By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
For nearly 30 years, two women named Mary have written more than 4,000 letters to each other.
“It’s been kind of like a journal in a way,” said Mary Jedlicka Humston, a member of St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville. “We were writing about how we were feeling that day, what we were doing, what our kids were doing, what was coming up and what we were dealing with.”
Clearly practiced in the art of writing, Humston and her friend, Mary Potter Kenyon of Manchester, Iowa, recently wrote a book about their stationery bond, “Mary & Me: A Lasting Link through Ink.” Through snippets and reflections from the women, readers can get a glimpse into the souls of the two Catholic women and the topics that dominated the conversation.
In the book, readers learn that the Marys first met in the mid-1980s when Kenyon’s family moved into Humston’s Iowa City neighborhood. Kenyon explains in the text that she always wanted to find a friend who shared her Catholic values and a love for family. This friend literally showed up on her doorstep one day, carrying a plate of cookies in one arm and a toddler in the other.
As their friendship bloomed, the Marys realized that they did have one major difference: Kenyon was more reserved and considered her six sisters to be her best friends. Humston, on the other hand, was a social butterfly who was involved in a myriad of church and parenting groups. Still, when the Kenyons moved to the Cedar Falls, Iowa, area just a year after moving to Iowa City, it was Humston who began writing the letters. Kenyon was pleasantly surprised that her friend wanted to keep in touch, especially since Humston had so many other friends. But the letters kept coming, and Kenyon kept writing back.
Humston explained to The Catholic Messenger that she’d had other pen pals before, but none like Kenyon. “We just had something that felt precious to me … We connected immediately – we both had a love of writing and other similarities. Yes, we were different but we had so many commonalities that it was easy to write to her. I got deep feelings expressed to someone who understood me. It’s not like she replaced any of my friends or siblings or my spouse, but she was another voice that could hear what I was feeling and thinking. She loved to write letters and I did too.”
The women remained motivated to write to each other frequently, Humston said, because they knew the other would reciprocate. “That immediacy helped when I needed an opinion, or just when I needed to know that someone else cared about what I was going through.”
It was often difficult for the women to get together, as Kenyon raised eight children and Humston three. For Kenyon, the letters were a way to interact with the “outside world” and share her feelings. Even as the Internet and cell phones came to prominence in the 1990s and 2000s, the women continued to use the pen-and-paper format. It just felt natural, Humston said.
One particularly touching segment of the book deals with the death of Kenyon’s husband David a few years ago. In her grief, she found comfort in the fact that she “still had Mary.”
The women began writing the book in 2014, citing some divine inspiration. Kenyon has written several books; “Mary & Me” is Humston’s first book. She says feedback has been very encouraging. “I hope people get from the book that it is important to treasure your friends and not be afraid to make new ones. Be open to new friends. We hope to save the world one piece of stationery at a time, as Mary would say!”