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Pen-pals share lifelong friendship

In 1964, the Beatles ruled, the Rolling Stones rocked and having a pen pal was all the rage.
Debbie Whitworth, then 12, was living in Lincolnton when her aunt sent her the address of a 12-year-old English girl.
The girl’s name was Lee, and she was the daughter of her aunt’s friend. The two girls started exchanging letters and started a friendship that has lasted 41 years.
“We’ve gone through all aspects of life together,” said Whitworth.
As teenagers they wrote about concerts, boys and who their favorite member of the Beatles was.
Later, their letters included discussion of the man on the moon and Woodstock. More somber letters had thoughts on the Vietnam War.
“That was a real big part of our lives for a long time,” Whitworth said.
As they grew into adulthood, both women married older men with the initials M.W. Then they had children one right after another, alternating years.
“We were just so much alike,” said Whitworth. “We were both like two peas in a pod.”
As their children grew, they wrote about nappies and school. By that time their correspondence went beyond the written word. They sent each other cassette tapes and called on the phone.
The pair stayed tightly connected as their children grew up and the world around them changed.
On the day of 9/11, Whitworth received a call from her friend. When London was bombed, it was Whitworth’s turn to send a consoling call.
Throughout all these life events, the women had yet meet.
“We were parts of each other’s lives,” said Whitworth. “It’s like we knew them, we just hadn’t met them in person.”
The pair agreed they had to see each other before they hit age 50.
Three years ago, with the women’s birthdays looming, Lee and Mick Williams crossed the Atlantic and met Debbie and Mason Whitworth.
Prior to their visit, Whitworth was filled with butterflies worrying “Will we really get along? Will we really be all right staying together?”
Once the pair and their husbands met, all anxiety fell by the wayside.
“We loved each other,” Whitworth said.
Since that visit in 2002, Whitworth and her husband saved up money for a trip of their own. The pair finally visited the Williamses’ home outside of London.
The visit coincided with the Whitworth’s 30th anniversary this past August.
“It was just the trip of a lifetime,” said Whitworth.
Prior to the vacation, Whitworth and her husband had never been farther from home than Florida.
Whitworth’s daughter, who had already visited the Williamses during a college trip to England, thought her parents would experience culture shock.
Since they were visiting friends, however, Whitworth said no such shock was experienced.
That said, she noticed many differences.
“They drive on the wrong road,” she said.
That wasn’t the only thing that struck her as odd.
“People live in such small spaces, and they drive in such small spaces,” Whitworth said. “I mean, when you pass people, your mirrors are almost touching.”
Beyond that there was the issue of ice.
“(Waiters) act like you’re strange if you ask for ice,” she said.
Despite all these things, the couple’s trip to the Great Britain was wonderful — the pair even spent eight days in Scotland.
“The air’s so clean and everything is so green in Scotland,” Whitworth said. “(The people) are very friendly. They talk fast though.”
For the day of their 30th anniversary, the couple’s English friends had a very special present — Paris.
The two couples spent four days in the city, soaking in the sights.
As for the next time the two pen pals will see each other, the Williamses’ 30th anniversary comes up in April.
Even if they can’t afford the visit by then, Whitworth knows she’ll someday see her old friend in the flesh.
Until then, a global calling plan will do just fine.

Mason and Debbie Whitworth spent their 30th wedding anniversary in Paris with the Williamses. Contributed Photo
by Sarah Grano

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