Letter writing is almost a thing of the past. Children of today are deprived of the pleasures of having penfriends.
When I was ten years old my father decided I should start writing letters to penfriends. A local weekly newspaper had a children’s page and amongst it’s contents was a penfriend column where you could locate the name and address of someone to write to. He chose my first penfriend for me, an English girl called Valerie – yes, the same name as myself. It didn’t seem to matter that she was 17 years old and I was merely ten. We had similar interests and my father felt the name connection was enough. After consulting with my father on what I should say, the letter was written and posted. Then the long wait for a reply. I sincerely believe that was when my desire to write began.
Not long after that my teacher came to class with a bundle of letters from a school in Seattle, USA. There was much excitement, as she announced we were all to have penfriends. Letters were distributed and we were told to write a reply. My new penfriend’s name was Nancy and we corresponded for a few years. I often wondered what happened to her.
Over the years I wrote to many penfriends around the world, from England, USA, Germany, Japan and Sweden. I certainly kept the postman busy, delivering letters of all shapes and sizes into our old wooden letterbox. I’d race home from school and with hardly a greeting for my mother I’d look to see if there was any mail for me that day. Or, when it was school holidays, I’d sit at the front window watching and waiting for the postman’s arrival. If he happened to come early I’d hear his whistle being blown, announcing that mail had been delivered to our box. Disappointment surged through me if the letter box was empty.
Letters came in all shapes and sizes. There were beautiful thin blue areogrammes from a handsome boy in Germany. I was learning German at school so we helped each other with language learning. There were fat white envelopes covered in stamps from Japan, usually with some souvenir enclosed. The most exciting one contained souvenirs of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Towards the end of each year special deliveries came, containing calendars, and small treasures from those far away lands.
I developed a passion for colourful writing paper and spent precious pocket money on filling my writing box with paper of all shapes, sizes, colours and thicknesses. I collected newspaper cuttings that others may have found interesting, and odd bits of pieces that would supplement my writing and make my letters more interesting. I bought postcards of my local town and any places we visited. I went to the post office and asked for an assortment of stamps to post my letters away.
The art of letter writing itself was a constant source of joy for me. Having mastered the layout structure, I was never in need of wondering what to say. There was certainly no such thing as writers block as the words flowed onto the pages. There’s be questions to be answered first, as we exchanged information about how things were done where we lived. Then there was personal news, of which there always seemed to be plenty. Next came school news and sometimes local news. I’d make a list in a notebook and choose the content according to whichever penfriend I was writing to.
Letter writing certainly gave me the thrill of putting my ideas on a page. It also helped me develop international friendships and learn more about the world. A few of the penfriend contacts lasted for many years, the last one being that of the handsome German boy. We both got married the same year and letters dwindled soon after that.
Whilst e-mails are a great way of communicating and certainly make the world a smaller place, I do believe that special thrill of writing to and receiving letters from a penfriend was something special in my life.