GILBERT, AZ - Two women, half a world apart, have a forged a friendship over the last 55 years the old fashioned way; writing letters as pen pals.
Linda Martin, who calls Gilbert home now, got her first letter from Wendy Norrie in 1958 as a fifth grader in Wilcox, Nebraska. Norrie's teacher in Australia was named Mr. Wilcox, so the class chose a school in America based on the town's name matching his. Martin says the letters were basic as kids, talking about where they lived and their family members. There was a bit of a language barrier when it came to slang terms.
"I had to figure out a frock is a dress. She talked about a veranda and I wasn't familiar with that growing up in Nebraska," Martin said.
The two continued to write regularly for the next 55 years, always using traditional mail. They would update one another on various life events, both eventually getting married and having kids. In addition to the letters, the two only ever exchanged photos and small gifts, never even picking up the phone to hear one another's voices.
Recently Norrie switched to email to let Martin know she planned to visit America for the first time. The two planned a three week visit in Arizona. Martin told Norrie what she planned to wear and carried a small Australian flag to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Monday to help Norrie recognize her.
Martin stood anxiously watching the arrivals gate in Terminal 4, flanked by her husband and daughter, until her old friend spotted her and the two came face to face for the first time in more than five decades.
"I can't believe it!" Martin excitedly said through tears. "It's so good to see you!"
A grinning Norrie says her nerves settled as soon as she saw Martin holding the little flag. She says even though they've written to each other for so long she still feels like they've only just started to share their stories.
"We've grown and matured and raised families. It's somebody on the other side of the world sharing your experiences, it's been wonderful," Norrie said.
Martin's family will spend the next three weeks showing Norrie around town.
The highlight of the trip will be to see the Grand Canyon.