My Aunt Susie, who is 95, has lived her entire life in Waycross, Georgia. She never married, working as a typesetter for the Waycross Journal Herald for forty years. Aunt Susie was, and is, a reticent soul, almost dysfunctional socially, but she was the only grownup I ever knew who had a pen pal, and Susie’s pen pal was from Holland! As a child, I couldn’t imagine having a friend who was from a place so far away. And get this, Susie actually traveled to the Netherlands one time to meet her friend in person! Keep in mind this was in the late 1950’s when people just didn’t travel like they do now, at least not people who lived in Waycross. After she got back, when asked about her trip, she said it was “nice.”
Fast forward 50 years. When I started blogging six months ago, it was mostly to entertain myself and my more tolerant friends with my views on life, and to have a place to store my memories for my kids and grandkids. Little did I know I would become the Aunt Susie of my generation as I began to interact with people all over the world. I submitted a couple of my stories to a site called The Elder Storytelling Place, and, before I knew it, I had a small gaggle of greathearted friends who supported my efforts at writing just as I began to do the same for them. I now have a friend who lives in England, another from Scotland, another who lives her life in Newfoundland, and one who spent many years in Israel. And I've gotten to know folks who live all over the good old USA, north, south, east, and west, all people whom I consider to be friends although we’ve never met face to face.
One of those friends is Mary B. Summerlin, who was my first blogging cyber buddy. We first conversed about one of her stories in which she told of growing up on a farm in South Carolina. She mentioned that her grandfather’s last name was McGee. I too have a passel of McGees hanging from my family tree so I wrote something in the comments section of the blog and soon heard back from her. We haven't figured out yet if we are related or not, but the point has became somewhat moot as we've turned into fast friends. Although Mary is from Poughkeepsie, New York, her family home is in Starr, South Carolina, a mere 100 miles from Atlanta. As we were getting to know each other, we also discovered that we are both divorced, and both teachers. We are also mothers and grandmothers, and we have similar perspectives on the ways of the world.
What has been even better for me is that Mary has a few years on me, so I get to see her as a mentor and guide as I feel my way forward in life. I think, deep down, I would like to be Mary one day, retired from full-time work, but still engaged and busy, full of energy and questions and plans and projects.
Just the other day, I was able to feel what Aunt Susie must have felt all those years ago as she made her way from Waycross to Amsterdam, although I had only to drive to Starr, South Carolina. That's where I had the chance to meet my new old friend, Mary B. Summerlin, when she was visiting her family farm, which is now run by her brother and his family.
I have to say my kids thought I was a little bit crazy when I told them I was going to meet my online friend in a place called Starr, South Carolina. I think they thought I'd accidentally happened upon an over-the-hill same-sex dating site. And I'm sure Mary's family was wondering why this total stranger from Atlanta was stopping by their house and generally getting in their way on a hot summer's morning when they had other things to do.
The very best part of my visit was riding on the tailgate of Mary’s brother’s truck while we toured the farm. I felt just like a kid again, holding on for dear life to the back of that truck, as we retraced the steps she took as a child. I already knew a good bit about Mary's childhood through her writing and storytelling. I knew of the Big Gully and had an idea of where Laura Francis had lived, but on that very special day I was able to see those places in person with my friend, Mary, who, although she lives far away, has so much in common with me.
Mary's childhood home in Starr, South Carolina
But Mary and I had very few qualms and it took no time at all for us to warm up to each other since we were already friends. We toured the house (much to her sister-in-law's tolerant dismay) and talked about writing and storytelling, as Mary is a powerful storyteller and I’m a fledgling writer. Mary told me about her childhood in that very house, and her memories brought back my own memories of my childhood home, very much like Mary's, where I lived until I was four and where my Aunt Susie grew up before she ever even thought about traveling to Holland.
Mary's childhood home in Starr, South Carolina
I know people are opining that the internet is making us all antisocial and isolated, but without exploring cyberspace I would have never met Mary or my other blogging friends around the world. So, I don't feel isolated at all. In fact, I feel as if my circle of friends has expanded exponentially and I've learned that people who are far away can feel quite close.
Maybe that's what Aunt Susie was trying to tell me when she said her trip was "nice."