Hey, Kids! Check Out These Tips from Your Friends at FEMA

Did you know September is “National Preparedness Month”? And did you also know that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, better known as FEMA, has a rich and comprehensive website, not only to prove they’re on the job, but more importantly to help you survive in case they’re unavoidably delayed? No, you did not. Or if you knew, you haven’t bothered to go there, because you are lazy or because you don’t believe anything they say anyway.

I don’t know what the FEMA site looked like before Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, but I’m guessing it’s been beefed up considerably since that farce occurred. Now you can  download a personal Family Communication Plan, get help compiling your Disaster Supplies Kit, and order from a plethora of free publications. None of this will get FEMA to your door any sooner; still, it’s good stuff to know before you find yourself sitting on the roof in your bathrobe waving at passing news helicopters.

careerealism.com

Do I believe you will actually do anything to prepare for the next, inevitable natural disaster? No, I do not – and neither does FEMA. There is, in fact, little reason to believe a majority of America’s adults will suddenly start acting in a responsible and proactive manner. It is no surprise then that the agency has turned its attention elsewhere, to the nation’s youth. Because who knows, maybe they can get their parents off their complacent behinds.

I wish I could say FEMA’s appeal to kids is likely to make a difference in the country’s disaster preparedness plans. Based on my experience with grandchildren, however, it strikes me as a long shot.

Let’s say you send the kids to the site (www.ready.gov/kids). The first thing they’ll see is a list of “items you and your family will need” in an emergency. Let us review this list and (in italics) what you can realistically expect to find in your finished kit.

First aid kit (half a box of Hello Kitty bandages)
Extra batteries (only the size that fits their electronic game player)
Non-perishable food such as dried fruit or peanut butter (the peanut butter has a real shot)
Matches in a waterproof container (no, they don’t know where you hide the matches and have no idea what a waterproof container is)
Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap (ha ha)
Paper plates, plastic cups and utensils, paper towels (one of each, you’ll have to share)
Water, at least a gallon per person per day (completely beyond their comprehension)
Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio (MP3 player)
Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person (Spider-Man sleeping bag filled with Doritos crumbs)
Flashlights (as many as they can find – they like flashlights)
Whistle to signal for help (plastic whistle from Chuck E. Cheese)
Manual can opener (only if someone explains what “manual” means)
Local maps (Minecraft post-apocalyptic city map)
Pet supplies (some Scooby Snacks doggy treats)
Baby supplies, formula, diapers (three graham crackers and a pair of old training pants)

As you can see, leaving preparation of the family’s emergency kit up to the kiddos might not be the best way to go. If I were the web designers at FEMA, I’d build a more realistic site for kids, one where the home page looks something like this…

HEY, KIDS!!! Want to survive the next HURRICANE, TORNADO OR FLOOD? Of course, you do. That means you’ll have to start working on mom and dad RIGHT NOW! Just download and print this handy ‘I Want to Live Long Enough to Go to Prom’ list of everything you’ll need for your family emergency kit (we know you know how). Then hand the list to your parents and START BUGGING THEM – day in, day out, every day, until your family’s disaster kit is stocked and ready. (Meanwhile, be sure they keep the CELL PHONE charged up, or you could be out of touch with YOUR FRIENDS for a whole day or maybe even longer!)” 

Do you see what I’ve done there? You have to appeal to what kids know and might even give a crap about. Otherwise, they’ll just think “not my problem” and go back to planning how to get the cat to wear a ninja costume for Halloween.

And you never know. The kids might prevail. Frankly, I have more faith in them than I do in you.

sharielf-1.com

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Photo credits:
“Are You Ready”: careerealism.com
“Plan Ahead”: sharielf.com

In Grace Land

JUST YESTERDAY…
JUST YESTERDAY…

My granddaughter Grace turned ten last week. I think she’s happy about it. She isn’t one to call attention to herself by jumping up and down screaming, “Double digits! Double digits!” or anything. Actually, it’s hard to believe that Grace is descended from a long line of loud, opinionated women.

She spent the night at my house a few days ago. We were sitting on the sofa, Gracie watching a movie and playing a game on my Kindle while I read a book and felt guilty. Just as I was thinking we should be doing something more stimulating, she said, “This is nice.” Wait, what? Grace is good with this? Yes! Grace is having a good time!

