The Daily Republic article Monday about third-graders at Laurel Creek Elementary School trading letters with members of the Paradise Valley Estates retirement community prompted me to write about my own experience with pen pals.
Today, through social media, it’s fairly common for people to interact, have friendships and even “date” people online that they’ve never physically met. That’s old hat to me.
Back in 1985, I joined a pen pal club and started writing people all over the country. It was fascinating learning things about strangers and seeing how their lives were similar or different from the life I led in Fairfield.
In 1987, I started writing to a girl named Samantha who lived in the tiny town of Silver Lake, Minn. Compared to her town of less than 1,000 people, Fairfield seemed like a metropolis. Seeing a black person in her time was sort of like spotting Bigfoot.
But as different as we may have been on the surface, we found things in common. For instance, she likes the Vikings and my Raiders destroyed them in Minnesota’s last Super Bowl appearance.
Through the years I’ve listened to her complain about the bitter snowy Minnesota winters while I bemoaned the fierce Fairfield heat during the summer. We wished we could switch climates.
In 1990, when my brother committed suicide, I didn’t tell her in a letter. I told her over the phone and it was such a natural thing to do. We eventually spoke on the phone often in addition to letter writing.
Sam married her husband Shane on my birthday, Oct. 16, 1993, and somehow managed to have three boys and run a household while working two jobs. Supermom!
I laughed when she and her fellow Minnesotans elected my favorite professional wrestler, Jesse Ventura, governor. Then we went ahead and elected Arnold Schwarzenegger governor and it was her turn to laugh.
Sometimes we’d go awhile without communicating. Life happens. During one of those times, Samantha’s mother contacted me and told me Sam had suffered a stroke. I felt horrible and wanted to go there. That was never how I envisioned us meeting. I didn’t go but we spoke on the phone often and I encouraged her in any way I could.
She had to relearn so many basic things one-handed, from dressing herself and dressing her kids, to cooking to driving. Though she’s often in knee pain, she can walk and do just about anything she sets her mind to. She even had a fourth son post-stroke.
With the rise of the Internet, our correspondence changed from letters to email. Then came texting and Facebook.
Not only did Sam help me edit my short story books, “Morsels” Vols. 1 and 2, she even helped me create a story set in Minnesota in Volume 2.
When my last Beagle brother Theo died Nov. 9, 2013, Sam helped comfort me even though it was her birthday.
For some it might be hard to believe that one of my closest friends for more than a quarter-century is a married Sunday school teacher with four kids in Minnesota who I’ve never physically met. But we were virtual friends before it became cool. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Fairfield. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.