PEN FRIEND: col Pen Pal – friend with whom one corresponds without meeting.
Pen to paper – who writes anymore
I can’t remember when I learnt to read and write. As a young child, reading and writing was something I did at school, and when the bell rang for the end of the school day, I played. At home, reading or story writing was not something my parents encouraged me to do.
My sister and I were brought up in the days of that classic saying “children should be seen and not heard”. There was no encouragement from our elders to actively participate in conversation or debate, and critical thinking was definitely not on the radar. To interact with adults was considered rude. Our contribution to problem solving was never required, even if the problem was related to us. Our opinions were considered unimportant as decision making was the responsibility of grown-ups.
So my sister delved into the world of books and in a simple turn of a page escaped into the worlds of fantasy and adventure and I discovered the world of writing. As a youngster, reading was not something I enjoyed, but at the age of ten, I found and replied to an advertisement in a magazine for a pen pal. This was the start of a long letter writing relationship with a girl from Malaysia who was exactly my age.
I grew up on a small Pacific island in the years when the sight of an aeroplane was a novelty. At school, we were allowed outside to watch the Calibration planes fly over and land on the airfield nearby, a truly exhilarating experience. Now, the thought of corresponding with someone from the other side of the world was a bigger thrill especially when our letters could be in those planes flying overhead. I was so excited receiving her letters addressed to me. I would devour every word that spilled off the pages and imagine her life in Malaysia and hoped that she would be doing the same with my letters. In my best handwriting, I responded to every comment she made; celebrating her achievements and sympathising with her disappointments. Meticulously I wrote my news, and surprisingly I had so much to tell her. This was my way of overcoming the “seen but not heard” philosophy of my parent’s generation. Someone was hearing me. I felt liberated. Several pages later, the letter was neatly folded, inserted into an envelope, addressed, stamp attached and posted. The wait for her reply seemed forever, and that reply sometimes took weeks to arrive. I was never disappointed. For the first ten years our letter writing was fervent. We were pen pals!