By Betsy Ruffin
They met through an ad and had a long-distance relationship for over 60 years before finally meeting.
No, it is not a romance story. It is a friendship story and involves my mother and me.
In 1934, my mother, Lona, then 12-years-old, noticed an ad for pen pals in one of my grandfather’s railroad magazines. She requested a person and was matched with 13-year-old girl named Betty, who lived in Australia. They immediately started writing each other and continued to do so. Letters, when they first wrote, usually traveled by ship and would take a month to travel from Virginia where my mother lived to South Australia where Betty lived. Then another month would pass as the return letter traveled back from Australia to the United States.
Some pen pal relationships end sooner rather than later, but not this one. The two girls continued to write despite the long time between letters. As they became young women, the time shortened as letters could now be sent via airmail. Those planes certain cut down the waiting time! Soon, they were both graduating from high school and off to college, careers and marriage. But something else was on the horizon that would affect both the now young adult ladies – World War II.
Both of them had met their future husbands and married. Both the husbands went to war, my Dad in the U.S. Army; Betty’s husband in the Australian military. Writing was disrupted by the fighting, but Mom and Betty did not forget each other, even as they waited for husbands to come home (both did). They soon started their motherhood careers also. Motherhood provided its own disruption of writing, but the ladies nevertheless resumed the pen pal relationship. They even started exchanging presents at Christmas, focusing on sending items representative of their countries. The children enjoyed seeing these special gifts learning about the country the gift came from.
The years passed but the relationship did not stop. Both ladies, and their children grew older. Both lost their husbands, becoming widows. They had written for many years, but never met. That changed in 1995 when my Mom, Lona, and I took a mission trip to Australia one July. Mom was then 73 and Betty was 74. Both were still very active and eager to finally meet after all the years of writing. We arranged to meet in Sydney during the day we were there after arriving the night before. The morning of July 28, 1995, after 60 years of writing, Betty and Lona finally saw each other face-to-face. What a celebration that was! To make it even better, Betty also had her daughter with her. Carolyn was her name. The four of us spent a wonderful day together as the Aussies showed these Yankees around Sydney. Both lunch at the Queen Victoria Building and supper near Sydney Harbor were filled with the happy chatter of all four ladies. The next day, Mom and I headed via train to our mission work destination of Dubbo, while Betty and Carolyn headed home to Adelaide. Both Betty and Mom have now passed away, but the story has not quite ended yet.
The two daughters, Carolyn and I have continued that correspondence relationship started so long ago. Since 1995 we have written to each other and sent Christmas presents, still enjoying learning about each other’s country. Letters certainly come faster now, which is still our preferred method. There is also the option, however, of email, being sent and received within minutes, a far cry from month long trips the first letters took!
Four ladies, two generations of pen pals and lifetimes of relationships.
PS: In case you wonder, the relationship will likely end here as neither Carolyn nor I have children.
Betsy Ruffin was born in Virginia to two educators, a career she would follow. The family soon moved to Arizona and hit the Carolinas and Florida before settling in Texas. She received her BS in Education from Bob Jones University and MS in Library Science from University of North Texas. She taught school for 35 years in regular education, special education, and library-technology. Now retired, she still tutors and still enjoys books and computers. She is an active member of Field Street Baptist Church in Cleburne, TX where she works in – you guessed it – the library and computer ministries