There is a stack of letters and postcards in a box in my room from a girl I have never even met in person. This girl has been my friend for the past 10 years, and hopefully will be for many more, all because of a trend called “pen pals.”
When I was about 7 years old, my mom and I filled out an application in my Clubhouse magazine so I could be assigned a pen pal. I am pretty sure that of all the kids who applied to be pen pals, I was assigned the best one.
For starters, Erika, my pen pal, was from Canada. (I messaged her that I was writing this column, so she knows I am telling my readers all about her!) I was expecting to be assigned someone from the United States, so I thought it was the coolest thing that my pen pal was from another country.
In her letters, she would spell things differently, like “favourite” and “colour,” and refer to her grade in school as Grade Three rather than third grade.
Even though Erika and I are the same age—actually, only nine days apart—when I was considered a sixth grader in the United States, she was in Grade Seven in Canada. Now, she is already in college, studying abroad in Austria, while I’m still here in Kansas finishing high school.
Erika and I got along right away. In fact, in one letter from her about six months after we wrote our first letters, we had so much in common Erika wrote: “This is SO cool…. We must be related!” We both loved Lizzie McGuire and “The Princess Diaries,” we both had younger siblings, and we both loved to go camping.
About once a year, we would send each other pages of pictures that described our year. Erika’s pictures usually were of her family’s trips to their cabin on Christina Lake or pictures of her and her friends at birthday parties. My photos were of family camping trips at various places around Kansas.
We would also send each other postcards from family vacations. Hers were always of beautiful Canadian lakes and resorts while mine were from the mountains in Colorado and the Ozarks in Missouri.
Even today, Erika and I keep in touch with each other, largely because of modern technology. We started e-mailing each other when I was in middle school. We thought it was so crazy that we didn’t have to wait a week in between writing to each other. We even texted each other for a while before we realized it cost extra money to send international text messages.
Now, though, we use Facebook as our primary source of communication. This way, we can practically keep up with each other without even writing—but we still message each other once in a while.
When the 2010 Winter Olympics were in Vancouver, which is where Erika lives, she told me stories about her dad, who is a part of the Vancouver police, helping with security and her adventures in the Olympic Village. I would tell her stories about our fickle Kansas weather.
In our most recent conversation, Erika told me she’s in Europe studying at a Bible school and I told her about my decision to attend the University of Missouri.
It still blows my mind to look back at our first handwritten letters and see how our friendship has progressed. We’ve talked about meeting in person several times. Hopefully, someday, whether through my travels as a journalist or through school trips, Erika and I will finally meet each other face to face.
Wikipedia describes pen pals this way: “As with any friendships in life, some people remain pen pals for only a short time, while others continue to exchange letters for life.”
When I filled out that application more than 10 years ago, I never thought I would be gaining the latter, a lifelong friend.