Before we ever met in person, Meri and I were pen pals. We wrote letters almost daily for months before we finally met in person this week, 21 years ago.
I had been dying to meet Meri in person for months and, somehow, successfully badgered my parents to let me spend Thanksgiving break in NJ with Meri and her family.
It’s become quite the joke in both our families, that my parents were willing to ship me off to strangers for a few days, and that Meri’s family didn’t reject inviting an unknown teenage girl into their own home.
“They seemed like good people,” my mother says when prodded about the decision. Our moms spoke on the phone several weeks prior, approved of each other and decided to permit my trip.
Mother knows best. But little did any of us know, this journey was the first of many meetings for Meri and me.
I should further explain our background. Meri and I were pen pals for many months before our famed in-person meeting. We actually met through a mutual friend who I befriended at a concert in NJ one year prior. Meri was a close friend of the concertgoer, who months later moved to the Midwest.
We wrote daily, chatted on the phone and send each other “audio letters,” that’s a recorded, rambling message on a cassette tape. We shared a love of writing, music, books and Disney. And we loved address labels and stationary – still do!
The day before Thanksgiving I boarded a train alone for Trenton, NJ. Little did I know I was traveling on the busiest travel day of the year. I also didn’t have a clue I’d need to switch trains in Philly without anyone to guide me. Sure, I was 16 but I still hadn’t gotten my driver’s license and had never traveled solo before.
And, of course, I had overpacked. (Because every girl needs two suitcases and a video camera for a 4-day adventure to visit her bestie. Right?!)
I was a bit overwhelmed in the travel hustle, but managed the board the correct train (twice!) and hours later arrived in Trenton. Meri and her dad were waiting for me at the station.
We hugged, squealed and giggled like (well) teenage girls. Then we made a music video. (I wish I could say I was kidding, but I’m not. We were so cool.)
The weekend festivities went all too fast. We danced, we sang, we swapped stories. We enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with Meri’s family, which was also my first holiday away from my own home. We attended several parties with Meri’s friends and watched Aladdin in the theater.
We spent Black Friday in NYC – where ironically we did not shop, but visited the Natural Museum of History and Hayden Planetarium (I fell asleep!) then walked all over Central Park and midtown, avoiding subway vents on each block because we were afraid we’d fall down to the tracks.
We stayed up until early morning hours gossiping and giggling.
And of course, we took lots of photos. We still laugh at our fateful decision to get portraits taken as a pair. That’s where we came up with this beauty:
The weekend was the first of many get-togethers over the next two decades.
Together, we’ve explored NYC many times, sang along in concert with boy bands, savored chocolate in Hershey, PA, hiked a canyon in California and ran hand-in-hand through Cinderella’s Castle in Florida.
I cheered alongside Mer’s parents as she earned her masters degree.
And she cheered as I ran my first marathon.
We were each bridesmaids in the other’s wedding and I am auntie to her two incredible sons.
Ironically, we both lost touch with our mutual friend, but we were blessed with each other. And this week, I can’t think of a better reason to be thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Who else is thankful for a longtime best friend? How did you meet? Will you also share embarrassing photos with us? Tell us more in the comments.