Before there was e-mail, Facebook or anything on the Internet

Dear Bloggers,

Due to a situation at home I did not come to writing a blog last month and I feel pretty awful about it as writing is something I normally do to get my thoughts organized. It made me think about my younger days when I still was a boy. I met the most fabulous girl at my dad’s pony stable and she straight away swept me of my feet. Due to the fact that she lived in Germany we decided to become pen pal. 

And we have been writing for many years and we became real good friends. We paid each other visits and we gave small presents Somehow I did things terribly wrong and the friendship was lost until a reconnection was there through Facebook. And I am so happy to have a little bit of contact again. Even we never had anything as in a relation she was one of the first girls in my live where I could share everything with and it developed me as a guy to do things with my heart and my mind. I am still thankful that she opened my soft side. And I am not afraid anymore to write about my feelings 

Before computers and e-mail…a lot of people actually wrote honest letters. And as in my own case sometimes from foreign countries. The newspapers had a special column for this. The Exchange Column invited readers from everywhere in the world to write a letter, expressing their interests. Generally, along with your name and address, you included your date of birth and your wedding anniversary date, the names and ages of your children, as well as your hobbies and collections.

When I began thinking about those days. I wondered – What happened to all of those Press publications? An Internet search revealed that there are still some pen pals as most of them are writing now by email and became key pals The idea of a magazine devoted primarily to pen-pals appears to have fallen by the wayside, overtaken, perhaps, by today’s computer generated email and chat rooms. (However, I was amused to discover in an Internet search on, an article written by a young woman who happened to discover an old pen pal who became a famous writer, she and some friends started up a monthly publication they call “Old Friends” which was based on their past. The author wrote, “I liked the old way sitting at home reading letters and writing back on them and I was intrigued by the way the community had different minded individuals scattered across the world who looked forward each month for new letters about what happened in their lives…” So, it seems, the memory and ideas of “The good old days” live on.

Go back with me, in time, and let me share with you how things were before email came along.
I began writing to her (My German pal she wrote in German amd I wrote in Dutch) in the mid-1980s. Specifically, I think I “discovered” myself in the summertime of 1986. I think I began finding the writer in me, as my letters were still not the best ones if it comes to grammar but I wrote to her in an honest way not knowing what to do with my feelings. So I did a lot of silly things in life to find about myself. Around that same time, I became interested in collecting and reading books. Simultaneously, a friend of mine told me about doing a cultural study at an institute and had to read a lot of classics. I that period I read classic books like Shakespeare but also lighter classics on the Second World war in Australia thanks to her I got interested in the opinion of other people that was what she was searching for.

“I bet I know where we can find it!” I told her. I wrote a letter to an Aussie friend, asking for the book Australian women at war, offering to pay cash. As an afterthought, I added that I was interested in buying/exchanging old classic books. Little did I suspect what an avalanche of mail would fill my mailbox when my letter was sent! I received over 25 books. I purchased several of the books and I began buying/trading for many other books which formed the nucleus of my book collection. And I have to tell you something that I think it was pretty spectacular. I was never “cheated” or short-changed by anyone. Even more spectacular were the friendships that I formed, as a result of that one letter, although none of them still exists to this day.

One of the first letters I received was from another book collector, a woman who lived in Brisbane. Betsy and I both young people at the time have remained pen-pals for 4 years, while we grew up, got married, and had children of our own. 

Another pen-pal acquired in the late 80s was my friend Penny (I will use Penny as a fictive name as I try not to harm any one's life.although I informed the person about this story that I wrote, if there would be any mistakes or what so ever I can correct them.) , who lives in the South of the Netherlands. I first met Penny in 1988, on my late summer vacation in Benidorm in Spain. We spent a night at Penny’s hotel room and I was sent on my way the next morning with a bagful of thoughts and a great night of special escapades during that night. What I remember most about that visit was my first reaction when I arrived home again with a feeling of being hung-over and I realized that this was just another summer love. I was so heart broken by this girl. I saw her again in the fall during the after party but there was nothing left of those feelings. 

The downside to having pen pals, if there is a downside, is that sometimes letters stop coming both of these friends had become older and had a life of their own with children or having many health issues…like me or perhaps there is nothing left to write about to their pals and to tell you what had happened to them.

Before everyone owned a computer and Internet services flooded the market we had the Local Newspapers and Popfoto a magazine for youngsters. The concept of Popfoto, at that time, was to offer bulletin boards to which you could write, asking for friends, interviews with pop artists, whatever problems you had   write them about. It was through Popfoto that I became acquainted with new people but that was soon to change. Eventually, Popfoto would be overcome by AOL, Yahoo, Juno and the dozens of other Internet services which have changed our lives so drastically. I think the one greatest thing about the Internet is that it has brought so many of our family members and friends back together again. By using Hyves, Twitter and Facebook. I find a lot of people from my past by using those media sites
Somehow the pen pals slipped slowly from my radar. But the friendships forged by these pals have remained an integral part of my life. Yours too, I hope.

And now we have the Internet…Facebook and blogs, such as this one of mine, Old Sailor 2007. But there is still much to be said for the art of writing letters, of finding letters and cards from all over the world in your mailbox. Much nicer than finding only bills and flyer's in the mailbox! And if you are someone still interested in pen pals and actual correspondence, may I suggest just talk to strangers and give it a try you never know what happens. All because of being pen pals!

For those of us who grew up with pen pals in our lives. Sometimes pen pals come into your life and stay forever while others may come and go. I am reminded of my German pen pal I had while I was living life on the wild side. She attended still in high school in Dusseldorf while I attended at jobs offered by temp’s offices. I lost contact with her after she was graduating from high school. But oh, the joy, over the years, of exchanging letters,  photographs and sometimes small gifts with a pen pal so far away email on the Internet may fill some of the void but I have to tell you, I still get a thrill finding real letters in my mailbox.

Before Email….all we had were letters – and even though I am still a fan of handwritten letters, I also became a digital writer, I have to admit computers have greatly broadened our horizons.

The Old Sailor,


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