Recently I was reading a book called “A History of American Literature since 1870”, and in that book Mark Twain and his work was discussed at length. Upon reading a passage from Twain’s “Old times on the Mississippi” in which he described the home town of his youth, Hannibal, Missouri, my thoughts instantly traveled to one of my pen friends. You see, my pen friend Greg also makes Hannibal is home. Greg is very proud of Mark Twain and rightly so.
Every one of Greg’s letters is marked with a Mark Twain postage stamp. He even sent me a sheet of Mark Twain stamps so I too could post my letters to him using these stamps. Needless to say, anytime the name Mark Twain comes up in conversation, or in any other way, Greg comes to mind. He lives far away from me. We’ve never even met in person, but through letters I’m getting to know Greg quite well, better than any of my next door neighbors in my town of Hudson, Ohio. Greg’s out of sight, but not out of mind.
How is it we can cultivate meaningful friendships without physical contact? We can do this easily if we share our true spirits through thoughtful, written conversation. In fact, sometimes it’s easier to get to know the heart of a person if we’re not distracted by physical appearance. Physical first impressions can color what we hear a person saying. For that very reason I don’t ask to see pictures of my new correspondents met through friendship books ( little handmade booklets filled with names and addresses of people interested in getting to know each other through the mail. These little booklets are sent from one letter friend to another.) or through The Letter Exchange (an organization which introduces letter writers to each other). Sometimes years go by before I have any idea what a pen friend looks like. Sometimes I never know, but yet sight unseen, I can feel that pen friend is a best friend. After all, poets tell us Letters mingle souls and how nice it is to rid ourselves of the physical now and then.
Friendship is a wonderful thing and there are so many kinds of friendships – school friends, work friends, relatives, neighbors, friends who share our hobbies, old friends and new ones. They’re all great! But letter friends can become some of the best, and I maintain – the more the merrier.
Though we may seldom, if ever, get together with a pen friend in person, we may know them quite well if they’ve shared their personal stories and feelings in their letters to us.
Sark, in her book, “Succulent Wild Woman” writes, ” A story can travel without you and inspire many. The tiniest story in your life can deeply touch another. You cannot know the effect your story may have.” But whatever effect stories shared in letters have, we can be sure these stories help people get to know each another.
And this makes me think of a song with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Getting to know you, getting to know all about you;
Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me.
Getting to know you, putting it my way, but nicely.
You are precisely my cup of tea.
Getting to know you, getting to feel free and easy;
When I am with you getting to know what to say.
Haven’t you noticed suddenly I’m bright and breezy?
Because of all the beautiful and new
things I’m learning about you
Day by day.
While going through my attic the other day I came upon my old, blue typewriter. What did it make me think of? It made me think of my lovely pen friend Amy. Amy lives in Pennsylvania. Though Amy is quite the modern woman she enjoys typing on her old typewriter now and then just for fun, and wouldn’t you know, Amy’s typewriter is blue just like mine. Amy writes terrific letters and she’s quite the artist too. Her stationery is always a delight to behold. Letter writers do appreciate lovely stationery and we love letters that look as good as they read. Amy’s letters are the best!
And whenever I make a cup of tea who do you think comes to mind? It’s my pen friend Kim, also from Pennsylvania. Kim loves traveling to England and Scotland and she loves taking tea in those places. She has sent me lots of pictures from her travels – tea houses and the tea goodies she enjoys there. Getting her letters with these photos is such fun. I look at her pictures and my imagination kicks in. I feel I’m with her, sharing my tea, not in my kitchen, but in Scotland or England at some cozy tea house. What fun, and I have my pen friend Kim to thank.
And if I’m out in nature I’m always thinking of my pen friend, Janet. Janet lives in Virginia. She loves nature as I do and she also loves to photograph nature so every one of her letters is filled with pictures of the things she recently saw when out on one of her nature expeditions. One picture is truly worth a thousand words, but she adds eloquent verbal descriptions of those pictures ( she’s a former English teacher so of course Janet’s a great writer.) I’m getting to know Janet quite well, but also the nature world of Virginia, thanks to Janet’s letters.
There are so many lovely people in the world and I’m so pleased to be writing to many of them … people like Michelle in Washington D.C.. She has the most beautiful handwriting. When we’re not writing each other we both enjoy intimate sharing in charming places. No wild parties for us or loud, noisy restaurants where you can’t think or barely hear the person sitting beside you. Michelle and I are kindred spirits.
Michelle is forever kind and shows an interest in many things. I’m one of those things, as are her other correspondents, and it’s very comforting to know there are people out there who care about me? I care about Michelle too and all my many pen friends. Caring about others is a wonderful thing. We step out of our own lives and concerns, focus on someone else, and return to our own life with renewed contentment.
Pen friends may live far away but through letters their spirit surrounds us at all times bolstering us up and helping us feel rich. Our pen friends may be out of sight, but they are seldom out of mind. I hope you have a pen friend, or better yet, lots of pen friends.
Letters shrink the world into a friendly neighborhood.