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'Meant to be': After 55 years, pen pals bond in real life

Sep. 19, 2013 at 3:57 PM ET

Video: An Arizona woman and her Australian pen pal of 55 years meet face-to-face for the first time.KPNX’s Scott Light reports.

After spending 55 years writing to each other as pen pals from across the world, Linda Martin and Wendy Norrie shared breakfast this morning in Arizona after meeting in person for the first time on Monday.

“It is getting to know each other,” said Norrie, who lives in a seaside village in Queensland on Australia’s northeastern seaboard. “But there’s no hesitation in being able to talk about family and friends and things. It is like picking up with an old friend from years ago.”

Those years span back to 1958 when 9-year-old Norrie’s teacher, Mr. Wilcox, contacted the town of Wilcox, Neb., to see if any students were interested in corresponding with children in his class. Fifth-grader Martin and Norrie were matched up and have been sharing their lives in possibly the most-enduring epistolary relationship ever since.

They e-mailed for the first time earlier this year after a Christmas letter from Norrie informed Martin she would be visiting the United States. Following a bus trip along the East Coast that included stops in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., Norrie flew to Arizona, where Martin now lives, and has been staying with Martin and her husband in suburban Gilbert. They have visited area parks, gone shopping, seen exhibits of American Indian art at the Heard Museum, and they plan to tour the Grand Canyon, other Arizona cities and Las Vegas in the coming days.

So what has this week been like for the duo?

“Surreal,” the women tell TODAY.com almost in unison, which isn’t surprising given how much they’ve found they have in common.

They are learning about each other’s countries and finding similarities. Certain coyotes native to Arizona resemble foxes Norrie sees at home. And while Norrie enjoyed her first authentic Mexican meal and a root beer float, Martin is still deciding how she feels about the savory Vegemite spread that Norrie shared with her.

“I have to say it’s an acquired taste,” she said.

Norrie has gotten to know Martin’s daughter, who has heard about her mother’s friend her entire life, and a party is planned for her to meet some of the Martins’ friends. In Vegas, they will visit Martin’s college roommate “so two of my closet friends are going to meet for the first time.”

But the women agree that the time spent catching up in person has been the most special. “We’ve had plenty of time to just sit down and talk,” Martin said. “I saved the letters and we’ve been re-reading those and smiling and laughing and talking about them.”

The newly-acquainted old friends plan to visit in Australia in 2015 – “if she still likes us by the time she leaves,” Martin joked.

But it seems theirs is a bond that distance could not break and proximity has strengthened.

“I get the feeling Wendy comes from the same point of view as I do,” Martin said, while Norrie added, “It’s really uncanny the same feelings we have on different things.”

“It’s unreal,” she said. “We both have one daughter and two grandchildren. There are so many similarities in life it’s as if we were meant to be writing to each other.”

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