Slice of Life: Pen Pals

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Throughout the movie Julie and Julia, Julia Child, played by Meryl Streep, keeps up a correspondence with Avis DeVoto. Late in the film, Julia and her co-author, Simone Beck, or “Simca,” travel to Boston to meet with a potential publisher. The two have this exchange when they arrive at the station:

Julia: “Avis said she’d be here…wearing a plaid jacket. That’s how I’m to recognize her.”

Simca: “What do you mean, ‘recognize her?’ Has she changed?”

Julia: (pulling out then reading from a letter) “Look for the middle-aged woman in the plaid jacket.”

Simca: (with some alarm in her voice) “You and Avis have never met?”

Julia: “We’re just pen pals.”

Simca: “You don’t know each other?”

Julia: “Well, we do. We write.”

“We write.” That sums it up, doesn’t it? Through their letters, Avis and Julia have become devoted friends. And when Avis runs into the station, she and Julia embrace like the old friends they are.

I had a pen-pal once. I have the vaguest memory of getting a post card from a girl in France. What a thrill it was to receive mail! When I was in college, my grandmother wrote to me almost every day, and I got letters from high school friends who were all far away. After college, I moved back to my home town, so there was no need to write to my family any longer. But now my high school and college friends were far flung. We wrote from time to time, but we were all busy getting our lives off the ground. The letters became few and far between.

My grandmother got letters from her sister and other relatives throughout her married life. When we cleaned out her house, it seemed as if she had saved every letter she ever received! As I read through some of these recently, and was struck by how similar the contents of these letters are to what we write these days in texts, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.

In a letter my uncle wrote from Oberpfaffenhofen Air Depot in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany in 1947, he says, “In one of your letters you asked if I was getting enough to eat I get all I can eat. There isn’t any shortage of food in Ober.” (Mothers never change!)

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Another letter from Uncle Stuart reports that he and his girl “ went to Munich to the opera…we saw ‘Carmen.’ It was all in German, but I enjoyed it anyway. The Red Cross takes a group every Sat. afternoon.”

Later that year, my uncle included the Thanksgiving menu served at Oberpfaffenhofen Air Depot. Printed on creamy, heavy paper, the airmen were served quite a feast.

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A postcard from my grandmother’s aunt, dated November 11, 1955 reads, “I drove 349 miles today from Cheraw, S.C. to Waynesboro, GA.”

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On stationary from the Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Washington, someone named Flo wrote to tell my grandmother that she “had a private cabin with Mrs. Taber” and that they are “1st class passengers.”

I know many people lament the decline of physical letters and snail mail, and certainly the old fashioned kind of pen-pal has gone the way of the dodo. But no matter what medium is being used, the stories of our lives emerge through our writing and friendships are maintained or forged. I have made so many friends and acquaintances online who I would never have met otherwise. I feel like so many of you are my pen-pals. I know about your children and grandchildren, husbands and jobs. Like Avis and Julia, we support and encourage one another.

You have enriched my life in countless, unimaginable ways.

Thank you.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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4 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Pen Pals

  1. The way you weave this beautiful thank you to online friends is rich and enticing. I count myself fortunate to be among those with whom you have connected. Gratitude. (And I loved Julie and Julia!)

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  2. This is such a lovely, positive post with edges of nostalgia. I agree with daywells that you wove it beautifully–your movie reference, the letters, and your current thank you. I’m so glad that I started my day by reading this–there is so much to be grateful for and sometimes the minutia of daily life obscures that. I was in a grumpy, pity-party mode last night and your writing is helping me shake off the residue and start the day with a positive outlook. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. This is a post to savor, beginning with Julia and Julia, a favorite, to grandmother’s letters to a sweet affirmation. I am so happy we have met. I certainly count you as a friend.

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  4. This is a post to treasure, Catherine. I thought, for a bit, that you were about to bemoan the loss of the old way of staying in touch, instead, you looked at what that process has become, and celebrated the new connections we are able to make through our new-fangled communication lines of today. Beautiful!

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