by Chris Rogers
There's nothing like seeing an old friend after years of being apart, but what about a friend you've known for half a century and have never met? In 1962, Cindy Waldee of Rollingstone—then Cindy Fernandez—was assigned a pen pal in school: a young woman from Northern Ireland named Jackie Hunsdale—now Jackie Gorman. They have continued to write to each other, once every month or two, for the last 50 years. This past September, Waldee travelled to Northern Ireland and finally met her "pen sister."
Cindy and Jackie, who were 12 and 13 at the time, were both very excited about their foreign pen pals. "It was a big thingfor us to write to someone in theU.S.A," said Gorman. Most of their classmates didn't continue to write their pen pals, but Waldee and Gorman made a special connection. They talked about school, craft projects, the events of their lives, and the differences between their countries. Cindy was surprised to learn that St. Patrick's Day wasn't celebrated at all in Northern Ireland; so she always sent Gorman a St. Patrick's Day card.
"I really looked forward to receiving my letters from her," Gorman said. "Coming home from school, I was always looking to see if the postman had left any for me." As their lives have progressed, rather than drifting apart, Waldee and Gorman seemed to share more in common: they both married their high school sweethearts, had three children, and are now grandmothers.
Though Waldee had always wanted to go to Northern Ireland, she never imagined she would get to visit Gorman. But this September, which marked the 50th anniversary of Cindy's and Jackie's correspondence and friendship, Waldee's husband surprised her with a trip to Northern Ireland for the family.
In the Belfast airport, the pen pals met at long last. The Waldees spotted Gorman coming over to them at the baggage claim. "There she was! Waving, waving, waving! And we gave each other a big hug," Waldee said.
The Waldees stayed with Gorman's family and toured some of the sites in Northern Ireland: The Titantic Museum (the Titantic was built in Belfast); the Giant's Causeway, a natural phenomenon of basalt columns; and the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. Ireland was beautiful and green, Waldee said, and the people were so friendly and welcoming of Americans. "The Gormans are just common people," Waldee said of her hosts. "They share everything that they have and are very down to earth."
Meeting Gorman "put a face to the words," Waldee said. "It's eye-opening that you can be that far away from each other and have so much in common."
Gorman felt overwhelmed and humbled by Waldee's visit, she said. "After all the years gone by to finally meet Cindy was unbelievable. I still look back on it and it seems as if it was a dream come true."
The women's grandsons are going to be pen pals now, and Jackie Gorman plans to visit Minnesota next year.