Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, World War Two was still ongoing and stamps cost two and a half pennies when curious Margaret Jackson first received a letter from a teenage girl from across the Atlantic.
Little did she know how a heart-warming friendship between the pair would blossom and after almost 75 years, they’re still at it.
It all started when Margaret’s father allowed an American airman to stay at their home in Portobello in 1944. Inquisitive as to what life was like in America, she asked him to pass her details on to any girls who would be interested in becoming her pen pal.
Around two months later the first letter arrived from a then Alice Jacobs of Minneapolis and the pair instantly connected, talking about everything from fashion to boys and films. Putting pen to paper has taken them on a memorable journey from when letters were censored and had words missing to now where they have grown into close friends despite more than 4,000 miles between them.
Their lives have seen a number of bizarre parallels.
They were both born in February, married in 1950 and their second children were born on the exact same day.
While Margaret’s husband was an aeroplane engineer, Alice’s was a fighter pilot. They had both left education after getting married and having children. It could be said their minds worked telepathically. In the 1960s they both decided to return to college in order to complete their education. Margaret had written to Alice to inform her of her decision only to discover she had already sent a letter to Scotland to tell her of her own intentions to complete her degree.
The 86-year-old mother of four and grandmother of eight recently found out she had stage three chronic kidney disease and wrote to her long-term pal to tell her the news.
But she couldn’t believe what she was reading when the response arrived. ‘We’ve done it again, Margaret,’ stated the now 90-year-old American after she had been diagnosed with stage four chronic kidney disease.
Margaret said: “It is unbelievable the amount of things that have happened to both of us despite us living at opposite sides of the ocean.
“The doctor declared I had two weeks to live because I didn’t want to have dialysis. I spoke to family and they understand. He gave me two weeks so I had to prepare things for my funeral. It’s now four months and I’m still going strong, going shopping and having trips to the cinema.”
It took 36 years for the pen pals to meet face to face for the first time. Margaret and husband, Charlie, travelled to America to visit Alice Brandon and her husband, Jerry in Florida. “I was a little nervous before we first met, Margaret said. “I know Alice was panicked thinking what if we didn’t get along, especially when we were over for ten days. But we get on better together than we do with our own families. We would be talking up until around 1.30am and when I’d go to bed my husband would say ‘what on earth do you find to talk about?’”
For Alice’s 70th birthday Margaret and husband Charlie took her to Fjords – where her late husband was from and had always intended on taking her.
In 1994, 17 members of the Jackson family visited the Brandons in Fort Myers to celebrate the pen pals’ golden anniversary. Margaret has also given Alice a guided tour of Edinburgh and Scotland from Skara Brae, the Shetland Islands, Orkney and Edinburgh.
She said: “She has probably seen more of Scotland than half the people who live here.”
Alice has kept some of the letters over the past three quarters of a century. The pair still write to each other occasionally but now they keep in regular contact on the phone and on Skype. Margaret added: “There can’t be many people who can say they’ve been pen pals for 75 years. Now even our daughters keep in touch.
“I’m delighted I’ve got a lifelong friend out of it all.”