East Meets West

captionI recall learning how to write a proper letter in elementary school. At the end of our practice the teacher surprised us by announcing that she had a list of children from Japan who wanted to communicate with an American pen pal. I immediately agreed to send a well written epistle if chosen for the honor of meeting a new friend in a faraway land. Happily I was one of the lucky ones who received the name and address of a Japanese girl who was waiting to hear from me.

My mother took me to a stationary store where I found some lovely lightweight paper with matching envelopes that would work well for sending an airmail post. It was a pale sea foam green and had tiny pink rosebuds imprinted in the background. It was the most beautiful parchment that I had ever seen. I was quite proud to have such a lovely means of getting to know my Japanese counterpart.

Following the instructions that my teacher had taught me and using my very best penmanship I introduced myself hoping that I would sound interesting enough to elicit a response. Once the letter was complete I carefully and nervously folded the sheets and enclosed them along with a school photo of myself inside the envelope. Mama drove me to the post office to be certain that there was enough postage on my letter to get it to Kyoto, Japan as quickly as possible. Then I waited and waited, checking my mailbox as soon I as got home from school each day.

It seemed like an eternity before I received a response. Some of my friends who had also written their pen pals had already brought letters from their correspondents to school to show the rest of us. I was beginning to wonder if I had sounded too boring to be worthy of a reply when a huge manila envelope came with my name printed neatly on it. Inside was a lovely book filled with exquisite photos of Kyoto. There were also multiple photographs of my pen pal who was a true dark haired beauty wearing a school uniform in one and traditional Japanese dress in another. She enthusiastically wrote about her excitement in receiving a letter from me and then told me all about herself. I was beside myself with wonder at the very idea of communicating with someone who lived so far away and in such a lovely place.

Over time we often wrote back and forth and made the kind of pledges that children often do that we would be best friends forever and that one day we would meet each other in person when we visited each other’s homes. I liked to imagine her walking through cherry blossoms and drinking exotic teas while she seemed intent on insisting that I must surely know lots of Texans who rode horses and did tricks with ropes. We both fantasized quite a bit and I suspect that we each became a bit disenchanted when we realized that life was actually rather mundane for both of us, filled with studies and the challenges growing up.

Eventually we hit our teenage years and became busier and busier and the letters came and went less and less frequently. Finally we were lucky to manage to write each other one time a year and then our longtime correspondence came to an end. I told myself that I would resurrect our friendship soon enough but I never seemed to find the time. What had been so much fun simply fizzled out but not without leaving a dramatic imprint on me. I had developed an enduring fascination with Japan that even decades later has not abated. I love to read about Japan, watch movies about Japan and I have even been known to have crushes on Japanese actors. In the back of my mind there has always been a dream of one day traveling there, especially to Kyoto.

I still have the book that my long ago friend sent to me. Sadly I did not keep the letters and time has erased my memory of her name. I have no address that might lead me to her again but I often think of her and wonder how her life has been. I’m curious to know if she married and had children. I try to imagine what type of job she may have held. She was quite artistic so I suspect that she did something creative. I hope that she has been happy and healthy and been able to accomplish her dreams. I’d like to think that she remembers our brief friendship and enjoyed it as much as I did. I feel guilty that I did not try hard enough to keep in touch and worry that something may have happened to her that prevented her from writing. I wish that I had inquired about her even if only in a brief message letting her know that I cared.

I never got to Japan. There were always other places to go and things to do. I was busy raising a family, taking care of my mother, working, sending my children to college. The years went by so quickly that I hardly noticed. I eventually rode horses now and again which I think she may have liked to know. I hiked to the top of mountains where it seemed as though I could see forever and I imagined her enjoying life somewhere off in the distance.

I did not forget her. How could I? Those letters from her gave me so much pleasure. They made me feel as if I had been part of a grand adventure. She and I shared our stories and our secrets and found that the east and the west were more alike than they were different. We were two girls who dreamed of conquering our respective worlds and I would like to believe that both of us did.

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