HALLOWELL — In an age before Facebook and Twitter, at a time when computers were the size of homes, a girl from the Maine coast heard about a girl from India who was hoping to find an American pen pal.

Samantha McGuire – she was Donna Snow at the time – fired off a letter to Bangalore, where the girl, now Sujatha Gunasekaran, lived with her parents and two sisters.

There were periods of no communication, but for the most part the letters between McGuire and Gunasekaran kept coming. Now, 46 years later, the two have embraced modern technology, talking regularly on the telephone and exchanging emails, and Gunasekaran lives in Wisconsin, but the handwritten letters and cards keep coming.

“She happens to be one of my oldest friends,” Gunasekaran said during a telephone interview from her Wisconsin home.

That friendship is well documented in the letters, cards and photos McGuire keeps in her Hallowell apartment.

“I believe this is the first one she ever sent me,” McGuire said, pushing forward a neatly written letter in which Gunasekaran describes her world.

The friendship, in a sense at least, began with Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, July 20, 1969. Gunasekaran’s father painted a picture of the event and sent it to back-to-the-landers Scott and Helen Nearing, who lived in McGuire’s hometown of Brooksville, on the Blue Hill Peninsula.

The Nearings, well-known for their back-to-the-land efforts, had visited India “and at that time my father became their friend,” Gunasekaran said.

Scott Nearing took the painting to McGuire’s elementary school and mentioned that the three Gunasekaran girls would like to receive a letter from someone in America.

McGuire picked the middle child, Sujatha, who, like McGuire, was in second grade at the time. McGuire sent her first letter in 1969. She was delighted to receive a letter back.

“Initially my father had to dictate the letters,” Gunasekaran said.

McGuire recalls the excitement of taking a new letter to the post office. It used to cost 80 cents for postage to India, which was a lot of money to her at the time – first class postage in 1969 was 6 cents.

The two exchanged letters a few times each year.

“It used to take a month for letters to get there and another month for one to come back,” McGuire said.

Gunasekaran developed a tradition of marking each new year by sending McGuire pretty cards she had painted.

“We tried to send the best things to anybody,” Gunasekaran said. “We’re not super rich, but we tried to do our best.”

The two never really fell out of touch.

“We’d drift apart and then find each other,” McGuire said. “It hasn’t been constant.”

Gunasekaran’s father visited the U.S. for the first time in 1975. He visited the Nearings and made a point of tracking down his daughter’s pen pal. He brought gifts for McGuire and a tape recording of their voices.

“We had not talked on the phone or anything,” Gunasekaran said.

Gunasekaran moved to the United States in 1987. She met McGuire for the first and only time two years later in Springfield, Massachusetts. McGuire, waiting for her friend at an agreed-upon spot, recognized Gunasekaran right away.

“I walked right up and hugged her, like you do, and she just went,” McGuire said, making a motion of a person recoiling in fear. “I thought, ‘Oh no. What have I done?'”

Gunasekaran, who is married to a professor of biological engineering at the University of Wisconsin, has two grown children, both of whom were Presidential Scholars who attended Harvard University.

“My father wanted us to come to this country because he admired America,” Gunasekaran said. “Finally coming here – and doing well in this country – is a nice thing.”

She and McGuire now regularly keep in touch via telephone and email. And letters.

“Now we’re friends,” Gunasekaran said. “We’re not pen friends any more.”