Sometime during the latter 1940's, a schoolgirl in Pretoria, South Africa, picked a pen-pal from Minnesota, USA, from a list circulating around the school, and a correspondence started between Ina Olivier and Anita Bartsch that lasted eight years.
In the mid 1950's, probably after Ina got married and moved away to live on a farm with her new husband, the two girls lost contact with each other for more that half a century - until they met in person for the first time on 7 November 2006 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Here's how they found each other again:
Anita's daughter Brenda de Jong of Yankton, South Dakota, loves travelling, and was planning a trip to South Africa. She was helping mom Anita to sort out her things, when she came across items from South Africa. There were brochures, some letters, and photographs. She was astounded!
"Mom, what's this stuff from South Africa?"
"Why - they must be from a pen-pal I had as a girl... Ina! Wish I knew what happened to her!"
Brenda decided to search for her mother's long-lost friend, and to take Anita to South Africa to meet her, if she found her.
Ina had written in one of her letters, dated Dec. 1950 (I was 23 months old):
"One of my dearest cousins and his wife and little child are in America now... in Washington DC"... and gave the address.
Anita must have written to Ina's cousin at the South African Embassy, because one of the three letters found amongst Anita's things was from my dad. He signed it Jan, Martha & Erna Schutte.
Brenda knew Ina'd married, and would have a new surname, so she started an Internet search for her cousin, Jan Schutte. As there were thousands of Schuttes in South Africa, she decided to concentrate on Schuttes in Pretoria, where Ina had lived before she got married. Eventually she turned to the white pages, and called a Professor C.J. Schutte in Pretoria, who referred her to his friend Dr Tiaan Schutte. He was just the one to know where to find me, because he's been writing a book about the Schutte family in South Africa.
Tiaan forwarded Brenda's email to me, but I had to email my cousin Nellie in England to find out where Ina Olivier was. Nellie got hold of Ina's nephew in Harrismith, kwaZulu, who called his sister Chix in Bloemfontein, who sms-ed Ina's number to him. He relayed it back to Nellie, who called me from the Isle of Wight to tell me the number. A day or so after I heard from Brenda for the first time, she spoke to Ina in South Africa. Anita was shaking so much, that she said: "I can't talk to her now! I'll wait until I see her!"
After their arrival at O.R.Tambo airport in Johannesburg, I drove Brenda and her parents to Bloemfontein to meet Ina at last. I met relatives I'd never known before, and I've discovered that my "widows peak" comes from my grandmother's sister Heilie, Ina's mother.
In one of the two letters Anita'd saved, dated October 1949, Ina wrote:
"I had quite a fine experience last Thursday evening. A time ago there was a picture of my mom, father and me in the newspaper. One day I received a letter from quite a strange man asking me to correspond with him. I asked him where did he hear about me and to my astonishment he wrote that he saw me in the newspaper. Anyhow, we kept on corresponding (it started two months agao). I find him quite a fine and interesting person through his letters. And Thursday evening he visited me! But was I excited! I did not expect him at all when he came. I enjoyed his visit and am now more keen than ever to write to him!! Quite a fine young man!"
The man was Corrie van der Merwe, who became Ina's husband.