, with the camera on the cellphone. That makes taking and sending almost instantaneous!
The spring of my senior year in high school, I received a large box from her. It came via ship in the 1960s and was sent long before it arrived. I opened, eagerly, wondering what could this be? The surprise turned out to be a prom dress. It left me speechless. You know the jokes about the bridesmaid dresses, being too ugly for words? Well, this one was at the top of the list. Even my mother laughed and said, “You’ll never wear this.” I replied, “I won’t even try it on.” It was blue, a pretty shade, but the ruffles and beadwork and nylon petticoat attached were more befitting a costume. It would have done well in a production of “Cinderella.”
Needless to say, this went directly to the basement and the bag for Goodwill. I am sure someone used it for a Halloween costume and was thrilled.
The need to write a thank-you, as we did in those days … was of course done in a timely fashion and with gratitude. I am just thankful I didn’t attend a British school, if this was the style the girls wore then. So much for the frock from Europe. I wish she’d sent a purse.
My mom had a pen pal, selected in 1934. She was in grammar school also, and her pen pal was a boy from Great Britain also. They corresponded until she died in 2009. Can you imagine? Seventy-five years!
They were a good match. They wrote through high school, college, marriages, children, work, retirement, hobbies, vacations, and sadly, the passing of his wife and her husband – my dad. I even wrote to one of his sons for a brief time.
On Christmas Day 1998, the year my dad died, I placed a long-distance call, with the help of an international operator, to York, England. The time difference was five hours ahead of us. Excitedly, Mom and I spoke with him. It was amazing to actually talk to someone she’d known only on paper for decades. Arthur had a sort of Cary Grant voice, just dreamy, and what we expected. They exchanged pictures through the years. He was a handsome, gray-haired man as he aged.
After my mom was gone, I continued to write to Arthur, for about a year. I didn’t hear back for a few months, then got a letter from John, his son, the one I’d written to as a teenager. Inside was news of Arthur’s passing just 10 months after my mom.
I felt sad to know I’d not hear from him again. I have only the last couple of years of letters, tied with a ribbon. Tucked inside are the pictures of him on vacations to Scotland, playbills of theater plays he was in as an aspiring actor filling his retirement years, notes about his wife, Lillian, and her death from cancer in 1995.
All are part of their past now. Somehow we are missing a lot with emails and texts being the high rank for communicating. As history repeats itself, one day, letter writing will come back. Maybe?