Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Rest of the Story


Radio show guy Paul Harvey used to do these little things called "The Rest of the Story". Remind me to tell you about the one about "The Wizard of Oz". Pretty amazing.
Anyway...I've always been very curious about what happens to people I knew long ago. Google and other search engines and sites have helped me find many old friends from the past and it never ceases to amaze me how many fragments of our past lives are still out there. Not a day goes by that I don't wonder what ever happened to a toy I had (see the previous post) or a dress I once wore or a person I knew. In the case of today's post, it's a person who came back to me from the far reaches of my childhood.

When I was in the 5th grade, my Language Arts teacher decided we would do a writing exchange program with the students from another school in Columbus, Ohio. One day a packet of letters came and our teacher, Mrs. Thompson, began reading them aloud. One by one she would read the letters and anyone who was interested in writing to that person raised his/her hand. I can't remember what it was about one particular letter that inspired me to raise my hand, but I was given the letter from a girl whose name was the same as that of a famous American painter, if you transposed his first and last names with each other.

We differed in a few ways...she was short and brunette and I was tall and blonde. Her parents were divorced and mine weren't. She had two brothers and I had two sisters. What we did have in common was that we both liked to read Nancy Drew books. We both liked music and sang in both church and school choirs. Our birthdays were three days apart and we shared the same astrological sign, which was terribly important to us at the time. Many of her first letters to me came on lime-green stationery with Aries sign at the top.

We exchanged school pictures and birthday gifts. I sent her a scented fuzzy pen (all the rage back then) and she sent me a blow-up pillow that said "The Devil Made Me Do It". That last detail should date me quite accurately, for those of you still in the dark about how old I am. I believe we wrote to each other until we started high school...and there may have been a couple of letters in college, too, because I remembered for a long time that she wound up going to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. How else would I have known that?

I would give anything to still have those letters. I think they must have been the victims of one of several giant "purges" of clutter when I was moving out on my own and before I knew how I would come to value things like that.

Fast forward to 1993 or so when I decide one day to call the alumni services department of Miami University to see if they have any information on my old penpal. Miracle of miracles...they did. I wrote to her and I believe she wrote me back. I was able to find her again a few years later after we move to this house and one day I called her on the phone. Other than that phone call, though, we haven't really been in touch since college. That's a really long time.

Why we never thought of calling each other before is something I've often wondered about. What was amazing to me was how much our lives had continued to follow a similar path. Both of us had continued to have music in our lives throughout our adult years. We both became teachers. We both were married and had three children. Both of us left teaching and live relatively close to the place where we were raised.

A few days ago I got an e-mail from her and she told me about her kids...who sound like great people. She's coming to Texas in July (can't imagine a worst month to come here--weather-wise--unless it's August) for a conference and wants to know how far Fort Worth is from where she'll be...San Antonio. I'm thinking that it would definitely be worth a short trip down there to see a person I've known for...uh...well...a long time.

So here's to old friends that you've never met. To the importance of written correspondence and the miracles of long-distance commuication. To the potential that penpals created all those years ago when a letter in the mailbox that was just for you meant everything. And to bloggers everywhere...potential friends, confidantes and comrades all! Did you have a penpal?

12 Comments:

Anonymous TB said...

Your pen pal was Pollack Jackson?

I DID have a pen pal. Two actually. Somehow I got hooked up with a kid who lived in India. We exchanged letters from 2nd to 4th grade and then lost touch. His name was Sanji and that is all I remember.

My other pen pal was a woman who had lived next door to my grandparents when my dad was growing up - Mrs. Murray. She was probably in her 70s and a widow. We exchanged letters from the time I was 8 until I was 14. It was always so interesting to read things from her perspective. She would send me dollar bills for my birthday and I never met her or even spoke to her on the phone.

How cool that you get to meet your pen pal after so long. I bet you'll find you have even more in common now that you're adults and have kids.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Lisa Ann said...

Thanks to Teen Magazine I had several pen pals. I always thought it was so cool to hear about how other peoples lives, and how different (or the same) they were from mine. Now that I think about it, that's what I like about blogs too. Anyway. To this day I'm still pals with one of them. And I owe her a phone call so thanks for the reminder.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

I was going to tell my penpal stories buy yours and tb's are so much cooler. Mine lasted all of about 7 months, or until summer started and I didn't touch pencils for 3 months.

Does it count that I consider all of you B-Listers the penpals I always wanted but was too crappy at correspondence to keep?

3:26 PM  
Anonymous LetterB said...

My first penpal was a girl in New Zealand that I got through World magazine. We corresponded for a year and then we just kind of stopped. The strange thing is that I can recall her 3rd grade picture perfectly, down to her school uniform sweater and white collared shirt. I have an absolute recollection of her face and her expression as if I looked at the picture yesterday. I have no idea why it's so clear but maybe because it was the only picture she ever sent so it was my only way to imagine her when I read the letters. From time to time I have wondered if she has a similar recollection of my face from the school picture I sent. How strange to think that someone halfway across the world might carry a perfect image of your face as a child in their head.

Hey Mignon - i feel the same way about my interweb friends. It really is a similar sensation to having penpals.

7:17 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I love this post -- how deeply the lines of communication run and how long a person who esentially you've never "met" can last with you. I hope you do get to finally meet her this summer.

I had tons of pen pals. I loved writing letters and the idea of a "pen pal" was fascinating to me. Some I kept in regular touch with, others I didn't. The one I exchanged letters with the longest was a camp councillor I had while on a trip in 7th or 8th grade. I can still picture her handwriting.

5:24 AM  
Blogger Arabella said...

I had a couple of pen-pals, but they never lasted as long or had quite the same impact as yours.

I wonder if contemporary children will miss out on the pen-pal experience, since letter-writing is becoming a lost art.

6:31 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...

That is so cool! I really hope you get to meet her, what fun.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...

OH, I forgot to say that growing up (in IL) I always heard "The Rest of the Story" on the radio. Isn't Paul Harvey's voice cool? Such a radio voice. And, I live in Columbus now...

7:54 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

When I was in 4th grade, two other girls and I created the "Unicorn Club." The name alone makes me cringe. We had a few penpals, mostly distant cousins and such. But there was one that we looked forward to hearing from the most. Her name was A.W. She was older. She told us about boys and high school and driving. The other members never figured out who she was.... But I knew.

She was my Mom. I still have the letters too. :)

10:54 AM  
Blogger Peggy said...

If you do make it to San Antonio, give me a shout!

3:28 AM  
Anonymous Daxohol said...

What a wonderful story! It's so funny...just today I was thinking about a girl that I was very good friends with in grade 1 and 2. She moved away but we wrote to each other until we were teens. I suppose the busy teen life took it's course.

I'd love to know how she is...

7:29 PM  
Blogger Rock said...

I did - but then she broke up with me. Funny how that happens. guess she couldn't read my writing...

3:41 PM  

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