When I was in 4th grade, back on Long Island circa 1980, my class had a penpal project. Everyone in our class got the name and address of a 4th grader one state away in New Jersey. Our assignment was to write back and forth a few times and develop a friendship.
My assigned penpal was Carolann, and she and I really got into our writing project. We far exceeded its goals. We became fast friends and wrote back and forth often, long after the school assignment had ended.
It’s not surprising that I loved having and being a penpal. I’ve always loved to write! I also adore stationary, pretty colored pens, stickers and basically anything to do with the written word. It’s like this school project was tailor-made for young me.
Also, if you think about it, writing and receiving letters was a much bigger deal for us back then, because there was no email or texting. Letter writing and phone calls were the only way to communicate and keep in touch. I loved getting Carolann’s letters, and I also loved responding and sending her stickers and photos.
I wonder if anyone else from our 4th grade classes is still in touch with their ’80s penpal? Carolann and I kept our friendship and letter-writing going for decades. For 40 years, to be precise!
We eventually talked on the phone, but letter-writing always remained at the core of our friendship.
She and I met up in person a few times. First for summer fun at Great Adventure, an amusement park that everyone from NY and NJ frequented in the summer time. Another time, she came to visit me in the city when I worked in NYC. Carolann even came to stay with me in Long Island when I got my first little apartment after college.
We got each other through some tough times from elementary school through junior high, HS, college and beyond. Writing has always been a favorite outlet of mine, and writing to a kindred spirit is the very best kind of writing there is.
Carolann and I have been there for each other through good times, too. She went to my (first) wedding, as pictured above. I also went to hers. She had kids first, but I finally followed her into motherhood some years later.
We’ve lost touch for periods of time, once even for multiple years. Finally, thanks to social media, we were able to get back in touch, rekindle our friendship and remain in touch for good. I’m so thankful for friendships like ours that stand the test of time.
It’s worth noting that I’ve had a few other interesting penpals. When I was in college, I corresponded for a couple of years with a U.S. Marine stationed overseas in Desert Storm; he even sent me an awesome care package from the Middle East. I also wrote back and forth with a prison inmate once, to provide some comfort and uplifting words, but that got a little disturbing. Certainly, neither of those penpals were as awesome as Carolann!
Since Corona hit, I have been trying to encourage Zoe to strike up penpal friendships with friends near and far. She has written to a few friends and a couple of new penpals, and has gotten a letter or two back, but none of these penpal friendships have taken off quite the same way Carolann and I did back in the 80s.
Recently, my Mommers wrote Z a really nice letter and asked if she wanted to be penpals. I remember being penpals with my great aunt Bombie in England for my entire childhood!
Just writing this blog post has me itching to write to Carolann again, like in the old days. Facebook messages and texts back and forth are great, but there’s truly no replacement for a hand-written note, card or letter – especially with stickers tucked inside. And yes, I still collect those!
If you’re interested in finding a penpal elsewhere in the world, there are resources for that. Have you ever had a penpal, either for a short time or a lifetime? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below or over on Facebook.