Pen Pals… by JoAnn

A red box with the words pen pals written on it.

Have you ever had a pen pal? I am sure many people, especially the younger generation, do not know what a pen pal is. I doubt my own granddaughters have ever heard the term before. But having a pen pal is something that I know very well. 

Back in the 1970s, when I was a pre-teen and teenager, I had several pen pals. One was my first cousin Jerry, one my favorite aunt Rena, three friends from my old hometown, and a brief one named John who lived in another state.

I had written my aunt Rena and cousin Jerry simply to stay in touch with family after we moved from Tennessee to Virginia. Same with the old friends that I left behind. It was a lot of fun for me. I enjoyed writing letters, and even more so receiving letters in the mail. Back in those days, we taught children the proper way to write a letter in school. My mom and dad were big on writing letters to family as well and also taught me it was a loving and polite way to stay in touch. In fact, after I was married, and even though I called my parents often, we also wrote letters to each other regularly. 

Before computers and cell phones, writing a letter was the only way, other than a phone call, to stay in touch with loved ones that didn’t live close by. Everyone seemed to know how to write a letter. Not everyone enjoyed writing letters, but at least it taught them the art.  

Good letter writing is indeed an art. Over the years, I have had pen pals tell me when they read my letters that it feels like I am sitting right there with them. That is a genuine compliment. The receiver should feel as though they are having an actual conversation with you when they read your words.  

Pen pals were so popular back in the good old days that you could find advertisements in the back of magazines, newspapers, and other publications, of people who wanted pen pals. They would actually give their name, age, and address to anyone who wanted to correspond. That would be absolutely ludicrous today! How unsafe that would be in so many ways. Never did it enter our minds back then that someone would lie about their age or have anything else on their mind other than letter writing.  

But it was a thrill to write to someone new and make a new friend with pen pal letters. As a teenager, me and my girlfriends would get so excited to find a boy of our age advertising for a pen pal. We would write a letter, asking the boy to send a photo of himself back to us. We would be giddy waiting for his reply and to see his picture. We would be so happy if he was “cute”! That’s how I became pen pals with John from New Jersey. It gave us many hours of conversation and plenty of giggling. I also remember well how it made us feel when we sent our own photo to a boy, and we did not get a positive response. They stopped writing, leaving us to feel completely rejected. Or they actually wrote to say we weren’t their type. We would feel crushed! So silly to think of it now, but back then, girls were so innocent and naïve. We didn’t seem to have the weight of the world on our shoulders as it seems teens do today. That makes me very sad. 

Over the years, I have gained and lost many pen pals for various reasons. Some relationships simply ended. Soon, we found the new technology of emails or texts fits our lifestyles better. Unfortunately, a couple of them passed away. I still have one pen pal left named Jenny. She is an extended family member who does not use a smart phone or computer. And she is not a fan of talking on the phone. But she enjoys writing letters and seems to appreciate mine. In fact, the last letter I received from her, she told me that she felt like she had just sat down to talk with me after reading it. I hope that means I haven’t lost my touch.

If I ever lose this last pen pal, I doubt there will be another one in my lifetime. But who knows, maybe God has someone else waiting in the wings. My pen is always ready.