An unanswered letter: reconnecting with my childhood best friend 9



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There are some things in life that we did (or did not) do that stay with us seemingly forever. I did not reply to a letter sent 12000 miles from my childhood best friend in Manchester more than 50 years ago. It has been at the back and sometimes at the front of my mind ever since.

In 1962 not long after migrating to Australia, I was nearly 15 years of age and my father found employment in a country town in New South Wales, which seemed to me to be in the middle of nowhere.

Coming from a large industrial city to a place described, when we met at the local railway station by father’s employer, as not a one horse town but a two-horse town was something of a culture shock. Television broadcast was still two years in coming, the local radio station which played some popular music (when not playing Slim Dusty types), was at least 12 months behind the rest of the world.

The main topic in the morning at school was what Smokey Dawson had done, broadcast on the radio the night before. The bread man delivered freshly baked bread on the back of a horse and carriage. There were milk bars and a picture theatre. It seemed I had gone back to something akin to Middle America in the 1930s.

Sometime in 1963, more than 12 months after leaving England, a letter arrived for me. It was from my childhood friend in Manchester. How he found the address at the time is still a mystery.  The letter contained an amazing description of our childhood together which I can only describe as a painting in words.

And therein lied the problem. Despite my attempts to reply, I could not find the words at that time that came anywhere near the descriptive narrative I had received. Lancashire lads generally call a spade a spade and don’t use two words when one will do. So the letter was put aside, never replied to and as life events eventually overtook me, the letter disappeared.

Life moves on, but I never forgot the letter and my childhood friend.  Now the digital age has arrived. Even in this age if you do not want to be found it is still possible to hide although it would be more difficult.  So over the years I occasionally put my friend’s name and family name into the search engines to no avail. I had reached the conclusion that he and his family had been wiped off the face of the earth.

Some time ago I did a Facebook search for friends and nothing eventuated. Two weeks ago Facebook asked me did I know this person who lives in San Francisco. And yes I did – and yes, it was my friend that I had now found after 53 years!

I have now befriended my friend again and we have Skyped twice and I know we will continue to do so and hopefully meet up in the future. We have travelled very different lives, of course, and yet that childhood bond formed so many years ago still exists.  It has been an absolute delight to once again talk with my friend of so long ago.

Interestingly, my friend says he does not remember the letter. He also says that he went on his own life’s journey part of which included at one stage shunning the world, so we would have lost contact anyway. (Perhaps he is being kind to me.)

There are benefits in reconnecting with long lost friends in terms of happiness, social connectedness, connecting with past and perhaps filling a void in life. However, (there is always a however) there was another friend in Australia I tried to reconnect with who I found had died suddenly and on visiting the crematorium to pay my last respects could not do so as his remains were taken away by his family. There is always the possibility also that the friend may for whatever reason not want to reconnect which could also lead to disappointment.

Mine is a good news story, and I suspect that if you have that childhood friendship bond and you look to reconnect, most should be the same good news. Perhaps just keep the possibility in mind of being disappointed.

Have you reconnected with a childhood friend? Have you ever carried guilt over an unanswered letter? Share your stories in the comments below.

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Michael Whitehead

Michael Whitehead attended uni as a mature age student in his 50s, completing multiple postgraduate degrees in health science and psychology. He has a canoe, a pushbike, a bodyboard, a tennis racquet and a fishing rod. He uses them all. Michael is now enjoying retirement after a wide range of careers, most recently as Manager of a Family Support Service.

  1. I’ve tried to track down old friends but it is harder I think for women as names change often a couple of times. One friend in particular who seemed to have tragedy after tragedy occur to before she turned 30 I would love to catch up with.

  2. I am glad to say that I am in touch with my bestie since I moved from Tassie to Qld.
    I have many friends with whom I keep in touch on phone or email and rarely see.

  3. I was writing today about my best friend coming to stay with me years ago. I would give anything to be able just to write to her now or pick up the phone. She returned to NZ with her boys to restart her life after having her heart broken here. We did go several times to visit her there and always kept in touch. Sadly, she is beyond our reach now, having passed away from cancer at only 53. Helen, we love you still and miss knowing that you are part of our world. A more creative, clever, funny, cheeky, loyal friend I will never find.

  4. I still have a Parker fountain pen and it not a cartridge and it is filled with a lin bottle and I also have dip nib and handles and I use them mainly to write my Christmas cards with

  5. My dear friend Katriina Libenson – where are you? I know there is something that stops you from contacting me, but you are in my heart and in my thoughts every day… I am still where you left me – please, call me!

  6. I recently had contact with an old school friend from 52 years ago. I had often wondered how her life had developed, and it was a wonderful meeting, after so many years. I’m amazed at how the many years seemed insignificant.

    1 REPLY
    • My dear friend Jan Martin, from Tasmania. I often think of you and wonder where you are now – tried tracking you down but to no avail. Would love to catch up again after all those happy times we spent living in Kirribilli.

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