Category Archives: Family

A Journal of the Plague Year: #9

Just a few observations today in no particular order, or, rather, more accurately, in the order in which they occurred to me:

  • War of the Worlds seems to be our binge-show of choice at the moment. There’s nothing like a great end-of-the-world story to get you through a pandemic.
  • In related news: my son and I are considering the purchase of the tenth season of The Walking Dead. It has been a thing of ours for years, ever since the day, when he was way too young, that I discovered he was secretly watching it on the iPad. Terribly aggrieved, I made a deal with him that watching with Dad was the only way he could continue with this deranged and terribly violent show.
  • Yesterday’s outing was successful. I pulled up curbside to Music Millennium, my favorite independent record store, called inside, and a blue-rubber-gloved young clerk come outside with my vinyl order: a 200 gram, remastered “25 O’clock,” the new Boomtown Rats album (the first in 37 years!), and a collaboration between The Flaming Lips and Deap Vally: Deap Lips, of course. The spelling is theirs, in case you were wondering. Music Millennium is closed to in-store customers. On-line and curbside sales only. If you have a favorite business operating this way, and you are able, try to help them out.
  • The liquor and grocery store excursion seemed like any other liquor and grocery store excursion, except that I could tell people were being conscientious about distance. But is it possible in these situations to remain six feet away from every human being? I don’t think it is. If I wanted to, I could have reached out and touched someone on a number of occasions. You will be happy to know that I did not do this, however. Some were wearing gloves. A few were wearing masks. Was it less busy than usual? Maybe. The most striking difference was in the drive. The traffic was light, but not alarmingly. But there were so many businesses hanging signs that said “CLOSED.” Cafes, restaurants, small shops everywhere, closed.
  • The number of infected people in Oregon has nearly tripled since the last time I mentioned it. So has the number of deaths. 266 and 10, respectively.
  • A letter from our principal, my boss, arrived in yesterday’s email box. Beyond the joke about his attempt at homeschooling resulting in the near suspension and expulsion of his own kids, the news about next steps is still fuzzy, except for the fact that we may be called into work on the 30th or the 31st. I’m interested to know what we might do for an entire month before students are slated to return. He makes a plea for flexibility, a guarantee that our “roles will look different,” that we “may be asked to do things that are not in our job description,” whatever that means. “We are in uncharted territory.” Ain’t that the truth. Some movement is afoot, it seems, and that’s a bit of a comfort. Kind of.
  • The rhythm of our days has taken a dramatic shift. We stay up until midnight or 1 a.m., sleep until 9. Outside of a zoom conference call here and there, our schedules are wide open, but there have been a number of things consistently happening in the lives of the adults in the house. Chores. Meditating. Reading. Blogging. Drumming. News-binging. Social media-binging. Poetry-recording. Drum video-watching. Music listening. Meal-preparing and eating. Finally, evening movie or show-watching. The resident teenager seems to be engaged in a fewer number of activities, but engaged nevertheless. Video-gaming. Snacking. Drumming. Believe me, we’ve tried to get him outside. When the weather was good we played badminton for a half an hour. Now that the weather is shitty, getting him to come out of his room is a dicey proposition. Sometimes a meal will coax him out, or more snacks, or a grilled cheese sandwich. To be fair, he’s done some reading. He culled through some of his old toys. And he took a shower. Singular.
  • I decided that I cannot live with yesterday’s reading of “The World Is Too Much With Us,” so if you go back to yesterday’s entry, you might notice a second video, a revised performance of Wordsworth’s sonnet–after the original. It might be instructive or interesting to compare them, because I think, a wrong word was not the only thing that made me unhappy. You’re free to skip it, of course, if you like. I recorded it mostly for myself–and my friend Tracy. It turns out to have some surprises, this new performance–and a new error! The omission of the word “And” in line 7! Aaarrghhh.
  • As for today’s poetry reading: it will be, dear reader, viewer, listener, a commitment. It clocks in at about 10 minutes, baby. Almost everything I predicted about rereading the great “Tintern Abbey” poem was borne out through experience: the rereading, the weeping, the decision to record a sonnet instead. But then, I got a bug. Emboldened by the whiskey, perhaps, I recorded “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” which is not even the full title, by the way, and miraculously, I got all the way through it in one take. I don’t think I substituted “coming” for “rising” once in the entire thing. I could be wrong about that. No matter. This poem, as much, no, more so than Wordsworth’s sonnet, is a much-needed tonic. It was then, it is now, and it will be for all time a poem with immense super powers. I hope my reading of it does it justice, even a little bit.
  • Final observation on “Tintern Abbey.” In the last section of the poem, Wordsworth directly addresses his sister. When I read it, and I got to that word “Sister,” I thought of her as a representative of all the women who have made such momentous impact on my life–and I felt like I was speaking to them, or to each one of them, individually. Some serious magical mojo going on there.

 

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #8

I think the resident teenager is depressed. He is not content to stay at home or to go without visitors. The company of his parents does not thrill him. They coax him to come out, are successful from time to time, in small doses finding him in good spirits, but more often than not, they find him surly, resistant, sometimes mean. And this is not too terribly out of the ordinary for some teenagers, typically, or for this one, specifically, but the lack of activity due to the isolation seems to exacerbate the problem. Mom and Dad are worried. I don’t know why I am writing in the third person. Maybe it’s that, as he gets older, I am less comfortable writing about my son. Let’s pretend, then, for the sake of argument, that I am not writing about my son. The parents are home, too; they are teachers, and yet, are they asking their son to do academic things? In lieu of any direct instruction from his school, are they creating opportunities for him to continue his learning? It is, after all, spring break officially, but it’s also the second week off from any formal intellectual expectation. The parents wonder if they should be doing something more.

