A new experience in my life started one evening when I was at our library and noticed a very small slip of paper taped to the check-out desk. It wasn’t much larger than a post-it note.
It was asking for anyone who would like to be a pen pal to fifth graders, to please sign up. I thought it would be an enjoyable thing to do since I had just retired. I called the number listed on the paper and before I knew it, I received a letter from my very first pen pal. We gave her the nickname of the “Duffy Girl.”
We were not allowed to know their last name or address and they weren’t allowed to know ours either. The pen pal letters were sent back and forth by way of volunteers at the Senior Citizens Center, who read every one of them to see that they met all the requirements. When you sign up, you have to promise that you will attend the orientation as well as a party at the end of the school year. That is when you will finally get to meet your pen pal in person. I signed up for the whole experience and enjoyed every part of it.
I always looked forward to reading the letters from my pen pal. They were handwritten on real stationary, and she had decorated the pages with pictures and stickers. This pen pal letter-writing situation lasted from February to May of her fifth grade.
Then, in May, all participants were to meet at the Buckeye Valley West School cafeteria. When I arrived at the cafeteria that day, it was filled with both men and women senior citizens, who were as excited to be there as I was. We were about to meet our special pen pal. One lady said it was like adopting a child from another country and waiting to see them come off a plane for the first time. The students were brought in the cafeteria by their teacher, and all stood in a line across the front of the room.
They sang several songs while we looked them over, trying to guess which one would claim us as their pen pal. The teacher, Mrs. Rose, called off their names one at a time. Mine was one of the very last. When her name was called, I stood up so she could find me in the crowd. And there she was, a very pretty girl with a big smile and green fingernails.
Since we already knew so much about each other, it was easy to break the ice. Each pal had four things to do. They took us on a tour of their school, read us a story they had chosen, played a game and had refreshments. And we all came together again for a group picture before the bus came to take them home.
I was very impressed at how pleasant it was to be a part of the tour and get to see all the amazingly good art work on the walls. She read a story to me that was called, “Mrs. Bindergarten goes to Kindergarten.” She read so well, I thought she would make a great elementary school teacher some day. We played checkers, using Hershey’s Kisses for the checkers.
Before I knew it, it was time for refreshments in the cafeteria, and have a group picture taken. Just as the picture was snapped, the busses were outside to take the students home. And the event was over. As I watched her go, I was wondering if I would ever hear from her again.
The only way I would know is if I received a real letter that she had written and sent to me that had her full name and address on it. That meant her parents had given their permission for us to continue to be pen pals. I didn’t have to wait long, because that next week when George brought in the mail, he said, “You have a letter from the Duffy girl.” And I opened it and read it out loud before I even finished my lunch.
We wrote lots of letters back and forth. In our letters, we made plans for George and me to go to a couple of her softball games to see her pitch, and then for her parents to bring her to our farm, so she could ride a horse. While there, we cut up a cold watermelon. Her dad said, “There is nothing better than getting to be outside in perfect weather eating watermelon while standing around in a horse barn.”
Since they liked horses so well, they rode on our wagon for the All-horse parade that following September. I think her dad even drove the team of percherons. And I noticed that no one had more fun than her parents had because they knew more people along the parade route than we did.
It was such a wonderful experience for me to be a pen pal, I signed up for six more pen pals in the years that followed. I didn’t see the Duffy girl again until a couple of years later when I attended a band concert at the high school and she came out the door the same time we did. And there she was, all grown up, wearing high heels and all. I think she might be graduating this year.
I’m wondering if she will choose to be an elementary school teacher. Or, had she said something about wanting to join the FBI? But this I know for sure, whatever she chooses to do in life, she will be right up there with the best of them. And I will always remember her as being my first pen pal, and that we will always refer to her as the Duffy Girl.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.