In 1961, Eileen Griffith, then living in Willowbrook, placed a classified ad for a pen pal in the Western Producer. What she had not anticipated was worldwide syndication. A little while later she got a letter from New Zealand.
What followed was a 53-year relationship with Irene Lyon that might never have happened had Eileen known she was corresponding with a child.
“She picked [the ad] up and I says, ‘how come you chose me?’” Eileen recounted. “She didn’t have an answer, because she was a kid. I didn’t know how old she was, I thought she was 19, but she wasn’t, I just took it for granted that she was 19.”
In fact, Irene was 18 years Eileen’s junior. Nevertheless, they wrote until Mother Nature tried to derail the relationship and Eileen didn’t hear from Irene for two years.
“We wrote, not that often from the beginning, but they had a flood and she lost my address,” Eileen explained, “so on the envelope she put ‘try Willowbrook or Yorkton’ and I got it.”
Two weeks ago, after five decades, of letters, the two women finally met in what daughter Dorothy Griffith described as “an emotional, awesome and long-awaited meeting.”
“They’ve [Irene and her husband Brian Hallett] been on this continent since February,” explained Russell Griffith, Eileen’s husband. “They toured the States and they wanted us to meet them in Vancouver on their way to Alaska, but Eileen can’t fly and we let her know that, so plans were changed so they would fly to Regina, rent a car and come up.”
When the big day arrived, it was like they had known each other all their lives.
“It was so awesome that there was no fear of absolutely anything, it was just like my sixth daughter and her husband, instant, whatever that instant is, there’s no words I can put on it,” Eileen said.
“I sat here and Irene sat here,” she said indicating side-by-side spots on the sofa, “Well, we were just one.”
Pressed to explain the connection, Eileen gets philosophical.
“I guess all I can say is she was my sixth daughter,” she said.
“The conversation was the same as if she was my daughter, I mean, very personal, like another child. Then she asked me, ‘what made you keep on’ and I says, ‘Irene, I’m going to ask you the same thing, since you were a kid and I was a woman with kids’,” Eileen recounted. “She says, I don’t know,’ so we left it alone for a while.
Then, I come up with this: I says, ‘Irene, I know, that was a God-given gift for you and me.’ That’s the only way I can sum it up.”
Eileen was not the first person in her family to meet Irene, however. Six years ago, after high school, Kendra, Eileen and Russell’s granddaughter went to Australia for a year, which included a side trip to New Zealand.
“I says, ‘that’s not fair’,” Eileen said. “But you should have seen those two come together. Wham, just running like sisters.”
Irene and Brian were just as impressed with the visit.
“After 53 years of corresponding, it was by far one of the most wonderful experiences to have finally met Eileen and her lovely family,” Irene wrote from the west coast. “Call it old-fashioned, but the art of handwriting and postage will never fade when you strike up a everlasting friendship. The people of Yorkton made us so welcome and would like to also mention ‘Patrick Place’ B&B, a truly lovely home to stay.”
The final word goes to Eileen.
“It was so awesome, how do you put it into words?” she said. “I can’t.”