I was telling my grandson that I had been to dinner with a pen-pal the previous evening. He looked blank.
“What’s that?” he asked.
I patiently explained, thinking that today’s kids really lack in their general education. He listened to the back and forth letter-writing explanation and said, “Letters? What for? Didn’t you have iPads or iPods or other gadgets where you could communicate?”
“There wasn’t even a fax machine then.”
“But you had phones, right?”
“Yes, but an international phone call from one end of the world to the other was an expensive business back in 1949 and involved calling the exchange, asking for the international operator, giving the details of the call you required and maybe waiting for a day or two until the other party was available.”
“Gee, you lived in primitive times, Pop.”
“Yes, we did. But having a pen-pal was a project of its own. It involved many different activities. I remember riding my bike to the post office. It was a place where one would stand in line to buy postage stamps and send parcels, not a facility for foreign workers to send home their hard-earned wages. In the post office you had to remember to attach an airmail sticker otherwise your letter went by sea and that took weeks to arrive; it meant addressing the envelope clearly because you weren’t sure if the mailmen in far-off countries could read your handwriting. After that you hung around the mail box, waiting for the postman to deliver a reply some weeks after one posted the letter.
“Writing the letter was also different. It meant using the family pen which was usually near the phone. One dipped the pen into the bottle of ink and then looked for blotting paper.”
“Gee, it was primitive then!”
“Yes, those were really primitive days compared to present times. Can’t think how we managed to weave our way through the backwardness. But the truth is, it was fun.”
“How old were you then, Pop?”
“And this pen-pal?”
“She was 16.”
“Wow! And today you are 81, right?”
“And she is… Wow! How was the dinner, Pop?”