- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) - Jacqueline Landis has had a lifelong friendship with a woman she’s never met, never talked to on the phone, never emailed or Skyped with.

And yet, she feels like she knows Joan Wilkinson better than she knows some of her own family.

The two women, both 85, have kept up a decidedly old-fashioned correspondence for 73 years. They have written each other regularly since age 12 - Landis from Montreal and, later, Greensburg, and Wilkinson from Australia.

“We grew up together, you could say,” Landis said.

The former nurse and CPA started her pen pal relationship with Wilkinson while she was a schoolgirl in Canada. A teacher asked Landis, then a sixth-grader, to pick a country, and Landis picked Australia. “I have no idea why,” she said.

Landis reached out to Wilkinson first, writing to an address in Emu Plains, New South Wales - about 36 miles west of Sydney. Once the correspondence started, the two girls, separated by 10,000 miles, wrote to each other once or twice a month. Back then, in the 1940s, it took weeks for a letter to arrive.

They learned that they shared a common interest in dancing, among other things.

“She knew a lot of things about me that even my mother or sister didn’t know. I had my secrets,” Landis said. “You can tell (a pen pal) more than you would your own family.”

Nowadays, the letters arrive more frequently, although Landis still has to send her Christmas package in November. The two began exchanging gifts and mementos of their lives in their respective countries, sometimes sending flowers on their birthdays.

“We sent so many things back and forth, it wasn’t funny,” she said, holding a 1988 tourist map of Australia that Wilkinson once sent.

The two lost touch after Landis got married and moved to the United States in 1954. Landis‘ husband, Russell, a Korean War veteran, died of cancer in 2000 at 69.

When the correspondence resumed, the two were married women with children. Landis had a son, Robert, and Wilkinson, a schoolteacher, ended up having six children. Among the things Landis sent Wilkinson’s children was a View-Master, which she could easily update with a fresh supply of reels showing American tourist destinations.

Wilkinson once sent Landis a boomerang, while Landis would send newspaper clippings and handcrafted Amish items.

“Mom would try to send her stuff that was peculiar to the United States or to Pennsylvania. Whenever Joan was younger and still teaching, she would use stuff that mom sent her in the classroom,” said Robert “Bob” Landis, 62, of Baltimore.

Wilkinson once sent a book about Australian animals for his daughter, he said.

“Personally, I think it’s fantastic that they’ve been in touch for so long,” Bob Landis said.

Over the years, plans for the women to see each other fell through, he said. For one thing, Wilkinson had a fear of flying.

“They have never met. They have never spoken. Their only form of contact has been through snail mail,” Bob Landis said. “Years ago, my mom tried to talk my dad into going down there. He said the only way he would go there is when they build a bridge. There were times when he would try to talk her into calling Joan on the phone, but she never wanted to. I don’t know why.”





Information from: Tribune-Review, https://triblive.com

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