By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – After 26 years of correspondence, Christi Houin of Belden was finally able to hug one member of an Australian family she has become friends with through letters.
“To finally meet, it’s been the best part,” said Sharyn Gregoor of Sunbury, Victoria, whose father, Ern Darcy, started the correspondence with Houin when she was a teen growing up in New Orleans.
Although they’ve shared their lives in words and photos for years, both women were a little nervous about meeting in person with their families.
“When they got out of the car and they all hugged me, I knew it was going to be OK,” Houin said as she and Sharyn sat together outside the Elvis Presley Birthplace with Houin last week.
“It’s so funny how we are alike,” Gregoor added. “I’m a hugger, too.”
In addition to an unexpected crash course in tornado safety, their families spent last week together with plans for trips to Memphis and lots of wonderful food. The red beans and rice dish of Houin’s native New Orleans was dubbed the best meal of the trip by Gregoor’s 14-year-old son, Sam, but jambalaya was still to come.
“We’re going to have grits while were here, too,” Gregoor said.
The connection between the two families was created 26 years ago in Switzerland. Houin’s mother, Cindy Meyer, and Ern Darcy struck up a conversation in hotel lobby, while Meyer was helping to chaperone a school trip. She mentioned that her daughter would love to visit Australia.
“Tell her to write me a note and I’ll send her a sweatshirt,” Ern told Houin’s mom.
And so began a friendship through long letters and occasional phone calls detailing daily life, marriages, births and deaths that have continued through the years.
“We write long letters,” Houin said. “We have to catch up on all the people in the family.”
It’s a precious friendship on both sides of the world.
“My dad has saved all the letters,” Gregoor said.
Gregoor and Houin started corresponding after Houin sent a children’s book when Gregoor’s oldest son, Jack, was born 18 years ago. Jack, who is in the middle of an apprenticeship, didn’t get to join his mom, brother and dad Neil on the trip.
Houin and Gregoor reluctantly made the transition from paper letters to email and Facebook a couple of years ago.
“Now we couldn’t imagine being without it,” Gregoor said.
Darcy and Houin have stuck to pen and paper, writing back and forth every few months.
“Some years, it’s more often than others,” Houin said.
Houin hopes to be able to meet Darcy in person; she and husband Jeff are planning to make the trip to Australia in the next year.
“Dad tried to come once,” Gregoor said, but health problems scuttled the trip.
The Australian family is making the most of the visit. Their American odyssey has taken them through California and the West, New York City and Washington, D.C. They drove from Washington, D.C., down through the Smoky Mountains to reach Mississippi.
They’ve now headed down to Florida and Miami before they will return to California and back to Australia.
“When we started thinking about the trip, my parents just assumed we’d be visiting Christi and her family,” Gregoor said.
“It’s nice to see all the things you’ve heard about.”
Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or firstname.lastname@example.org.