Issaquah woman meets British pen pal after 39 years
October 15, 2013
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Longtime Issaquah resident Valerie Lycette describes Jane Machin as one of her oldest friends.
After all, the pair has known each other since 1974, while Lycette was still a student at Issaquah High School.
It wasn’t until recently, though, that Lycette actually met Machin in person when she traveled to England to meet her international pen pal after 39 years.
“Meeting really has made us closer,” Lycette said. “I mean we were strangers, really, but got along great and our personalities matched.”
It was a surreal moment for both women, who each admitted to bouts of nervousness before the actual meeting took place in September.
“We started writing as teenagers and now we’re middle-aged women,” Lycette said. “It was kind of weird to meet as two totally different people, even though we’ve seen pictures of each other over time.”
The two found each other after a teenage Lycette saw an advertisement in Seventeen Magazine seeking to match American girls with international pen pals.
Their early correspondence was the stuff of typical teenage girls, Lycette said. They discussed popular culture, exploring the latest fashions, music and television shows.
As they matured, the topics of conversation grew to include politics and family, sharing intimate details of their personal lives.
“We’ve sort of grown up together,” Machin said in a phone interview from her home in England. “It’s like having a friend that lives miles away, but you still enjoy each other’s company.”
During her visit, Lycette met with Machin’s family, explored the countryside and received a veritable history lesson about the area.
For example, the hotel where Lycette stayed, Himley House, was where King Edward VIII wrote his abdication speech, and often visited American socialite Wallis Simpson, whom he would eventually marry, Machin said.
“She lives in this culture of history, while here in Issaquah, everything is so new, so that was kind of different,” Lycette said.
The friends try to write to each other on a weekly basis, using regular postal service, rather than email, keeping the true spirit of a pen-pal relationship.
Lycette managed to keep all of the letters they’ve exchanged, and she brought them during the visit so the two could reminisce.
“Valerie showed me one when I was pregnant with my daughter. It was strange to read that back when I was due to give birth, and now she’s 34,” Machin said.
What began as an avenue to learn more about different cultures has truly blossomed into a lifelong friendship, Machin said of her pen pal.
It’s an experience that has been so rewarding for her that her granddaughter is looking to continue the tradition and find her own American pen pal, something Lycette is helping her to accomplish.
“It’s nice to know that even though our lives are different, we still get on and find things to discuss and things of interest that both of us enjoy,” Machin said.
The two have managed to maintain the long-distance friendship all of these years because they truly are interested in each other’s lives, Lycette said.
“When you’ve known someone that’s really known you since the beginning, they can relate to you in a different way than a new friend,” Lycette said of Machin. “We’ve shared the ups and downs through life.”
Machin has never traveled outside of the country, but she would love to come and visit Lycette in her Issaquah home one day, she said.