Not even the barriers of the Atlantic Ocean and a difference in cultures have prevented a Minot woman from keeping in touch with her longtime pen pal.
Bernadette Muus and her pen pal, Marcello Roman of Milan, Italy, have been writing letters back and forth for the past 67 years.
"I didn't stop to think about it until recently, but that's a long time for anyone to correspond," Muus remarked. She actually writes letters to both Marcello and his wife, Maria, she added. Muus has known Marcello since they were junior high age, but he's a year younger than she is.
Bernadette Muus sits near her desk in her home holding one of the letters written to her by her longtime pen pal, Marcello Roman. She and Roman have been writing letters to each other for 67 years.
A keepsake box, shown here, is full of letters Bernadette Muus has received from her pen pal, Marcello Roman, from Italy. The two have kept in touch by handwritten letters and have met once in person.
From left to right, a photo shows Maria, Marcello’s wife, Marcello, and Bernadette Muus meeting for the first time in Milan, Italy, after years of correspondence.
When Muus was in elementary school, a friend of her family in the neighborhood asked Muus if she'd write to her (the friend's) relatives in Italy, specifically to her nephew Marcello. The family friend asked because World War II was being fought at the time and she really wanted to hear from her family, she said. At first she was hesitant since she wasn't sure about her writing abilities, Muus said, but then she decided to write Marcello a letter and received an answer right away. They've been exchanging letters across the world ever since.
After Marcello's university education, he served in the Italian army, but suffered a broken back in an accident and has been a paraplegic since age 25, Muus explained. He was hospitalized for an extensive amount of time and met his wife, Maria, during then, and was able to complete his doctorate in business, she added, working for eight years before his health forced him to retire early. Maria has been his caregiver ever since, but is now battling cancer so taking care of Marcello has been a strain for her, Muus noted.
Their letters are written in English, Muus said, and his letters are usually written on nice stationary. They also often send gifts to each other. They have not switched over to modern correspondence methods like e-mail or Facebook, though, and while they have called each other a few times, Muus said she feels like it's a strain so they keep to the handwritten letters.
Marcello typically writes about how strong his faith is, as well as about family, and some politics, Muus noted. "And the weather. There's always the weather," she added. Muus sometimes has thought it might have been better for Marcello to have had a male pen pal instead since he likes politics, though, she said.
Although Muus hasn't kept every single letter Marcello has ever written to her, she has kept a significant number of them. She reads the letters to her kids, she added, but they haven't met him.
Muus visited Marcello in Milan after 51 years of corresponding, flying to Milan after a trip to Rome. It was emotional to visit, she said, and Marcello had a bouquet of flowers for her. However, Muus said she and her husband are not doing anymore overseas traveling because they're too old.
Marcello has lived longer than he was expected to, Muus noted, and sees the two of them keeping in touch for awhile longer yet.
The difficult part of staying in touch with a pen pal is not simply making the effort to write a letter, but keeping track of things you've told the other person, Muus noted. "When you only write two to three times a year, it's hard to keep track of what to tell him and what you've already told him," she said. "There's also a lot of curiosity what his life is really like beyond the letters."
However, the best and most fun part of having a pen pal is receiving the letter in the mail. "It's so exciting to get a written piece of mail from someone who cares and who has a different sort of lifestyle," Muus said.
Having a pen pal enriches your life so much, Muus remarked. "It makes you feel like you're a part of something much bigger than a few little rooms here." Muus has had other pen pals aside from Marcello, she noted. She wrote to one who lived in Seattle and another who was a shirt-tail relative who lived in Norway.
Muus encourages everyone to have a pen pal.
"Get going on it right now," she said. "As soon as you have a contact with someone, do it. Get interested in someone else's life instead of just your own."