Friday, February 02, 2007


A reposting. I probably should call it, PenPals pre-internet. heh


When I was growing up, I wanted a penpal. They sounded so cool. I loved getting mail — still do — and with a penpal, I would be guaranteed a letter from somewhere in the world at least once every few weeks.

In 9th grade, I met W. We sat next to each other in home room and became friends because we both loved The Man From UNCLE and The Monkees. Our love for The Monkees worked out nicely, because she was enamored of Peter Tork and I was in youthful lust with Mickey Dolenz, so there was no competition, unlike UNCLE where we both adored David McCallum. And I soon learned, W had that magic entity: a penpal.

Her penpal was in Japan and a couple years older than we were because she had to get a penpal who was old enough to have studied English. I don't know where she'd found her penpal. I didn't know where anyone found penpals at that point in my life, back before the internet brought the world into our dens and living rooms and offices and bedrooms, which was why I didn't have one of my own. So I asked W if she could ask her penpal if she had a friend who wanted an American penpal. And that's how I came to start a correspondence with Keiko, who was 16 to my 14, a relationship that lasted nearly 4 years (but I'm not really sure how long because it was a long time ago and I didn't save her letters). I still remember Keiko's full name and address. She lived in Osaka and her address had such a pretty rhythm that it became imbedded in my brain synapses for all time.

It was fun getting her meticulously written letters on thin paper so fragile I handled them carefully so they wouldn't tear. My father explained that the cost of postage to send mail overseas was so high that people in other countries usually used thin paper to keep the weight, and therefore the cost of mailing, down. I wrote back on stationery I bought for the occasion. In a pinch, I used looseleaf paper. We even exchanged photos and the two she sent me of herself, a couple of years apart, are still in one of my photo albums.

The best part was exchanging culture via gifts. We clearly had different interests and needs. I asked for anything Japanese, things I wouldn't readily find in the United States. She asked for teen magazines, specifically ones that had articles on the Beatles, but other pop stars in music and TV were fine, too. I bought extra copies of 16 Magazine, which I also got for myself, and issues of Tiger Beat, which I didn't read, myself, sending them to her as if they were care packages. She sent me a pair of handpainted, carved wood dolls, pictured here, a set of pressed flower bookmarks that I still have somewhere, and a pack of postcards from her ski trip up in Japan's mountains. I think I got the better part of the deal. I still have my early taste of Japanese culture and I'm sure those magazines, printed on cheap newsprint, are long gone from her collection.

I wonder, especially if she has no reminders, unless she saved my photo, if she remembers her American penpal. I sure remember her. And I wonder sometimes, what happened to her. What she did with her life. If she's still alive and well. We lost touch when she graduated school and moved on to more adult pursuits, but she'll always be in my memories, a pleasant part of my teen years.


Did anyone else have a penpal?


  1. I had a penpal in 10th grade. She was from Texas and lived on a ranch with her many siblings. I've always been fascinated with the American south, so I was ecstatic. I think we wrote for about a year and even sent pictures etc. We mostly wrote about teen angsty stuff (funny). We were connected through our church.

    I must admit, it was exciting to get an nice fat envelope with a handwritten letter that had doodles all over it, after a hard day in tenth grade. We lost touch but I still remember my penpal!

  2. I had a penpal when I was thirteen, her name was Marga Vrientjes and she was from Alkmaar in Holland.We wrote for about two years until she told me she had a boyfriend now and wouldn't be writing any more. I often wonder what happened to her.

  3. At age 10, I had a penpal in St. Vincent.

    My mother put an end to our correspondence when she started suggesting I sponsor her to emigrate to Canada.

  4. I think I had a penpal from a little girl that I met on one of our trips as a child, Sabrina, but we only wrote for a short time. I still remember well though.

    The great thing about the age of electronics and Internet is that you can nearly find anyone, anywhere if you have the resources and the information! You should try to find a way to send her a note sometime... That would be cool, to know what had happened after she grew up too, I'm sure she remembers... probably still has the tean beats too! lol

  5. When I was in 8th grade I had my picture and penpal bio printed in an issue of Women's Circle magazine in the Teensville section. (I did it again when I was about 20 and newlywed) For a few weeks after the publication I got a few hundred letters from all over. Eventually I wrote to about 10-15 and then stuck with two for several years. I have always wondered what became of my penpal Ruth. She was a Hutterite and lived in Montana. We corresponded for about nine years. We lost touch after I got my divorce. I ought to write a blog post about my penpal fun too. I had a couple international penpals but only remember Marie-Juliette LeBlanc from France and my younger sister had one from Japan too! Thanks for taking me down memory road!

  6. It's true that the internet makes it easier to track folks down, but Keiko had a fairly common name and I don't know if her last name is still Takeda. I think that's how it was spelled. I'm not even certain how old she is. It is a thought, tho.

    And if she still has those teen mags, they must be in sorry shape, very yellow. They were printed on crappy paper.


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