She is still an avid shutterbug. I can’t tell you how many pictures I have on my smartphone of Grace’s eyeballs and the inside of her mouth, to say nothing of the random strangers she shoots out the car window while I’m driving. “Who the hell is this?” I wonder later, scrolling through shots of sweaty runners and dog-walkers and, oh look, here’s another picture of Grace’s feet. While I remain technologically impaired, she manipulates the bells and whistles on my phone with ease. I think this amuses her, although she is too polite to say so.

Gracie has started playing volleyball and softball, which she seems to like and have an aptitude for. Needless to say, she never complains about the officiating. She still likes to paint and draw. Here’s a picture of me bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mrs. Incredible.

2014

In honor of Grace reaching the decade mark, I rummaged through some things I wrote several years ago but never posted. This is from Feb. 10, 2010, when she was four:

“I helped daughter Jill paint her bathroom on Saturday. It’s a small bathroom that should have taken about two hours to paint but ended up taking five, what with the unplanned trips to Home Depot and the three observers aged four, five and nine lined up outside the bathroom door on two kiddy chairs and one overturned bucket (Christian still in his pajamas and Grace in her tutu and flowered coronet), arguing that they were too old enough to paint. Not that they thought their mother would cave, but I might be co-opted to use my influence on their behalf.  I didn’t crack though. I was firm. I told them they could paint when they come to my house. I have a lot of leftover cans of paint in the basement, so I figure I can just let them have at the concrete blocks, and how bad could it be?”

Well, I never did let them loose in the basement. I’m indulgent, but I’m not a fool.

Ah, Gracie Girl. How did you get to be ten so soon? When did you stop wearing tutus and put on a baseball cap? And when another ten years have passed, will you still sit with me on the sofa and say, “This is nice, Grandma”?

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On Three

CAN I HAVE GUM?
CAN I HAVE GUM?

My youngest grandchild, Lee, turned three this week. He’s a funny little kid. He keeps his own counsel, although he is always clear about what he wants. This is him three years ago, the youngest of six grandkids and resigned to his fate, as it were…

lee in carseat
ALL THE GUM IS GONE, ISN’T IT?

Nothing has changed much. He’s not overly demanding (for three), but he will not be deterred. At the moment he wants Juicy Fruit gum. That is my sole role and purpose in life, as far as he is concerned: purveyor of Juicy Fruit gum. It doesn’t matter if I say I don’t have any gum, I forgot the gum, sorry. Five minutes later he is back, wanting gum. It isn’t that I don’t want him to have gum, it’s that invariably he does one of two things. The first is to swallow it.

Lee: Grandma, can I have gum?
Me: I just gave you gum. What happened to it? Did you swallow it?
Lee: No.
Me: Where is it?
(He points to his tummy.)
Me: It’s in your tummy?
Lee: Yes.
Me: No, no, you have to spit it out when you’re finished! Just chew it and spit it out. Don’t swallow it, okay?
Lee: Okay.

I give him another stick of gum. He doesn’t swallow it. This is the second thing he does: after two minutes he spits it out. Then he wants more gum. It’s like playing Juicy Fruit Monopoly. Pass Go, Collect Gum. I can only hope that at some point I will be bankrupt.

He is a smart kid, but sometimes he still has trouble telling truth from not-truth…

Gina: Lee, wash your hands for supper.
Lee: Did.
Gina: No, I don’t think so. Go wash your hands for supper.
Lee: Did.
Gina: Lee, if you don’t wash your hands, no pudding cup for dessert.
Lee: Okay. (He leaves for the bathroom.)

This works because her children know Mom means what she says. She doesn’t raise her voice or repeat herself. You simply will not get a pudding cup, no way, no how. This is starkly different from their interactions with me. He doesn’t believe me when I say I have no gum, and there is precedent for that.

Lee: Grandma, do you have gum?
Me: Oh, I forgot to bring gum! I’m so sorry.
Lee: Grandma, can I have gum?
Me: No, no gum right now.
Lee: Can I have gum?
Me: After dinner you can have gum.
Lee: Can I have gum?
Me: Okay.

