By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Pen pals' friendship spans five decades
Lynn Bates and Susan Farid stand together outside Bates' home north of Brodhead.
BRODHEAD - Their relationship began thanks to a Girl Scout badge requirement when they were in third grade. The Girl Scouts - known as Girl Guides in Wales - gave them each other's names and they became pen pals, writing letters to each other every month or so.

That was 50 years ago.

"It was true friendship from the beginning," said Lynn Bates of Brodhead. "We were able to tell each other our deepest secrets."

Her pen pal, Susan Farid of Neath, Wales, came to visit Bates over the last week, since they both celebrated their 60th birthdays recently.

"We just seemed to have so much in common, although we don't see each other very often," Farid said. "I don't know what kept us going. I was interested in what Lynn had to say."

This was their fourth time seeing each other in person. Bates has been to Wales twice to visit Farid, and this was Farid's second time visiting Bates in the United States and her first time in Wisconsin. When Farid came before, when they were both 50, Bates had been living in Pennsylvania.

Someone asked Bates what she and Farid would do together, since they haven't seen each other in 10 years, but they said they have never had a problem translating their pen pal relationship into an in-person friendship.

"We saw this week we can connect immediately," Bates said.

Farid agreed. "It's as if I just haven't seen you for a month or two."

The key to their success? Honesty, Farid said.

"Growing up, I could complain about my parents, or Lynn could complain about something, and we knew that what I told Lynn wouldn't go any further or vice versa," Farid said.

"To see each other only four times, and be able to make it work and last ... I think it's because it's been just truthful," Bates said. "We've cried to each other through letters, we've laughed - and you know, you can tell that in a letter - when someone's sad and when someone's happy."

Over the years, their letters developed with their lives. Early on, Bates said they used to send a recipe with each letter. They wrote about their careers, about their marriages, about having kids and becoming grandparents.

Now, they only send a couple letters a year. They used to be all handwritten, but Bates shifted to typing. Farid's letter are still handwritten.

The first time Bates went to Wales was when they were both 21. She went again 16 years ago with her oldest daughter, who was 16 at the time.

After that second time, she and Farid tried to get their daughters to begin exchanging letters. It didn't stick.

"They probably exchanged two letters and it was too much work on my daughter's part to write a letter," Bates said.

"Or mine," Farid added.

They both have three kids - two girls and a boy - though Bates ended up with more grandchildren. Farid brought her 9-year-old grandson Ioan (pronounced Yo-an) along with her this time.

The biggest change in their correspondence has come from the rise of social media, Bates said. For example, they don't have to send pictures with their letters anymore, because they can see them instantly on Facebook.

"If I had enough to say, I'd write a letter now," Farid said. "I'd go on Facebook for something quick - a couple of words - but if I want to speak to Lynn, it's a letter."

Another change has been the increasing cost of sending international mail, according to Bates.

But the strength of their friendship hasn't changed.

"You know there's a friend who knows you're there, regardless of how often you talk to them," Bates said.

She said she's kept most of their letters.

"My husband keeps telling me, 'Is there any reason we have to have this box of letters?' and I say, 'Yes, we have to keep them,'" Bates said.

Farid keeps some in her attic, as well.

"No one knows me for 50 years," Bates said, marveling at the length of their friendship.

"I mean, I've never had any friends that long. Other than family, who do you have that long?"