Our family didn’t travel very much growing up. Family vacations just weren’t as commonplace as they are now. One of the ways that I channelled/fuelled my wanderlust during my teenage years was by corresponding with pen pals.
Being the sort of person who doesn’t do things in half measures, and also someone without an especially vibrant teenage social life, I didn’t have just one pen pal. I had about 100.
I’m transitioning to new phase in my life. I’m selling my house and becoming nomadic. That means I have to seriously pare down my belongings. So today I chose to recycle my stash of old letters from pen pals.
I didn’t read any of the letters. I don’t need to reconnect with the vestiges of cringeworthy teenage angst contained therein, thanks very much. But I did clip all the stamps off the envelopes to donate them to Oxfam Canada’s Stamp Out Poverty programme.
As I leafed through the envelopes I became aware just how much of the world I had “seen” through the eyes of my pen friends before I had ever travelled internationally. There were stamps from at least 50 countries, some of which no longer exist. I found myself wondering how things have turned out for my old friends since our correspondence tapered off.
I’ve always loved poring over postage stamps. The vibrant colours, exotic languages and heraldry, historical figures, and compelling artwork — all were springboards for my curiosity about the world, spurring me to research what tickled my fancy or what I didn’t understand. If the Internet had existed when I collected them I likely would have been even more of an obnoxious know-it-all than I am today!
So it isn’t easy to part with such treasures. But on the other hand it seems like a fair bargain — trading my old postage stamps for the opportunity to collect passport stamps instead.
Did you ever have a pen pal? If so, where were they from and what did you learn from them?