By Andy Schneider
It began in fifth grade when she wrote to pen pals as part of a school project. My mom, Marilyn Schneider, started writing those letters and just never stopped. She kept in touch with them for almost 70 years.
Mom had pen pals in three different parts of the world. She had Ashok Roy in India, Monty Harding in New Zealand, and Millicent Russell in Jamaica.
When my mother married my father, Monty came to the United States from New Zealand to attend the wedding. Every year Monty would send my mom a calendar that would showcase the splendor of New Zealand.
Monty grew up on a sheep farm and my mom kept him up to date on the monthly happenings around our farm.
Ashok was an artist. Ashok would write my mom and would often do drawings on the letter of our farm or tailored around a specific holiday.
Oftentimes, he would do drawings of Mickey Mouse for the kids to enjoy. Near the end of my mom’s life, Ashok posted pictures of the very first letter he ever received from my mother. Ashok had kept the letter all those years.
Millicent Russell had a major hurricane hit in the 1990s and my mom sent supplies such as blankets and clothes, constantly.
Mom would watch the news and see the people in need and would even send extra supplies for Millicent to share with others. Millicent would call my mom “her angel.”
My mother also has an identical twin sister, Carolyn, who would also receive letters from mom’s pen pals. When I was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2010, Monty sent me $500 in the mail.
Even though there were oceans between us, we had become a family just from letters Ashok Roy in India sent through the mail.
When my mom passed away, we had to make that difficult call to her pen pals to inform them of the unfortunate news, and Ashok took time to draw a special picture that was a touching memorial to my mom.
Ashok reposts the picture every year on the anniversary of mom’s death, as a tribute to his friend he can no longer reach. The special bond my mom made can only be achieved through years of communication and the kind of discipline it takes to continually write those letters.
That’s the kind of dedication that most people neglect in today’s world. Those simple words, exchanged through letters over the years, had changed the lives of all of those involved.
Oceans seemed so much smaller because of those letters. Cultural differences seemed to vanish just from a few words exchanged. Maybe if we all reached out to someone else and took the time to get to know them, we could all understand each other a little better.
My family was never big on saying “I love you.” Though mom struggled to put it in words, she made up for it in writing.