When I was in about fourth grade, we were strongly encouraged to find a penpal. I’m not sure how the penpals were chosen, but being an Anglophile even at that early age, I wanted one from England. I chose a girl named Sheila Collis. She lived in Manchester, England and I couldn’t wait to get started. We wrote for several years and I learned that our English was not England’s English. Imagine my 4th grade amazement when Sheila would use words like skint, bonnet, petrol! For the most part , I was left guessing what the words meant, but because the sentences in which they were used were so clear, I had no real problem sorting out the meaning. All those years we wrote each other, we dreamed of being able to meet one day. Alas, it was not to be. By the time I got to England for the first time, I’d lost touch with her and I wasn’t going to be anywhere near Manchester.I did, however, gain a new penpal from Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire named Mike Anthorp. He had the most adorable little girl named Toni. I had a daughter named Amanda who had stayed home with her granny while I went jetsetting. We wrote for a long, long time until I lost touch with him.
All this was but practice for the time I met my husband, Stephen, at Tom Thumb, the grocery store in which I worked. He was in the States to attend Southern Methodist University and they were on their Christmas break when he came into the store and asked for a “packet of Mahlboros, please.” Here was my cue.
“Where are you from?”
“Scotland, originally, but I went to school in England,” he said
“Oh! I just came back from England. You HAVE to stay and go on break with me so I can talk to you about the places I went- nobody else knows where I’m talking about,” the words spilling out of my mouth as fast as they could as if the swift speech would deter him from declining.
“Allright then,” he said willingly.
I got my friend to cover the tobacco bar for me and we walked over to the deli and sat down. He asked me what made me go to overseas and I explained I had met a guy in Pizza Inn once who was over on business. We became pen pals (that pen pal thing really works for a person) and wrote for a few years. He invited me to visit and my best friend and I went .
“Where did you stay?” Stephen asked.
“Newport Pagnell,” I said proudly. I had so loved the little town and he was making fun of it.
“Newport Pagnell? Why would you stay there? It’s a petrol station and that’s it.
I laughed and flirted , “It is not!”
And with that, we started dating. So, I want to thank my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Dunn for giving us pen pals to write. I will never forget the anticipation I felt going to the mailbox hoping and praying it was the day I’d get a letter from Sheila and later on, Ron, then Mike Anthorp and Toni Anthorp and her little friend, Georgina Willis.
I just want to say to teachers everywhere- encourage your students to have pen pals. Not only do they learn a different culture, they make lifelong friends, memories and more.