Lois Csontos-Nielsen and Freda Jones have been friends for 70 years. But they have been in each other’s presence only four times.
In 1946, when Lois was 12, she saw a story in the Weekly Reader that said young people in England were looking for pen pals in the United States. Lois sent in her name, and the matchmakers hooked them up.
Freda wrote a note to Lois. Lois still has it.
Dated July 1, 1946, the introductory greeting covers several pages of tiny stationery. Lois agreed to read it aloud.
“I’m afraid I do not exactly answer to your wish because I am 15, not 12. But I have wanted a pen pal in the USA for such a long time. Yes, I have got a pet. He’s a dog. He is all white except for one black patch over his left eye. He also likes meat and cake.”
“Have you got any brothers or sisters? I have only one sister who is 17. She is going to take up nursing as a career. Have you got a picture of yourself I could have? Would you like one of me?
“I noticed that your father is a clergyman. My father owns large lorries. I believe you call them trucks. I used to know a lot of American soldiers when they were over here [for World War II]. I will close for now. From your pen pal and friend, Freda Woolley.”
Fast-forward to 2016. Freda’s most recent letter arrived with the push of a button. While the method of communication has changed over the arc of time, nothing has changed the friendship.
Writing at least three or four times a year, they kept at it through three collective marriages and the deaths of all three husbands — two for Lois.
They kept at it through the birth of five kids, three for Lois. Now they not only have grandkids, but also great-grandkids, three for Freda and a fourth on the way for Lois.
They kept at it through the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the first human on the moon, multiple wars, the conquering of polio, 14 prime ministers and 12 presidents.
The two women didn’t meet in person until 1977 — 31 years after the first letter.
After visiting Sweden, Lois and her husband took a boat to Britain, arriving at an eastern port. Freda, who lived in a small town in west-central England, warned Lois that she was in for a “very long” car ride. The distance: about 200 miles.
“I said, ‘In my country, that would not have gone across the top of my state.’ ”
Was there anything about Freda that surprised her in that first meeting? Not much, she said.
“We were just friends already,” she said. “It was very comfortable. Her husband was a farmer. They were very nice.”
The relationship has survived all these years because “we were compatible. We just had things in common to write about.
“If it had been someone else, it might not have lasted as long.”