Sometimes he wants a Tootsie Roll Pop instead of gum. There is no point in describing what that conversation is like. You have already heard the gum story.

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Because He’s Five, That’s Why

WITHOUT REMORSE.
WITHOUT REMORSE.

My grandson Bret Jr. turned five yesterday. He marked the occasion by giving himself a Minion haircut (see photo), in preparation for his Minion-themed birthday party. And because, he says, it looks cool. Well, you can see the amazing resemblance…

minion.

Come to think of it, my own children were about five when they decided to try their hand at cosmetology, although I don’t recall that they started at the top of their heads, so maybe that’s a boy thing.

He got a fair share of Minion-related birthday presents, of course, and one friend gave him a book on raising chickens, along with a plastic chicken feeder and watering dish. He and his sister are desperate to raise chickens in their backyard. Well, mostly his sister, but he is one of her biggest supporters. You might think they live out on a country road somewhere, but they actually live in a heavily populated suburb of St. Paul. Nevertheless, their father is going to check with the city to see how many chickens they can have, while their mother, who suffers from severe ornithophobia, says she is willing to fry up the eggs. Because that’s how they are. This simply means that I will have to spend a portion of every visit outside looking at the chickens and exclaiming over the chickens and trying to avoid being pecked.

Anyway, Bret. A happy, smart, funny little boy who still assumes his seven-year-old sister knows more than I do about most things but doesn’t follow her around as blindly as he did two or three years ago. He is into action heroes, which is why I’ve had a little 5-inch man lying on the box next to my back door for a couple of months with instructions not to let anyone move him. I don’t.

THIS GUY.
THIS GUY.

Yes, birthday season is upon us. I have two more grandkid birthdays coming up in about a week. It wears me out some, but it is seldom boring.

THE NEW
THE NEW “SUMMER” HAIRCUT.

Last One to Leave, Bring in the Dock

cabin

We are selling the family cabin this week, the last thing my father left us. He built it in 1968, with the same independence and drive he showed in everything else. He pored over plans for vacation homes, contracted the work himself, and kept meticulous records of it all. I know because forty-six years later, I still have the receipts, stapled together in thick stacks and tallied in his neat handwriting, detailing every purchase from the stones in the fireplace to a 45-cent package of nails.

The plan he chose featured a spacious layout, with huge beams in the living room and a wall of windows overlooking the lake. And although the decor is classic ’70s and the furnishings just as dated, it still stands as beautiful and solid as it did then. Good bones, don’t you know.

On Jan. 4, 1970, at age 45, my Dad died in a horrible accident. He spent one summer at the lake, doing the things he loved and putting up with a host of friends and family. And now that the cabin too is passing away, it seems like someone should tell his story. Not the whole story, but some of it. I wouldn’t want anyone telling my story bit by excruciating bit after I’m gone. I’m sure you wouldn’t either.

dad army

My father’s name was Andrew Simon. He grew up in Northeast Minneapolis, the second of six children of Lebanese immigrants. They owned a small grocery store where all the kids at one time or another were compelled to work. Northeast in the 1940s was a patchwork of immigrant neighborhoods. Dad was the rebellious kid. He ran around with his friends, got in trouble and in general just caused a world of grief for his parents, who weren’t the most patient people in the world to begin with. I’ve heard some stories; there are many more I haven’t heard and never will.

I know Dad was kicked out of a Catholic high school for boys and had to finish up at the public school. I know once he got mad at a streetcar, stopped his car on the tracks and refused to budge, throwing the streetcar line off-schedule and all the passengers into a tizzy.

When World War II came, he joined the army, serving most of his time on steamy little islands in the Pacific. At the age of 19, while still in the service, he married my mother, the smartest thing he ever did. She was a farm girl, sweet, lively, independent and good good good.

Lu-Andy-in car_2

After the war, with a wife and two small daughters, my father worked all kinds of jobs. He had always been smart, but who knew he was industrious and ambitious too. At various times, he sold vacuum cleaners and sewing machines, owned a nightclub (briefly) and a successful insurance agency (for several years). He opened a liquor store. He bought a small plane and learned to fly. Finally, he started a business installing coin-operated equipment in apartment buildings throughout the Twin Cities. The business grew and grew until he became, for his place and time, a rich man.

