If you had 5 minutes to evacuate, what’s the first think you would take?
When I was 14 years old, during the “pen and paper” days, I enrolled in an international penpal club. I started with 4. One thing about this club, was that your data could be given to anyone requesting penpals from Canada.
By the time I left home in 1979, I had close to 40 of them. A few of them I knew personally, friends who’d moved away. But the bulk were in South America, Europe, and Africa.
When I married and started a family, a move across the country meant leaving some things behind. As I settled into married life with 2 children (one who required all my attention due to a birth defect), I lost contact with these people.
Thinking back I remember that my penpal in Denmark (I forget her name) sent me matchbooks, something I collected back then. Peter, in England sent me Andy Capp comic books. Gabriela, in Peru helped me with my Spanish when I started High School.
All these letters and souvenirs were dear to my heart, but nothing compared to the letters I received from Surafel, in Ethiopia. We corresponded during the Ethiopian Civil War. His letters were long but very educational. I always thought of them as the best history lesson I ever had. And if I were to put them together, they’d make a perfect history book.
By the time my boys were 3 years and 18 months old (1982), we relocated to the east coast, this time to New Brunswick. All my letters were neatly stored in a box on a shelf in ‘my old bedroom’ closet. In 1984, the house where I grew up burned down. My letters were still in that house.
A few years ago, I came across a ‘people finder’ website. I still remembered the names of 3 of my penpals (last names withheld purposely). Nothing came up under Gabriela’s name. She probably married and took her husband’s name. Nothing under Peter’s name either. When I entered Surafel’s name, 2 came up. Using my junk mail account and an alias, I dropped a vague note to one of them asking if he remembered corresponding with someone in Quebec and I signed it “a lost penpal”.
What a surprise when I received his email stating he remembered me by name and the city where I lived. He said “From past memories, I’m convinced that we were once penpals. I have still your photograph in my album.” Happily married, he now lived in Europe. We started corresponding again. He sent me 2 keychains for my collection; one of which is from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His home, which he talked about in those letters. I haven’t heard from him in a while and I think it’s time I drop him a note.
I haven’t collected matchbooks in years, and I’ll never be able to store my keychain on a thumb drive. But since that first email to Surafel, I save my emails and photographs on a thumb drive. If anything happens to my computer, I have a backup.
What kind of things are important to you?