My first penpal experience, I think, came via the TV show Big Blue Marble. I don’t remember much about the show, but I do remember that it offered a way to connect kids as penpals. I had one in England named Christina Higgins. I wonder how she’s doing. We wrote for years, and I remember her once sending me an Agatha Christie paperback, Giant’s Bread. I learned interesting things from her, like what a “loo” was.
Later, I had penpals in Germany, land of my ancestors. In high school German class, the teacher matched us up with — naturally — German penpals. But, for every so many who paid .50 or so for a penpal, one “bonus” penpal was offered. I was chosen for one of these bonus folks, and she was an Italian girl named Monica.
Monica and I wrote each other for years. The summer after I graduated from high school and went to Europe with a band, I was able to meet her in Venice. What a thrill!
The next summer, Monica and her friend Olga (who was penpals with my friend Devin) came to America and lived with us for several weeks. What a fun and educational experience that was!
Here I am in my preppy attire, welcoming Monica to my room. I was so impressed with her visit that I even covered the Charles and Di picture (although, just behind me, you can see the royal dolls on the top shelf). I also am amused at the stereo on the table behind us — and my doll bed full of favorite dolls and stuffed toys is sweet.
Monica and Olga spent the summer learning about life in a small American town.
They visited me at my Dairy Queen job and saw movies. They seemed to enjoy everything we did, and if they were overcome with culture shock, they didn’t let on.
A few years later, I went to visit Monica in her home near Florence, Italy. I will never forget how embarrassed I felt that while I’d been showing her the county fair and the dime store, she took me to the Vatican, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and to see Michelangelo’s “David.”
Monica went on to have a successful career with Moody’s Financial Services in London. She’s married now with a little boy, but we’ve lost touch in recent years. Olga is married with a son and daughter (her daughter and one of my girls were born just a day apart), and she and I keep touch on Facebook.
Did you have a penpal as a child? Do you still write to each other?