June 1963 #2

Dad wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t a perfect husband or a perfect father. But those stories don’t need to be told here, I think, if ever. He was fair and generous to a fault. He understood human frailties. He took care of us and left my mother well off. Well, she never loved any man but him her entire life. With only a grade school education, she kept the business running for 25 years after he died, always underestimating her gifts.

And Mom kept the cabin. In the summers we raised our kids and grandkids there, watching them swim and ski, fish off the dock and paddle around in the paddleboat. We cooked, played games, sang along to country songs and watched hundreds of sunsets.

At the cabin there is a little Jesus shrine near the lake with a plaque engraved with Dad’s name. I imagine the new owners will take it down now. I have no desire to go back. Losing the cabin is a hard, hard thing, but let’s face it, families are about loss and families are about building up. Memories fade, memories are made. Really, that’s all it’s about.

June 1963 #2

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Birthday Season

tumblr_m3dot4boR91rpslw6o1_500

Birthday season is upon us. We have birthdays throughout the year, of course, but from May 24 to the end of July, it’s birthday, birthday, birthday, birthday, birthday, birthday, birthday. The sons-in-law, present and future, must get sick of it. Even I get sick of it. They’re good sports though. They usually show up.

We celebrated daughter Jill’s birthday at my house a week ago Saturday. It rained hard all day, so no sending the grandkids into the backyard and letting them loose on the wildlife. I have a playroom full of toys upstairs. Sometimes they play in there; more often they haul things out and leave them in various inconvenient places around the house. One of their favorite things to do is jump off the bed in the guest room into piles of blankets and pillows. From downstairs you hear thump, crash, scream, thump, laughing, thump, crying. Someone could be killed up there, but we first-floor dwellers like to pretend all is well right up until the time someone has to administer first aid.

Sometimes they call us from the phone in my room. (Jill last week: “Stop calling me. Do you hear me, Grace? Just stop now.”)

You’d think Lee, who turns two in July, would be a little intimidated, but he isn’t. He’s child #3 and no one has told him he’s fragile. Usually he just does whatever his three-year-old brother, Bret Jr., is doing. Bret falls on the floor, Lee falls on the floor. Bret stomps his rain boots, Lee stomps his rain boots. Bret shows off his Batman pajamas, Lee shows off his Superman pajamas. And so it goes. Riding in the car is interesting. He hates stop lights. The car rolls to a stop, and he starts yelling, “Go! Go-o-o-o!” Also, for some reason, he calls me Grandpa. I tell him, “No, Lee, Grandma. Grandma Judy.” I could be talking to the garden gnome.

Bret Jr. assumed the role of event photographer this time around, which is how I end up with pictures like this:

IMG_1860

Cosette piano

Lee away

Maria no

Meanwhile, six-year-old Cosette informed me that by the age of 13, you know everything there is to know. I have no idea what kind of convoluted thinking led to this conclusion. I never argue with her. She’s creative.

I made cupcakes for the party. Well, I always make cupcakes, because the only kind Christian can eat are dairy-free, so that’s the kind I make. This time, however, I found a mystery bag of Baking Flour in the cupboard with a farmer or a sailor or something on it. I think I’ll use up this flour, I thought. So I did, only to discover too late that it was wheat- and gluten-free. Probably no one will even know the difference, I thought. But they did. I cannot be expected to put on the perfect party for every occasion, now can I.

New rule for next birthday: no using Grandma’s artificial fruit as hand grenades.

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The Engagement

Jessica engagement

Jessica and John decided to get married. And since no one could think of a reason why they shouldn’t, here we go.

My family is a lot like a sitcom. It just takes something like a wedding to make it obvious. Daughter Jessica didn’t want anyone to know she was engaged until she announced it on her birthday in June. So of course, within the week, half the family did know. Then they had to act like they didn’t know.

She swung into full wedding mode, with John and I carried along in the undertow. Because a wedding has a life of its own, you know. Like the tide, once it’s barreling in, all you can do is keep swimming.

Meanwhile, the big announcement was still out on the horizon. Then John thought, No, things aren’t nutty enough. I think I’ll surprise Jessica with a pre-announcement announcement party. And because no one had told him he was marrying into a sitcom family, this seemed doable to him.

