- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Lanor Smith of Livermore and Heather Downey of Australia have finally met face-to-face after almost 40 years of only communicating through letters, phone calls, emails and Facebook messages.

The two ten pen pals started writing each other in 1977 as part of a seventh-grade Spanish class project and connected in person Thursday at San Francisco International Airport, reports The Oakland Tribune (https://bayareane.ws/1F36RwT ). It was Downey’s first trip to America.

“I always thought we would meet,” Smith said with a laugh. “I just thought it would be sooner than now.”

The two corresponded with each other through their middle school and high school years, and on through college. Their letters shifted to email and Facebook as the two got older. They talked about anything from boys to special occasions to their dreams for the future. Christmas gifts, photos, and sympathy cards were exchanged as family members got married, had children and some died.

“We feel like it’s a normal thing, but apparently keeping it going this long is extraordinary,” Downey said. “When you say you haven’t met your pen friend in 40 years, people’s jaws drop.”

The women had prior chances to meet that never came to fruition. Both tried to attend each other’s weddings, but health issues got in the way.

Downey’s father died in 2006, but he and his wife, who died the following year, had saved up money for Downey to buy a plane ticket to see her pen pal.

“Dad’s last wish was for me to come out and meet LaNor,” Downey said. “It was worth (the wait). I’m just very happy to be here.”

Smith, 51, and Downey, 52, will spend the next week together. They have planned trips to San Francisco, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and will be spending plenty of quality time with family and friends.

“It feels wonderful,” Downey said. “I’m happy to just sit on a couch and talk with her for a couple weeks. It’s quite surreal.”

___

Information from: The Oakland Tribune, https://www.oaklandtribune.com

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