Tupelo woman visits pen pal of nearly 30 years

By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The letters YAH may not mean much to the average person, but to Christi Houin and her pen pal, Ern Darcy, they mean quite a bit.
Those letters stand for “Your Australian Home,” or “Your American Home,” depending on who’s writing whom.
Houin, 46, who lives in Tupelo, and Darcy, 77, a Melbourne, Australia, native, have been pen pals since 1984.
“My mom went to chaperone kids on a school trip in 1984 in Switzerland and Germany, and Ern and his wife were in the same hotel as my mom,” Houin said. “They met, and my mom said, ‘My daughter’s always wanted to go to Australia.’ Ern said, ‘If she’ll write me a letter, I’ll send her a sweatshirt.’ I wrote him back to say thanks, and that was it.”
In almost 30 years, the friends have discussed everything in life: Houin talked about marrying her sweetheart, Jeff, and their children, and her eventual move to Tupelo from her hometown in New Orleans. Darcy talked about his children and, eventually, his grandchildren.
“Everything and nothing,” Houin said.
The pair have made good on their YAH promise: Darcy’s daughter and grandsons have visited Houin here in the States, and were surprised to see a Darcy family portrait displayed in Houin’s kitchen.
About three weeks ago, Houin and her husband traveled to Australia, where Houin met Darcy for the first time.
“He was exactly how I thought he would be,” she said. “It wasn’t awkward; it was very, very comfortable. He can talk. He’s got story after story after story.”
Houin and her husband were able to sightsee in Australia too, visiting the Great Barrier Reef and other sights in Melbourne and Sydney.
Houin has a pile of handwritten letters – no email for these two – along with family photos, postcards and cards they’ve exchanged throughout the years, with room for more to come.
“When I get a letter I take time to really read it. I don’t rush through it,” she said. “Handwritten letters are a lost art, and priceless.”
sheena.barnett@journalinc.com