I met an old friend in the store the other day and we got to talking about all our former classmates from Skowhegan Area High School who have died.

There was Ricky and Eddie and Michelle and Wally and Richard and, of course, Cindy.

Cindy was one of my earliest friends. She was a year younger than I, and we met when we were really little in the early 1960s. I was sitting on the bench at a men’s baseball game in my father’s field, and she approached me and started talking.

She and her parents were new to the area and had recently moved across the field from us about an eighth of a mile away. She was an only child at the time, but later got a brother.

Though Cindy and I were very different, we hit it off right away.

She was shy and I wasn’t. She had long blonde curls and rosy cheeks and her clothes were impeccably neat and color-coordinated. She was always scrubbed clean and smelled like Ivory soap.

I, on the other hand, was the youngest of seven, with dark hair, glasses and hand-me-down clothes that I’m sure were wrinkled and rumpled and dusty from playing outside all day, and my legs bore scratches all summer long from rambling through the woods and fields.

I think Cindy was intrigued by my wild lifestyle, and I was fascinated by her more sedate, civilized one.

We lived in a big house with a barn and fields and woods to explore all year. She lived in a trailer on a small lot before her parents moved later to a large farmhouse on a hill a few miles away when she got older, but by that time, we had moved on to other friends and didn’t see each other as much anyway.

But when we were very young, we were inseparable. I was either always at her house or she was at mine.

Hers was a very unusual trailer. It had an upstairs with a narrow staircase, shiny wooden walls and tiny windows. I was very curious about what it was like to be an only child with a neat, quiet home and parents who focused all of their attention on just one kid.

Ours was a raucous, loud household with neighborhood kids coming in and out all of the time and always someone conjuring up things to do, like putting on plays and talent shows in our barn and inviting all the parents and kids within a mile radius.

Cindy and I did a dance routine at one of those shows. She took dance lessons and was dainty and coordinated and very generous about teaching me all her routines even though I was clumsy and uncoordinated. I’m sure I looked silly up there on the barn loft, scrambling around, trying to follow her lead as the audience on the floor below gaped at our less than stellar performance.

After Cindy started hanging out with me, she’d go home most days with her clothes dirty and sometimes torn. I’m sure her mother wondered why they had ever moved so close to us. But she also knew Cindy loved being at our house, where there was always something fun going on, so she allowed her to come. I like to think that being with us drew Cindy out of her shell a little bit and made her more outgoing. She seemed to develop quite a sense of humor over time, and I remember we laughed often and long.

The days we spent at Cindy’s trailer were much tamer than the times at our house, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. Her father built her a tiny, one-room playhouse in the backyard and placed a sign over the door that said “Cynthia Manor.” There were toys inside and a little kitchen with a table and chairs, curtains on the windows and carpet on the floor. It was neat, just like her real home.

One day, we took a doll out of a living room cabinet in her trailer and somehow managed to poke a hole through its backside and gobs of black stuffing started falling out in the form of little beads. Cindy and I started to giggle and pulled more stuffing out, strewing it all over the carpet her mother had just vacuumed. When she discovered what we had done, she wasn’t happy and sent me home.

Cindy and I got an idea of creating a secret system where we could get in touch with each other without calling by telephone. We built a mailbox in the field between her home and mine and hung a bell from it. I would write her a letter, place it in the box, ring the bell and then go back home. The idea was that when she heard the bell she’d know she got mail.

She was sitting at the supper table with her parents one evening, heard the bell, jumped up from her chair and fled the trailer without saying a word to her parents to fetch her mail. After a couple of weeks we got tired of running back and forth and dismantled the mailbox.

I have always remembered Cindy’s birthday, April 25, because mine was March 25 and I was a year older. Every year when April 25 rolls around, I think of her and her parents, who eventually moved away.

Cindy died unexpectedly in the 1970s when I was in college in Connecticut. Though we had grown apart in our middle and high school years, I was very sad when I heard the news.

I went out and bought a special card for her parents and sat at my desk in the college newspaper office where I was arts editor and wrote them words of sympathy. It was hard because I knew they were devastated. She was their only daughter and had been their pride and joy. They had protected her all those years, but had no control over her life and death.

It wasn’t until I grew older and myself lost a young nephew and niece to death that I began to understand the terrible pain it brings to a family. And try as we might, we never find an answer as to why it happens to good people.

Cindy was in her 20s when she died. She would be 59 now. I’m sure her parents wonder, as I do, what would have become of her had her life not been cut short. And I’m sure, too, that they think of her every April 25, as I do.

Happy birthday, old friend, and know I have not forgotten you.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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