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Bountiful woman hopes to visit her pen pal she hasn't seen in four decades

BOUNTIFUL — In this day and age, you can send a message to someone and have it show up on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds.

So whatever happened to good old-fashioned letters?

Irene Robinson's been writing them since she was a child, and she's used them to build one of the most meaningful relationships of her entire life.

"In the letters, they're talking about their families and everything," said Irene's daughter, Heather Shanks. "It's almost like they've gotten to know each other as really good best friends."

Best friends — pen pals — a form of communication that's been all but wiped out in the 21st century. Even Shanks said she couldn't keep up with the routine.

"I tried to do a pen pal, but it lasted six months," she laughed.

Robinson's pen pal, Iviedell Lamb from Canada, has lasted a bit longer. They've been writing each other since 1940, when Robinson was growing up in Scotland. The letters continued after her family moved to South Africa and kept up after she settled in Utah.

"Our geography teacher used to live in Canada," Robinson said. "She gave us a composition to write, and out of six students, she would pick three with the best composition."

Robinson was one of the winners. Her prize? A pen pal.

"I started actually writing to her sister," Robinson said, "and then Iviedell wrote to me and said she thought her sister was too old for me."

The letters never stopped, and over the years, they've managed to meet up a few times. Robinson took her family to Canada, and Lamb came to Utah in 1970 — an event that even made the local paper.

Now, their friendship has taken a step forward. Robinson and Lamb are now communicating via FaceTime, with a little help from family.

Although it's a little more direct than letters dropped in a mailbox, Robinson still yearns to see her pen pal again for the first time in 43 years — a meeting that's becoming less likely by the day.

"That was a hard one," said Shanks. "She went in with a cough, and we thought it was pneumonia."

"They diagnosed me with breast cancer and lung cancer," Robinson said.

Shanks said her mother's health swings back and forth. Right now, she said Robinson's feeling well enough to travel, if she has some help. Shanks has set up a GoFundMe account, hoping to raise enough money for her mom to make that trip.

Because sometimes, letters can't say everything.

"A good friend. A sincere friend," said Robinson. "And it's not often you find that."