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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pen Pals

                     Christine DeNoel
Steve Gilson
                                     Dave Liebtag
                                                 Edna Mendes

Catherine Gabilan

In the summer before fourth grade - maybe 1968? -  I went to day camp.  One of the primary activities was to stage a play.  We performed “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” I was thrilled to be cast as the understudy for the lead role. Luck was with me.  For reasons I no longer recall, the Charlie Brown character was unable to be present for our performance. I was asked to step up to the plate to play the lead. My favorite solo was “TEAM.”  The lyrics....

Dear Pen pal...
You'll never guess what happened today. At the baseball game.
It's hard to believe, what happened today. At the baseball game.
I was the manager, Schroeder was catcher. And all of the team was the same as always
But somehow or other disaster struck. At the baseball game.
Huddle up! [LUCY]
I got it! [LINUS]
I got it! [SCHROEDER]
I got it! [SNOOPY]
Woof woof woof! [LUCY (to Charlie Brown)]
I thought you had it [CHARLIE BROWN]
Three balls, two strikes, The bases were loaded with two men out
I pitched my curve, but somehow they hit it. A good strong clout
"Lucy" I hollered, "It's coming right to you"- She caught it as easy as pie-- then dropped it.
I don't think it's good for a team's morale. To see their manager cry.
Snoopy helped out by biting the runner. And catching the ball in his teeth;
Linus caught flies from a third-story window. By holding his blanket beneath.
yes, we had fortitude, no one could argue with that.
And one run would win us the game. As I came up to bat.
[LUCY] All right, Charlie Brown, we're all behind you-sort of.
I mean this man can't pitch. He pitches like my grandmother,
Charlie Brown. Now all you have to is bear down, just bear
down- and when you get on first, watch for my signals.
Go Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown-
There is no team. Like the best team
Which is our team. Right here
We will show you. We're the best team
In the very Little League this year
An in no time we'll be big time
With the Big League baseball stars
For all we have to do is
Win just one more game...[LUCY]
...And the championship is ours!! [OTHERS (echoing)]
Ours! Ours! Ours! [CHARLIE BROWN]
Two me were on with two outs and me. With one strike to go
[OTHERS (whispered)]. One strike... One Strike...
[CHARLIE BROWN]. Then I saw her- this cute little
Red-headed girl I know. Firmly I vowed I would win it for her
And I shouldered my bat and I swung...[OTHERS]
Dear pen pal, I'm told where you live
Is really quite far ...Would you please send directions
On how I can get where you are? Your friend, Charlie Brown.
reprinted from Royallyrics.com

As soon as my children were old enough to carry a tune, I taught them this song. The life lessons were many. The idea that Charlie had a friend -no matter what- who was not the least concerned with his failures and mistakes in his daily life resonated with me. I understood just what Charlie must have felt when he let down his team at a crucial juncture.  I knew how it felt to desperately want to get away from friends, and even, from oneself. Finally, I understood the value of anonymity offered by a pen pal who doesn’t quite know you the same way your other friends do.  Today, with email, we have personas distinct and unique from our physical selves. We have on-screen personalities. Before the Internet, pen pals offered that opportunity.
I had the good fortune to have had five pen pals through-out my lifetime. 
Christine DeNoel was assigned to me by my eighth grade French teacher.  We corresponded until some time in college, when both of us were caught up in our academic pursuits.  Christine wrote her letters to me in French and I wrote back to her in English. From Christine, I learned about the tremendous weight of responsibility that can come from trying to meet with parents’ expectations.
During high school, I also had two other correspondents.  Because my boyfriend attended a boy’s prep school in Vermont, and I lived in Rhode Island, much of our relationship was defined by our letters. I saved every one of those letters, tucked in a shoebox somewhere. In the nearly forty years since we broke up, I have only opened the box twice.  It is of note that both of us became writers.
My other pen pal in high school was delivered to me by my boyfriend. He introduced me - through letters - to his friend, Dave.  Dave was going off to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; he was lonely.  My boyfriend suggested that I write to Dave since I was such a good letter writer. I did. I finally met him about three years later, as he was passing through Rhode Island. Funny, I still hink about him almost every time I eat grapefruit.   On that visit, he told me that his grandfather lived almost to 100 because of his regular consumption of grapefruit. As far as he was concerned, grapefruits were the fountain of youth.
My daughter, Kay, introduced me to my first adult pen pal. Edna Mendes, a Brazilian native, and I met because of the close relationship of our daughters.  They met in school when her daughter was visiting the U.S. to improve her English. “Edgena” (how she taught me to say her name properly) became a dear friend. More than ten years later and we still use email to correspond.  Recently, our emails have grown infrequent. However, I could see her, write her or talk to her with the utter confidence that our friendship is secure and in tact. 
My daughter, Hannah, introduced me to my most recent pen pal.  Again, it was through school. Hannah traveled to France for an exchange program. Her placement went awry; Catherine Gabilan scooped in and rescued Hannah and the remainder of her trip. Our friendship sprouted wings.  Catherine and her husband, David, opened their homes and hearts to Hannah, Kay and me over the years.  Catherine writes in English much of the time.  I try out my French.  When that fails, I resort to Anglais.
These five individuals helped shape who I am and how I see the world.  All these years later, I think I would change the lyrics of Charlie Brown’s song just a little bit...

“Dear Pen Pal, I’m told, where you live is quite far, I need no directions on how I can get where you are.  Your friend. Dawn Elise” 

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