Friday, March 27, 2009

Pen Pals ...

Yesterday I blogged about a newsletter I did in the 1990s called PET PALS! Around that time I published 2 other newsletters for pen pal hobbyists. One was called Coffee Just Write and was obviously for people who loved coffee. The other was called Heaven-Bound and was where Christians could find other Christians to write to. The 3 newsletters were fun, but it started to take a toll on my wrists and I was borderline with carpal tunnel. Once I stopped working on them, my wrists got better -- go figure.

My love for writing to pen pals goes all the way back to 1975. As a project in grade school, everyone in my class got a pen pal. Mine was a girl from Australia. Sadly, I don't remember her name. I was 10 years old at the time, so it was the coolest thing getting a letter from overseas. Eventually, we lost touch and it wasn't until 1979 that I really started getting back into pen palling. That was the time I was really into The Who. I mean, really, really into The Who! I slept, breathed, and ate Who. The band consumed my life. I joined one of their fan clubs, which produced a newsletter. In the newsletter were pen pal listings, so obviously it made perfect sense to write to other people who loved The Who like I did. This is when the hobby really took off for me. I will never forget that time in my life because it opened new doors for me. Not only was it just fun getting a letter, but you really got to know people and see what things was like in other parts of the world. The letters were great, especially the really long ones, but it was even better to receive a photograph. You could finally put a face to the name. All this seems obsolete today, with email, texting, webcams, the Internet, message boards, social networks, and things like that. But back then, you had to rely on letters coming in your mailbox. Getting a postcard or tidbit fact about where they lived was cool, but getting pictures was the best of all.

Today we have ways to express ourselves on computers. There are emoticions with images that actually move. Back in the olden days, we used stickers! Then there are things like LOL, LMAO, J/K, KWIM, TMI, etc. In the world of pen palling, there was a language too. We had FB, which did not mean Facebook. It meant Friendship Book. An FB was a little booklet that got passed from pen pal to pen pal. When you received it, you added your name, address, interests, and what type of pen pals you were interested in writing to. When the booklet was filled up, the last person sent it back to whoever made it, or whoever it was made for. I did hundreds of these books and I still have some of them. There were others like Slams, Friendship Sheets, Crams, Lyrics Books, etc. Slams were fun. In a Slam Book, you signed your name or left your address on one page. Then each page of the book had questions for you to answer. Does this sound familiar? They do stuff like this on message boards, blogs, and sites like Facebook all the time. Just last night Rick was saying how it seemed so easy for me to post on Facebook, whereas he sometimes struggles with what to say. It is easy for me, simply because stuff like this goes way back to when I was writing to pen pals. There were also abbreviations for other stuff such as LLP, which stood for Long Letter Pals. Or A/A, meaning Answers All letters. Click here to see more. A lot of people think this stuff is all new for the computer age. Nope -- pen pals have been doing it for a long, long time!

I made a lot of friends through pen palling. Not only that, but many of them I met in person. I've gone to Disneyland with pen pals from Japan. I've traveled to NYC to see concerts and met up with pen pals there. I went on a cruise to Mexico with pen pals. And the best was when I spent the month of May in the years 1984 and 1985 in England with my friends, who all began as pen pals. Those were fun times. I'm glad I did those things because, as I got older, those opportunities knocked at my door less often. Lots of fun memories. The picture above is of some of my friends as we sat on the rocky beach in Brighton, England. I'm the one with the crazy perm and leg warmers on the right -- just screaming 80s there. My pen pal hobby gave me a lot of great friends and some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Sadly, I've lost touch with most of my pen pals over the years. Some I only hear from at Christmas. Facebook is cool because I've gotten in touch with a few friends there. I'm hoping through that, I can renew friendships that have slipped through the cracks and made my mailbox such a sad, empty place.


  1. I guess it is appropriate that I am first here today Rena since I still have penpals and I love going to my mailbox each day to see what it holds for me. (I give the bills to Vince!) lol

    I started penpalling in 1988 through a french class. The teacher thought it would be great to improve our french if we wrote to someone from France. I never did write any letters in French but I sure am glad the teacher had the idea.

    I started with 3 pals which though FB's (love all the familiar terms you were using) jumped to 15 then up to 50 and somehow spiralled out of control to 158!

    I am now happily sitting with about 35 though I do get letters from new people all the time. I have a penpal who is 22 and one that is 88. It is unbelievable the things I have learned, the experiences I have shared and the people who have become my friends.

    It is a great hobby that I hope to pass along to my kids someday. Thanks for blogging about it!

  2. I have never pen-palled, but it sounds like a lot of fun. I love your story about this and the picture on the beach in England. It is so awesome there!


  3. I had a couple of pen pals in middle school and HS. They were fan club pen pals for a tv show (Star Trek: The Next Generation). They even had a couple of newsletters, some of which I'd contributed to by reporting what had gone on at a convention I'd been to. We never met in person, but I do look back on those letters fondly.


  4. I've never had a pen-pal, but I do miss getting a good old-fashioned letter in the mailbox once in a while.

  5. Great post!

    I luved having pen pals as a kid too. Maybe that's one reason I love facebook so much too. It's a great way to keep up w/ people!

    How great that you got to meet and do cool stuff w/ your pen pals.


  6. Sorry I'm LOL at the perm and leg warmers!
    Your blog today brought back a lot of memories of my pen palling days.I had some through the musicians I liked (too embarrassing to name them!)It is amazing how things have changed,and sad too.I'd never thought about any of the comparisons you made,so those were interesting.


  7. Aw Rena -- it sounds like you led such a fun, cool lifestyle back in the 80's...meeting friends from all over the world! I wasn't quite so adventurous, infact I didn't even have a pen pal! What a neat experience....and what great memories you must have. Thanks for sharing some of them with us!


  8. You have always been a friendly person it seems!!!!!!
    I loved those Slam books!

  9. Rean, love the perm and leg warmers! Those bring back memories from the 80's. I remember being given an assignment to write a pen pal letter in school. That's the only one I ever wrote, but it does sound like fun.

  10. Blogging is a bit like having pen friends, isn't it? Here you have another friend in Australia!

    I used to write to a girl called Ulla in Switzerland. I was supposed to write in German and she was supposed to write in English, but my German was as bad as her English, so we ended up writing most of the letters in French...still not good French!

  11. I had a pen pal from the time I was 10 until I was 13...we met and spent the summer of our 13th birthdays with each other, but sadly, she was in an accident and passed away, but I still have very fond memories of her...and have tried the last couple of years to get the kids and adults on my complex interested in a penpal program, but no one wants to do it anymore...sigh...

  12. You are so right. Pen pals is kinda like today's bloggers in a way. Great comparison. And what a picture you have there. Pet pals- cute!