I started writing to my first penpal, Alex, in the 7th grade. A friend’s dad had gone to France for business and the man he worked with had a daughter. He came back with her photo and address. My best friend wasn’t interested in corresponding with her so her information was passed to me. This was the beginning of making friends with my penpals.
At the time the cost of stamps were 20¢. The current cost of stamps is 46¢. Most stamps don’t even have the price on them now since they are ‘Forever stamps’ which can be used regardless of the current rising postal rate.
I picked up many more penpals from summer camp over the following 3 years. I built good relationships with these girls and always enjoyed updating them on what was going on in my life. I loved walking out to the mailbox to see who had written me that day. I collected many types of stationery and stickers to decorate my letters. Often I would be so excited that I would write back that same day hoping to see a reply by the end of the week.
Friends would move away and we’d start letter writing. At one point I had a few boxes of letters that I had accumulated. Eventually I returned letters to friends so they could have their memories back. One time I did this for a friend before she got married and she jokingly said, “You should have not given these letters back, they are incriminating!”
Finishing a year of volunteer work in Western New York I surprisingly started receiving letters from people around the world. Six months prior I had mailed the U2 Fan Club magazine named ‘Propaganda’ with my information for the pen pals section and then did not renew my subscription. From the letters I discovered that they had indeed added my information. From that magazine I made many friendships and almost 20 years later am still in contact with one person.
A few days ago we received a letter from Max’s sister. It has been 10.5 years now since we’ve been together and his sister had never written a letter to him. I was so surprised! I enjoyed reading it out loud in Italian as he translated the parts I could not understand. After reading I cut out the stamps and put away for my poorly maintained stamp collection. I still get that same feeling of excitement when letters arrives that I did when I was 11 years old.
Letters have almost ceased to exist in my world. When the internet took off and email accounts became common place pens, paper and stamps were all put away. I too have moved to the modern conveniences of the times, but every once in awhile I do pull out a pen and fun stationery to write the two penpals that still remain. For me it is unfortunate to think that the art of letter writing will not be shared with the younger generations.