Lifelong pen pals meet in Amherst

Dave Mathieson
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Amherst's Beth Baird (left) was thrilled to have her pen pal Helen James and her husband Dave James visit her home in Amherst for 10-days. Helen has a scrapbook filled with letters and pictures she has kept over the years.

AMHERST - "Dear Beth - I am your pen pal. My name is Helen Moon. I am 13-year's-old. I live in Wangaratta City in the north-east of Victoria, (Australia)..."

Written in 1969, those words sparked a friendship that has lasted 43 years.

Helen (Moon) James, now in her fifties, was in Amherst for 10-days to visit her life long friend, and pen pal, Beth Baird.

"We became pen pals when she was 13 and I was 14," said Baird. "It was through a church group that we became pen pals, at the Little River Baptist Church."

Baird read from the beginning of the first letter she wrote to Helen.

"Dear Helen, well I never thought I would have a pen pal, so when your letter arrived I was so excited and surprised. I'm in Grade 9 and 14-years-old..."

The letter goes on to talk about her love of books and basketball and how she was the top scorer at a basketball tournament, scoring 37 points.

"We wrote a lot over the years, but with the e-mail technology we just e-mail now," said Baird.

Baird travelled to Wangaratta in 1980 and stayed there for two weeks.

"I went over there 32 years ago," she said. "They picked me up in Melbourne, which is about a two-and-a-half hour drive from their home.

"I remember the snakes and the kangaroos and the big gum trees," said Baird. "I would love to go back but I don't see it in my immediate future, unless I win the lotto."

Helen and her husband Dave decided they would visit Baird in Amherst.

"We talked about it for years and we just said, ‘why don't we just do it," said Dave.

"It was time, and that time was right now," added Helen.

Helen and Dave flew back home yesterday, but not before experiencing maritime scenery and hospitality.

"The people are very friendly and welcoming," said Helen.

Baird took the James' on a tour of Cumberland County.

"We travelled to several places, including Annabel's Beach, Heather's Beach, and we went to Parrsboro.

"It's unique, and the tides are amazing," said Dave.

They were also amazed by the homes.

"Our houses are all just one level," said Helen, "The houses here are amazing."

"And to see the houses with the steep roofs is great," added Dave. "It doesn't snow where we live so we have flat roofs. The homes here have to shed the snow or they would collapse from the weight."

Baird also took them to her mom's house in Little River.

"Mom's old farmhouse was built in 1944, and they took a tour of the upstairs and they couldn't get over how there's stairs to the attic," said Baird.

The temperature in Wangaratta rarely dips below 0 C, and the gas heating systems aren't as extravagant as the heating systems in Canada.

The James' were impressed with how the heater is in the basement, "and how the heat comes up from downstairs," said Dave.

They also hadn't seen a skating rink before, and Baird took them to Amherst Stadium.

"It looks like skating would be a lot of fun," said Helen.

The James' started their Canadian Journey in Vancouver in early August before arriving in Amherst.

"It's nice to stop in Amherst and see how people live and see the normal things people do," said Helen. "It's interesting seeing how people live on the other side of the world."

Baird said the reason their relationship has lasted 43 years is because they have a lot in common,

"It didn't seem like we were ever apart," said Baird

"We just picked up where we left off," added Helen.

Helen said they are sad to be leaving but will always keep in touch.

"I want them to come back during the wintertime and experience one of our winters," said Baird with a laugh.


Organizations: Little River Baptist Church, Canadian Journey

Geographic location: Amherst Stadium, Wangaratta, Victoria Australia Melbourne Cumberland County Parrsboro Little River Canada Vancouver

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