Watching her excitement about getting a real live letter in the mail from someone near her age ~~ someone that she has never met before in real life ~~ brought me back to my younger days when I had PenPals of my own.
So I pulled out my "Treasure Chest"
In this box are a thousand memories. I got my first letter in the fourth grade as an English project. We had a student teacher that year who had done some student teaching in Costa Rica. The students there had each written a letter to practice their English grammar, and our assignment was to write back for the same reason.
My PenPal and I wrote back and forth for 10 years, give or take. That was my first exposure to how different life was for kids in other countries. My PenPal must have come from a fairly wealthy family, as she and her friends were always taking trips to England, Spain, and other exotic places. Every letter contained a request for me to call her so she could practice her speaking English.
Yeah, right. Like my folks were going to let me call long distance to Costa Rica.
When I got into high school, I had a few friends whose parents were missionaries. Imagine, me friends with MKs (Missionary Kids). They were some of the best friends I have ever had, but the downfall of these friendships was that their parents took calls in other countries.
Soon I had PenPals in Kenya and the Philippines. Again, I was exposed to how different life could be in another country. I had two friends (sisters) who went to a boarding school in Kenya while their parents worked in a dangerous area of South Africa (at least I think it was South Africa). edit: Now that I think about it, it might have been Zimbabwe.... oh, I don't remember! Their tales of Rugby matches (something we don't get a lot of in rural MN) and attending a Christian boarding school were fascinating. They would send me little trinkets they thought I would like.
The most memorable of these was when my friend sent a little hand carved warthog because it reminded her of me. Have you ever seen a picture of a warthog? That gift was (though precious) not very good for my teenage self esteem.
My other friend moved to the Philippines with her parents. She was homeschooled, because her parents couldn't stand to send her to boarding school as far away as she would have had to go. She sent fascinating stories of the village she lived in and all the differences between their culture and ours.
The result is that now, years later, I have a treasure worth more to me than it's weight in gold. In this box are memories of friendship, adventure, and even a little teenage romance. I am so glad that my friends moved away before the time of email and text messaging, because all of those messages would have been lost in the Techno-Void. I am very lucky to be (probably) one of the last folks in my generation to actually have a stack of letters in a box. I got to experience the thrill of saving my pennies to go shopping for the "perfect" note card or stationary to send off to my friends, and the joy of receiving their carefully chosen paper and cards.
There is a certain romance to having a box of letters saved over the years from dear friends or even the odd beau. I like to think of my children or grandchildren finding them after I am gone and being able to see in a very real way that I wasn't always old and cranky. I like the idea that there is a record of my younger days.
Someday I hope that Big Sprout will have a similar treasure box of memories from her new PenPal and the many others that I hope she will have in her lifetime. I will have to keep my eye out for a pretty box like the one I was able to find for her to store her treasures.
I will just have to convince her not to store her other crap in there....