Penpals

The theme for this week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop is : Mail

Remember the Time Blog Hop

My first penpal was a girl named Winsom Montgomery. I never met her. I was given her details by my school who were trying to encourage us to write to complete strangers. I happily shared all the intimate details of my preteen life in a series of letters that I wrote over the several years that our correspondence survived. This all seemed perfectly normal at the time. I wonder when adults started to think that they needed to warn young children about stranger danger and data privacy. I certainly never came to any harm. Neither can I remember much about the girl I wrote to for so long, other than her unusual name.

I had many penpals as a teenager. Most of these resulted from a desire to keep in touch with girls I met on the holiday camps that I attended with the Scripture Union. One was a primary school friend who had moved to England with her family and who I continued to write to for many years before losing touch.

I could write up to half a dozen letters a month to the three or four people that I corresponded with regularly. Most of them wrote back, but I suspect that they did not maintain quite as many penpals as I collected over the years.

I graced these recipients with all the details of my life. They were told of the comings and goings of family and friends, of my time at school and, most especially, of my many outings. As most of these involved regular activities I suspect my letters may have been a tad repetitive, they were certainly self centred. I just loved to write though, so I did.

The many letters that I sent required stationery. I had a lovely collection of coloured notepaper and notelets with cutesy pictures and matching envelopes. I loved to receive such things as birthday and Christmas presents. I kept all the letters that I received in pretty boxes, carefully filed by sender. I doubt that I ever reread them though.

Except, that is, for my love letters. My first long term boyfriend lived a few miles from my parent’s home. One spring he had to prepare for important, school exams so we could only see each other at weekends. To make up for this traumatic curtailment of our budding romance we wrote letters to each other on the long, lonely weekdays. He is the only male I have ever known who would happily write regular and intimate letters. Young love is succoured by absence and romance, and those letters had me floating through the days until we could be together again. I do wonder if his parents were aware that his apparently avid revision included such preoccupations.

And then there were the Valentine cards. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty I enjoyed this annual ritual of posting enormous, padded, verse covered offerings or sending that single red rose to a loved one. There was one rather awkward year when I got three of these things which seriously annoyed one of the senders. He obviously resented the expense when his offering was not as unique as he had anticipated.

By the time I got to university the first computer messaging services were starting to appear. As a computer science student I could use university facilities to communicate with other such students abroad. I was still writing many letters though, to family and close friends as we spread our wings and landed jobs around the world.

Before I moved out of my parent’s home I had to clear my childhood bedroom. I came across all of my old letters and valentine cards and binned the lot of them. My mother was more upset than I at such hard-hearted disposal, but I saw no point in keeping reminders of lost loves and forgotten friendships. I was making a fresh start, reinventing myself without the ties of home.

The pleasure of receiving personal mail was totally dependent on the sender. Letters from close friends, especially boyfriends, created a frisson of excitement. I would take the missive to my bedroom, settle down comfortably, and savour each moment; from the careful opening of the envelope to the reading the letter contained therein, drunk up in peaceful privacy. The letter would be read and reread, meanings deduced or imagined, time given to contemplation of the news relayed. More mundane letters were quickly scanned and discarded, their value fleeting and unappreciated.

My only regular penpals now are my parents. They do not own a computer and I dislike using a telephone so we communicate by snail mail. What used to be an enjoyable exercise has become something of a chore as I struggle to find things to write about. The art of letter writing is drowning amongst the other mediums that I use to communicate.

But still I feel excitement when I receive a handwritten letter from someone I love. Even if my mother cannot think of much to say, just receiving a letter proves to me that she is well enough to write. The value is still in the sender more than the contents. I wonder if that value has been lost amongst the electronic mediums that proliferate today.

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“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”

To read the other posts in this Blog Hop, click on the link below

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7 comments on “Penpals

  1. Lizi says:

    It’s not lost! I’m in high school and I still write letters to faraway friends…but I doubt that they look as pretty as yours because I kinda use binder paper.

  2. K.C. Wise says:

    I absolutely love this. There is something terribly romantic about letters, and the art of writing them is totally lost. I wish there was a way to revive it in the way that you’ve experienced–but it’s true, we’re so mistrusting of the world now. If my boys came to me and were like “I have a penpal!” I’d be alls about monitoring every single word and trying to vet the person on the other end as much as I possibly could.

    Such is the world. 😦

    I am very sad that the letters are gone, though. That is heart breaking! I wish you’d made a time capsule or something of them–so that some historian in some time could use them to research the childhood of young English girls during such and such time! A great dissertation denied!

  3. zeudytigre says:

    Had I kept the letters I suspect my children would have come across them by now and mocked me mercilessly. My old photographs just make them laugh. Probably best that I have the rose coloured memories of their contents and nothing more 😉

  4. I love that idea that the sender is more important than the contents. It’s very true. Just knowing someone is thinking of you is nice.

  5. I love letters too! I wrote a post about it once…but it was more about hand written notes. But, I like to think of my blog as a pen pal type experience too! It’s basically the same thing. Sharing information about yourself with someone you don’t know! Right?? 🙂

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