• author
    • Kelvin Wade

    • April 24, 2015 in Columnists

    I’ve never met my best friend

    NOTE: A much shorter version of this column ran in the Fairfield Daily Republic in March 2014. This is the deluxe author’s cut version exclusively on iPinionsyndicate.com.

    Today, through social media, it’s fairly common for people to interact, have friendships and even date people online that they’ have never physically met. That’s old hat to me.

    Back in 1985, I joined a penpal club called TeenPals. The urbandictionary.com humorously defines a penpal as “A species of human made nearly extinct by the advent of electronic mail, penpals communicate via the ancient art of penmanship – the inscription of meaningful symbols on filaments of pulped wood. After their creation, these letters would be entrusted to government officials for transportation and delivery to their intended recipient – often over great distances.”

    I indeed started writing people over great distances all over the country. I even facilitated one of my penpals from Hawaii meeting another of my penpals in New York City, even though I’d never met either of them myself! And it was fascinating learning things about strangers and seeing how their lives were similar or different than the life I led in Fairfield, California.

    But it wasn’t all positive. Some of the girls I wrote to from the south immediately stopped writing when they found out I was black. I thought they were just bigoted until one of them explained that she wished she could still write but if her father found out she’d be kicked out of the house. It was sad, but it made sense to me.

    In 1986 I began writing to a girl named “Teresa” who hailed from a picturesque small town in Colorado. The correspondence became romantic and in 1992 she traveled to my town for a two-week visit. It was surreal being in the same room with someone who I knew so much about but had never laid eyes on before. Our romantic relationship continued off and on for five years with her flying out to visit. One time, I visited her in Colorado. When the relationship fizzled out for good, I swore off long distance romantic relationships. But it didn’t stop me from continuing friendships.

    In 1987, I started writing to a girl named Samantha who lived in the tiny town of Silver Lake, Minnesota. Compared to her town of less than 1,000 people, Fairfield seemed like a metropolis. Seeing a black person in her town was sort of like spotting Bigfoot.

    But as different as we may have been on the surface, we found things in common. For instance, she likes the Vikings and my Raiders destroyed them in Minnesota’s last Super Bowl appearance.

    Through the years I’ve listened to her complain about the bitterly cold Minnesota winters while I bemoaned the fierce Fairfield heat during the summer. We wished we could switch climates.

    In 1990, when my brother committed suicide, I didn’t tell her in a letter. I told her over the phone and it was such a natural thing to do. We eventually spoke on the phone often in addition to letter writing.

    Sam married her husband, Shane, on my birthday, October 16, 1993, and somehow managed to have three boys and run a household while working two jobs. Supermom!

    I laughed when she and her fellow Minnesotans elected my favorite professional wrestler, Jesse Ventura, governor. Then California went ahead and elected Arnold Schwarzenegger governor and it was her turn to laugh.

    Sometimes we’d go awhile without communicating. Life happens. During one of those times, Samantha’s mother contacted me and told me Sam had suffered a stroke. She was just thirty years old. I felt horrible and wanted to go there. That was never how I envisioned us meeting. I didn’t go but we spoke on the phone often, wrote religiously and I encouraged her in any way I could.

    She had to relearn so many basic things, but today she can do about anything she sets her mind to. She even had a fourth son post-stroke. While I thought she was Superwoman before the stroke, afterwards she’s Super Duper Woman to me.

    There’s something about conducting a friendship by post that forges deep bonds. While it takes patience waiting for a response, seeing that envelope in your mailbox is like Christmas morning. When you’re involved with a penpal, someone is sending you his or her life story one chapter at a time, almost like a diary. It’s been my experience that the investment of time in the slow exchange of letters helps to build trust and a deeper intimacy than the instantaneous communication of today.

    However, with the rise of the Internet, our correspondence changed from letters to email. Emails are to letters what ebooks are to books. Sure, they convey the same information but there’s just something soulless about text on a screen. A handwritten letter means someone sat down and composed a letter, placed it in an envelope, addressed it and mailed it to you. It’s a degree of intimacy that’s not duplicated by firing off an email while you’re walking on the treadmill in the morning. However, progress is not to be denied. We changed with the times. Soon our correspondence included texting and Facebook.

    Facebook has allowed me to search and find some of those long lost penpals. Two of them, Cheryl and Dorothy, were a couple of my favorites and it’s fascinating to see the wonderful women they’ve become.

    But it’s Sam who has lasted the longest. We know each other’s deepest secrets and trust each other completely. Sometimes we’ll play this game where we ask each other to come up with three things we don’t know about each other. It’s hard.

    When my last Beagle brother Theo died Nov. 9, 2013, Sam helped comfort me even though it was her birthday. That’s the kind of special friend I’m talking about.

    For some it might be hard to believe that one of my closest friends for more than a quarter-century is a married Sunday school teacher with four kids in Minnesota whom I’ve never physically met. But we were virtual friends before it became a thing.

    After a truncated version of this column ran in the Fairfield Daily Republic last year, Sam’s mother commented:

    Georgia Lord March 21, 2014 – 7:41 am

    Thank you for your wonderful article Kelvin. I’m glad you also know how special my daughter is! You have been a big and important part of her life for a long time. In her teen years there were times you were the ONLY one she listened to! You have been a good friend, and it has always been my hope that the two of you would meet, but then again maybe the magic is in the mystery….


      • Madgew

      • April 24, 2015 at 8:45 am
      • Reply

      Kelvin, I have found it worked exactly as you write about. I have tried to meet in real time and have found almost all to be as they were but a couple were not what they portended online. But the ones that were truly open spirits it was a gift to meet them. Do you think you will meet one day or keep the real time meeting just online and phone?

        • Kelvin

        • April 24, 2015 at 7:38 pm
        • Reply

        I’m certainly open to meeting. There are scenarios where I can see it happening.

      • Maya North

      • April 24, 2015 at 3:33 pm
      • Reply

      I KNOW what a marvelous friend you are and I am beyond delighted that you and Sam have had such a sweet friendship for so long. I write to people — mostly elders — because you’re right. There’s a magic to having something tangible, something to reread, revisit — rediscover unexpectedly amid other stuff put aside — that is unparalleled. I didn’t understand that until my mother got melanoma in her brain and I tried to catch up in the three months she had left for the years and years she wrote me weekly and I couldn’t seem to be bothered (of which I am so ashamed to this day). Now, I write to all sorts of people, generally with no expectation of reply. I do it to make them happy and even though the difficulties of this year have made me flag in my devotion to this pursuit, I will do it for as long as I can put pen to paper and make any sort of sense at all. Big hugs…

        • Kelvin

        • April 24, 2015 at 7:41 pm
        • Reply

        My mother was a letter writer. I still have some of her letters and cards. She had beautiful handwriting. I don’t know what happened to mine. It starts off legible then….no. ☺️Its definitely a lost art. I don’t see too many young people enthusiastic about it. I wonder what percentage of people under 25 have ever written a letter.

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