When I was in elementary school our library and administration coordinated pen pal letter exchanges. I’m not sure if this was something all kids did, or just the kids at my school and the kids at the schools that we wrote to. Back in the 80’s we didn’t have the communication devices we have today. Computers were just becoming a “thing” but we didn’t use them to communicate with each other. For my generation they were mostly for games and typing/word processing. If you wanted to talk to your friend who lived in a different state, then you had to write them a letter. If a friend moved away with their family? It was practically the end of the world. You’d likely never see them again and there are several people that I knew in school that I no longer know now because of this. Today of course you can text or video chat whenever you like on your phone.
I thought of this during a text conversation with a friend who is currently visiting her son in Japan. Here we are in 2017, it’s practically the next day in Japan and she and I are texting in real time.
Growing up I had two pen pals. One was Claire Ball. I don’t remember much about her other than she lived in England and that she sent me a silver bracelet where it clasped with hands instead of the typical clasp. I still have that bracelet. It certainly doesn’t fit my grownup wrist anymore but it’s got such heavy memory attached to it. The other was Nathan Stephens from Washington State. I can’t remember where exactly he was from…Auburn…Bellevue? It was a suburb of Seattle. I vaguely remember that he was a ginger and that I had the most ridiculous eleven-year-old crush on him. I couldn’t begin to tell you what we talked about. I’m sure it was a lot of “how are you?” and “school is great” or “I got a new puppy!” There was nothing else to talk about with strangers back then.
Even now that talking to strangers online has become a daily culture when you consider the comment section of Facebook and as an extension this blog, it still feels odd to me. It’s funny to me that we’re reaching out to others for connection but we’re limiting that connection by keeping it relegated to the computer. Back when I was a kid I would have loved to have met my pen pals. I can honestly say that I looked for them on Facebook but I couldn’t find them of course. Their names are entirely too common and I have no idea what they look like. But for a little while, we were in each other’s lives.
Waiting for the mail to come was exciting. Every day things would get delivered and I’d hope there was something in the mail for me. It made me feel important to receive a letter. There was little that was more joyous than seeing your name on an envelope handwritten by someone who cared enough to take the time to send it. Of course these days, letter writing is a lost art. Holiday cards and occasional coupons from my mother aside, all I get is junk mail and bills. With the implementation of the email billing? Well then all I get is junk mail.
So what about you? Did you have pen pals growing up? Or are you part of the millennial generation who has more or less always had Facebook to keep in touch? Do you still write letters?