RUMFORD, Maine — There is something special about the friends we make as children. Most of us can vividly remember our neighborhood pals, the ones who helped us get into our first bit of trouble, seek out adventure, or just colored our days with laughter and fun.
"Oh god! She was the best friend I ever had," says Priscilla Martin of her childhood friend Amelia Richard. Priscilla lives at an assisted living facility in New Hampshire and her memory is not quite as good as it used to be. But for the Rumford native, who turns 100 this year, neither age nor ailing memory can diminish her warm recollections of Amelia.
"Every time we have a conversation Amelia comes up," explains Donald Martin, Priscilla's son. Donald and his wife Lois video call their mother a couple of times a week. Like so many families, they have not been able to see their mom since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. "It's hard," explains Donald but he "cherishes" the chats.
"I just love it when she talks about the past," says Donald, so that is what he does, prompting his mother to recollect her childhood, old stories he has heard before but that pepper Priscilla's face with delight as she shares them again.
In July, Donald and his wife decided to take a trip to Rumford to explore Priscilla's old haunts. The night before they departed their Wells home, they looked up Amelia Richard online. A quick search yielded an address and a phone number.
"I think my wife was more excited than I was," Donald says gesturing to Lois.
"I guess I just assumed she wasn't alive."
The following day while Lois was doing some family history research at the Rumford Library, Donald stepped outside and dialed the number he had found online. A gentleman answered. Donald asked if Amelia Richard still lived there and then came an excited, mature voice on the other end of the call... it was Amelia.
"She was so excited and she said, 'Come over,' and I said what about the whole COVID thing and she said, 'Come over now,' so I wasn't going to say no," recalls Donald.
Lois and Donald rushed over Amelia's house, the same one she has lived in for close to eight decades when she got married and moved in. Amelia will turn 99 in September and still lives alone in the two-story home that is immaculately kept. When Lois and Donald arrived Amelia was coming up the steep basement stairs where she does her laundry. Her bedroom is on the second floor so she gets plenty of exercise every day going up and down the steps.
Lois got her mother-in-law on the phone and the old friends who have not seen each other in 50 years, the last time was when Donald took his mother on a trip to see Amelia in 1970, were reconnected via FaceTime.
"Oh my god! She looks good. You look very good," Amelia exclaimed with tears in her eyes as she stared at Priscilla.
The old friends swapped old memories and caught up on family members. Amelia had 8 siblings and only she and one sister, Stella, are still alive. Priscilla was the third eldest of 13 children and yet all have passed, she is the sole survivor of her immediate family.
"I remember our good old days," said Amelia.
"We had a lot of fun," Priscilla replied. "We used to take our walks every Sunday. To tell you the truth we were looking for boyfriends."
"I think of you often," said Amelia. "We never forgot each other," replied Priscilla.
Separated by distance and five decades, these two friends hold a special place in each others hearts. Donald Martin said it was amazing to witness their reconnection and for him its now a new way to connect and to understand the family ties that are always with us.
"I feel like the more I know about (my mother) the more I know about me," says Donald who is still learning about his mom even though she will soon be 100 years old.