A loyal friend is like a safe shelter; find one, and you have found a treasure. Nothing else is as valuable; there is no way of putting a price on it. A loyal friend is like a medicine that keeps you in good health. Sirach 6:14-16
There is nothing like the thrill of opening the mailbox and finding a handwritten letter inside. I strongly believe in genetic memory. Even before our letters drew us closer, I felt an immediate knowing, a bond on a deeper level than made any sense with my distant cousin, Peter.
I met Peter for the first time two years ago when I was researching our shared ancestors. He’s an older gentleman (just turned 88 this past May). Peter drove us through the valley and up onto the hills now covered with state forest that once belonged to our ancestors. His wife, Grace, and daughter, Patti, brought along a picnic of homemade potato salad, sandwiches and cookies. We sat chatting beneath dappled August sunlight by the pond it is my dream to someday own.
McKenzie, my daughter, was along and was most grateful for the cookies and the way she was treated like instant family. After only a few hours touring the haunts of our forebears we said goodbye. A few months later I sent Peter and his wife a card to let them know I was thinking of them. Peter responded with a letter and we’ve been happily corresponding ever since.
At first I wondered was it just that as a writer I was enjoying his letters because of his answers to questions I had about our shared homeland, but it wasn’t that. Once last winter Peter’s daughter called to ask me how I was doing. It was unusual because we had hardly spoken after the picnic.
“I’m well. How are you?” I asked. “Is everything okay with your parents?”
“Oh, yes. The reason I’m calling is because Dad asked me to. He’s worried since he hasn’t received a letter in the last few weeks.”
No longer did I have to worry if my questions had been too intrusive or my letters too rambling. He liked receiving them as much as I did receiving his.
When he told me things about his childhood I would realize that I had already focused on those same themes and come to the same conclusions about our shared relations from the past while writing the story about my 3x greatgrandfather and his 2x great grandmother (my 3x great aunt). The dynamics Peter talked about between himself and his father were almost identical to the ones I imagined when writing about his great grandfather and his sons. Somehow our letters and my writing were tapping into the same magic!
This last summer McKenzie and I went to the family reunion in the same valley by the pond and I was thrilled when I saw Peter and Grace arrive dressed in their Sunday best — overdressed — but perfect to me. He tipped his straw fedora and his wife gave me a hug. It felt like all we did was eat that day. First at the reunion and then when Peter and McKenzie conspired to keep the day going with dinner out.
It was late when we said our goodbyes. Peter and Grace have a caretaker of sorts. A somewhat pushy lady with a good heart but lacking in sentimentality.
“Give me your email and cell phone number so Peter has it,” she said in her no-nonsense way.
Peter had sent McKenzie a few letters too but she’d lost interest in writing replies. “I can’t read your handwriting,” she said, much to my annoyance.
He laughed good-naturedly, but the caretaker jumped in.
“Okay, from now on you can tell me what to write and I’ll type it into an email,” she said to Peter.
Peter looked as crestfallen as I felt for a moment.
“I’ve never written to anyone before and I quite like it,” he said.
. I couldn’t let this happen no matter how well-meaning the caretaker.
“Peter, this doesn’t let you off the hook with me,” I said. “I love your handwritten letters and I can read them just fine.” The very idea of an intermediary!
He clasped my hands in his. “I love them too. I won’t stop. I promise,” he said mirroring my own devotion.
True friendships are so rare. Finally I am old enough not to take them for granted.
On the drive home the next day I received a text from an unknown number. “Are you home yet?”
At the next stop I answered. “Who is this?” though I was pretty sure I knew.
It’s never too late to make friends and write letters.
Anyone out there still have pen pals?