Two women hunched over a pile of photographs and postcards. The stack of memorabilia contained only a fraction of the amount of letters that were sent over the course of 50 years.
Paula Basdavanos, of Somers Point, and Sally Leadly, originally from Christchurch in New Zealand, are the authors of these letters, with one being sent every two to three weeks for the past 50 years. The women started writing to each other when they were 10 and 11 years old, respectively.
Until now, they have not met.
Basdavanos picked up Leadly and her sister, Karen Hungerford, in New York City on Sept. 30, where the two met in person for the first time.
"It was like meeting an old friend," Basdavanos said. "I said, 'You look exactly like I thought you would!'"
"None of it was strange," Leadly said. "We probably know more about each other than anyone else knows about us."
The sisters, who still reside in New Zealand, stayed with Basdavanos in Somers Point until Oct. 5. While visiting, Basdavanos took the sisters to Cape May, the Ocean City Boardwalk, the beach and Atlantic City.
"It's been absolutely great, not running around like a lunatic," Leadly said. "You get a personal touch."
Leadly and Hungerford had already been planning to take a tour of the United States and Canada when Basdavanos was diagnosed with breast cancer last November.
"It kept me going all these months," Basdavanos said about Leadly and Hungerford's impending visit. "I am so thrilled to have them here. It just means so much. It really does."
The women started writing to each other when Leadly saw a list of available pen pals offered by her school. She wanted a "pen friend" in the United States, so chose to write to Basdavanos when she saw where she was from.
"I couldn't believe when the first letter came from Sally," Basdavanos said. "I wanted a pen pal from New Zealand because when my mother was young she had one."
For Leadly, it was a shock that the friendship has been able to last through the many different addresses changes that were a result of her husband's radio career.
"I never expected our friendship would continue after all these years," she said. "I always knew that we would meet, but I never knew when or where."
In recent years, with social media revolutionizing the speed of communication, the ladies have ceased sending letters via the postal service and have taken to sending emails instead. Besides the traditional holiday or birthday card, the women stick to email, sending letters at least once a week.
The friends are also connected on Facebook and sometimes will chat via that social media forum. Skype is not a service that the two have experimented with yet, due mainly to the 17-hour time difference.
"Technology has advanced so much," Basdavanos said. "We like the fact we can instantly communicate. Who would've imagined this when we were kids?"
When sent, a handwritten letter could have taken as long as 10 days to arrive to the United States from New Zealand, or vice versa.
"I used to look forward to walking to the mailbox and having a letter from Sally," Basdavanos said.
Now, Basdavanos looks forward to being able to visit New Zealand one day, when she's in remission. Right now, she said she takes things "one day at a time" and it is enough that she has finally met Leadly in person.
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