2012-03-01 / Local & State

52 Years After First Letter, Pen Pals Meet

By Josh McAuliffe

CARBONDALE, Pa. (AP) – Pen pal-ing was all the rage when Mary Ann Black of Carbondale sent her first letter to Britt Wenemark of Eslov, Sweden, 52 years ago.

It eventually fell out of fashion, but the two kept right on corresponding, through countless changes in society, technology and their respective lives.

“We never lost touch with each other,” Black said.

For all those years, though, the two had never met in person, or even so much as spoke a word on the telephone.

That all changed last fall, when Black and her husband, George, traveled to New York City to spend two days with Wenemark and her husband, Goran, who had included the Big Apple among their stops on a monthlong visit to the United States.

Class project

Black, 68, was a junior at the former Ben Franklin High School in Carbondale when her history teacher came to class one day with a list of foreign sounding names. Each student was asked to pick a name from the list and begin a correspondence with them.

For no particular reason, Black chose Wenemark's name. “Having a pen pal was a big thing back then, a big fad,” Black said.

The initial letters were exchanged, and the two teens quickly established an easy rapport. The years quickly turned into decades, and the topics of conversation evolved with them, from school and boys to career goings on and husbands to kids and ultimately grandkids.

There were gaps, to be sure, but they were always by months, not years, Black said.

“When I told some of my classmates I was still writing to her, they'd say, `Oh my God, you're still doing that?”' she said with a chuckle.

Snail mail has long since given way to email. Black doesn't own a computer, so she sends hers from brother Joe's house, using his email address. As a result, Wenemark often signs off letters with a “Hi, Joe.”

Wishes fade

They always spoke of one day meeting, but as the decades passed it seemed like less and less of a likelihood. Then, Wenemark and her husband retired, and began to travel extensively throughout Europe.

After Wenemark got into a pretty serious car accident, she decided it was high time to meet her old pal. “She said, ‘Life is too short. We have to see if we can meet someday,”' Black said.

So, in April of last year, Wenemark wrote to Black with news that she and her husband would be coming to the United States in the fall for an extensive sojourn.

The Wenemarks started off on the West Coast, taking in the sights in California before moving on to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and other points of interests. From there, they flew to Hawaii.

Meanwhile, back in Carbondale, Black was following every step of the couple's excursion via a travel blog Wenemark had set up. When Wenemark mentioned she and her husband were about to fly east to New York, Black promptly called the Midtown Manhattan hotel the Wenemarks were staying at and made a reservation for her and Black.

Black was plenty nervous upon walking into the hotel the day of the big meeting. And the feeling only got stranger when she called Wenemark's room, given it was the first time they had ever heard each other speak.

The woman at the front desk was overcome with excitement upon learning why the Blacks were there. By the time the Wenemarks got off the elevator, a throng of hotel staffers had converged around the Blacks.

“I was really excited for them,” Black said.

Following some initial awkwardness, the two couples got on famously. They spent the next two days reminiscing and seeing the sights around Manhattan, from Ground Zero to the Occupy Wall Street protesters.While her husband's English was limited, Wenemark conversed fairly easily with the Blacks. Of course, there were a couple of little hiccups, like when Black referred to the Wenemarks as “you guys.”

Back to writing

The women have since settled comfortably back into their written correspondence. Now, Wenemark is trying to convince Black to come to Sweden. Should the Blacks accept the offer, Wenemark has promised to drive them anywhere they want to go in Europe, including Italy, where the paternal side of Black's family is from.

Regardless of whether that happens, Black is just glad she finally got to meet her friend. As she explained, “Now that we've met, the friendship means that much more.”

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