Monday, June 1, 2015

"This Really Is Very Awkward..."

In the winter of 1989, I found myself preparing to say goodbye. Goodbye to Raytown, Missouri. Goodbye to Raytown South High School one year short of graduation. Goodbye to friends. Goodbye to my crew on the speech and debate team. Goodbye to some baggage. I was getting ready to move with my family to Fenton, Missouri -- outside St. Louis -- because of my Royal Father's job change.

One person would follow me, if only through the mail: my pen friend, Lady Darley from central England. That's her pen name for my purposes here, because I gather she would not want her real name attached to the letters I'm about to share with you. I recently discovered them while doing some spring cleaning. They tell a story of friendship, teenage angst and insight back and forth across the pond. At times they can be a little unsettling.

Unfortunately, I can only show you only one side of the conversation; unlike ubiquitous email, these are actual letters, actually written in hand, in ink, on pretty writing paper. But in many instances, I can guess what I wrote in reply.  What you are about to read are her original letters, her words, with only minor edits for grammar and spelling.

A friend of mine on the speech and debate team introduced me to Lady Darley. She had gotten her address through a pen-pal service for high schoolers, back in an age where Charlie Brown still occasionally showed up in the comics writing to his pen pal. My friend talked about her a lot, and she suggested she and I might enjoy correspondence.

Several weeks later, Lady Darley wrote to me through my friend, instructing her on the outside of the envelope to pass the letter on to me.

Inside, on pastel pink paper and with broad looping strokes, she introduced herself. For reasons outlined above, some parts are blacked out.
This really is very awkward, as you've probably gathered. I don't know your name, but [redacted] told me you were going to write to me. I've decided that I'd write to you. At least this will get the communication between us starting.

So, tell me about yourself? Are you short, tall, fat or thin? Do you have blonde, black, brown or even red hair? What colour eyes do you have?
At that time: tall, thin, brownish black uncontrollably curly hair with green eyes that didn't do much for me. The hair certainly didn't.
My full name is [redacted redacted], which may sound a little odd, but it is actually Greek, not English. I have light brown shoulder length hair with hazel coloured eyes to match. I'm really quite tall and of medium build.
Medium build? I wasn't expecting a description I'd expect to read on a police wanted poster.
When is your birthday? Mine is on the 19th of May and I shall be 15.
In winter 1989, I was 17 cruising towards 18 in December. I honestly didn't think about the age difference between us at the time, even though it seems awkward now. Age 17 versus 15 is only a couple of years, but it can be quite a chasm in terms of how you see the world.
Do you have any brothers or sisters? Also, what do your mum and dad doing for a living? In answer to my own questions, I have one sister. She really looks like myself with curly hair. Her name is [redacted], that's a French name, and she's 17, nearly 18.

My father's name is [Redacted Redacted]. He is 46 and he works at a local lead manufacturing refinement, whereas my mother, [Redacted Redacted], works for the local council. She looks after old people and I suppose you could call it a nurse. Oh yes, she's Swedish, not English.
My one brother, 13 at the time, was about to go through the same journey with me, as the Royal Father consolidated the family in the city where he was working in a corporate role for Medicine Shoppe International, a pharmacy franchiser. The Queen Mother was teaching at a Catholic high school, winding down her first tour of duty back into full-time work since her kids grew up.
What are your hobbies? Mine are really reading, listening to pop music and other types. When the weather lets me, and I have the time, I play volleyball, squash and tennis.
My hobbies? Being a nerd when it wasn't cool to go near a computer. Listening to anything that made it onto American Top 40 with Kasey Kasem. Sports? I don't remember if I had the heart to tell her I stunk at them.
Do you have a job? On Saturdays I work at a little cafe in Cromford. This is a little village about 7 miles away from where I live. The cafe I work in is called the Coffee Mill. It is situated in an old-fashioned mill. They used to produce cotton in it about 80 years ago. On a Sunday I help out a friend. This really does give me a chance to do my homework.

It has been more than 25 years, but I'm guessing this cafe may be the one she was talking about, or something like it, situated in central England. I had no taste for history back then. I had no Google either, otherwise I would've frittered away hours poring through photographs and reflecting upon the quaintness of it all. My full time job was school, and the summer would see me working at McDonald's -- the one place I swore I would never work if I could help it.
What kind of musical groups do you like? I listen to: Voice of the Beehive, The Bangles, U2, the occasional Guns & Roses, All About Eve, a-ha, also a group called Texas. They have a new song in the British charts called "I Don't Want A Lover?" It's really quite a good song. Many other groups, too.
We match on most of those groups, but back in the day, I was going through my Genesis phase, playing Three Sides Live and Duke mostly, and endangering the grooves on ...and then there were three.... All of these albums were several years old, but I was still trying to keep up with the times. I asked for -- and got -- U2 albums for my birthday, only to play them a couple of times and go right back to Genesis and most of what was playing on KBEQ in Kansas City before it flipped to country music.
How are you doing at school? I have just chosen my final exam options last September. They are for my final GCSE exams. Well, I enjoy them all really except for RE. That really is so boring. My options are English, maths, typing, sociology, RE, chemistry, French and History. I shall soon get my report, next Thursday, 24th February, actually. My school is called Highfields and is placed between Matlock and Chederfield, two villages near me. It holds about 12 hundred students from eleven to nineteen. This includes first to students senior.
GCSE is the British version of final exams. Wikipedia explains it here. Raytown South High School had several hundred students at the time, but I was about to transfer into a new school in Eureka, Missouri, about 20 miles away from my house with a smaller student population, one that would vault your humble servant into the rank of Salutatorian. More than 10 people were tied for Valedictorian at Ray-South. My new school, Eureka Senior High, would see only three tied at the top.
Are you going on holiday this summer? I'm going on holiday at the beginning of July to Italy for a fortnight with my parents. During this time we shall visit Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan. Also at the beginning of August, I hope to visit either Germany or Norway for a fortnight also. If I do actually manage to save up all the money then I'll hopefully have a good summer vacation.
My holiday would be packing up and moving to suburban St. Louis, dividing up time between the old house and a temporary apartment while the strike-delayed builders finished up the new one. We would find time for some short getaways, including one to the Lake of the Ozarks, one interrupted by my need to get back to Kansas City to take the ACT test for college purposes. Always schoolwork, even in the summer.
I'm sorry if this letter sounds very boring, but I have actually tried to vary my topics and make as interesting as possible. I hope I succeed.
Compared to my boring life, you did, Lady Darley. You did.

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