Country Woman

From the Heart

Transpacif­ic pen pals finally meet after 46 years of writing.


Pen pals meet after 40 years of letters.

All Char Jasinski wanted was for another girl her age to write back. What she ended up getting was a friendship that has lasted for nearly 50 years.

When Char’s seventh grade teacher asked her class to sign up for pen pals, they were given a list of countries to pick from. Char originally wrote to a student in Japan but never heard back. So she returned to the list, this time writing to an Australian student.

“I just really wanted to know if she had kangaroos in her backyard,” she says.

Julie Polich Sapienza received the letter in Perth, Australia, a short time later, and the two have been writing ever since. They transition­ed from handwritte­n letters to emails to Facebook, but they’ve never fallen out of touch.


Since they began in 1972, Char and Julie marked many of life’s milestones—school graduation­s, first jobs, weddings and the birth of children—through letters.

One of those children born along the way was me—Char is my mom, and I can’t remember a time she wasn’t writing to Julie. “People are pretty fascinated, especially since it’s been going for so long,” Julie says.

At the start, “snail mail” earned its name, Julie says. “It took the letters about two weeks in transit.”

“She kept me on my toes!” my mom says. “I probably was a little slower, writing back every month or two once we were in our 20s.”

Julie recalls Mom sending her a gift of painted snail shells early in their friendship. Later they exchanged wedding photos, party invitation­s, popular foods and souvenirs.

One of my mom’s standout memories was the year my grandfathe­r let her call Julie as her Christmas present. Mom quickly wrote to Julie, asking her to send her phone number back. After waiting anxiously for weeks, they were able to talk long-distance for three whole minutes, something they both remember fondly.


Though they often discussed how they would love to visit one another, neither could make it work for decades. But in early 2018, Julie wrote to Mom to say she and her husband, Basil, had booked tickets to visit the United States for several weeks, with an intended stop to visit Mom in New Berlin, Wisconsin.

After touring Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Dallas in August 2018, Julie and Basil made their way to Wisconsin, where the pen pals finally met in person.

“It was thrilling, exciting,” Julie says. “We had a nice hug. It wasn’t like it was the first time I met her; it was quite natural.”

After 46 years of friendship, they agree it wasn’t awkward to finally spend time together.

“We’ve known each other’s lives for so long,” Mom says.

“But we did learn little things you didn’t know before.” For example, my family discovered Basil’s name isn’t pronounced the way Americans refer to the common herb (he pronounces it bah-zəl), and Julie always referred to Mom as Charlene, her full name she used in school but not as an adult.

Mom and Dad spent several days introducin­g Julie and Basil to my siblings and me, their friends and our favorite Wisconsin treats, including frozen custard and cheese curds. When it was time for Julie and Basil to catch their flight to New York City, the two friends shed a few tears.

They continue to keep up on Facebook, but both hope they can reunite in the near future. “Hopefully she can visit me in Australia!” Julie says.

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 ??  ?? Char Jasinski (left) and Julie Polich Sapienza met after sending missives across the Pacific for nearly 50 years.
Char Jasinski (left) and Julie Polich Sapienza met after sending missives across the Pacific for nearly 50 years.

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