Whatever Happened to Pen Pals

pen-pal-stampReader’s Memory submitted by Angela Robinson, Barnoldswick

To receive a personal letter from a dear friend is a rare, and dare I say, unheard of event in modern society.

We no longer need to buy nice quality writing paper and a good pen; we have technology at our disposal. E-mail, text messaging, Facebook and Twitter are just some of the ways in which we can deliver a message to somebody in seconds.

Now I am of no great age, a mere 37 years old. However, when I was a child, we were encouraged to find a pen-pal. My friends and I bought magazines and papers and even scrolled through pages of teletext, trying to find the perfect pen-pal. Some of us were fortunate enough to have one in a foreign country; others thought themselves lucky to have one in the next county. Either way, we all loved receiving letters, and I personally believe we all still do (of the nice sort – the ones which I am discussing).

I, in fact, had four. The first was from Portugal. He was a little grumpy and his English was terrible. In later life when I translated his letters, better than my 14-year-old self had, I realised that he had sent me a school library book. The whole reason he was grumpy, and mentioned nothing other than his book, was because he wanted the book back as it was never his to send to me. I now presume he gave up writing due to the whole pen-pal incident, costing his parents the price of a very nice book.

The second was a girl from France. My word, she was keen as mustard. No sooner had I had replied than she had written back within days. My 14-year old-self struggled to keep up with this one. The letters got more frequent when we both received typewriters for Christmas. Hers was much more fancy than mine and basically made me feel inadequate. The most mine did was underline and bold; Airmailhers inserted borders and shading, which back in the late 1980s was something special. Due to this fact, I soon got fed up of writing to her as I was sick with envy at her wonderful life, never mind her typewriter!

The remaining two were in America. One was a Chinese girl obsessed with recycling and saving the world – everything in her life was ethical and cool. The only thing I knew about recycling back then was the bottle bank in the local supermarket car park. The relationship was doomed to failure as I didn’t understand her dreams and aspirations, and our letters soon petered out.

However, my fourth pen-pal was a boy from New Hampshire. He was a true American geek (as he put it himself), but one of the funniest people I have ever come across in my life. He informed me that he had two lame brothers, to which I replied giving him my utmost sympathy and enquiring as to how they had lost the use of their legs, only to be informed that in America, ‘lame’ doesn’t necessarily mean unable to walk. He also used to phone at stupid times of the day and night, obviously to the dismay of my parents because the phone was in their bedroom. I kept in touch with this guy until I was about 22 years old, but I haven’t heard from him since he joined the Army. I am hoping he found a nice girl and settled down.

On the whole, my pen-pal memories are fond ones. I just wonder what our own children’s memories will be like in the cyber-world we know of today.