Pen-pals finally meet after almost 60 years

TWO sisters from Banbridge had the trip of a lifetime recently when they met their American pen-pals for the first time - almost sixty years after they had first written to each other.

Evelyn McCaughey and Rosemary Shannon (neé Beckett) had first written to April and Margaret Simon from Pennsylvania in 1957. A long friendship formed, and while both sets of sisters knew each other inside out they had never met.

That was until the local siblings’ neighbours, Sherry and Donald Nelson, arranged for them to travel to America on the emotional trip.

“We attended Milltown Primary School and our teacher encouraged us to write to some people in America,” said Evelyn.

“The first letter from Margaret was sent on February 5, 1957 and she wanted to know if I had a sister. They became friends, writing to each other in 1958 and we grew up with each other. Now we know all about their families and their grandkids.”

The trip to Pennsylvania was ‘a long time coming’, as April’s husband described it.

“It was so emotional, it was almost a bit of a blur,” said Rosemary. “I hugged April and she said that while she needed to meet everyone she didn’t want to let me go. There were a lot of tears at that point.

“They had prepared a wonderful meal for us at their farm and all of their family was there. We ended up sitting up to the wee hours talking and catching up.”

Over the years both sets of sisters had kept their correspondence, which included Bazooka Joe comics from across the Atlantic.

“We had sent them a page from the Topper comics which used to be on sale years ago and they had kept that too,” said Rosemary. “I couldn’t believe it when they pulled it out!”

Unfortunately they couldn’t spend the whole of their trip with their pen pals, but they did do plenty of travelling to make it even more memorable.

Sherry explained, “We visited Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia before heading back to Pennsylvania. We visited Walton’s Mountain and had a picnic outside Ike Godsey’s store, and Gettysburg and we had a bar of Hershey - the smell of which would have knocked you over!

“We also spent a mystery night in a log cabin in Ohio Amish Country - it was the real McCoy with wonderful views.”

The sisters remain in contact, although the methods of getting in touch have changed slightly with technology.

“When we returned I sent Margaret an email for the first time, which is great because it gets to her a lot quicker and I get a faster response,” Evelyn said.

“We will remain in contact and have invited them over to visit us sometime soon - we would love to have them over.”