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Local Editorials

77-Year Pen Pal

With Christmas the time for renewing ties with family, friends and loved ones, here’s a story that may be somewhat of a record.  Eighty nine-year old Mary Catherine Adam of Fairfield, formerly of rural Batavia, has had a pen pal in Australia for 77 years, and counting. Yep. 

Little Mary Catherine (then) Pacha was 12-years old (or thereabouts) when her teacher in Pleasant Plain talked about pen pals and provided a list of addresses for the kids to choose from. 

Mary Catherine picked Betty Myles in Albury, Australia, mainly because Mary Catherine was fascinated by the idea of kangaroos and Aborigines throwing boomerangs. 

Several months later, Mary Catherine was confused when she received a strange looking letter in the mail.  It may have been the first letter she had ever received. 

Then she remembered — her pen pal.

Betty Myles was quick to set Mary Catherine straight about the number of Aborigines and kangaroos, similar, she suspected, to the presence of American Indians and buffalo in America.  But the seed was planted for a lifelong relationship with a friend in a foreign country through letters. 

Remember the art of letter writing?

At first the two girls talked about what they were doing in school, their families, and what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Mary Catherine was surprised that Betty’s handwriting was so similar to other girls in her class; and to realize that life in Australia wasn’t all that much different from America.  They had big cities, and small towns, rural and urban areas, just like America. 

She noted the difference in terminology, like “bush” for woods or forest; and, more recently, “wheelie walker” for “walker” or the differences in procedures, like dialing 000 for the ambulance, instead of 911.

The pen pals were confidants, someone to talk to over the years about what was going on in their lives.  And there was plenty going on.  Mary Catherine and her husband had 13 children on their farm that was one mile east of the Eldon Y. 

One of their sons, Steve, was killed in a tractor accident when he was only four years old.  Her husband was driving the tractor, and he never did get over the tragic accident. 

Being able to write to a stranger, an unbiased pen pal about what was happening in their lives was such a relief, a load shared. 

Then, of course, there was always politics to discuss.  In a letter from last year, Betty Myles in Australia laments:

“You must be sick and tired of your elections which have been going on.  We all get sick of same thing here.  We have to vote, otherwise I wouldn’t bother.”   

Mary Catherine was able to visit Betty.  She and her husband went on a cruise to New Zealand and Australia.  Mary Catherine and Betty had exchanged pictures, so they knew what each other looked like; but Mary Catherine was pleased to see that Betty’s personality was as soft and gentle as her letters portrayed. 

Betty had never married.  Her finance had been killed in the war, whereas Mary Catherine’s husband had come home from World War II — a major topic in many of their early letters.

Both the same age, both almost ninety now, their letters have dwindled to once a year — a card and letter at Christmas.  Mary Catherine bundles herself against the unusually cold December weather. 

Her daily exercise doesn’t consist of much more than a walk to the mail box.  But she makes that trip, no matter how cold and windy it is. 

It’s nearly Christmas.  There may be a letter from Betty.

• • •

Have a good story?  Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at (319) 217-0526, email him at, or visit his website at

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