Craig Bakay | Apr 24, 2019
Very few people do anything for 82 years.
However, Eileen Whan is a bit different in that regard. You see, at age 93, Whan is still writing to a friend in Quebec — a friend she began writing to when she was 11 years old, 82 years ago.
“I was 11 and she was nine,” Whan said. “Her name was the same as mine — Eileen.
“But she was a Beattie and now her name is Eileen Greer.”
Whan, who now lives just south of Sharbot Lake, was born on a farm near Leggat Lake, the eldest of 11 children. When they moved to Crow Lake, she began selling Gold Medal products — greeting cards, seeds, etc — door to door.
“I got a slip in the order sheets saying they wanted pen pals,” she said. “So I thought why not?
“I sent a letter and within a few days, I got one back.”
They’ve been doing it ever since.
So, what do they write about to each other?
“They say you’re not supposed to write about religion or politics,” Whan said. “So we don’t.
“We just talk.”
A big topic of conversation is their kids. Whan had six and Greer had seven.
“The best letters were usually about what we got the kids for Christmas,” she said. “We both shopped out of the Sears Christmas Wish Book and we could tell each other what page and the colour we ordered.
“It was nothing to write eight pages or so.”
It’s not that they completely ignored what was going on around them in the world. When 9/11 happened, they talked about it.
“You couldn’t avoid it,” she said. “It was everywhere on TV for weeks.”
And there were other things that couldn’t be avoided, such as when Greer’s first husband took his own life, or when Whan’s second oldest, Vickie, died in an accident.
But mostly, they just talk.
They have met over the years.
“We went to Quebec the first time,” she said. “Then she came here with her first daughter about four or five years later.
“That was around ’59, I think.”
And Greer came to visit when Whan married her second husband, Doug, in 2000. (They’ve both been married twice.)
And they’re planning to meet up again in May if things work out, in Cornwall, which is about halfway between them.
“My second oldest, Brian (who is married to Doug’s daughter) thought we should do it and he’s arranging things,” she said. “We haven’t heard back yet.”
But even if they don’t meet up, the letters will continue, she said.
“Aren’t memories wonderful things?” she said. “I wouldn’t say having a pen pal has played a ‘major’ role in my life, but it is part of my life.
“We never talk about finances but we didn’t have any secrets from each other — we never held anything back.”
And has the content of the letters changed over the years?
“Not really,” she said. “Except that as we got older, we started telling about all our aches and pains.”