As I write this blog post, I am sitting in the faculty room of an elementary school where my daughter comes on Monday nights to attend her “Brownie” meetings. My intention, in bringing my laptop with me tonight, was to crank out a few articles for my “real” job, but as I listen to the girls giggle and play in the room next door, I can’t help thinking back to my time as a Brownie, and ultimately, Girl Scout.
Ugh. Ick. Blah. “Must it begin already?” I thought.
“Sign me up!” I thought.
Where the heck is Wales, was my first thought? I had kind of expected England or France or even Russia. But, Wales? I was going to have to do a little research on that country.
But, even still, just seeing her name was so exciting to me.
When I saw Sonia’s name, I knew we were going to be great friends – even if she didn’t know it yet, too.
What I didn’t know, until years later, was that while I had been handed her name on a piece of paper, she had seen my name on a board and selected me, herself. I don’t know what drew her to pick my name, but I am certainly glad she did.
In return, I told her all about me. (Boy, would I like to go back and read those letters!)
Looking back, it’s quite amazing that Sonia’s family agreed to this. After all, what did they really know about us? Yet, here they were, willing to send their 16-year-old daughter to stay with a family they had never met, in America, for nearly a month.
As it turns out, I knew who she was the moment I set eyes on her. She was so tiny and cute. Shyer than I expected – at least, at first. To be honest, it took a few days for us to adjust to each other’s company – to become the friends in person that we were in our letters.
My family wanted her to experience America, so we took her everywhere. We went to New York City where we visited every landmark and took the ferry around Manhattan. We even spent a day on the set of All My Children and, though she had no idea who any of the actors were, we told her to stand next to them and smile for photos and said we’d “fill her in later.”
It wasn’t, though, until we were on our trip to Washington, DC that things became the most comfortable between us. On the car ride down, she suddenly told us (about a week into her visit) that we were not pronouncing her name correctly. It’s pronounced Saaaaannnn-ya, she’d tell us. And, we’d say, “Sooooooooooonnnnn-ya,” in our New Jersey accents. No, she’d correct. “Saaaaaaaan-ya.” I think this went on through the whole state of Maryland.
When we arrived at the hotel, “Saaaaaaan-ya” and I shared a room. As she went to take a shower, for the life of her, she could not figure out how to turn on our American faucet. After many attempts on her part, I finally went in, half frustrated and half amused and, showing her, said, “Listen, Welsh person, this is how you do it.” For some reason, this expression made us both laugh – a lot. And, from then on, it was as if the people we were in our letters, and the people we were in person, were finally one and the same.
By the time Sonia left to return to Wales, we were closer than friends. My entire family (grandparents, included) felt like she was a part of our family.
Over the years, our correspondence has changed a great deal. The internet was invented, email was created, Facebook emerged. Our handwritten letters (other than cards at Christmas time) have long since faded away. Now, we email regularly and about a year ago, I convinced her that she absolutely needed to create a Facebook account so I could easily see recent photos and we could keep up on each other’s daily lives. Whereas, in elementary school, I had to wait weeks for her to receive my letter and then respond back, these days, if I ask her a question, I may have a response in a matter of seconds.
We’ve both grown up a lot, too, of course. I married and had three kids. She married and had two. Both of us wished that each of us could have attended the other’s wedding, but as it often does, life and money and circumstance got in the way.
We both have dreams of someday meeting again . . . I keep telling Sonia that when my kids are old enough that I can bear to bring them on an international flight, she will be the first person we visit! I don’t know when we’ll meet again, but we will.
This month marks 25 years since Sonia and I wrote our first letters to each other. I truly cannot believe it. How is it possible that the years have gone by so quickly? It seems like just yesterday that I opened the mailbox to find her first letter and see her face for the first time in a school photo. And yet, I honestly cannot remember a day when Sonia was not a part of my life.
It’s so funny to think that, out of Girl Scouts, an activity for which I never really cared, came this wonderful, beautiful, meaningful component of my life.
Truly, you never know what blessings you may receive when you least expect it.
I certainly didn’t.
Happy Anniversary, Sonia!
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