In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen stated that ‘everyone allows that the gift of writing pleasing letters is peculiarly female.’
Penpals Jill Stretton and Cathie Alexander, who have kept up a devoted communication for seven decades although living halfway around the world apart, are the perfect example of this.
The long-lasting correspondence started in 1950 when Australian-born 12-year-old Stretton (née Frankling), who is from Australia, received Alexander’s (then McIntosh) address from a family friend who had just returned from a trip to Scotland.
When they initially communicated, it may take a long-distance airmail letter up to six weeks to get at its destination, but the two had an immediate rapport that has only grown stronger over time.
Despite the fact that the two women didn’t really meet until 1982, they feel as though they did so through their letters, experiencing all of life’s major moments together.
According to Stretton, ‘She is simply like one of the family.’ ‘And we remain as unified today as we were seventy years ago. It is a remarkable accomplishment.
Stretton and Alexander got back together twice more, in 1988 and 2000, and they haven’t stopped corresponding to one another since.
Over the years, their letters have occasionally included modest souvenirs that have grown into treasured family heirlooms in addition to aspirations, dreams, plans, photos, and family updates.
Despite the fact that they continue to send holiday cards and write letters, Stretton and Alexander have at least partially adjusted to the times in light of the pervasiveness of technology (although video calls are a washout).
They have used the internet for longer epistles, but they insist that a handwritten note is always preferable.
In light of the widespread usage of email, Stretton said, ‘We do tend to send postcards of where we have been and what we are doing rather than write lengthy letters at the present. Aren’t we clever?’
Jane Austen also stated, ‘The distance is nothing when one has a motive.’ That piece of advice has also come to pass for Stretton and Alexander, two devoted lifelong penpals.