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Pen pals celebrate 70-year friendship

“We used to go to the mailbox every day and look, do we have a letter, no not today we have to wait,” Bruce said.

JEFFERSON PARISH, La. — When Gloria Bruce sent a letter to a pen pal in England in Elementary school back in the 1950s, she never expected the friendship that would result from that letter, partly because of who responded to it.  

“When I went to school one day, there was another girl student that was writing to a girl in England, and she said, ‘does anyone want a pen pal,’ and she had a stack of letters. I took one and wrote a letter to a girl named Susan Wilson, but I did not get back a letter from Susan Wilson. I got back a letter from Shirley, and I’m thinking, ‘what happened? I know I wrote to Susan’ and I found out that Shirley read the other letter and decided we had more in common, so we swapped letters,” Bruce said.  

Shirley Clements said she was immediately intrigued by Bruce as they had a lot in common, hobbies like reading, hand embroidery, and collecting stamps. Bruce and Clements say those letters quickly became frequent.  

“We used to go to the mailbox every day and look, do we have a letter, no not today we have to wait,” Bruce said.  

“And they used to be 10 pages long these letters,” Clements said.  

That first letter turned into over 700 letters, which then became emails and phone calls. 30 years after the first envelope was mailed, they met in person, but they weren’t sure if their correspondence on paper would translate in person.  

“We were worried, would we like each other what if we don’t like each other? but we got on like a house on fire,” Clements and Bruce said.  

The friendship has evolved into a sisterhood, and ever since Clements took the first trip to see Bruce, they have traveled back and forth every few years and have traveled parts of the world with each other's friends and families.  

“We have mental telepathy. It’s just brilliant. You just know she’s just wonderful. It’s difficult to explain, isn’t it,” Clements said.  

Clements has even adopted New Orleans as her second home, basking in some New Orleanian traditions, her favorite of them being Mardi Gras. Clements says she’s caught beads and even puts them on her Christmas tree every year. But this year, to celebrate their 70th Friend-anniversary, the two women will get to experience the other side of the parade, riding in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Metairie.  

“Oh, I think it’s a brilliant idea I can’t think of anything more appropriate now. I’ve been to Mardi Gras so many times,” Clements said. “I’ll be throwing cabbages now.” 

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