REAL LIFE

Kiwi woman finally meets her pen pal of 58 years

Despite being worlds apart, pen pals Kerrie and Pat have been there for each other for decades
Two friends
Me and Pat – we were so happy to finally meet
Supplied.
  • Kerrie Skelton, 72, from Blenheim, NZ has written to her American pen pal Pat since she was 14 years old.
  • They’d always hoped that one day they’d meet in person, but life got in the way.
  • But they were blown away when Kerrie’s daughter Tania organised a surprise meet up in New Zealand.

Here Kerrie tells her story in her own words.

Arriving home from school, I sifted through the post.

Finding the letter I was looking for, I skipped to my bedroom and tore open the envelope excitedly.

Aged 14 in 1966, I was living in Newcastle, NSW, while my pen pal Pat, then 11, lived across the world in Connecticut, US.

We’d started writing to each after I’d put an ad in a teen magazine to find a pen friend. And we had so much in common!

How great is Frankie Avalon’s music? I’d scribble, infatuated with the heartthrob.

He’s great! she’d replied.

Pat and I bonded over a love for music and movies.

As time went on and we grew up and became adults, we still exchanged letters – especially when big life events happened.

In 1973, I told Pat how I’d met a lovely man named Gavin, then 21, while working in Christchurch, NZ. After moving back to Australia together, I had some exciting news to share with Pat.

We’re getting married! I wrote to Pat later that year when we got engaged, enclosing photos of the gorgeous wedding dress I planned to wear.

Gavin and I had our wedding reception at an RSL in front of 20 loved ones the following year.

‘After 36 years, it was wonderful to hear her voice.’

Best day ever, I wrote to Pat afterwards.

A few years later, Pat married her beloved John at a quaint church.

I’m moving to New Zealand, I wrote in 1980.

Pat and I kept writing to each other, and in 1983 I had special news. I’m pregnant! I wrote.

That’s fantastic! my friend replied.

I gave birth to our girl Danielle that year, and our second daughter Tania arrived two years later.

Pat and John welcomed their two boys, John and Christopher.

Woman writing a letter
Me writing letters (Credit: Supplied.)

We’d post each other baby photos and share milestones such as first steps and words.

But it wasn’t always happy news.

Dad passed away, I wrote, tears dripping onto the paper, as I explained my father, Ron, had died aged 68, in 1999, after a battle with bowel cancer.

I’m so sorry for your loss, Kerrie, Pat sympathised.

Pat and I spoke to each other for the first time on the phone in 2002. After being friends for 36 years, it was wonderful to hear her voice.

After that, we’d call each other once a month.

‘It’d be nice to meet in person someday,’ I said.

‘That would be a dream come true,’ she replied.

As the years rolled on, we swapped letters for emails and WhatsApp messages.

When Danielle was 28 in 2011, she visited Pat, then 55, in Connecticut. Posing for pics together they sent them to me. It was incredible to see my girl with my lifelong pen pal!

We wish you were here, Mum!’ Danielle texted.

Soon after that, Pat announced she was becoming a grandma.

Her son John and his wife Sarah welcomed their daughter Claire in 2011, and son David in 2013.

Each Christmas, Pat and I exchanged gifts. But it became too expensive, so in 2021 we began buying lotto tickets for each other.

‘If either of us win, we can finally visit each other,’ I said. But every year the odds were against us.

‘Crying happy tears, we wrapped each other in a hug.’

Then in December last year, Tania, who’d been living in Darwin, NT, for a couple of years, told me she was coming to New Zealand this February.

‘My mate Rachael is coming too,’ she said. Tania and Rachael had been pals since high school.

Tania, 38, got here a few days before Rachael was due to arrive, and Gavin and I met up with our girls in Christchurch where Danielle, 41, lives.

The next day, the girls and Gavin went to pick Rachael up from the airport.

Hearing a knock on the door, I opened it.

To my shock, it was my dear friend Pat!

A group of friends
Tania, Pat, me, Danielle and Gavin (Credit: Supplied.)

‘I can’t believe it!’ I said.

‘We’re actually together!’ she chuckled through tears.

Laughing and crying happy tears, we wrapped each other in the longest hug – our first in 58 years of friendship.

Pat had brought two more familiar faces – her son Chris and his fiancée Sarah.

Still shaking, I learned this wonderful surprise had been in the works for a year – and everyone knew but me!

Rachael was never coming to visit! The ruse was part of the plan.

Tania had messaged Pat via Facebook saying it was time the two of us finally met, and she generously offered to pay the airfare.

Pat had agreed to come, but paid for her own ticket. I was so grateful to them both.

Two friends
Me and Pat – we were so happy to finally meet (Credit: Supplied.)

After so many years, Pat and I were giddy to be together!

We all spent a week together in Christchurch sightseeing, then headed back to mine and Gavin’s place in Blenheim. On the drive, we even saw seals.

‘Wow!’ exclaimed Pat.

At home, we had Pat try pies and lamingtons, and I even taught her how to make a pavlova. It was hilarious navigating our accents and lingo.

‘Let’s have a chinwag,’ I said, offering her a cuppa.

‘What’s a chinwag?’ Pat laughed.

And when she brought in the laundry off the clothes line, and Kiwi Gavin mentioned the ‘pigs’, Pat thought that was a New Zealand term – but it’s just his accent for pegs!

‘Perhaps next time we’ll see each other in America!’

We roared with laughter.

Days later, we all spent my 72nd birthday at a nearby vineyard.

‘This is the best birthday ever,’ I grinned.

After two weeks, it was time to hug Pat goodbye. She and Tania explored NZ’s North Island together before Pat jetted home.

I can’t wait to see Pat again – perhaps next time in America!

Our memories on paper are precious, but nothing beats the real deal.

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