The Exchange

I’m pretty sure we were in junior high, between our seventh and eighth grade years, when we heard about The Exchange. It was through 4-H, I do know that for sure, but the other details are sketchy now, three, almost four decades later. It’s hard to remember for sure if just anyone could apply or if it’s because I’d been selected Brown County Holstein girl (quit laughing!), but I was given the chance to  spend a week on another family’s farm in exchange for letting their daughter do the same.  Simple, right? But kind of scary, too, because we were essentially trusting the powers-that-be to match us with someone with whom we possibly only had farmer’s daughter in common. And it was ultimately a HUGE out-of-the-box opportunity because farm girls like us didn’t really have many activities outside of our farm.

We got her name in the mail by US post – Marcia – and we got an address.  She lived in Durand, five hours from us across the state of Wisconsin.  We started writing letters right away; I vividly remember her pretty script handwriting. Our moms only made one phone call to set things up as this was during a time when long distance calling was pretty much reserved for emergencies. Just one call, and it was set. Marcia would come to our place first. 

At this point you may be wondering how long she stayed and I kind of am, too.  Was it a weekend? Four days? I’m thinking a week but it’s been so long that I can’t vouch for the accuracy of my memory. I am certain that I liked Marcia right away. She had the beautiful long hair that I’d always wanted and was just SO pretty to me. She had a voice to match and was an amazing singer. She sewed proficiently and rode horses competitively and pretty much had everything a girl like me ever dreamed about. And – get this! – She. Was. SO. Nice! She had this gentle voice, contagious smile, and childlike laugh that endeared her to us from the get go. We spent some of my favorite days during the Exchange on our farm and I couldn’t WAIT for my turn to meet her family and spend time on hers!

Part of the excitement, of course, was that I really hadn’t ever gone anywhere by myself, so this was a first for me, but the bigger piece was getting to spend more time with Marcia and see where this new friend came from. It was a L.O.N.G. five hours, but it was well worth the wait. I got to tour the farm, which was smaller and somehow more “old-fashioned” than ours, meet her family, go for a horseback ride and hang out. We were able to pick up where we’d left off and spend an incredible week together before our time together had run out. The powers-that-be had done a really good an outstanding job; the Exchange was over, but not our friendship. 

We became pen pals and stayed in touch with letters and pictures (we both LOVED photography!) over the years, less frequently, of course, as time went by, but we still communicated with one another through our high school and college days. We've only gotten to actually see each other twice since then. Once was during a family trip out west when I was in high school that we stopped by their place to say hello. The other was at Marcia's fairytale wedding. We were almost finished with college when she married Jim. It was a perfect day to celebrate their love. I cried when she sang to him at the reception. If I get really quiet, I can still hear her rendition of Anne Murray’s beautiful ballad: Could I have this dance for the rest of my life; would you be my partner every night?

It’s all so fresh in my heart this morning because I got a letter in the mail from Western Wisconsin just yesterday. It was from Marcia. We typically touch base once a year and today’s update told about their daughter’s fairytale wedding and their son’s engagement. Her news also included details about her 50th birthday party and ended with a paragraph about how blessed she is to be married to Jim, her dance partner. She still has such beautiful handwriting!

It’s been almost forty years since The Exchange and at least 30 since I’ve seen Marcia, but I could still hear her smile through her words on the page. I’m hopeful that one day our paths will cross again. Our son is actually participating in an Exchange Program soon. We’ll host a student from Germany in April and Jacob will travel to their home near Berlin in June. It’ll differ quite a bit from our 4-H Exchange, I imagine, but I do hope that he’s as blessed by his Exchange as I’ve been by mine. 


  1. as always your posts are incredible and moving! I loved seeing the envelope and the date stamp. Absolutely beautiful story!

  2. Lovely, lovely, lovely!
    A real envelope with a real stamp is already an unusual sight.
    And it's wonderful that you have found each other once again.
    Great post!
    (I am reading it in the evening and that seems very strange)

    Wishing you a wonderful week ahead...

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

    1. Don't worry, Kim . . . tomorrow's post from your daily columnist is set to go for 6 am.

  3. What a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Barbara,
    You have no idea what this story meant to me. After a particularly challenging day I came home to your letter awaiting me. As I read it, tears began to flow and the memories so dear made me smile. It's funny how brief moments spent together can lead to a lifetime of treasured memories and long distance friendship. Somehow I know our paths will cross again..somehow. Your story is a gift and I love that you shared it with me. Thank you, my dear! Marcia

  5. This beautiful young girl you wrote about has grown into a beautiful woman,a good friend & a wonderful sister-in-law!
    I booked marked your site as I am looking forward to reading somemore of your stories.


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