Thus began the maneuvering to bring six kids, a cake, a jacket, a ring, twelve yellow roses, and signs spelling out WILL YOU MARRY ME JESSICA? to Stillwater on Memorial Day weekend.

There was a script. Christian was supposed to hand John the sports jacket, Grace the flowers, and Maria the ring. Except, being a nine-year-old boy, Christian was opposed to being part of the proceedings in any way. We kept moving. The six nieces and nephews were designated to hold up the six homemade signs, with the question mark going to Lee, who will be two in July and is apt to balk at any request unusual or not. We figured it wouldn’t much matter if the punctuation fell off.

Marry me signs

On Saturday morning, Jessica and John started off on a tandem bike for the 36-mile ride to Stillwater. Because that’s the kind of thing they do. By 3:30 most of the welcoming party had gathered at an outdoor restaurant on the river, where we plied the kids with food and high-sugar-content beverages to keep them from accosting the other patrons. By 5:30 we were on our way up the hill to another restaurant for the big moment. They put us in a small room with a door, which was smart. Then we waited. Gina made the kids do a practice run. Christian reluctantly accepted his fate. Grace complained that the thorns were poking her fingers. Maria was resigned as only a 13-year-old can be. Cosette commandeered my camera. Bret Jr. sshh’d everyone. Lee refused to leave his mother’s lap. I had another glass of wine.

At 6:30 Jessica and John came in and… everything was perfect. Well, a couple of signs were upside down, but it didn’t matter much. Jessica was verklempt. John was happy. Everyone else was exhausted.

On to The Little Chapel in the Woods!

engagement cake

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All Together Now…

So, long time no post. I feel guilty. I do. It wouldn’t bother me except that I’m supposed to be chronicling my grandchildren’s formative years. If I don’t do it, who will? Nobody, that’s who.

It’s January, so obviously I didn’t get around to reporting on the annual school Christmas programs in a timely manner. I have five grandkids attending that grade school now. You’d think there’d be a prize or something, but so far zip.

Bret Jr. Is Enthusiastic

BretXmas

Boy Bret performed admirably in the preschool Christmas program. He sang when he was supposed to sing, sat when he was supposed to sit, and when it was time to hold their paper trees and stars aloft and sway to the music, he could have been conducting the William Tell Overture.

Cosette Speaks

CosetteXmas

The elementary school program, meanwhile, put all the classes on stage at the same time. None of that tedious shuffling back and forth we’ve seen in the past. Lined up front and center were the kindergartners, clueless as cattle, a pair of animal ears or horns stuck on each little head. Cosette was a cow. It was a speaking part. Which makes a lot of sense if you know her.

Grace Endures

GraceXmas

The second-grade girls were little angels. No, really. They had wings. At one point between songs, I looked over and saw Grace sitting on the riser, chin in hand, looking about as bored as anyone wearing wings and a tinsel halo can.

Christian Is Good

ChrisXmas

There was less poking, nudging and tittering among the third grade boys than you might expect. Christian isn’t usually what you’d call a model of decorum, but he stood up straight, sang and didn’t cross his eyes once … which is more than I can say for some of his friends.

Oh My Maria

MariaXmas

So there they were, the entire student body (it isn’t a big school) gathered on stage. I expected to be somewhat moved, surrounded as I was by progeny. What caught me off guard was seeing Maria wearing a little black dress and standing with the other seventh grade girls. I remembered her first Christmas program. She had her elf hat on backwards so the bell on top dangled down in her face. I looked over at Cosette standing amid a herd of pint-size sheep and donkeys. And I’ll tell you the truth, I could have wept.

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Move It, People

thedailygreen.com

My oldest daughter, Jessica, and her Committed Other (let’s call him John, since his name is John) bought a house. They had to, as the one-bedroom apartment she’s lived in for the last twelve years could no longer contain them. The new house has four bedrooms. They need four bedrooms. They moved last weekend.

Let’s face it: no one wants to help anyone move. That’s why God made family groups. The attack on Jessica’s apartment was many-pronged – a gathering of reluctant souls from all points of the compass – and it still wasn’t enough humanpower to get it done in a day.

