A few days ago, I swerved into the post office to pick up my mail. The standard fare was there: bills, credit card offers, coupons I don't want, some AARP information I periodically get as a result of a prank, Bon Appetit (because someday I'm going to cook) and Esquire. (Yes, I take a men's magazine. The writing is tops and the pictures are of hot dudes — a thousand times more appealing than sex quizzes and heaving bosoms. Cosmo can suck it.)

Checking the mailbox stopped being awesome about the time gramma stopped sending five dollar bills and I stopped thinking it was all about the Lincolns. These things happened concurrently. (And yes, I just had to look up who was on the five dollar bill because I don't remember the last time I had one in my wallet. Thanks for NOTHING, gramma.)

Jeanine Fritz
Jeanine Fritz

But mail got cool again for a brief period. The summer I turned 16, my parents had friends visit from Ireland and their son, Joe, happened to be my same age. We hit it off and after he returned to The Green Isle, I started receiving letters, handwritten in what I can only describe as Gaelic Swirl. Despite the fact our letters contained missives about school, friends and other wholly pedestrian subjects, his envelopes were postmarked "Ireland." Being a burgeoning Anglophile and full-on nerd, I filed the letters away with Shakespeare and the Bronte Sisters.

Two decades later, Joe and I are still pals, though the handwritten letters stopped a long time ago. (Because Facebook.)


But LO! Amongst the Chase Bank envelopes and Oriental Trading Company rags that day was a package: red and white, bashed dramatically at the top as if someone had driven over it, and poking out the side like a nasty compound fracture was a candy — a Curlywurly to be precise. Ripping it the rest of the way open, inside I found Parma Violets (which look like SweetTarts, but're blue), six other types of candies — including a Vimto Fizzy Rip Roll (hopefully not what happens to your arse after you eat it) — a LEGO dinosaur keychain, TWO BEERS (room temperature, of course), a hand-written note in Gaelic Swirl, and something mysterious called a "Super Lambanana." It's a couple of inches long, bright yellow, hard as a rock, and resembles...well, a lamb with a big ole' banana for a tail. Since everything else in the package — save the keychain — was supposed to go directly into my maw, I figured I was supposed to eat it. How very American.

It's a lucky thing I decided to Google it first, because Superlambanana is a famous statue in Liverpool, and what I had in my hands was a tiny replica meant for a curio shelf, not my mouth.

I spent the rest of the afternoon staring at the candies and beer, silently clearing my evening schedule and thanking the penpal gods for the best damn penpal in the world.

The question is: what to send back? If in turn, I send corresponding exports — two cans of Dale's, a metal Ralphie for his desk, a LEGO snowboarder keychain and a whole mess of pot candy — I suspect he'll be arrested. I'd have to remember to include, in un-swirly, un-Gaelic handwriting, a note: "Thanks for the presents, Joe; enjoy your time in the big house."