MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — An unlikely friendship has blossomed amid restrictions put in place during COVID-19.
Seven-year-old Addie Fenster and 73-year-old Gary Melquist each feel the twangs of separation from friends and activities. But for the past few months, Addie and Gary have been connecting as pen pals.
“It kind of helps with this more solitude life we have now,” Gary says from his senior apartment. “I bring some joy to her and she does to me.”
Gary is a resident at Augustana Care Minneapolis, where visitors are now limited.
Addie misses the friends she hasn’t seen since March, when her school closed.
“I’m just like talking and then getting a new friend,” Addie says of Gary’s letters.
Addie and Gary are among two dozen pen pal matches made at Augustana Care Minneapolis.
“It’s what’s holding our residents together since there’s very little connection to the outside world,” Gretchen Fulmer, Augustana’s activities director, says.
Yet even Gretchen has been impressed with the strength of the connection between Addie and Gary.
She’s not the only one.
“I'm going to be honest; I did not anticipate a 7-year-old and 70-some-year-old having so much in common,” Lauden Fenster, Addie’s mother says.
Addie and Gary write about favorite trips, music and their artwork.
Addie has one of Gary’s drawings framed and hanging on her bedroom wall, while Gary has hung one of Addie’s drawings on his wall too.
“She's only seven years old and she did that,” Gary says as proudly as a grandpa might.
He also displays photos of Addie and her younger brother Arlo.
Gary has shared with Addie some of his personal struggles. “In second grade I couldn't read or write,” he wrote to her in one letter. “I was very lonely and unhappy.”
Addie’s mom encouraged the exchange. “Addie's always had anxiety growing up,” she says. “To have someone who has been so open and honest and willing to talk about his struggle and his journey to happiness, I think that that's been just absolutely wonderful and refreshing.”
Someday when it's safe, Addie would like to invite Gary to dinner with her family. Gary hopes Addie can one day attend his birthday party.
Asked if she’d like to meet Gary, Addie answers with a resounding “Yes!”
In a recent letter Gary told Addie, “Thanks for being my friend.”
“You are a nice friend too,” Addie wrote back.