Mare Castner, a tall brunette with a resonating voice from the U.S., and Susan Smith, a shorter, soft-spoken ginger from the U.K., are physical and cultural opposites. However, this specific connection has kept them friends through penmanship for over 47 years.
Castner, who is originally from Columbus, Ohio, has been living in Muncie for 26 years. Smith, on the other hand, is from the Southwest region of England, near a small town called Glastonbury. The two have stayed connected since 1975 despite much adversity, they said.
At 11 years old, Castner often watched the children’s television program, Big Blue Marble, which was known for exploring the lives and homes of children all over the world. The show has connected many children all over the globe through penmanship. This is how Castner became a pen pal.
Smith, also 11 at the time, was reading the back of a teen magazine and filled out an attached form to get an American pen pal. The two each had three pen pals, but only their friendship stuck.
“We just found a kindred spirit very early on.” Castner said.
Smith said that they would write “twelve pages every two weeks.” When they first met in person, they had the same hairstyle, drove the same car and wore the same perfume, she said.
“Clinique Happy, -- how weird is that?” Mare said, referring to the perfume’s name.
Castner and Smith agreed that the connection impacted their lives by helping in getting over the hard times. When Susan lost her husband, Mare was one of the main people in her support system.
“There are times that you don’t always agree, of course,” Castner said. Despite this, they still have “tremendous respect and connectedness” with each other.
Smith’s visits to Indiana have always happened in the late summer, July and August, they said. “The first time Susan was here, she just laughed about the corn,” Castner said about Smith’s first visit to Muncie. “She said there’s corn pouring out of here left and right.”
On Castner’s first visit to England with her family, Castner said Smith’s brother told her she was “more inquisitive, not as stupid” as he thought all Americans were.
Smith said she and Castner lost touch for nearly four years when she was in the Women’s Royal Naval Service in her younger years . Castner moved about 14 times in the period they lost touch, and this was at a point in their friendship where they still corresponded through letters. The only way the two got back in touch was due to the fact that Smith remembered where Castner’s mother lived, they said.
“What we discovered is that we’d both been through a divorce, and we were kind of ashamed to admit it,” Castner said about their reconnection.
At the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Smith and Castner were still adamant about visiting one another. “I think we both have experienced the highs and lows of COVID,” Castner said. Though feeling restrained and restricted, the two still felt a pull towards each other, they said.
“[Smith] was determined; she was coming, whether she had to mortgage her home or not,” Castner said on Smith’s most recent trip to the U.S. “It’s very expensive for her to be here right now.”
Their continued connection, they said, has been and still is the most important relationship they have ever had. “She’s wanted a newspaper to pick up our story for years,” Smith said on the idea of having an article written about the two of them.
Though they had been writing to each other for 2.5 decades, it wasn’t until then that they met in person.“It was like our 25th wedding anniversary event.” Castner said. 22 years after that meeting, these women still play major roles in each other’s lives, showing the true power of penmanship.
Contact Elaine Ulsh with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.