Pen pals for more than 50 years finally meet for the first time
Having a 50 year friendship with someone is pretty special. But for two women, their catch up meant more as it was the first time they had met since they became transatlantic pen pals, 52 years ago.
Linda Bennett and Karen Baksi, both 63, began writing to each other when they were just 11 years old, but Linda, and her husband Eric, met Karen and her husband Ron at the weekend for the first time after Canadian Karen flew to London.
Retired nurse Linda, who lives in Newark, Nottinghamshire, was a first year pupil at her local high school, when her maths teacher suggested having pen pals.
Linda said: “My maths teacher, at the time, Miss Farrow, had a sister in Canada who was also a teacher, got us all to write down our likes and dislikes to match us up with her sister’s pupils.
“I was paired with Karen, as we were both into sports, and from then on, we just didn’t stop writing to each other.
“We carried on writing, and over the years we have shared our most important life events.”
The pair have been through a lot together for people who have only met the once; sharing marriages, a divorce, the birth of children and even started sending birthday and Christmas cards.
In their first few letters of adult life, Karen, who worked as a school administrator, would tell Linda about her precious moments, such as when she was expecting a baby.
But the pair would also share moments like their cars packing up – and how excited they were when they bought their first cassette players.
All of these moments added up for them to share even just the smallest – as well as the biggest – moments in their lives.
But although they’d sent each other photographs of their children when they were born, they had never seen a photograph of each other in the half a century they had been writing to each other.
Linda said: “It was absolutely brilliant. It was definitely a mixture of emotions waiting for her.
“There was some anticipation, but mainly I was really looking forward to meeting this person I had never met, there was a feeling of ‘would I recognise her’, but I saw her straight away.
“I sent her a bouquet of flowers to her hotel room, and she arrived wearing one of the sunflowers. It was fantastic!
“It was just wonderful to compare our lives and catch up with their children, it felt like we really knew them and they are true friends, it was as if I had known them for years.
“I think the only time we stopped talking was when we stopped to sit down and watch Jersey Boys at the theatre.
Karen said meeting Linda for the first time was fantastic, but also felt a mixture of emotions at the thought of her upcoming trip across the globe.
She said: “We are so much alike and had fun catching up on our lives. We had no problems keeping up the conversation.
“But I have to admit I was a little nervous back in Toronto thinking about our first meeting but when we finally met it felt like we’d just had not seen each other in quite a while.
“The funny thing is we both had kept our letters to each other and I brought over her first 2 letters that she wrote to me. What a laugh we had over them.”
For the length of time they were exchanging the letters – which work out to be up to 600 letters and emails over the years – the distance didn’t stop them from becoming the best of friends.
But especially when the internet came in, when they would exchange emails every couple of days; still never losing contact.
She added: “Linda has always been my friend, and after writing for 51 years I truly believe that.
“We had a wonderful day together and I wish we had done it sooner. My husband and I want to go back some day.
“It was sad to say goodbye but I feel that we will see each other again.”
Linda said her husband Eric said they have true friends for life now in Karen and Ron, and hope to go to Canada in the near future, and will carry on emailing each other on a weekly basis.
EXTRACTS FROM LINDA AND KAREN’S LETTERS:
Linda’s first letter to Karen, 1963.
So, I am going to be your penfriend I hope you are going to find it fun writing to me with you being all those many miles away, because I think it’s going to be smashing writing to you.
Well, I think I’d better give you a description of myself, but don’t blame me if it isn’t very good because I’m not very good at this kind of thing. Well, I used to have very long blonde hair, but quite a bit ago I had it cut and now I have short blonde hair. I was 12 years old on August 14th and I’m about 4ft 9 inches high.
I am glad you like sports because I love watching them and love doing them. I am in the school house sports and love doing ball throwing, hurdles and high jump. O! By the way, my name is Linda, and what a coincidence that our door number is also 23! I don’t know whether you have the 11 plus in Canada but in England if you pass the examination (11 plus) then you go to a grammar school, I passed mine when I was 11 at a primary school and now I go to Newark Ludley and Stone High School For Girls.
Near our house there are some hills and trees on them, and when it snows my friends and I often go sledging, which is great fun, but I suppose you’ve often experienced that with you living in Canada.
I don’t know whether you have any brothers or sisters but I have one sister who is seventeen. I doubt if you’ve ever heard of Newark but it is a little town in the county of Nottinghamshire.
In the town we have a castle in which King John died, it has a moat which is now the river bend.
In two weeks I’m going on my holidays with my parents to Bournemouth, I can’t wait to go.
Well, this is my first letter to you. I don’t know how to make it interesting or long but when I receive your letter I suppose we’ll have lots to talk about. Well, cheerio, I hope we will have lots of fun in the future writing to each other.
EXTRACT FROM LETTER FROM KAREN TO LINDA FROM JUNE 1986
“Hi, Firstly, I must apologise for not writing sooner. Early New Year bus with after Christmas activities and then I start feeling sick. That’s right another baby on the way. Due around Oct 30th.
“The doctor thinks I’m too big for how far along I am so he ordered an ultra sound, but our doctors who are over our medical average are on strike again so it’s been postponed. We are all well, Julia will be three on Sunday.
“Ron finally went back on days at the beginning of April thank heavens. He is much happier now. He has been working overtime lately so we can enjoy our holidays next month. We are renting our friend’s cottage for one week and camping for another week in August. We have car insurance due, that’s why the overtime.
“I’m getting exciting about going away. My brother in law’s wife is due one week after me.
“I was sorry to read that you and Dave had had some trouble. I hope everything is better between the two of you. I understand how you two must have felt when you started getting your own business ideas in your head. Sometimes you have to go out on a limb.
“Linda drop me a line and let me know how things are going, I’m interested. Good luck.
KAREN TO LINDA, 1981
Happy birthday. Hope you and Dave are well. I’m sorry I took so long in thanking you for the calendar, you’ll never believe when I received it – about the second week in February! I don’t know about the mail situation in England but ours is the pits.
Hope you had a good winter. Did you get away at all? We were fortunate to get away a few weekends. One weekend it was the coldest of the seasons – -38 degrees. We thought we might get frostbite but we didn’t, the Doberman did though.
We are trying to save some money, we are looking for a house. It is really bad here though, for example, a small 2 bedroom bungalow, nothing special, it’s down the street from us, is going for $133,900. I just don’t know what we’re to do.We can only afford $88000 – the mortgage rate is 17 1/2%!What’s the prices like where you are?
A few months ago we bought a Dual 830 cassette deck. It’s really nice. Really good sound.
The academy awards are just about to start so I’ll sign off now.
Don’t work too hard. Take Care.