63 Across the Miles

A teacher’s in­flu­ence helps two young girls from op­po­site sides of the coun­try de­velop a five-decades-long friend­ship

More of Our Canada - - Contents - by Frieda Martens, Win­nipeg

Two young stu­dents from op­po­site sides of the coun­try de­velop a decades-long friend­ship, thanks to one ded­i­cated teacher.

In the fall of 1968, I re­turned home from teach­ing Grades 1 through 3 in New­found­land—un­der the Men­non­ite Cen­tral Com­mit­tee— to teach Grades 1 and 2 in south­ern Man­i­toba.

I felt the best way for my Prairie stu­dents to im­prove their aware­ness of life and cul­ture on New­found­land’s north­ern penin­sula was to be­come pen pals with the stu­dents there. One way for the chil­dren to ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent cul­tures at the time was through writ­ing, where ask­ing ques­tions could sat­isfy their cu­rios­ity. For stu­dents to have some­one other than their teacher read their let­ters was a great in­cen­tive to write. The whole class in my Prairie school class­room had the op­por­tu­nity to have a pen pal from north­ern New­found­land. To set the stage, I in­tro­duced them to their pen pals us­ing pic­tures and in­ter­est­ing anec­dotes, such as the boy who came to school by boat be­cause his par­ents were in charge of the light­house, or the lit­tle girls play­ing a cir­cle game chant­ing, “A Tisket, a Tas­ket, A Green and Yel­low Bas­ket.” There were tales of lob­sters cook­ing on the wood stove for the evening meals, baby seals cry­ing on the ice floes in spring, and how on clear days one could see the Labrador coast eight miles across the Strait of Belle Isle. They saw pic­tures of ice­bergs dot­ting the strait in spring and into early sum­mer. Al­though most of my stu­dents were in­ter­ested in the lives and sur­round­ings of these New­found­land chil­dren, the writ­ing lasted only a short while, ex­cept for Eleanor, a Grade 2 stu­dent from the Prairies, and Lois, a Grade 3 stu­dent from north­ern New­found­land, who un­be­knownst to me, kept their cor­re­spon­dence go­ing.

Eleanor and Lois wrote to each other from the ages of seven and eight re­spec­tively and kept in touch for al­most two decades be­fore los­ing con­tact for a time. In 2003, I re­ceived an email from Lois, telling me that she had found Eleanor on Face­book and that they had re­con­nected.

“Yes, it was amaz­ing that I was to find Eleanor again,” wrote Lois.

“I had thought of her many times over the years. We did write for many years, but I lost con­tact with her at about the time she was get­ting mar­ried. I re­mem­ber think- ing how far that was from what I was do­ing at that point in my life, but then, don’t we all come full cir­cle?”

How two lit­tle girls of seven and eight came to grips with each other’s dis­tinc­tive cul­tures was amaz­ing be­cause the set­tings could not have been more di­verse. One, where the salty sea breeze blew off the Strait of Belle Isle and the light­house beamed its rays through the fog, and the other, where grain el­e­va­tors stood as sen­tinels and dairy and grain farms marked the land­scape.

In rem­i­nisc­ing, Eleanor re­mem­bered that it had been ex­cit­ing to find a let­ter in the mail­box with her name on it. Later on in their com­mu­ni­ca­tion, they both echoed the sen­ti­ment that they had things in com­mon, in­clud­ing Chris­tian faith, val­ues and the love of writ­ing. They shared sto­ries of fam­ily ex­pe­ri­ences, dreams, chil­dren and pro­fes­sions. They were de­ter­mined to keep in touch de­spite the 4,737 kilo­me­ters, di­verse to­pog­ra­phy, dif­fer­ent cui­sine and tra­di­tions that sep­a­rated them.

Al­though they have not met in per­son, Eleanor and Lois are still in touch via e-mail. Lois now lives in St. John’s, while Eleanor lives in ru­ral Man­i­toba. n

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