Vintage Story: Pen-Pals and Paper

I’ve always loved writing. Back in my school days I was actually quite good at it, so it would probably come as no surprise that I was seriously into the pen-pal thing and enjoyed penning letters to friends all over the world.

I think it all began back in 1988 when Brisbane hosted World Expo 88. What a wonderful time for Brisbane!  I remember there being ATM-like machines, provided by Australia Post, where you could plug in your age and interests and out would pop the name and address of a child from somewhere in the vast, exciting world, who had similar interests – kind of like!

We were also able to “purchase” a pen-friend at school by filling in a little form and paying a dollar (after doing a little research I found out it was the IYS or International Youth Service). A little while later, you would receive your new friend’s details and the letter writing would begin!

You'd get a little piece of paper like this!
You’d get a little piece of paper like this! Photo courtesy of the IYS Facebook page.

I certainly amassed a few! The boxes below contain just some of the letters I received. I’m not sure what happened to the rest but I hope to dig them out someday.

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I wrote to boys and girls from Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Portugal, Greece, England and Ireland, exchanging little stories about our daily lives, our likes and dreams, holidays and families.  Going to the letterbox was a daily pleasure waiting to see a brightly coloured envelope, or that crinkly airmail blue peeking out from the pile of mail, each with their exotic stamps and handwriting styles. IMG_4031

Sometimes, tucked inside would be a little present of stickers, song lyrics, jewellery, cards, even a personally created mix-tape. I loved receiving a photograph of my pen-pal, so I could visualise their faces as I read their news.

Many envelopes still contain the little surprises!
Little snippets of their lives

I was lucky enough to meet a few of my foreign friends in my late teens and early twenties when I travelled in Europe: German, Jan and his 6 foot 4 family, Effie, the beautiful Greek girl who ended up living in London at the same time I was there and my Irish pen-friend, Maria who turned up on my doorstep in 2009! I’m still in contact with Effie and Maria – be it only via Facebook.

My Irish pen-friend, Maria and I meet for the first time in 2009 after 20 years of letters!

Some of my favourite letters, though were between me and my cousin who only lived 30 minutes away in a different part of Brisbane.  Towards the end of 1988, my grandfather suffered a stroke and was in rehabilitation hospital for a few months.  Visits were frequent but exceptionally boring so my cousin and I would write little notes and squirrel them away somewhere in the hospital room for the other to find and delight in!  We continued to write, sometimes every second day, for the next few years. Our letters morphed from everyday chatter to teenage angst, boys and the pressures of high-school but were always colourful, with little illustrations and musings in the margins and mostly laugh-out-loud funny. She lives in the States now – perhaps we should find time in our busy lives to start scribbling all over again!

My cousin, Lyndal and me a few years ago – we’re still close even though we live so far away!

Today, it’s all about flicking off emails and texting and expressing yourself through photographs – putting pen to paper has almost become a lost art. I came across some of my old stationery the other day –  perhaps I’ll make the effort to sit down and pen some ‘snail mail’ when I get a chance!

Did you have a pen-friend or 10? I’d love to hear about it!


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2 thoughts on “Vintage Story: Pen-Pals and Paper

  1. Happy tears at the closure of a wonderful night with friends and family. Love you Jay jay- definitely think snail mail is our way forward between our distance. Xxxx

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