The Pleasure of a Letter
Andrea was standing at the kitchen window and sorting through the day’s mail when she saw an envelope with a familiar address label. The sunny yellow teapot on the label told her the letter was from Cindy, her pen pal in New Jersey.
Alabama had been Andrea’s home for all of her fifty-eight years, and she and Cindy had been pen pals for twenty of them. Many years ago, they had both been readers of Romantic Living magazine when it ran a feature on the joys of pen pals. Romantic Living readers wrote in asking for pen pals of their own, so the magazine decided to play matchmaker and assigned pen pals to hundreds of women across the country who were seeking kindred spirits.
At first, the two wondered what they could possibly have in common. Andrea was a newly divorced mother with a young daughter she was raising on her own. Cindy was a happily married mother of four boys whose life seemed to revolve around ballgames and scouts.
But as fans of Romantic Living magazine, they weren’t surprised to find they did have quite a few things in common. They both loved the color yellow, roses, and teatime. They both enjoyed the ocean more than the mountains, and they both loved their cats.
For Andrea, who worked in sales for a large cable provider, it was nice to have a friend whose focus was more on family than business. For Cindy, who’d been a homemaker all her life, it was fun to hear about office life from a woman who was focusing on her career even more since her daughter, Shannon, had become an adult.
Looking at the pretty cursive handwriting on the new letter, Andrea wondered what tidbits she would find inside. As always, she made a cup of tea before she sat down to read the latest news. Andrea even had a special teacup she used on those days when a new letter arrived. The Wedgwood teacup bore images of the handwriting of Wedgwood company forebear Josiah Wedgwood, a switch from the vintage bone china teacups she usually favored. Sipping tea from that teacup always put her in a nostalgic mood as she read an old-fashioned handwritten letter.
Though Andrea occasionally flew to New Jersey on business, she and Cindy had never met face to face. They had almost met once, during one of Andrea’s longer business trips, but one of Cindy’s boys had ended up in the hospital with a ruptured appendix, so naturally that emergency took top priority.
After measuring two teaspoons of Darjeeling tea leaves into her single-serve teapot, Andrea added boiling water from the electric tea kettle and set her timer for four minutes. Her tabby, Lincoln, came through and brushed against her leg. As Andrea waited for her tea to steep, she wondered what was new with Cindy. Her letters were usually full of chatty news about the boys, her husband, Bill, or perhaps what was going on over at the Catholic church they attended, which Andrea knew was located next to Cindy’s home.
Pouring her cup of tea, Andrea thought about all she and Cindy had shared in their letters over the years. In those pages, they had discussed the horror of 9/11, the volatile economy, and the changing political landscape in America. They had discussed marriage, for Cindy, and dating after fifty, for Andrea, and they loved to discuss favorite books and TV programs, especially “Downton Abbey.”
Andrea knew more about Cindy’s boys than some of their own family did. Cindy, likewise, had been surprised to learn that Andrea found some of the women she worked with too competitive and had a hard time trusting some of them enough to become close friends.
Andrea sat down at the kitchen table, sipped her tea, and used her letter opener—one she ordered from Romantic Living years ago—to unseal the letter. She read:
“Dear Andrea, What does October 3 look like for you? Bill’s company has their annual convention in Birmingham that weekend, and if you can fit me in, I’m going to go, too, and skip the convention to spend time with you!”
Cindy was traveling to Birmingham? Andrea couldn’t believe it. She could hardly wait for her pen pal to visit, and what was even better, that was the weekend the Friends of the Library held their annual fall tea, so she and Cindy could attend together.
Or maybe Cindy would like to visit one of the area’s tea rooms instead. Or would she prefer a visit to the botanical garden? The gardens were still pretty at that time of year, and Cindy did love to garden …
Andrea caught herself before she started daydreaming any further, and she read the rest of Cindy’s letter. It went on to report that Mark was about to graduate from college with his degree in business, Jason had gotten a job in digital marketing with a home improvement chain based in New Jersey, and the twins, Luke and Liam, had both broken an arm while playing baseball, although the injuries were three days apart.
The last of the Darjeeling gone from her teacup, Andrea sat and smiled at the letter with the pretty handwriting. Would she finally get to meet the woman she’d swapped countless letters with? She would have to do much planning to make it the most wonderful trip imaginable.
“Dear Cindy, October 3 now has a big red smiley face on it on my kitchen calendar! Yes to October 3, and please tell me you’ll stay here at the house. I’ve been wanting to show off the new guest room for months, but so far the only ones who’ve visited have been some of Shannon’s roommates. How often would you like to go to tea while you’re here, because …”
Andrea put down her pen and had to smile. It had all started, innocently enough, with a simple letter.