A Lowell resident received a special gift on her birthday this year. A surprise in the making for almost six months, two friends who have been corresponding for over 20 years were finally able to meet in person. The stage was set at Sweet Seasons in Lowell’s historic district. Then it was time for the birthday girl to arrive.
The French Connection
Anyone of a certain age, especially women, remember the thrill of writing to someone from another country. A pen pal meant writing and receiving letters, even exchanging photos, small gifts, and perhaps a mixed tape of favorite songs. For some, these letters would dissipate over the years as individuals grow older, life changes, and exchanging letters becomes less important. This wasn’t the case for Robin Morehouse and her pen pal Emma Curley from Dublin, Ireland.
Morehouse was in her 9th grade French class when she first learned of Curley. As part of the class, Morehouse was handed a slip of paper introducing her to a new pen pal as part of an assignment. Morehouse smiles as she recalls the paper with typed information on it. She didn’t know whether she’d receive a response, but she wrote a letter to Curley introducing herself.
That first letter was sent and a response received. “It wasn’t long before we had email, but handwritten notes, little clippings of news from our countries, and small gifts and pictures, were treasures. I think the excitement of it, fueled by intention is what kept it going.” says Morehouse. The two enjoyed getting to know each other so embracing a long distance friendship was worth it. There has been a dedication over the years, keeping them connected.
As the saying goes, the rest is history! For over 20 years the two have kept in touch. The introduction of email, texts, and now social media has made communication easier and more immediate compared to the days of airmail envelopes. Curley has become an extended part of the Green and Morehouse families as well. Morehouse’s mother, Lynn Green explains, ‘We are all looking forward to this. Emma isn’t just part of Robin’s life through the years, she has become part of our whole family[‘s] life.”
The first thing Morehouse remembers receiving from her friend in Ireland is a photo of the Backstreet Boys from a magazine. The group had made a name for themselves overseas but were still unknown in the US. Morehouse’s friends were geeked because they knew a friend who had a friend who knew of the Backstreet Boys before they were a hit boy band. In high school having a few degrees of separation is just as good as being connected yourself.
Letters, packages, and trinkets have been exchanged over the years. Morehouse’s children receive items each St. Patrick’s Day. They enjoy wearing things to school and telling friends the gear is authentic from Dublin. The two have tried to meet in the past but ultimately things didn’t work out. But that was about to change.
Behind the Scenes
It was last spring when Emma decided she wanted to surprise friend with a visit. “We’ve been working on this for five months.” says Don Green, Morehouse’s father. Working with Don and Lynn Green plans were put into motion. The Greens would receive updates as Emma got her visa, plane tickets, and other things in order to make the trip.
Finally, November 22 arrived – Robin’s birthday. “We are going to pick Emma up and she will pretend to be working behind the counter at Sweet Seasons when Robin comes in with her husband. I think she will be blown away!!!” said Lynn Green. And in this case mom knew best.
The Greens, along with their grandchildren, arrived at Sweet Seasons ready to surprise their daughter and mom. Robin walked in and looked surprised. But she just thought her kids were surprising her as she didn’t expect to see them when meeting her parents.
After taking a moment to get settled Robin went up to the counter to place an order. Patty Dlouhy, owner of Sweet Seasons. took the order and said one of the employees would get it started. As Dlouhy motioned toward the employee, Emma turned around. Robin knew immediately who it was and quickly ran to the end of the counter to give her friend a hug for the first time.
Dlouhy was more than happy to be in on the surprise. “We put an apron on her and gave her a name tag ‘Amina’ and made her a barista for the surprise visit.” she said. This was the first time her business had been in on such a surprise. “It was fun to see the look on her face when she turned toward Robin when I asked ‘Amina’ to make Robin her Chai Latte.” Dlouhy is putting together party packages making Sweet Seasons a destination for more gatherings in the future such as bridal and baby showers, birthdays, and more.
Smiles All Around
The two friends didn’t skip a beat after meeting in person. They went shopping along Main Street. Robin was able to show Emma some of her handmade work which is for sale in a few places. Emma was able to help prepare and experience an American Thanksgiving. A tradition with Robin’s family is to go around the table and say something you’re thankful for. They also either sing the Star Spangled Banner or say the Pledge of Allegiance. Robin says Emma joined in and sung her Ireland’s anthem in Gaelic.
Thursday night Robin introduced Emma to Black Friday shopping. “I am not a fan of it, but the girl had never been to Target, and that needed to change. She loved Target!” she says of the experience. Emma was also part of the family taking in Annie at the Grand Rapids Civic Theater. A trip to see Lake Michigan was also a must. While windy, memories were still made, including a ride home with wind blown hair and sand on their faces according to Robin.
The time went quickly, but the two enjoyed the days they had together. Getting to know each other in person was more like catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. However, they were able to see exactly how much their personalities match and how much they have in common. It was surely a birthday Robin will remember the rest of her life.
“The feeling I had when I’d go to the mail box and see an envelope from Ireland was always so uplifting and fun, but when I saw her standing behind the counter, it was that feeling multiplied.” Robin reflects. The letters, emails, texts, phone calls and more will continue. Future meetings are sure to be planned. But for now, friends for over 20 years finally met in person and created memories together for the first time.