Reconnecting With My Childhood Pen Pal, 30 Years Later
You deserve a sweet, heartwarming story today. Here’s one.
Anyone sick and tired of the gloom, doom, violence and vitriol of the current news cycle? If you’ll indulge me by pausing that funny cat video you’ve been distracting yourself with, I’ve got a heartwarming little story to share.
When I was nine years old and growing up in Dunedin, New Zealand, an international pen pal program connected me with a fellow nine-year-old named Lisa in Chicago. Even though our handwritten letters took two weeks to cross hemispheres and international date lines to arrive, we became dedicated pen pals. We shared stories about our families, our pets, our hobbies, our friends. We sent each other photos, capturing our goofy grins when we lost teeth in the 70s and my oversize glasses and her oversize hair in the 80s. Eventually, in our early teens, Lisa and I lost touch.
Fast forward to a sunny Sunday in Northern California, just 30 years later. On this particular morning, two years ago, I was reading an article in the newspaper about pen pals who met in person after exchanging letters for 55 years. Naturally, I thought about Lisa. Truth is, I’d thought about Lisa many times over the years, and I’d even Googled her name to track her down. But I could never quite remember how to spell her last name, Gutierrez: Did it have one “t” and two “rs” or two “ts” and one “r”? Was the “i” before or after the “t”? On this particular day, my spelling attempts on Google were once again unsuccessful, and I gave up my search.
Twenty-four hours later, I received a message in my LinkedIn mailbox:
Is this the Willow Older who grew up in New Zealand? This is your pen pal, Lisa.
I was, as we say in New Zealand, gobsmacked.
Turns out Lisa had read the same article about pen pals in her paper that I’d read in mine. Since “Older” is a much easier name to spell than “Gutierrez,” she found me in about five seconds flat. And so, after an interim of just three decades, Lisa and I became pen pals once again. This time, our handwritten letters were emails, plus the occasional postcard we both felt compelled to send, no doubt because our friendship really was born of pen and paper.
Last summer, Lisa extended her business trip in San Francisco so we could meet for the first time in our lives. As I watched Lisa and her fiancée walk up to my front door that morning, I could see the smile on her face was just as big as the smile on mine. Unlikely as it may seem, Lisa and I both knew with absolute certainty that although we hadn’t communicated since we were teenagers, we would absolutely adore each other. And you know what? We did. And we do.
Which is why, when Lisa discovered that I was an ordained Universal Life Church minister, she asked if I would perform her wedding ceremony. And it’s why, without a moment of hesitation, I said absolutely, one hundred percent, yes. When I asked her the wedding date, I was, once again, gobsmacked. August 21st. My own wedding anniversary — this year, my husband and are I celebrated our seventeenth.
Which makes me even more honored to have done my part in making August 21st Lisa and David’s wedding anniversary, too.
So there you go. One sweet little story amidst the current teeth-gnashing, when-will-it-be-over news cycle.
And if it’s not enough to induce a smile, just hit “play” on that adorable cat video.
This article originally appeared in the Marin Independent Journal. Read it here.