Longtime pen pals meet for first time in Sweden

PARKERSBURG – Valkomna (welcome) was the first word Rachel Johnson and her husband, Larry, were greeted by when they found Rachel’s Swedish pen pal standing in a long line of people at the airport in Stockholm, Sweden.

Rachel Johnson never knew just how much she had in common with her Girl Scouts pen pal, but when she and her husband decided to visit her this past July she discovered a lot more similarities than she expected.

“I never knew she did cross stitching,” Rachel said of her Swedish friend, Iris Bodin. “I made her a bookmark and now we both know we do it.”

But needle-point work wasn’t the only thing the two writing buddies had in common. At first, the pair would write letters back-and-forth about Elvis or who the cute guys were those days, and Rachel would get clippings from Bodin on what teen heartthrob was in the magazines in the late 1950s.

She was the age of her Swedish friend’s younger sister, but that didn’t stop the pair from gossiping and corresponding for the last 53 years.

When the Johnsons learned they would be going to Germany with Lions International, they quickly decided to fly into Stockholm and visit with the now 70-year-old woman Rachel gossiped with years ago.

The Johnsons are both members of the Lions Club of Parkersburg, and Larry is a past district governor and Lions International director.

Bodin had a sign welcoming the couple to Sweden and took them on a 30-minute train ride from the capital city to her quaint apartment full of English-language psychology books.

“She took us to her apartment; she doesn’t have a car or drive,” Rachel said. “We walked around a bit and she fed us lunch.”

The Swedish woman offered a meal the Johnsons were mostly prone to have when lunch time rolled around – with the exception of the moose meat.

“Someone in her family had been hunting and gave her the (thinly sliced) moose meat,” Rachel said. “It tasted a lot like beef, just had a grassy flavor.”

It was the first time the two Americans had ever tried that type of meat, but they said they enjoyed it. Dinner time wasn’t as adventurous when Bodin served the couple chicken.

The pair said they were surprised at how well their friend spoke English.

“A lot better than we could speak Swedish,” Larry Johnson commented.

After their meals, the couple strolled through the capital city and even saw a 17th century ship on display in the Vasa Museum. The couple said it was unbelievable the amount of detail constructed on 400-year-old, 64-gun warship that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628.

“We agreed the next time she was coming over (to the United States) we would go see her,” Rachel said of her friend. “When I told her we could come visit her this time it was three years ago and she said ‘three years isn’t too long to wait.'”