New chap­ter

Life­long pen pals meet 47 years af­ter ex­chang­ing first let­ters

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID JALA

Al­most half a cen­tury af­ter be­com­ing pen pals with an Amer­i­can farm girl, a Cape Bre­ton woman has fi­nally met her life­long friend.

Linda (Swann) Pat­ten­gale, who grew up in Bras d’Or and now re­sides in Point Aconi, wel­comed Patti Thomp­son, formerly of Wis­con­sin but now liv­ing in Ten­nessee, to her home on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon in an en­counter that both women de­scribed as “over­whelm­ing”.

“I’m still numb,” said Linda, an hour or so af­ter meet­ing for the first time in per­son.

“I never thought for a mil­lion years that this would ac­tu­ally hap­pen — this is so awe­some.”

Their re­la­tion­ship be­gan 47 years ago, when then 11-yearold Linda re­sponded to an ad for pen pals in the back of a craft magazine and ended up cor­re­spond­ing with the ginger-haired Patti, who was two years her ju­nior.

“This was the early 1970s so there weren’t any cell­phones or Face­book or on­line mes­sag­ing, so we did it the old-fash­ioned way — we wrote let­ters,” she said, adding that it usu­ally took one week for a let­ter to travel be­tween Cape Bre­ton and Wis­con­sin.

“I re­mem­ber how ex­cit­ing it was to re­ceive a let­ter, es­pe­cially one from far away and then I’d head to my bed­room to write back and get it sent the next day — this went on for a long time and we’d talk about our likes and dis­likes, our rou­tines, our fam­i­lies and about things we’d like to do when we got older.”

And, as they grew older, the let­ter writing would, from time to time, ta­per off as life threw new chal­lenges in both their direc­tions.

“There was a time when I was mov­ing around quite a bit and the pen pal thing lapsed, but we al­ways found each other again,” said Patti, who got mar­ried, had chil­dren and now lives in Knoxville, Tenn.

Al­though both women said they al­ways wanted to meet in per­son, the seeds for a face-to­face en­counter were not sown un­til Patti be­gan a new career as a flight at­ten­dant about seven years ago.

“Af­ter I started work­ing for the air­line I be­gan to travel with my mother and my sis­ters — each year we go some­where dif­fer­ent and then it tran­spired that we could make a trip to this part of Canada, tour around a bit and meet Linda,” she said.

So, with plans fi­nally made and the date fast ap­proach­ing, both Linda and Patti looked for­ward to the big day.

For Linda, prepa­ra­tions in­cluded stock­ing the kitchen with plenty of fresh lob­ster and a cooler full of adult bev­er­ages. But she had plenty of help as sis­ters Delores and Rita popped by to help out. Even hus­band Floyd and daugh­ter Ash­ley man­aged to make it home af­ter a long day of lob­ster fish­ing prior to the ar­rival of their spe­cial guest.

And, while Linda ner­vously awaited her ar­rival, that spe­cial guest was mak­ing her way from Bad­deck where she had spent the night with her mother Nancy and sis­ters Joan and Sandy.

“This is won­der­ful — it’s so great to see her so happy and glow­ing, she was re­ally ex­cited and got even more ex­cited the closer we got,” said Sandy, 16 years ju­nior to her sis­ter and now liv­ing in San Fran­cisco.

Patti’s mother was also beam­ing as the spe­cial oc­ca­sion played out at the Pat­ten­gale home on Point Aconi Road, where the pen pals ex­changed gifts and caught up on the lat­est news in their lives.

“I en­cour­aged her to have pen pals when she was a lit­tle girl and I re­mem­ber how ex­cited she was to have a friend all the way up here in Canada,” said the proud mom, who claimed to have done her share of the driv­ing from Wis­con­sin to Nova Scotia.

“Of course, back in those days peo­ple wrote let­ters, so it was the only real way to com­mu­ni­cate.”

Later, as some rare sun­shine hit the back deck, the two fam­i­lies con­tin­ued to min­gle, swap­ping sto­ries and laugh­ing to­gether as if they had known each other for years — which in some ways they did, at least when it came to the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the life­long pen pals.

Later still, Linda’s son Jason stopped by to meet the vis­i­tors be­fore tak­ing them for a drive to the lo­cal fish­ing wharf and to the nearby Point Aconi power plant. And then it was back to the house for more food, drink and mer­ri­ment.

For the record, pen pal ac­tiv­i­ties still ex­ist, al­though the ad­vent of so­cial me­dia and in­stant mes­sag­ing has ren­dered the writ­ten let­ter some­what ob­so­lete.

But wait! Both Linda and Patti said they still use the now old-fash­ioned “snail mail.”

“There’s just some­thing spe­cial about get­ting some­thing per­sonal in the mail,” said Linda, with a smile and a glint in her eye.

DAVID JALA/CAPE BRE­TON POST

Life­long pen pals Linda (Swann) Pat­ten­gale, left, and Patti Thomp­son share a smile just min­utes af­ter meet­ing each other for the first time in per­son. Linda, a res­i­dent of Point Aconi, and Patti, a Wis­con­sin na­tive now re­sid­ing in Ten­nessee, have been...

DAVID JALA/CAPE BRE­TON POST

Patti Thomp­son, left, presents Point Aconi’s Linda (Swann) Pat­ten­gale with some gifts from Ten­nessee af­ter the two met in per­son for the first time af­ter 47 years of be­ing pen pals. Look­ing on are Patti’s sis­ter Joan, mother Nancy, and sis­ter Sandy,...

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