The thing is, these people are too old. Jessica and John, that is. They are mature adults, each of whom has been accumulating consumer goods for decades. Jessica’s things have been overflowing into my basement since college. John’s belongings were spread out from here to Iowa, locked in storage or trying the patience of various relatives, from the time he sold his previous house.

I was thrilled when I found out Jessica was getting her own basement. Two carloads and then some, and I still haven’t managed to shift everything from Here to There. I will though. How long can a mother hold onto the treasured crap her kids can’t live without but will ignore for years? I still have two wedding gowns upstairs. The owners each have three kids of their own now. What am I, the Smithsonian?

ww2.macleans.ca

The new homeowners’ new living room currently has about 30 boxes waiting to be unpacked. Jessica told me she moved a full-size box spring and mattress out to the garage by herself today, something I did not expect to witness in my lifetime. The new garage is full too, of course, and I think they are finally considering the benefits of purging. Throw it out, give it away, drop it off a bridge at midnight.

I bring it up because it seems to me that the problem of disowning our belongings is reaching crisis proportions. People will do almost anything to get rid of stuff they can’t use and don’t want to pay to have hauled away. Leave it on the curb and hope someone desperate will drive by and take it. “Donate” it to the Goodwill after hours. We should stop buying stuff, yes we should. We won’t though. I’d bet a box spring and mattress on that.

regionofwaterloo.ca

putapuredukes.com

marykayandrews.com

terriermandotcom.blog

redroom.com

flickrhivemind.net

homeownernut.com

vermontfurnitureblog.com

I could go on, but why?

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Mama’s House

We sold Mama’s house yesterday. It took over a year to get it to a point where someone would take it. Everything seemed pretty okay to us right up until the time Mom died. She must have been the caulk holding it together.

We had to replace the brickwork on the chimney outside, which meant evicting a raccoon who had set up residence in there, no one really knows for how long. We just always thought the back room had a persistent musty odor. He didn’t want to go.

We found mold in the attic, and the roof was all spongy, so most of the top of the house had to be replaced. We put new flooring and counters in the kitchen and reglazed the bath fixtures. We yanked out the carpeting and tore down the dated wallpaper. We hauled things out, took what we wanted, gave a lot away, and trashed the rest.

The house is starkly empty now. No dining table where Mom sat every morning drinking coffee and reading the paper. No out-of-tune piano. No toys in the green room. No Anne Murray on the CD player. No spices under the cupboard or strawberry jam in the frig. No Mom.

We went over there on Sunday to say goodbye, my sister and I, our five daughters and a few related Johnny-come-latelies. We brought along a folding table and chairs and made some of the foods Mom used to make. Not the same as hers, mind you, but effort was expended. I made her one-of-a-kind fudge, which is touchy as hell; if you don’t pour it at the exact optimum moment, it’s either too soft or virtually unspreadable. She always got it right. Mine was on the soft side.

THESE PEOPLE WERE CLUELESS. I THINK THEY JUST CAME FOR THE FOOD.
THESE PEOPLE WERE CLUELESS. I THINK THEY JUST CAME FOR THE FOOD.

We drank Fuzzy Navels and brandy-7s. The granddaughters recalled many a weekend spent there, eating buttered popcorn and homemade fudge on the sofa, watching “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island” and “The Benny Hill Show.” Mom loved Benny Hill. Someone pointed out that, in hindsight, maybe “Benny Hill” wasn’t the most appropriate television show for children. Too late. At bedtime the kids slept wherever, one on the sofa, another on the loveseat, someone sprawled on the floor; and the next morning, Grandma made them the kind of breakfast their mothers seldom did. Inevitably, come Sunday night, some child developed an illness of an uncertain but potentially fatal nature that precluded going to school Monday morning.

THESE PEOPLE USED TO BE ABLE TO SIT TOGETHER ON THIS STONE BENCH. NOW, NOT SO MUCH.
THESE PEOPLE USED TO BE ABLE TO SIT TOGETHER ON THIS STONE BENCH. NOW, NOT SO MUCH.

So that’s about it. We sat outside until it got dark, while the kids ran around the house in circles. We cleaned up and carted out the table and chairs. Gina left a nice note for the new homeowners and signed it “The Family of Luella.” Those who are inclined to shed tears did. We got in our cars, and we went home.

The people who bought it are real nice.

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