Writing is not a lost art

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:58

Warwick woman meets her Irish pen pal after 20 years of corresponding,By Linda Smith Hancharick Warwick - Mary Ann Gagliano went to a wedding over Labor Day weekend. It was a beautiful wedding, one she had looked forward to as if it were for one of her own. It was taking place on a yacht at the South Street Seaport in New York City. Gagliano had never met either the bride or the groom. Until that day, Gagliano of Warwick, had never met anyone who would be attending the wedding. But she felt like she had known them for a long time. In a way, she did. Gagliano, 74, came face to face that day with Maureen Whittaker, 65, of Dublin, Ireland. They already knew each others deepest secrets. They had been through the good times and bad times. But these old friends had never met before. Instead, they had been corresponding for 20 years — pen pals — using only the written word to get to know one another. Back in 1985, Gagliano decided to get a pen pal. She doesn’t really know why. It just seemed like a good thing to do, especially for someone who liked to write like she did. She wrote to the Irish Consulate, which sent her the names of Dublin’s largest newspapers. She sent an ad to the papers, but didn’t know it had appeared since she was never billed. Soon a letter arrived from Whittaker, and a friendship began. “I just wanted someone in my age group,” said Gagliano. “I decided on Ireland because both my mother’s and father’s families came from Ireland.” Gagliano said it was easy writing all of her thoughts and feelings to Whittaker. “It is like talking to someone you’ve just met on the train,” she said. “You can say whatever you want because you’ll never see them again.” The two women wrote to each other about twice a month. Gagliano, the mother of three sons, found much in common with Whittaker, who has two sons and one daughter. “Mothers are mothers, grandmothers are grandmothers,” said Gagliano. “We both felt we knew each other very well.” They also learned lots about each other’s families and countries. “She would ask me about the United States and I’d ask her about Ireland,” Gagliano said. “We would ask about how much a mortgage is or what food costs. I was always so envious — I’d get letters telling me that they would be dancing every weekend until 3 in the morning at the local pub. It was a family pub — they’d sing and dance. It sounded like so much fun.” They shared the trials and tribulations of their families. Whittaker prayed for Gagliano’s kids when they needed it. They exchanged pictures over the years, shared the marriages of their children and the joyous births of their grandchildren — all in written form. “She picks me up when I’m down and I do the same for her,” said Gagliano. Gagliano, who has been legally blind since 1986, retired from her job in New Jersey shortly after beginning her correspondence with Whittaker. She and her husband moved to the state of Florida for 16 years before moving to Warwick three years ago to be closer to her sons. Her husband died shortly after moving to Warwick. But Whittaker went through this tough time with her long-distance friend. Gagliano types all of her letters, which average between four and six pages, on a good old Smith-Corona typewriter. Whittaker writes her letters in long hand. Because of her eyesight, Gagliano has some difficulty reading the letters and sometimes must wait until someone can read them to her. Still, she looks forward to receiving her letters and packages just about every other week from her dear friend. Gagliano corresponds with four people, but the others are people she had already known. Her aunt was one of her correspondents who kept all the letters throughout the years. “When she died, my cousin put all the letters in chronological order and put them in two huge books. I have them,” said Gagliano. “My aunt used to say she was going to have them published — ‘Letters from my niece’ she was going to call it.” Gagliano and Whittaker had never heard each other’s voices until recently. Whittaker had been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year and Gagliano decided to call her. “I just wanted to talk to her,” said Gagliano. The two went back to their letter writing shortly after. When Whittaker’s youngest son, Stephen, was getting married in New York this year, they knew this was the time to meet. Gagliano hired a car to drive her to the wedding and bring her back home. She said she wasn’t nervous; more excited would describe it. They were both grateful that Whittaker could make the trip after finishing chemo. “She knew me right away,” said Gagliano. “And so did her whole family!” Even the waitresses onboard the yacht were buzzing about the unique friendship. “The waitresses were fascinated with the story,” said Gagliano. The women had a great time at the wedding but will get a chance to spend some good, quality time together next spring. Gagliano’s sons and daughters-in-law are sending her to Dublin for her 75th birthday. “I just can’t wait,” she said. “I’ll be spending three weeks with Maureen and her family. I’ll finally get a chance to sing and dance at the pub with them.”