Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Back in the 1970s and '80s, I used to buy a magazine called Women's Circle. It basically was a crafts and recipes kind of publication, with a section where women could list their names and get penpals with similar interests from all over the world.

I was very much into collecting and using decorative rubber stamps at the time, and so, according to her penpal listing, was Colleen, a married woman with two young children, in Oregon. Thus began our correspondence.

Through the years, Colleen and I faithfully wrote, sent cards and gifts on holidays, and even spoke on the phone a number of times. After a while, we decided to become tape friends, which, to this day we still are. Instead of writing, we talk to each other on an old cassette tape that we keep recycling by sending it back and forth to each other.

Colleen's tapes are fun to listen to. Before she retired, she liked to tape to me during her long drive to work. Her conversations would go something like this: "The other night, it was so cute. My baby is learning to walk and he was standing up in the kitchen, shaky as anything…what kind of idiot are you? Where did you get your driver's license? Woolworth's?" Then there would be a pause and she'd say, "Sorry, some guy in a truck just pulled out right in front of me! Now what was I talking about?"

Colleen was a quiet housewife and mother who liked to do embroidery when I first started writing to her. But over the years, she decided to come out of her shell. She divorced her husband, got a job with the IRS, dated a string of exciting men, battled cancer, started her own magazine, and got remarried.

She's now retired from the IRS, but is still publishing her monthly magazine, which has an impressive circulation. She loves to travel, but because her husband wouldn't set foot on a plane even if the ground where he was standing began to crack wide open, she goes on vacation by herself. Just recently she's been to Mexico, Hawaii, Europe and New York City, and currently is looking into travel packages for a vacation in Australia.

But first, she wants to come to New Hampshire to spend a week with us during the fall foliage season. "It's about time we finally meet," she said on her most recent tape. "After all, it's been nearly 30 years since we started writing. Plus that, I want to see your new house!"

"Her husband's not coming?" my husband asked when I later told him the news.

"No, he has a huge phobia about flying."

"You mean I'm going to be stuck here with two giggling, chattering women for a whole week?"

I smiled and nodded.

"If we haven't sold our other place by then, can I go stay over there?"

"We'd better sell our old place by then," I said. "Otherwise, I won't have enough money to take Colleen to any of the tourist attractions…and I'll be feeding her Ramen noodles all week."

"What if the two of you meet and can't stand each other?" he asked, optimistic soul that he is. "You're so used to talking to each other on tape, you'll probably need to have a cassette recorder running just to carry on a conversation!"

The thought had never even crossed my mind that Colleen and I might not get along in person. "I have no doubts whatsoever that we we'll get along just fine."

"But you know what they say," he persisted. "You never really know a person until you live with them! She could have some really bad habits that will drive you crazy."

I wanted to tell him that if anyone's habits were going to drive anyone crazy, his definitely would be in the driver's seat. Two of his worst habits, for example, are keeping the heat turned down to a goosebump-inducing 58 degrees, and bursting into song without realizing it.

Seriously, the man spontaneously bursts into song at least 25 times a day. He even unconsciously sings rather than talks: "I'm – la, la, la, doo wop – going to the – hey, hey, hey – bathroom now – baby, baby, woo-ooh."

It drives me nuts. Poor Colleen probably will think she's staying in an asylum – that's if she doesn't freeze to death first.

Another concern of mine is that she is a cat person…and we have two huge rottweilers. Visions of her peacefully lying in bed and getting awakened by a slobbery rottweiler tongue licking her face made me suddenly feel panicky.

My panic only increased when visions of our youngest dog, Willow (a.k.a. "The Shredder"), with just the elastic waistband of Colleen's underpants hanging out of her mouth, popped into my mind.

"We'll have to buy a deadbolt lock for the guest-room door," I said to my husband.

"Why, so Colleen won't escape and go screaming back to Oregon?"

"No, to keep out the dogs. I think maybe we should soundproof the room, too."

"So she can't hear the dogs barking?"

I smiled. "Uh, yeah…(la, la, la, doo wop)."