This is so, so, SO true. I received a letter the other day from someone in Georgia. I knew it was coming because she had asked for my address but it was still incredibly exciting to receive. Cards are amazing. I got a bunch of those for my birthday as well and many of them had particularly special about a letter written on stationery. As a child and young teen I had a few different pen pals. First and foremost were my cousins and my Grandma M but none of us wrote very often. My real pen pals were Leasa and Sharon. Leasa was first. Our families have known each other for years. As in before we were born. Our parents used to hang out together and know a LOT of the same people through church camps and other connections. We started writing when we were ten or eleven (so 1991 or 1992). I don't remember exactly but her family was in town and came to visit and we exchanged addresses. We wrote fairly steadily for the next ten years or so when email took over and life just became too busy. When I visited Ontario in both 2000 and 2004 I hung out with Leasa and actually stayed a few nights with her and her new husband David the second time.
Last year when I was in BC after Seth's wedding I went digging in one of my boxes of stuff that is still at my parents and found the letters that Leasa sent me. When I got back to Ontario she and I sat down and read our letters out loud to each other. What a trip down memory lane. I read my letters and she read hers. We went in order by date. It was hilarious. My pre-teen self was incredibly stuck up. My letters were all about the books I was reading, what my brothers were up to and trying to figure out how old her siblings were (I asked for their ages three different times!) Her's were all about reciting her report cards (she was a fantastic student who generally scored in the high 90s) reporting on piano lessons and talking about family vacations. Some of it didn't make sense to read almost 20 years later (20!!!) and some we had to give back stories too but it was fascinating and really fun. When it was done we took back our received letters. Maybe we'll do it again in another ten years or so.
My second regular pen pal was a friend of Leasa's. In fact Sharon dated Leasa's older brother for a few months. We started writing later. Maybe in grade 10 or 11? Those letters are full of a LOT of teen-aged angst. Grade 10, or when I was 15, was not a good year for me. Looking back I was probably depressed but at the same time I was a teenager and we all go through crappy times. Sharon (and Leasa) are originally from Saskatchewan but both moved to Ontario. Leasa with her family while she was in high school and Sharon in 1999 or 2000. Sharon asked me to move with her at that time. How different might my life have been if I had taken her up on that offer!!! I wasn't ready though. Before I finally got around to joining everyone in Ontario, Sharon had moved back to Saskatchewan. We stopped writing in the early 2000s and I really haven't spoken to her since. I know she's doing well though. Two of her sisters and her mother in law go to my church in Ontario so I get updates. Part of me would love to do the same thing with Sharon that I did with Leasa, sitting down and reading our letters. But at the same time I think it might be better if some of those letters never see the light of day again.
One last comment (this is getting long!) It was Sharon who gave me the name "Agent713". She had gone on a date with Leasa's brother and they saw the James Bond film "GoldenEye" in the theatre. (huh, Google says it was released in 1995, maybe we started writing sooner than I thought.) She started signing her letters "Agent 13.7" Thirteen was her favourite number but she added the ".7" to make it a little less unlucky. I just swapped that and became "Agent 7.13" When Hotmail came along and everyone was freaked out about using "real" names online, I was looking for something to use. Agent 7.13 was one of the few nicknames I've ever used so it became my online handle. Hotmail didn't allow periods at the time so I just became "agent713". Today I style it with the lower case "a" and run it all together and I use it pretty much exclusively online. In fact if you Google agent713, you'll find out more about me than if you use my real name (including finding this blog). So there, that's the story of my name. It's crazy to think I've been using it for over half my life already! That's the impact that a pen pal can have!!!
Also, a funny related to that. I was in Ohio a few years ago and my friend's dad was teasing me about being a Canadian spy. I denied it but a little while later in the conversation someone asked for my email. I spieled off "agent713 at hotmail" and he exclaimed "HA! I knew it! You've been exposed!!!" So that's now the running joke with us. That I'm a secret agent who visits to spy on Americans. The truth is that I DO major in North American Studies, so yes, I am there to study them ;) Not much secret about that!