After 65 years, a couple of pen pals meet

If ever there was a relic to succumb to technology, it’s the pen pal.

Back in the day, people wrote letters — letters! — to people they’d usually never met. Back and forth they’d go until, for one reason or another, the chain would stop and people would go about their lives.

But it didn’t stop for Lorraine Knutson, a South Dakota farm girl who started corresponding with Merle Cantrell about 65 years ago, as part of a program though the International Friendship League.

They’d never met, however. How could they? Merle lived in Tasmania.

It used to take three months for one’s letter to reach the other. Now it takes two weeks. Pen palling is for the patient.

“It was soon after I started writing, maybe five or 10 years after that I thought I really would like to meet her,” Knutson, now from St. Peter, Minn., tells the Mankato Free Press. “But at one point I got the feeling she would never be able to come here because of her husband’s health. So I thought OK, it’s up to me. I just decided it’s now or never, I’m not getting any younger and neither is she.”

So she up and flew to Australia and took a ship to Tasmania

The two met at the visitor center in Hobart. “I looked at her and thought, I’ve seen her before,” Knutson said. “Her face hadn’t changed from so many years ago.”

The two embraced and began to walk. Although she was nervous before they met, Knutson said they immediately connected like old friends.

“I had no idea what it was going to be like,” she said. “I just visualized this friendly place, because of her.”

She said it felt like time stood still. They talked about their families, politics, culture and the differences in health care systems. They met Cantrell’s orange adopted cat named Pumpkin and talked about Tasmania’s history of convicts making up the original population. Cantrell traces her ancestry to a convict who eventually learned a trade, raised a family and reformed himself.

“I felt really emotional for awhile, thinking how did this happen? And then it finally happened,” Knutson said.

When she returned to St. Peter, she did the obvious. She wrote her friend a letter.

  • Gary F

    Nice story. They ain’t naming little girls Merle anymore.

    • Mike Worcester

      Agreed on both points. A million years ago (the 70s to be precise), we had a girl in one of my elem classes named “Merle”, but it was not pronounced ‘merl’, it was ‘mer-lee’. So when I read the story that’s how it sounded in my head.

  • chlost

    The modern version has been to become friends online. Not so long ago, I had a blog, and read many others’ blogs from around the country and world. They were folks whom I’d never have met otherwise. Several of the folks whose blogs I read, and who read mine, became virtual friends. Since then, I have met several of them IRL. When we’ve met, it seems as though we’ve seen each other before, and we know so much about each other. Online pals.