Long-time pen pals finally meet
Connie Male bubbled with excitement when she talked about her recent guests. Gun-Britt (pronounced "Goon-Britt") and Hawken ("Hooken") Efraimsson were visiting Connie and her husband Dan for a week from Vedum, Sweden.
The friendship that spanned decades through pen and paper finally happened in person.
The half-Norwegian, half-Italian from Carlton answered an ad seeking pen pals in a Weekly Reader when she was 12 years old. Male requested one from Norway and one from Italy to learn more about her heritage.
She was told there were no girls to write to her from Norway, but sent her a Swedish pen pal.
Male accepted and the friendship continued for 56 years. The friends saw each other through their teens, marriages, children and grandchildren over the years and across continents.
Both of the women were fans of Elvis and the Beatles as teens.
They sent each other a gift and card every Christmas and a birthday card each year.
Male saved all of the gifts and a majority of the letters. During the visit, the two women looked through the pile of cards and Male asked Gun-Britt to translate the Swedish cards to her.
She marveled how the Swedish Santa Clause looked like one of Santa's helpers instead of the Santa that Americans associate with Christmas.
While many countries teach English in elementary grades, Gun-Britt learned English later. Her husband started earlier and was fluent. He helped interpret when needed, although Male said the women usually figured it out on their own.
At the end of every letter, Male extended an invitation to come to Minnesota and visit. Unfortunately, Hawken owned a large equipment mechanic shop and couldn't get away. He encouraged his wife to visit by herself, but she declined. She was concerned her English was not good enough and she didn't want to fly alone.
She recently retired from her job and he began semi-retirement. They discussed visiting the Males again.
The women had begun emailing each other a few months earlier.
"I know you can email photos, but I like to be able to hold it in my hands," Male said.
While they sent letters every few months, sometimes it took Gun-Britt longer to respond.
Finally, Male received news that sent her into a tizzy of excitement. Her long-time pen pal emailed that they were thinking about visiting Minnesota.
After a 12-hour trip, including a layover in Amsterdam, the Efraimssons were finally at the Minneapolis airport.
Males daughter in North Carolina, Jody, notified Twin Cities media outlets about the long-awaited meeting — without her mother's knowledge.
Much to Male's surprise, two TV stations showed up for interviews.
Their first stop was a Dairy Queen. There were many other firsts for the Efraimssons. They had their first pontoon ride and first saw a cup koozie, which Gun-Britt was totally amazed with and packed several in her suitcase.
In Duluth, they went on a Vista cruise on Lake Superior, went on the Lakewalk and stopped at Grandma's Saloon & Grill. The women laughed as they tried to figure out each others language. Some words in Swedish have a different meaning in English, providing much entertainment as they tried to explain and understand.
They also exchanged recipes. Male made homemade lasagna and Gun-Britt taught her how to make Swedish meatballs.
Male was amazed that the simple slow cooker was just gaining popularity in Sweden.
They visited Dan's hometown, Two Harbors, so the couple could admire the scenic North Shore. "It's been really wonderful," Male said enthusiastically. "I love them both."
"It has been fun to see Connie and see her house," Gun-Britt said. "Everything is new. I love Duluth. I love the pontoon boat. Everything is wonderful."
The Efraimssons have invited the Males to visit in Sweden. Connie is nervous about the long flight, but is thinking about it.