In December of last year, Karlee Liljegren, 31, sent an email to one of her staff members in Selkirk, Man., wishing them a happy holiday. She didn’t get a response, so she sent three more emails. When she finally heard back, it wasn’t from her employee.
“I got a response from someone named David Mckenzie who lived in England. It basically said: ‘I’m not sure why you’re emailing me about Selkirk, Manitoba.'”
It turns out Liljegren had the wrong email address. Thanks to a typo, instead of emailing her employee, she had been emailing 76-year-old David Mckenzie from Sutton Courtenay, a small village in England.
While confused as to why he had received the email, he wanted to offer his assistance nonetheless. In his email response he wrote, “If I’m having one of my Super Pensioner days I will endeavour to assist…. On the other hand if it’s raining again I’ll probably just stay in and drink cocoa.”
Liljegren was so charmed by his response that she wrote him back. Now, well into the new year, the two pen pals have exchanged dozens of emails chronicling their lives, sharing photos and telling jokes. During a time when human connection has been at an all-time low, Liljegren and Mckenzie have built a long-distance friendship.
‘I just sent something ridiculous’
Mckenzie is an Australian expat living in Sutton Courtenay, just outside of Oxford, England. He is normally a very busy man, volunteering to drive the local ambulance and taking care of his church. However, since the pandemic began, he’s had to put many of these activities on hold, staying home to stay safe. In fact, that’s where he was when he received Liljegren’s first email.
“I’m sitting there bored, probably watched far too much television and here comes this email, I couldn’t quite figure it out,” he said. “So, I just sent something ridiculous in reply and it turned out it was from a real person.”
The nearly 50-year age gap between the two doesn’t seem to have been too wide to bridge. In fact, for Liljegren, it was an added bonus.
“All my grandpas have passed away so it’s nice to have a grandpa figure,” she said.
Although Mckenzie already has four grandchildren, he wrote that he would “happily accommodate a fifth, provided you don’t want Rudyard Kipling jungle stories or space exploration fantasies at 3 a.m.”
Tales of the BRATPAC
Even if he won’t stay up until 3 a.m. reading Kipling, Mckenzie, like any good grandfather, is a storyteller.
In one email, he regales Liljegren with the tale of a new association that has sprung up in his town in response to a surplus of wild peacocks. The association’s name? The British Royal Ancient Tiger Peacock and Aardvark Camaraderie or the BRATPAC. And what do they do?
“A few of us started up a cooking competition for the peacocks. In the village newspaper we started publishing recipes for cooking and braising and barbecuing the peacocks,” he said.
Liljegren also likes to share stories about Winnipeg. During the Christmas season, she and Mckenzie exchanged photos of different Christmas lights. Mckenzie sent pictures of the beautiful displays on London’s Bond Street and Liljegren sent pictures of the colourful lights in Transcona.
While it may seem like a transatlantic stretch that two random people could connect over a misfired email, neither is shy about making friends.
“I tend to do that anyway, I talk to people in lifts, or if I’m walking down the street and somebody looks a bit down in the mouth, I start talking to them, so this is just an extension,” Mckenzie said. “I love doing it.”
Liljegren has the same instinct, describing herself as friendly and talkative. “It’s kind of strange that we’re both kind of like that and just found each other through a random email,” she said.
In addition to the jokes and stories about England, Liljegren recounts that Mckenzie’s latest email had some good news. “Grandpa got the vaccine! I’m so happy! And grandma is getting hers on Friday.” she gushed.
So, with vaccines putting international travel back in sight, is there a chance these two will ever meet? Well, Mckenzie plans on attending a wedding in Halifax in 2022, and, based on what Liljegren has told him, he is intent on making a stop in Manitoba.
“Polar bears not far from Winnipeg and elk running across the road and skating trails,” he said. “Sounds like great fun.”