Joy Loveys was just 14 when she received her first letter from Ashikaga, Japan.
An organization, International Friendship Club, connected the Carbonear, N.L., resident with a girl her age almost half a world away. Joy and her pen pal, Hisako Suzuki, began exchanging letters.
That was in 1981, and the pair has been in contact ever since.
Loveys and the pen pal she fondly knows as “Chako” have experienced all of life’s big moments together, albeit from afar.
They two talked through the decades about trying to meet in person, but the opportunity never arrived.
Over the past few decades, Loveys’ family has gotten to know Suzuki’s presence as an extended part of their lives.
“In the ’80’s [there was a program] called Thrill of a Lifetime,” Loveys said. “Well, I must have written three letters to Thrill of a Lifetime trying to get somebody to help me meet her.”
She even once wrote to the producers of Ophah Winfrey’s show.
But last year when Loveys’ daughter, Alana, started planning her September wedding in Hawaii, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to plan an in-person meeting.
About a month before the wedding, Loveys got the message she had wanted for more than 40 years.
“She started out her reply with kind of apologies for being so delayed in replying, and she had mentioned that there were some things that were happening that she was having to deal with. So I was, you know, gearing up for a disappointment that it wasn’t going to happen,” Loveys said.
This is something that we had dreamed about for 42 years.– Joy Loveys
“And then her next paragraph said, ‘We have booked our flights, and we are coming for three days.'”
Loveys said the news was overwhelming, and she immediately told her daughter.
“I screenshot the message from Chako saying that she was going to come. And then Alana replies saying she was crying, too.”
On Sept. 5, the day before the wedding, Loveys and Suzuki planned to meet near a beach where they were staying.
“I was feeling a mixture of very excited, but also a little bit nervous because this is something that we had dreamed about for 42 years,” said Loveys, adding she was a little afraid the meeting wasn’t going to go as well as she’d always imagined.
But when the moment came, which Alana managed to capture on video, it surpassed all expectations.
“I was not at all prepared for how overwhelmed we would both feel with the emotion of meeting somebody that you had never met,” Loveys said.
“She was part of my life for so many years, and the depth of the emotion was just… it was unexpected. It was overwhelming.”
No dry eyes around
The women talked for hours, and showed each other old photos they’d shared and even forgotten about.
“There was a picture that she brought of my parents… I guess maybe when they were in their 40s. I don’t even remember the picture — it was very, very old. It was it was a a real gift to see that again,” Loveys said.
When they introduced their spouses and children, Loveys said, there wasn’t a dry eye around.
“We asked somebody, a stranger that was just passing by in the park, if she would take a picture of the four of us,” Loveys said. “And we just told her the story briefly, and next thing she’s crying. It certainly was contagious. The feelings that went with that meeting were just unreal.”
Loveys was relieved her family was as delighted as she was, not wanting to take away any of the magic from Alana’s wedding day.
“We cried that much on the 5th that I think it helped with the 6th, because I was cried out,” Loveys said. “The wedding was wonderful, but even Alana said to me the night before [the meeting] will be a hard act to follow.”
Loveys said even though she and Suzuki have been in regular contact for more than four decades, there were certain things about their lives they’d never discussed before.
“[Chako] was explaining to me that when she was in junior high, she was having a tough time, like a lot of junior high students do,” Loveys said. “And so she said when she would come home from school and there would be a letter from Canada, that would really make her day.”
Suzuki even brought along a photo of her childhood dog whom she had named “Joy” in honour of her long-distance pal.
“There were a lot of little little things that I would never have known if it weren’t for meeting face to face. It was special.”
Weeks later, Loveys said she and Suzuki are still in disbelief and enormously grateful that they’ve finally met in person.
“We do have hopes that when she retires in four or five years that she can come here and stay with us here in Carbonear for vacation,” said Loveys.
As well, Loveys one day hopes to make the journey to Japan, to see the country her pen pal has told about for most of her life.