In this age of cell phones, e-mails, instant messaging and palm pilots, a friendship based on writing letters is perhaps a thing of the past. But high school Math teacher, Chris Paino has done just that for the past 40 years!!
While a 10-year-old fifth grader at an elementary school in Commack, all the way back in 1962, a classmate gave Chris the name of a British pen pal. The name she received was Betty Greene of Rainham, Essex, England, about an hour drive from London.
The two began corresponding and found they had a lot in common including being only one month apart in age. Throughout elementary school, junior high, and high school, Chris and Betty continued to correspond by letters and felt like close friends although they had never met. In 1971, while on vacation after her freshman year of college, Chris visited London and arranged to meet Betty for the first time, even though at that time they had been writing to each other for over 9 years. Betty told Chris that she would meet her at Trafalgar Square and even though they had exchanged photos and knew what each other had looked like, Betty said she would be carrying a newspaper and wearing red shoes. As soon as she approached, Chris knew it was Betty and they hugged as if they had known each other for years. They took the train to Betty’s town of Rainham, and had afternoon tea with Betty, her parents, her sister Anne and Chris’ sister Annette. It was a once in a lifetime experience that both said they would never forget.
After college graduation, Chris lived for 7 years on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, teaching for the federal government. Yet she and Betty never lost touch and continued their letter writing friendship. Betty married a man named Derrick Johnson and several years later had a son named Neil. When Chris moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to teach at the university there, they continued to keep each other informed of their changing lives. Chris still has two sweaters Betty knitted and sent to her in 1987 when Chris’ daughter Victoria was born 14 weeks prematurely. Although her daughter wore them often as an infant, Chris has them saved for her daughter’s own children some day.
Tragically, Chris remembers the letter that arrived in 1990, when Betty had to tell her that her husband Derrick had been murdered in a bungled robbery attempt in his accounting office. "I cried as if I lost a close family member although I had never met Derrick and I felt so helpless as she was so far away." Chris also remembers the beautiful and heartfelt letter Betty wrote to her after the Sept. 11th attacks and her outpouring of sympathy for the American people. Although they haven’t seen each other since that short visit 31 years ago, they continue to write and fill each other in on their busy lives as if they had just seen each other last week. When her Christmas card arrived on Dec 10th, Chris read her letter aloud to her daughter, who responded, "Mom, do you realize it has been 40 years of letter writing that has kept the 2 of you such close friends?" To which Chris responded, "forty years of friendship, numerous letters exchanged and a brief visit 31 years ago- yes, indeed!"