20 April 2011

Airmail Please!


Eutawville, S.C.

When I was a kid in India, without tv for entertainment, no telephones and only half an hour of English music on the radio on Sunday night, my friends and I competed in soliciting pen pals from far and wide. I have no recollection of what prompted this, but I sent an ad to the Winnipeg Free Press promising to correspond with anyone who would write me by Airmail.

The postman's arrival was a big deal and everyone gathered round when I got an envelope from Canada. The only person responding to my ad was a ninety year old gentleman by the name of Alfred Stone who wrote from the Wentworth Lodge Retirement Home in Dundas, Ontario.

He rambled on for pages in blue ink handwritten letters on thin paper sent by Airmail as requested. He thought I had nerve insisting on the extra postage but surface mail took 4 - 6 months to arrive. If I was to have a senior citizen as a pen pal, Mr. Stone was the right one. He had just started violin lessons and was rehearsing for a performance. He had recently taken up woodworking and was making an bowl made of intricate inlaid pieces.

Mr. Stone knew exactly the right trick to keep me writing back. In each envelope he sent, he included a crisp two dollar Canadian bill. Gasp! Real pretty foreign money! He signed the letter, which I have to this day, "You can I am sure, use this."

You betcha! I kept my fortune in a worn envelope with tiny ticked pencil marks for each addition, translating it into Rupees and recalculating it endlessly according to the current exchange rate. I was the sister with MONEY.

We went to see Mr. Stone. When my family returned to Canada for a visit we drove to meet him. We walked down to the community room where he played us a tune on the piano and showed me the ribbon he won at the fair for his hand carved wooden bowl. He was a good catch.