Sunday, November 15, 2015

Pen Pals Lost and Found

Arriving home from a genealogy vacation last summer,  I returned to the search for classmates, notes, and connections to our 50th high school class reunion.  In a small pile of grade school pictures, I gasped in surprise, there in my hands was a wallet-sized photo

Susan Kuhlman, my pen pal from 5th grade.  I remembered exactly where we met, that July of 1959. 

My parents had taken a long weekend trip to Branson, Missouri to fish and enjoy the waters of Lake Taneycomo (long before it was the Branson of today).  Our small roadside motel had a pool for the kids, a boat dock and fishing dock. Best of all it was raw with nature and wilderness surrounding it. 

A large snapping turtle had been captured and placed in a four sided cement tank on prime property for kids to bend over and offer carrots or poke at it with sticks. In retrospect, I'm sure that turtle wasn't captured for us to tease, but at the time it seemed logical.

Susan and I met in the pool that week, and became the best of young friends. She had a little sister, as did I, so we shared our woes of always having tagalongs sisters on each adventure.  Her father was the principal at the Missouri Military Academy, and like my father he enjoyed fishing. Our mothers made the best picnic lunches that week, and our evening meals were hot dogs, or fresh fish from the lake.  

At the end of the week, Susan and I exchanged addresses and began a writing letter friendship that lasted until we both went off to college.  

The story might have ended, but my curiosity to know what happened pushed me to begin my search.  How simple it became, thanks to social media. First, I found her younger sister on
Susan Kuhlman 1963-64
facebook, and a few days later, I received a note and friend request from my Pen Pal.  Oh, we laughed and recalled those years and letters. Neither of us managed to save those letters, nor did I find any old postcards of Branson.  She said that she'd often thought of me and tried to find me over the years. Susan recalled that one summer her parents were on vacation and dropped her off to stay with me overnight. "You showed me your fallout shelter in the backyard, and I was overwhelmed.  I hoped no one would every have to use it. We played games and just caught up with lots of laughs and great friendship.  I remember your little sister, Jonya. My sister, Joyce, didn't spend the night with us." 

Interesting how a setting made for an Alfred Hitchcock scene, the frigid cold waters and bouncy waves of Lake Taneycomo, a stucco motel with a flat roof and gravely parking lot, provided a happy ending for two little girls, who still share those memories, and whose friendship has come full circle. 

In the process of writing this blog, we've begun to communicate again about memories, about our parents, and eventually we will arrive at today. 


  1. What a great story. I'm so glad the two of you were able to re-connect.

  2. Great anecdote, Letty! A friend of mine has a lifelong pen pal from New Zealand. They have only met personally in the last 10 yrs or so. This friendship began in elementary school, and they could tell each other everything—maybe things one didn’t confide so freely to those in the local area! I’m speculating with that comment, but the friendship included school days, early marriage, children, grandchildren, and death (passing of M's husband). They have visited each other at least a couple of times. M celebrated her 80th a few weeks ago, so it’s a friendship of probably 70 years or so. Love these unlikely stories!!

  3. Great story, what fun to find a childhood friend. ru

  4. My only "penpal" was a girl in England, not too many years after WWII. We lost touch about the time I went to college--I don't even recall her name (maybe Norma?). I recall my family sent Care packages of items that were still unavailable or rationed in England in the late 40's, early 50's. I'm sure by the time I graduated from H. S. that we were no longer in touch with each other. Congrats on re-connection with your penpal. ss

  5. My pen pal was Doreen in England. I often wonder what her lie was like...from the 50's. STW