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Where we live: Are pen pals communication dinosaurs?

Published January 19. 2019 06:29AM



My grandson, Spencer, who is in fourth grade, said he has a new pen pal.

“Pen pal” isn’t terminology I’ve heard in a while. With Facebook, email and Twitter, people don’t write letters nearly as much as they once did.

Advice columnists such as Dear Abby often receive letters complaining that even “thank you” notes are too seldom written. In fact, I embarrassingly have to admit that I’m guilty of this. I seldom write any letters anymore.

Spencer’s pen pal is in California. His name is the same as his brother’s, “Tyler.”

One of the first things Spencer found out about his new “pal” is that like him, Tyler plays the video game “Fortnite,” which is interactive between people on computers. Spencer seemed excited to possibly play the game with him. So they have something in common!

Spencer getting a pen pal had me reminisce back to when I was young and had numerous pen pals. Spencer’s was initiated through schools, but mine were obtained from magazines. Years ago, magazines often had pen pal listings so readers could communicate on common interests.

My interest back then was professional wrestling, which was a lot different from how it is today. Back then, there was no WWE. It was called the World Wide Wrestling Federation and operated primarily from Washington, D.C., to Massachusetts. The WWE is the result of growth of the former WWWF and now is a global firm listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Back in the day, different wrestling promoters operated in different areas of the company with a stable of wrestlers. Most of those promoters were purchased or put out of business by the WWE.

As an example of what we wrote about, one of my pen pals was a Rose Marie Woods from Sacramento, California. She would send me wrestling results and pro mat news from the Bay Area of California while I would write about results here. She attended a lot of matches and would fill me in on all of them.

Stars in the Bay Area includes Freddie Blassie, Bearcat Wright and Pat Patterson.

What made it such fun was that the stars would sometimes switch promoters, so it was exciting when Freddie Blassie came to the WWF to challenge its champion Bruno Sammartino. Of course, I would write in my letters the results of these matches.

I had pen pals in the Midwest, the South, Texas and Michigan and would get caught up on all the results.

We talked about other topics, too. But it was always exciting to see a letter from your pen pal in the mailbox.

Today you can communicate on social media, but it isn’t the same. A Facebook post isn’t a genuine, handwritten letter. Opening an envelope and reading what’s inside isn’t the same as a general, impersonal posting on the internet.

I’ve lost touch with all those old pen pals.

I admire those people who have the talent to write flowery letters. I have in-laws in Scotland who, when they send a letter to us, you just know it’s from their heart and not a compilation of mere words.

I also thought about pen pals when I read a recent Associated Press article about George H.W. Bush. It seems he had a pen pal in the Philippines, a young boy, who he corresponded with on a regular basis.

He reached out to the boy in 2002. Bush was 77 at the time and wrote to the boy, “I want to be your new pen pal.”

Bush never let on that he was a former president. He wrote to the youth, “I am an old man, 77 years old and I love kids.”

He told his new pen pal, “I live in Texas … I will write you from time to time.”

He signed his letters “G. Walker.”

He obtained the pen pal through the nonprofit organization Compassion International. For the next decade, Bush sponsored some of the boy’s education and meals, and never revealed that he was a former president. It was only after Bush’s death last Nov. 30 that the letters came to light.

Bush not only wrote letters to his pen pal, but it was reported by the AP that Bush wrote thank-you notes on a regular basis and even answered letters himself.

Pen pals, and letter writing in general, are considered by some to be communication dinosaurs.

How unfortunate.

After hearing the excitement in Spencer’s voice at getting a new pen pal, reading how diligent former President Bush was about corresponding and reading some personal letters I’ve received, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more active with letter writing; maybe not a pen pal, but at least thank-you notes and keeping in touch with long-distance friends and relatives.

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