As mentioned yesterday, I recently came across some old letters from a few pen pals I had back in grade school.
One girl, Crystal B., was from Thorndale, TX and I started writing to her through a program arranged through our schools. The second girl, Jackie C., was from Clondalkin, Ireland, just outside of Dublin, and that connection started with a girl scout project. My writing friendships with both Crystal and Jackie lasted about 3 years - between 5th and 8th grade. I don't recall any of us writing much beyond that point in time. There were two other pen pals that didn't work out so well: a boy from France, and a girl from Midland, TX. I have a feeling the boy didn't write or understand English well (or maybe he didn't want a girl as a pen pal); whatever the reason, he never responded. The girl from Midland wrote her whole life story in the first letter; she must have thought I was a jerk for asking where Midland was and telling her that there was no such town in New Jersey as Indian Falls where she said her friend lived, because she never wrote back, either. Ah, c'est la vie.
I enjoyed having pen pals. Most of my friends had pen pals then, too. It was the thing to do in the pre-Internet days. Can you imagine - taking the time to WRITE a thoughtful letter, maybe include a drawing or magazine clipping or something; ADDRESS AN ENVELOPE and maybe include a doodle on the back flap, and STAMP the letter?? Preposterous! But that's how we did it, kids, back in ancient times.
I learned so much about other places in the world and what people were like, whether we shared similar interests, and so on. It was a great experience. But what made it really great was receiving MAIL. As a kid, the only mail you get if you're lucky are annual birthday cards (maybe) and perhaps a monthly subscription to Highlights or some kind of children's magazine. You just don't get mail. So, with my letters (especially the ones from Europe) I felt important. I felt there was a connection and it made me smile then, and it does now re-reading the letters. You don't get that from e-mail. Well, I suppose you could, but would you really print out each e-mail and save over the years? It just wouldn't have the same effect.
Today, if you do a Google search for pen pals, you'll come across mostly Web based services. "Hey, kids, you can send more e-mails in addition to all the other Web-based things you do! Hooray. Watch out for the pedophiles." Just another nail in the coffin of childhood. There is Student Letter Exchange that actually let kids MAIL letters! But, I doubt there is such an interest anymore. Kids, for the most part, don't even know how to write a decent sentence without "texting lingo." Such is a sad day for the English language.
As for Crystal and Jackie - I don't know where you are or if you even remember me, but I hope you're both doing well. If you read this, send me your e-mail address and I'll drop you a line.