First person: Local woman meets pen pal — half a century later
By June Anderson
AMERICUS — Growing up in sleepy little Monroe, Georgia, an hour east of Atlanta, the world seemed huge to me, a 12-year-old who wondered what life was like in all those exotic places I learned about in school and read about in the countless books I inhaled as a child, places that made me daydream of contact with people there. My daddy used to tease me for having my “nose in a book” all the time. I had no one to play with, and playing outside alone became boring, so I stayed inside and read and dreamed of travelling to faraway lands.
One day I was reading a magazine and noticed a section that offered names and addresses of children interested in having a pen pal. Imagine my delight as I read that many of them were from other countries! I scanned them trying to decide which one to choose and noticed that there was a girl in Australia whose address was a hospital in her town. I decided with little deliberation except, “Oh! This little girl must be sick! I’ll choose her!” So off went my first letter to my soon-to-be new friend.
Sometime later I was thrilled to find in the mail a letter for me. From Australia! I ripped it open and began reading about my new friend. She had the most beautiful handwriting I had ever seen! She spoke of “petrol,” instead of gasoline, and called me her “fair dinkum cobber.” I wasn’t sure what that was but it had to be something absolutely and deliciously splendid! (It means true or genuine friend!) She was only a year older than I and had many questions for me. She told me about where she lived and about her family. As it turns out, she wasn’t a sick little girl. The reason she received her mail at a hospital was because her father was the administrator of the hospital in her town!
We corresponded for several years during which she would move from time to time to various towns because her father was offered a new job at another hospital. She always sent me her new address and we picked up where we left off every time.
One day I wrote her and waited. And waited. Time passed and I didn’t hear from her. I supposed she had lost my address and that was that. I grew up, married, had children, and thought less about her than I had before. Life had become much busier.
When my children were close to being grown and out on their own, I thought about her again and decided that I would try to find her. The first thing I thought to do was write a letter to the editor of the newspaper in Perth, Western Australia. I knew that most of the time she had lived in that part of the country, so I thought I’d give Perth a shot. Would you believe that sometime after that I received a call? The gentleman on the other end of the line had the most lilting Australian accent. It was her brother! He had seen the notice in the newspaper. He said he wanted this to be a surprise for his sister, so he gave me her address and I wrote her. In a few weeks, I had a letter from her! She had been pleasantly surprised to have gotten my letter after all those years. We couldn’t believe we were reunited.
We corresponded again for several years and enjoyed reconnecting. Although we had both missed each other’s engagements, wedding announcements, and births of our children, we used this reunion to catch each other up on our lives.
Fast forward to 2019. Imagine my excitement when I read an email from her early this year saying that she and her husband were coming to the United States for an extended vacation and they wanted to come here to see us! I was elated! Our family helped her with some logistical issues and in no time she was emailing me that they would be landing in San Francisco on May 2, taking in some sites out West, and coming here for Memorial Day weekend! They would arrive at our house late Saturday afternoon and leave on Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day.
Try to imagine what it was like when Sandy Walsh and her husband, Gordon, stepped over our threshold! I was giggling and almost jumping up and down! We hugged and hugged and were just overjoyed to finally lay eyes on each other. Pictures had been sent when we were kids and then by email recently, so we knew each other’s appearances, but seeing each other in person was just incredible!
Of course, one of the first things we did, which we knew we would do, is marvel at each other’s accents. We decided that all four of us have a different accent: her Aussie one, her husband’s Kiwi one (he’s from New Zealand and they’re known as Kiwis), my thick Southern drawl, and my husband, Cal’s, ultra-thick Southern drawl!
They were eager to see the area and learn all they could in the short three days here before the cousin from Atlanta who had brought them here would return to take them back to Atlanta where they would board Amtrak for New Orleans in a few days.
Cal, who loves to prepare breakfast when guests stay overnight, cooked eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, and I made grits. Gordon was brave and tasted the grits but decided that maybe he would pass on a full serving. Sandy, on the other hand, enjoyed them and had a little more with cheese on top! The sausage was different than theirs, and they compared our biscuits to their scones, “except savory.” We knew they would want hot tea, but when we discussed what kind, Sandy said, “I’ll just have white tea.” I almost gasped! I had never heard of “white tea,” and told her I didn’t have any. She laughed and said, “Oh, it’s just tea with milk.” What a relief! They went to church with us then we took them to the buffet at the Quality Inn.
We had planned a cookout for Sunday night and invited our children and their families. It’s not unusual when strangers get together that maybe someone will not enjoy the company or get along with each other, but nothing was further from the truth that night! Our three grandchildren took to them immediately, as did our children and their spouses. Sandy always sent me special Australian items when we were kids, and she hasn’t changed. She had brought gifts for everyone! They included items adorned with kangaroos, aboriginal art, and rocks from their rock club that had been polished and turned into pendants for necklaces. Not only do they enjoy collecting rocks but they take their camper, which they call a caravan, and go prospecting for gold for weeks at a time and they really love it! They even gave us a little piece of gold that they had found.
During their short visit we were able to show them many area sights. We took them to Rosemary and Thyme for breakfast at the Windsor where Sandy had grits again and we lingered for them to take pictures while we narrated, and we showed them Plains where we had peanut butter ice cream. Gordon was immediately attracted to the peanut brittle and bought several flavors. Then we showed them the City of Andersonville and the POW museum
and national cemetery where they were interested in reading plaques and taking pictures. From there it was on to Perry to eat at award-winning Georgia Bob’s Barbecue then to Cordele where we showed them the Georgia Veterans’ Park. Gordon enjoyed seeing the military planes and tanks and reading more plaques. We boasted that Cordele is the watermelon capital of the world. Coming back into Americus we showed them where Charles Lindbergh took his first solo flight at our airport. They enjoyed seeing the campuses of Georgia Southwestern State University and South Georgia Technical College, and they were interested to know that courses in the maintenance of airplanes are taught there as the husband of the cousin who brought them to our house is actually an airplane mechanic at the Atlanta airport. Of course, no visit to Georgia is complete without peaches, so we stopped by Jacob Battle’s truck, fruit was purchased, and enjoyed almost immediately.
By that time, we were all ready to come in and rest a bit. In our conversations we had discovered that Sandy and Gordon love to go to movies. They had missed “The Greatest Showman,” so Cal asked if they wanted to watch our DVD. We did and they liked it. It probably helped that the star, Hugh Jackman, is an Aussie!
I remembered a box of “goodies” Sandy had sent me with pictures and souvenirs and “Australian things” back when we were little girls. I had kept it all these 50 years, now faded and discolored, and produced it during some down time at our house. They were astounded as Sandy opened what had been a candy box before it was an “Australian things” box sent to me. There had been bath salts, long gone, and a picture of her in a wedding, snippets of cloth and trim the dress was made of, and lots of other things.
Next morning, we could hardly believe that our long weekend was over. Sandy’s cousin came down from Atlanta and picked them up around lunchtime and just like that … they were gone. Gone to finish their nine-week tour of the USA. What a wonderful time we had, though! A time I’ll treasure always! God is good … all the time. Sometimes He gives us special, unexpected gifts just because He loves us.
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