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Pen pals meet after nearly two decades

By Nicole Burns for the FCT

Chances are, you did a little traveling during the holidays to see family and friends. Chris Gipps probably has you beat. He and his wife flew 9,519 miles from Melbourne, Australia, to visit Phil Campbell for the first time. Gipps’ connection to the area dates back 16 years, before social media, when people used pen and paper to communicate.

Gipps and Phil Campbell’s Faith Hill were 12 years old when a pen pal program connected the two. The rest, as they say, is history. Not many 12-year-olds would continue a friendship that spans the globe. Thankfully, Hill said the evolution of social media helped keep the pair in touch for almost two decades.

“We wrote letters when were younger, but it wasn’t long after we started pen pal-ing that we figured out that we could email,” said Hill. “Then we would chat in these chat rooms called Teen Chat. Of course, our parents monitored it. It wasn’t as big of a problem as it is now. We would also write in Instant Messenger. We haven’t written back and forth for a long time now. It’s basically catching up on Facebook.”

After 17 years of watching each other grow up, start families and launch careers, Gipps and his wife decided it was time to meet Hill.

“We always wished that we could meet each other, but we never thought it would actually happen because it’s such a far distance,” said Hill. “Chris and his wife had to save for a long time to plan their trip out. We were both very excited that we were finally able to meet.”

“We were certainly overwhelmed with the Southern hospitality we received, not just from Faith and her family, but everyone we met during our time in Phil Campbell,” said Gipps. The Australian couple spent four weeks touring parts of the United States, including LA, San Francisco, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Alabama, New Orleans and New York. Gipps said they were able to see the diversity in different areas. “We were really lucky to have seen so much and met so many great people,” said Gipps. “I think we could do the same holiday ten times and have a totally different holiday each time.”

While in Phil Campbell, “the weather was yucky, so we didn’t get to go out and about much,” Hill said. “We basically stayed at our home and spent time talking and catching up. I got to introduce him to my family and where I work. We went by the school. We spent a lot of time talking about the tornado back in 2011.”

Hill said the two families spent one night at her home reading through the 16-year-old letters and laughing about what two preteens talked about back in 2000.

Hill said she definitely wants to cross the seas to visit Gipps in his hometown. “Who knows when we will get to, but it is on our bucket list one day.”

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