Monday, April 30, 2012

Pen Pals for 36 years

From our first meeting in 1980 to our most recent visit in 2012.

When I was in 3rd grade, my teacher had some big books sitting on one of the tables in the back of the classroom. She told us that, if we wanted, we could look through them and pick out a teacher, write her a letter, and she would give it to one of the kids in her classroom and we could have a pen pal. My mom had a pen pal that she kept up with for a very long time. I wanted a pen pal. With two brothers and a handful of friends, I wanted a pen pal. It was an intriguing thought. So I picked a teacher in Maryland and wrote her a letter about me. I think I picked Maryland because it wasn't one of those states that we didn't really talked much about in school. It was small and up north. Intriguing.

A few weeks after I wrote my letter, I got a letter back. The girl who wrote me was Sue Ellen Rowland from Silver Spring, Maryland. She was also in the 3rd grade and her birthday was August 5, 1967. We were only 9 days apart in age. I was older than her, which wasn't very common for me since my birthday was late July (the 27th to be exact). She also had two older brothers and her parents were older - even older than my parents which was also unusual. My friend's parents all seemed to be way younger than mine.

We wrote back and forth on a fairly consistent weekly/bi-weekly basis. I don't remember the first time we talked on the phone but I'm sure it was full of excitement to hear each other's voice after many months of writing. You have to remember that, back then, you didn't just pick up the phone and call just anyone. We couldn't even call our grandparents in Dallas without it costing money until they came out with the metro line that cost a little more but would allow you to call from Hurst to Dallas for one flat fee. So from that first phone call came more phone calls and finally we would get to meet face to face.

Somehow, my parents agreed that my mom and I would fly to Maryland, stay with Sue and her family, I would go to school with Sue for two days and then go to Washington DC to see the sites. I remember that mom and I had matching outfits for the trip - nice pants and a blouse with heels to boot! It was so exciting and, come to think about it, probably my first flight on a commercial airline. My dad flew single and twin engine planes that I was used to. This was big time.

I remember a few main things from that trip. First, her house had a basement and an upstairs. You enter the house on the second floor. My house was one level....but we lived in Texas and she didn't. Then there was the days I went to school with her. It was my spring break but I was all too happy to be with her and see what her school day was like. I got asked to talk a LOT because of my accent. It brought the attention to me and that was perfectly fine - just the way I liked it. Then there were her brothers. They were even older than my brothers and kept to themselves just like my brothers would have. Her mother was so sweet and her dad was very nice yet stoic.

Amazingly we never stopped writing all through school an beyond for many years. There would be four more trips - her high school graduation in 1984 (she took all her junior classes during the summer and graduated a year early), my high school graduation in 1985, her college graduation in 1988 and my wedding in 1989. There would be marriages, kids, a couple of divorces, another marriage, more kids and all that, but yet we still kept in contact. There weren't too many phone calls and it would soon boil down to baby announcements and Christmas cards, but we never lost contact. I've only had this type of relationship with one other woman who was not related to me. I feel extremely blessed.

Then comes the announcement from work that our yearly team meeting would be held in Washington DC. This was what I had been hoping and praying for. It was pretty certain that it would be in Dallas or DC this year. Dallas would be fine but DC would mean I had a much better opportunity to reconnect with Sue. As soon as I knew the date of the meeting, I sent her an email. It had been quite a while, years maybe, since we had really talked sans the Christmas card and Facebook. My heart leaped when she emailed me back. She wanted to see me and was just as excited to see me as I was to see her. We exchanged several more emails with me not making any specific plans because I just wanted it to be a relax meeting. I didn't want to have "plans". I wanted to just go with it and not be under any pressure.

I flew into DC late Friday, April 20. I still haven't called although I have her number. I'm nervous. The little evil devil on my shoulder is telling me she doesn't really want to see me, she's just saying that. I become this little girl who doesn't think anyone likes her. Where is this coming from?? The next morning I get up and get ready realizing we hadn't really set a time to meet and they have at least an hours drive from their home in Maryland. I finally decide to just call at 9:00 am. She answers and I start babbling about how I'm here, ready, not sure what their schedule is but whenever they can come in.....and there's silence. She says, "Oh, that was today? I was thinking it was next weekend." My heart sinks (and I find out later so did hers).

"It's ok. I'm here tomorrow with no specific plans then either. Whatever you have to do just do it. Let me know about tomorrow." "No, I have staff that can man the booth at the dog fair." (They own a Dogtopia in Clarksville, MD, by the way. Go visit if you are in the area!) She asks me to give her an hour and she will call me back. I try so hard to think positive. I want to kick myself for not following up more, for not calling before I left Texas. This was my fault. She has given me no reason at all to doubt that she wants to come see me. What in the world is going on with my self-esteem!! Sure enough, she calls back, says they have to drop off something at the house and then will be on their way. YAY!! She, her husband Ron and 9 year old daughter Samantha are on their way. I couldn't be more excited!!

When she text me to let me know they are down the street I literally run downstairs and stand outside the hotel like a kid waiting on Santa. There they come down the street and turn into the hotel drive. I see her unbuckle her seat belt and she gets out of the car. We hug like it's been....well, 23 years, and just laugh and say how good each other looks. Then I'm in the car, back seat with Samantha, and off we go. It's like I'm with friends I hang out with every day. There isn't one ounce of uncomfortable. Not one. Her husband is GREAT! I tell her later how lucky she is. He is patient and attentive and loving and a very involved dad. She agrees that she got lucky with him.

She comes back the next day and we go to the Newseum. It's spent mostly talking and walking around and occasionally reading the stuff we both paid $18 to see. It's raining outside so this is truly the best place to be. When they close we head back to the hotel and sit in the lobby for another two hours just talking and catching up. There is so much to talk about, so much to say and plans to be made for next year. I want to come back and spend time at their house, in their city with them. She tells me what happened Saturday she couldn't believe she had the date wrong, how she got to work and talked to the girl that was supposed to help who also had her days mixed up, how she went to her office and cried, how she would have dropped any and everything to come see me....nothing was going to keep her from seeing me. How special did I feel at that very moment? I felt the same about seeing her but for her to want to see me as bad, it was wonderful.

I've had several friends tell me how much they love our story and love how we've been friends from different states for so long and still keep in touch. It's true. It's a great story about great friends who are always friends no matter the distance.

Me and the Dietrichs at the Capital

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