When I was growing up, ‘This is Your Life’ presented by Eamonn Andrews, was a regular occurrence in our house. He always kept the most special guest until last. At 10 and 11 years old, I used to imagine myself on the show, when I would be a famous author, and at the end of the show, after introducing all the interesting people I had yet to meet and yet to share fabulous life experiences with, I knew exactly the person Eamonn would keep to last…. “You started writing to each other at nine years of age, she was your first writing buddy and here she is, 40 years later, your Greek penpal Nectaria!”
I’d actually well-up thinking about the moment and have to leave the room.
We wrote to each other religiously until we were about 18 or 19 . It started off about school and family and then over the years about dreams and love. She lived in an unpronounceable place that she wrote the name of in greek lettering and I could never find on a map. We lost touch and years went by.
And then social media was invented. Twelve years ago she found me through Facebook, “Are you the same Rosie who had a Greek Penpal?”
We had a lot of catching up to do, she had married too and had a son.
A month ago I got it into my head that Ronan and I should go on a beach holiday somewhere away from Italy to celebrate both our retirements from the wedding industry. I asked my friend Shelly where would she recommend and she supposedly said Corfu. It was late and there was wine taken. The following morning I booked flights to Crete. I was confused, after all they both begin with ‘C’ and are large greek islands.
I initially chose a hotel on the west coast but after a frustrating two hours of trying to choose the right place to stay I booked somewhere random. Near beaches and a town.
With work ending, three books with deadlines, and a house to prep for our dog sitter guests to arrive after more building work finishing the day before their arrival, I had not been on Facebook much. But when I did click on it, a post from Nectaria popped up… “Going away for a few days” with a picture of her dog and a backpack. It prompted me to respond… “We’re going away next week too! To Crete.”
“You are going to CRETE?”
“WHERE IN CRETE?”
“That is the town where I live! Tell me we are going to at last meet?!!”
So tomorrow I am going to have my ‘This Is Your Life’ moment with Eamonn Andrews voice in my ear… “You started to write to each other 40 years ago and now here today to meet you for the first time is your life long pen pal …”
I’ll post pics on Facebook and Instagram of us together for the first time and on my website.
Who would be your This Is Your Life final guest (still living)?
An extract from chapter 2 of A Rosie Life In Italy 1 about how Nectaria and I were matched as Pen Pals….
As kids, when we drew our dream houses… My houses always had shutters even though shutters didn’t exist in Ireland. Shutters were the hallmark of the perfect house in my mind. I also needed a courtyard with a long table for family dinners. This idea was inspired by watching TV with my family when I was nine. There was a movie with a huge family dinner under the sun, with profusions of food being passed around and wine being poured. It was a celebration, everyone was laughing, kids were playing around grape vines or olive trees. I can’t remember who said it, but I remember the words ‘Mama mia’ being said. Staring at the TV it was my idea of Heaven.
I went to Mass on Sunday and, as I knelt in my rain-soaked trousers, I prayed that someday I would live in Mama mia Land with my family; happy and in the sun. The following Monday my teacher handed us out pen-pal forms with all the countries in the world listed on them. We were to tick the box of the country that we wanted to have a pen-pal in.
“Which country do they say Mama mia in?” I asked my teacher.
After some thought my teacher answered “Greece”.
So I ticked Greece.
My Greek pen-pal Nectaria and I wrote to each other religiously every second week for 10 years without her ever mentioning her long candle-lit, olive-strewn family dinners, even though I often asked how was dinner with her family that week. One evening I happened to see the scene on TV again I had watched all those years ago and realised my teacher was wrong; Mama Mia Land was not in Greece but Italy.