“Pen pal – a person with whom one keeps up an exchange of letters, usually someone so far away
that a personal meeting is unlikely.” – Dictionary.com
It’s a pretty good bet Glaida Craven and Millie Williams never read that particular definition because neither of them ever owned a computer. But what a shame it would be if it were true.
Pen pals since 1941, the two ladies had never met until Thursday, when Craven, 82, of Kit Carson, Colo., came to Spokane to meet Williams, 81.
“It’s like having this old friend I haven’t seen for a long time,” Craven said as the two sat in the shade outside Williams’ north Spokane home.
Theirs was a friendship born in a much different time, when a country girl with a natural curiosity had only the U.S. Mail to take her to far-off places.
“I can remember sitting out in my yard under an enormous maple and writing her,” said Williams, who grew up in Machias, Wash., in rural Snohomish County.
Through her school, she sent postcards to Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and Colorado in search of a friend with whom she could correspond. One of those cards reached Craven in Cheyenne County, Colo. Williams had found her pen pal.
What did they have to say to each other?
“What do girls always write about?” Williams said.
It was always about boys.
At a time when Western music was all the rage, Williams dreamed of cowboys, Craven recalled from Williams’ letters.
“Millie collected cowboy songs and had 24 posters of cowboys on her wall,” said Craven, who knew a little something about cowboys, having grown up in Eastern Colorado.
In fact, she married a cowboy named Red. The couple bought a ranch in 1958 and had three children.
Williams went to Washington State University, where she met her husband, Ethan, who was a Spokane firefighter from 1952 to 1983. He was also a volunteer firefighter on the Five Mile Prairie, where they raised five children.
Beginning in the 1960s, Williams said, she was too busy with the children to write as often. The letters became fewer and fewer until they stopped altogether.
After the children, Williams raised Chihuahuas for show.
Craven became a painter of Eastern Colorado landscapes and still lifes.
Time passed, but they never forgot each other.
Several years ago, the two women renewed their correspondence after Craven tracked down Williams through Williams’ brother in Western Washington.
The subject was still boys: Red Craven died four years ago. Ethan Williams died last year.
Craven’s daughters, Jaryl Everist, of Lamar, Colo., and Mary Wilke, of Denver, who accompanied their mother to Spokane on Thursday, recalled how Craven used to sit at the kitchen table and read Williams’ letters.
Recently, Wilke said, she and her sister told their mother it would be a shame if she or Williams died without ever having met.
So Craven and her daughters came to see Williams.
Surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Williams welcomed her old friend into her home.
“I liked getting her letters,” Williams said. “They were all good ones.”