Bonnie Grau, left, of Springettsbury Township and Kathryn Blunt, from England, catch up over a book of photos collected since the 77-year-olds started
Bonnie Grau, left, of Springettsbury Township and Kathryn Blunt, from England, catch up over a book of photos collected since the 77-year-olds started being pen pals in 1944. John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com

Bonnie Grau and Kathryn Blunt's friendship goes back to World War II.

Blunt lived in England, in a time of extreme rationing. Grau, living in Lemoyne, Cumberland County, would send her friend chewing gum, nuts and chocolate in the mail.

Grau still has the thank-you letter, authored by 8-year-old Blunt in neat cursive.

The same letter talks about bombs in Birmingham — just a few miles from her home near Stratford, Shakespeare's birthplace.

The two friends started as pen pals in 1944 and have been writing to each other for 70 years.

Blunt came to visit Grau's Springettsbury Township home last week, marking their eighth face-to-face meeting.

"We've never had any trouble talking," Grau said.

Bonnie Grau, left, of Springettsbury Township, and Kathryn Blunt from England catch up over a book of photos collected since the 77-year-olds started being
Bonnie Grau, left, of Springettsbury Township, and Kathryn Blunt from England catch up over a book of photos collected since the 77-year-olds started being pen pals in 1944. John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com

Pen pals: The two are undeniably close — both 77 years old now, they were born just days apart.

Last week, they sat together on the sofa looking through old, yellowed photos, letters and newspaper clips.

"As far as I'm concerned, Bonnie's my oldest friend," Blunt said.

The two became pen pals when Grau's uncle George Reisinger, a teacher sent to England during WWII, struck up a friendship with Blunt's teacher. The two fourth-graders started writing and never stopped.

They both grew up with one brother and had similar upbringings. Both love to read and write — naturally — but their hobbies vary: Grau likes music; Blunt cares more for theater.

"It's surprising how similar we are, really," Blunt said.

The frequency of their writing has varied over the years, but the women say they correspond about three to four times a year — and always at Christmas, when they exchange small gifts and thank-you notes.

Face to face: They didn't meet in person until 14 years after the first letter. Grau, a student at Shippensburg University, visited England in 1958 on a college tour through London with her Uncle George, now a professor at the college.

When she got to her hotel and called Blunt, they heard each other's voice for the first time.

"You should hear her accent," they both said to their friends and family when they hung up.

Grau ditched the official tour and met up with Blunt's family, who showed her the beauty of London, she said.

They next met up in 1962, when Blunt visited Grau's home in Marysville, Perry County. Before she retired from a career in government service in Great Britain, Blunt's work often brought her across the pond.

In 1966, the two friends met up in New York City, when Blunt was on an around-the-world trip.

Then there were two more trips to Marysville before Grau moved to York in 1998. Blunt came to the area for the third time last week.

Along the way, they've enjoyed meeting relatives, sharing stories, attending outdoor barbecues and drinking tea. Blunt has seen the wild disparity of landscapes in the state and said York has a historical charm.

"I find it very pretty," she said. "It's lovely."

Before this visit, they last saw each other in 2005. This latest trip was for reminiscing and meeting Grau's grandchildren.

Joys of writing: The two still write and send letters the old-fashioned way — no email, no Skype.

"Young people today should look for the same opportunity," Grau said. "The letters are keepers."

There's just something special about reading a tangible, personal note, she said.

"I've never gotten over the joy of reading a letter," Grau said.

As they look through old letters, they said, they relive old memories. On the first night of Blunt's stay, they didn't want to go to bed because they love going back in time.

And 70 years of friendship are enough to bring them closer than ever.

"We've been more like cousins, really," she said.

"Like family," Grau said.

But they had no idea they'd become lifelong friends, Blunt said.

"We never knew we would, but it never occurred to us that we wouldn't be," she said.

— Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.