|KayLynn Kay and granddaugher Kaylie Justice share a love of writing.|
KayLynn Kay has busy hands. Crocheting, petting her dog, holding her granddaughter, writing-anything to keep them busy, but especially writing. KayLynn is a prolific pen pal with over 60 pals she's currently corresponding with back and forth, and you thought your Christmas card list was long!
She says she has had pen pals since she was in junior high. She met a girl about her age from Washington while on vacation at Disney Land, and they wrote back and forth for several years. But the real deluge of pen pals came, ironically, from her crocheting.
As an avid crocheter, she subscribed to a magazine. When she was pregnant with her oldest son, she sent a letter to the editor to let him know how much she enjoyed the magazine. She was surprised to get a call from the post office a few weeks later asking her to please come and pick up her mail-they couldn't hold any more.
She discovered that her address had been printed in the magazine, and that there were many people out there who were curious about her, or Utah, or Mormons, or who just wanted a friend to correspond with. So she went ahead and wrote back to them. That's when she started learning about pen palling.
KayLynn claims she has always loved pencil and paper. As a child she loved to draw and doodle, and she has pen and pencil holders, paper, letter holders, and lap boards for writing throughout her living room, including a table with drink holders built into the couch.
Her family gave her a special holder to display her Christmas cards, but it fills up quickly, and she has an overflow holder that is also close to full. Even with computers, she still prefers "snailmail."
"Paper and pencil has always fascinated me. I have a hard time walking past paper. I love pens-it has to be the right kind you know. It's just funny," said KayLynn.
When KayLynn was going through a difficult time in her life, a counselor told her, "Write things down. Get them off of your shoulders." Well, with pen palling she certainly does that. She says, "That's what's neat about pen palling-you get things off your shoulders. You don't pack baggage... you'll get letters back and they'll say, 'Well I think you should feel that way'...it's therapeutic," added KayLynn.
For KayLynn, her pen pals have given her a window to the world. She learns about both personal and public events through the eyes (or more correctly, pens) of her pals. She has international pen pals in Denmark, England, Australia and New Zealand. Her friends in Australia and New Zealand have summer while we are in winter, and they write about going camping and to the beach while she's here freezing.
In the past she has corresponded with pals in France, Germany and even Japan. But it's more difficult corresponding with pals whose first language isn't English. Through her pen pals she has learned about different people and places from around the United States and the world.
"It's interesting because you hear things on the news, but to hear it from the people who are living it... you see it from a different aspect," KayLynn stated.
Through letters from her friends, she gained new perspectives on such world events as Princess Diana's death, the Sydney Olympics, the hurricanes in Florida, the upcoming elections in England for Tony Blair, and even the recent elections here in the United States. "They don't like Bush. People in England don't," she says of her foreign friends. She's even had someone write her to let her know she is "doomed to hell" because she is a Mormon.
But that's one of the advantages of pen palling-you can write about anything. Politics, religion, getting upset with your spouse or children-nothing is off limits. "You have to be very, kind of, open minded when you have pen pals...you can talk about things you can't normally talk to people about," and by keeping an open mind, KayLynn has been able to get personal insight into different life-styles and values.
She corresponds regularly with a Mennonite woman who told her she couldn't find a pen pal because people lost interest when they learned how religious she is. "She has a closeness with Heavenly Father, and I think that's wonderful. Her and I talk about that a lot, and a lot of people don't want to talk about that," she said.
KayLynn also writes to an older woman confined to a care center. She says the woman's letters are almost childlike, but she knows how excited she gets to receive letters and sometimes packages in the mail.
She writes to Catholics, Baptists, and agnostics. "I've heard of churches I never even knew existed...I love to hear about [their religion]-why they believe what they believe, and we leave it at that basically," KayLynn said. She even writes to a woman whom she suspects is mentally ill. Her husband is a bit skeptical about this pal. "He said, 'Why do you write to some of these people?' and I said, 'They need friends too.'"
At this point she is only corresponding with women. She says she has tried writing to men before, but many of the men who want to pen pal are writing from prison, and others lose interest when they find out she is happily married and not in the market for a more cozy pen pal relationship.
"We don't realize it, I guess, because we live where we live, how diverse and how different we are. Our world is this little, comforted world. People live way different than we do. We're protected. We're very protected here. I know that it's changing and stuff, but we live a good life," stated KayLynn.
KayLynn has had a few visits from some of her pals. Many of her best pals have formed a group called the Good-Time Gals. They have raffles, a periodical newsletter, their own stamp, secret pals, and every year they organize a pen pal picnic for whoever can come.
Three of her good pals came to Huntington for a visit in June of 2000-two from the United States and one from England. Even though she had warned them she lived in such a rural area, she thought they were a bit surprised at how rural it really was. They were amazed at how dry things were, so she tried to get them out to see things as much as possible. When they went to the Wedge Overlook and rode four wheelers in the Swell, they began to understand why she has chosen to live in Huntington for the past 28 years.
She gets an interesting response when she sends people pictures of home. "People write and say, 'Are you on vacation?' and I say, 'No, we're about ten miles from our home."
Most of KayLynn's pen pals have never seen her in person. But that doesn't mean they haven't shared a lot. She recently got a phone call from one of her most faithful pen pal's sons. He called to tell her that his mother had passed away from cancer, and he knew she'd want him to let KayLynn know. KayLynn added, "Pen palling...you get really, really close with people because you talk with people about everything. I guess it's like you spill your guts."
KayLynn has gone through many challenges with her pals-divorce, moving, cancer, death of a spouse, loneliness, as well as life's daily frustrations. She said, "You do get close to the people you write to. I guess you tell them things you wouldn't tell the next door neighbor...it's a way you can be involved with people, and you don't even leave your house."
KayLynn's granddaughter, Kaylie (named after her), shows signs of following in her grandmother's footsteps. She gets out a pencil and paper and doodles on it while KayLynn is talking, and she is very interested in all her grandmother's letters. She cuts off the stickers and stamps from her grandmother's letters and takes them home.
With five children and 13 grandchildren, KayLynn's life is far from dull. She works, sells MaryKay, keeps a journal, and volunteers at the local school too. But every night she takes the time to write three or four letters. She says it's a release for her.
While some may think it takes far too much time to write so many letters, for KayLynn it's more than just a chore. Aside from all of her pen pals, she writes to several missionaries and relatives too. But she gets something back through her correspondences. "I just love getting my mail...I send out a lot of mail; I buy a lot of stamps...to me it's not work...there's just too much going on in the world right now to not," said KayLynn.