Pen pals meet again, 52 years after 1st letter
ATHENS, Ala. (AP) — It started off as an international pen pal project to get a Girl Scouts badge. Now, more than half a century later, life has brought the women face to face for the second time.
Linda Ricketts said she was an elementary school student in Sheffield when she was first assigned Trudi Weir, a student of the same age in London, as a pen pal. The two began writing letters about themselves and their home lives, averaging about one letter every month or two.
While Ricketts was working toward a pen pal badge in Girl Scouts, Weir — now Trudi Gonser — was participating in the pen pal program through a Girl Guides program at her school. Gonser said several kids signed up for the pen pal program, but it wasn’t long before everyone else fell out of touch with their assigned pal.
“I think after six months or a year, that was the end of it; they moved on to something else,” Gonser said. “But we just kept writing.”
The letters grew to include gifts for Christmas and cards on birthdays. Ricketts still has a small English guard Gonser sent her one Christmas.
“I sent things about London, and Linda sent some things about Alabama,” Gonser said. “I still have a compact with a map of Alabama.”
The women each admitted they tried to keep a box of the letters and other items, but after 50 years of travel, moving and life, two key items survived — their personal copies of the newspaper article from the one time they met, 10 years after the letters began.
“I knew I would get here; the question was when,” Gonser told Tri-Cities Daily during an interview about the women meeting for the first time.
It seemed the magic year was 1967. Gonser arrived in August on a student chartered flight from Germany, where she was attending the University of Munich. She worked in Dallas, but she and Ricketts were both eager for her to get to Alabama.
“Her family was so welcoming and nice,” Gonser said.
Ricketts introduced Gonser to her husband and parents. They treated Gonser to a traditional Southern meal of catfish and hushpuppies, and they visited Helen Keller’s home in Tuscumbia.
“It was just great,” Gonser said. “We had a great time.”
Unfortunately, the women fell out of touch soon after Gonser left. Ricketts was already married when Gonser visited; the next year, Gonser was married, too. They each had children and became preoccupied with other aspects of life, though they never forgot their pen pal.
“Several times, I had tried to find her on Google or something like that,” Ricketts said. “We went to England in 2013, and I tried to find her, but I couldn’t. She was married, and I didn’t know her married name.”
Then, about a month ago, Ricketts received a social media message from a young woman in Texas: “I think you were my mother’s pen pal in elementary school.” The woman sent a photo of a Tri-Cities Daily newspaper clipping.
“I thought, ‘There’s two of those left in the world. I’ve got one, and Trudi’s got it,’” Ricketts said.
Sitting in Ricketts’ living room in Athens, the women marvel at how similar their lives ended up being.
They each married a military man — Ricketts’ husband was Army, while Gonser’s was Air Force. Each of the women was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska, one year apart.
They each had one son and one daughter. Their daughters even have the same first and middle names, save for a single letter at the end of Gonser’s daughter’s middle name. Ricketts’ daughter is Rebecca Ann and Gonzer’s is Rebecca Anne.
Their daughters also had pen pals in high school, and both pen pals were from Germany. The moms and daughters discussed how exciting it was to receive pen pals, mix tapes and more from their international friends.
“It was personal,” Ricketts said. “She took the time to write, to go to a post office and mail. It took several days or weeks to get here. It was something we could hold on to. If you’re texting back and forth or emailing back forth, you delete it, it’s gone.”
“It was only each other who got those letters,” Gonser said. “I was anxious to get the letter. And back then, Europe and America seemed so far apart.”
Still, they credit modern technology with bringing them back together and allowing them to enjoy being pen pals in the 21st century. When Gonser’s daughter, Rebecca Farrer, had told her mother she would be visiting North Alabama as part of a work trip, Gonser mentioned how much she’d like to find her childhood pen pal.
Farrer first tried Google, then Facebook. Gonser remembered Ricketts’ husband was named Don, and when Farrer found a post by Ricketts that mentioned a Don, she sent the message.
Within days, the pen pals were video-calling and making plans. The women said it worked out perfectly.
“It was such a great coincidence,” Farrer said. “If we had been a couple days earlier, we would have missed them, because (they) were on a trip.”
Instead, Farrer had a business appointment Wednesday (June 26) in Decatur, so she dropped her mother and Gonser’s grandson off for a day with Ricketts and her family.
“We spent all day visiting and talking,” Ricketts said.
“She was all nervous and happy and excited to see you again after so long,” Farrer told Ricketts.
They have no plans to stop seeing each other, either.
“We’re going to stay in touch now,” Ricketts said.
“We are,” Gonser said. “We’re not going to lose touch.”
Information from: The News Courier, http://www.enewscourier.com