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Pen pal sisterhood



By Joyce McClure

Charlottesville, VA-- As I sit down to write this column today, it is Thanksgiving Day with a month of celebrations to come. I add my gratefulness on this day of thanks to that of my friends for our friendships, many of which have spread across 30, 40, 50 or more years.


One of them I have known for nearly 70 years. To this day we call each other by our mutual childhood nickname, “Sister.” As family nicknames, Sister and Brother are southern in origin although my friend was born and raised in Maine, and I was born in Kansas with long-ago roots in Kentucky.


Sister and I met when I was eight and she was nine. My family was living in Corpus Christi, Texas back then where my father was the city manager. We had driven to New Hampshire for a conference that he was attending and, on the way back, we passed signs for a small family amusement park called Santa’s Village. Still in existence today under the management of the third generation, the park opened in 1953, two years before our fateful meeting.


Actually, we did not meet that day. Rather, holding our mother’s hands, we approached Santa’s house and stood in line waiting to sign Santa’s guest book. As my mother and I left, Sister and her mother were next to sign her name. Looking at my address, her mother said, “Look, this little girl is from all the way down in south Texas and you’re from all the way up in Maine. You’ve been wanting a pen pal, why don’t you write to her?”


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Dated Nov. 6, 1955, the neatly handwritten letter arrived in the mail when we got back from our road trip to New Hampshire. I wrote back immediately, and a friendship was formed. Until social media and email made writing and keeping in touch easier, our communication slowed as we got older, but we still felt close.


Over the years we have met perhaps a half dozen times. The most recent was when I took the train from New York City to Charlottesville, Virginia before I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Yap in 2016. She now lives in Midlothian, Virginia and drove up for the day. Since I’m now living in Charlottesville, I’m hoping our meetings will become more frequent.


Our lives have been polar opposites, but she remains my one and only sister. She married immediately after college, worked until her first child was born, eventually had two children and is now a grandmother. She led a more traditional life of marriage and family spending vacations at Disneyland in Florida with her grandkids.


I, on the other hand, having spent my childhood and teen years living in several cities and even in Iran at one point, launched into a long career as a single woman in public relations and marketing after college, traveled around the world, and lived in large, metropolitan cities on both coasts.


In like fashion, I cherish the friendships I formed in Yap and Guam over the last seven years. Yes, I stirred things up and there are some who tried to get me tossed out of Yap, but there are many more who have quietly thanked me for upsetting the status quo and turning a light on things that they could not without fear of retribution. In my book, that’s one of the many things that friends do. We show up and help each other, sometimes doing what the other can’t.


I’m looking forward to seeing Sister next year to celebrate our 7th decade of friendship. At this time of year when thanks are given, I am grateful we have come this far as true friends and sisters. May you experience the same bond with your own sister or brother, whether family or friend, throughout your life.


Joyce McClure is a former senior marketing executive and former Peace Corps volunteer in Yap. Transitioning to freelance writing, she moved to Guam in 2021 and recently relocated back to the mainland. Send feedback to joycemcc62@yahoo.com




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