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Pen pals

David Ruekberg 1

Recently, Leah decided that Facetime with our grandsons was not cutting it. Kids don’t do videoconferencing with the same focus that adults expect. So she decided to try to resurrect a very old-fashioned custom once known as “pen pals.” In the old days pen pals were often strangers — two people in different parts of the world who wanted to know more about each other’s culture. But, hey, it’s COVID-2020, and that kind of distance seems to be growing even between people in the same town. The boys are quickly turning into young men, and we’re missing our last chance to bask in their innocence.

She knew it was a long shot, but any chance of more safe social contact was worth it. The kids aren’t coming north for the holidays, and we’re not going to Texas.

To increase the chance of success, she enclosed in her first letter to them two self-addressed stamped envelopes (SASE, for those of you who remember what an envelope is). Lo and behold (and with a little help from their mom, Tonya) Leah’s wish was rapidly granted. Fortunately, our grandsons are literate. Quite so, in fact.

Raf’s typed letter was eloquent, and textured with lovely similes and thoughtful sentiments. Mateo’s handwritten response was briefer, and a little melancholy. Not only does he love school for the social interaction, but he loves learning. As meaningful as his mom works to make school at the kitchen table or improvised hallway classroom, they both would rather be interacting with a variety of humans in the flesh, not electronic projections.

Feeling a little disconnected myself — and, to tell the truth, jealous — I asked Leah if I could horn in on her beautiful project and draw a comic strip for the kids. It had been a while since I’d done any drawing that I was happy with. Mostly I’ve been proofing my second book of poetry, editing my third, doing some gardening, and trying not to become what everyone fears they will become in retirement: bored. I’m pretty good at entertaining myself, but this COVID situation has tested my limits.

Although I haven’t been that inspired lately (tired of writing about COVID and impending climate disaster), I leapt into the project. Soon I had a rough draft of a six-panel strip for each kid, then a good pencil-draft, and soon after had inked them in. I stopped short of shading them with an ink wash as I had intended, deciding at the last minute to let the boys color them in themselves. I taped them between a couple of sheets of cardboard and sent them off.

Yesterday while I was cooking dinner, the boys logged on to Facetime to tell me they had arrived. Not to sound like a mom…but they were so cute! Raf said his was cool and asked if I could teach him some techniques. Mateo shyly said, “It’s really good.” Anyone who’s been a parent or at least been around kids knows that they can be more honest than you’d sometimes like. In this case, I’m happy to say that I passed the audition. And maybe I tickled their funny bones just a little.

Below is the first one I did, for Raf. I’ll post the one for Mateo in a week. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much of a good thing.

Click to expand

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