Say that, this particular boy, who is not my son, bought some books at a bookstore the day before the bookstore closed its doors. He has done some reading about Chernobyl and World War 2. He wants to watch the film 1917. He says that he is interested in history. These are good signs. It brings his father an incredible joy to see him reading but he wishes his son would do more of it. He thinks maybe he should invite his son to read with him, a father/son fantasy he has always harbored, but never acted upon, at least not since the boy was a child. How long has it been since he read to his son? It’s been too long. There’s nothing like an extended break, especially one of this nature, unwelcome, potentially dangerous, global, to give parents more opportunities to reflect on the shortcomings of their parenting. Let’s change the subject.

The weather has turned shitty. An attempt was made to walk the dogs but the rain drove us back home. Despite the shelter-in-place order, or, as our Governor calls it, “stay home, stay safe,” I am going to make a foray out into the world today for some “essentials”: music, whiskey, and some groceries. I offered to find my son a snack and he was excited about that. Other than these things, I have crossed off all the items on my to-do list, except for one. I have not yet mopped the floors. They can wait. We must, during these difficult times, have priorities.

My son’s mood has improved. I’d like to think the promise of a favorite snack food had something to do with it, but he has come down to the basement to practice drumming with his mom–a sure-fire antidote. When I return from my errands, I will search for the perfect poem. Still leaning Romantic, I think. Maybe Wordsworth. My first impulse will be “The World Is Too Much With Us,” but I will want to give it a little more thought. I will read that most famous sonnet, and I will think, Jesus, what a terrific poem. But then, I will probably turn to “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” and I will read it all the way through for the first time in years. I will have difficulty getting through it without weeping. For that reason, and because it’s so long, I will not likely choose to record this one, but I will conclude, as I have many other times in my life, that this thing, for me, is maybe the greatest poem ever written in the English Language.

But for now, and apropos of everything: “The World Is Too Much With Us.” Today’s mistake is that “coming” should be “rising.” That’s a doozy, but I catch the error late. Unwilling to rerecord! Apologies!

 

Addendum: I could not, after all, live with this error. So I’ve done another take–which includes a number of surprises that I have not cut from the video. Let me just say that my confidence in the Folio Society has faltered significantly!

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #6

This morning (upon waking? in the shower? during meditation, while Sam Harris spoke to me about conscious awareness? over breakfast?), I found myself thinking Thoreau. Passages from Walden were emerging from the memory banks where favorite books are stored. It occurred to me that if one were to grab a classic from American Literature off the shelf that might be of great use during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be Walden. In particular, the section called “Solitude.” If there was ever a prince or a king of social distancing, it would be Henry David Thoreau. This particular passage comes to me first, as he imagines what he would say to those who question his nutty project of living in the woods alone for two years:

Men frequently say to me, “I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially.” I am tempted to reply to such,–This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way?

As things get more and more serious we tend to be more and more careful, and the difficulty of today was in telling our son that it would be best if his friend did not come over. She lives right down the road, is more than likely practicing her own social distancing, is likely safe to have around–but at what point can you know with any certainty that someone outside your family, no matter how trusted, is not carrying this stupid virus? What chance are you willing to take? It appears, at least today, we’re not taking chances. We’re only eight days into this thing and the chances are that it will get worse and that this conversation will get harder and harder. Us married folks, especially us long-time married folks, take each other’s company for granted, I suppose. If we had to, it probably wouldn’t kill us to be apart, but we don’t have to, and so we have each other’s company all through this thing, a huge comfort. But if you’re young and smitten, think what the prospects of weeks away from your friend might signify! The bloody end of the world as we know it. You’ll have to settle for your parents! And for solitude.

I am, I would say, a social person in small doses. I love small, intimate gatherings but I loath crowded social events–and I do love solitude. Thoreau again:

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.

I think that my son has inherited some of this from me. He’ll spend gobs of time in his room “alone.” Most of that time he is not really alone, occupied as he usually is with communications in real time with his gaming buddies. But when he practices his drumming, or when he does his homework, or when he reads, he seems content often to be alone. But this will be difficult and it will get more and more difficult. And my thoughts move from Thoreau to Rilke.  In his Letters to a Young Poet, offering more advice about loving and living than he ever gives about writing, he gifts to the young poet and subsequently the entire world that famous and absolutely incalculable good advice: Hold to the difficult. Today’s reading, not a poem but a piece of prose–from a poet, a selection I hope you find as comforting as I do in times of difficulty.

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #5

The day begins with session 10 of a guided meditation with Sam Harris. I’m not a huge fan of guided meditations, per se, because I feel while I’m meditating I don’t want somebody else’s voice in my head. But I am a fan of Sam Harris, so I figured, since he gifted me a free year’s subscription to Waking Up, that I’d live for awhile with Sam Harris’ voice in my head while I meditate. I’m learning some things. His guidance seems grounded to me, down to earth, less woo woo and more you you. In fact, that’s the thing I like best about him: there’s no woo woo.

René and I take another long dog walk, our fifth in a row, I think. The dogs are so stupidly happy it’s not even funny.

Feeling rather spunky this morning, I turn to Whitman for the poem of the day. I land on the famous concluding section, #52, of “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass. 

As I am preparing to record a poetry recitation in the back yard, I pause for a mostly delightful conversation with my student-teacher about how we might possibly reconnect with our students and recreate something of a learning community again in the virtual world. We are hatching plans. Meanwhile, her guy, a union representative for nurses, is working 16 hour days during our time of the plague. We talked more about paradox.

I begin recording #52 with the distant rattle of my son practicing his rudimental drumming on a marching snare drum in the basement.  I attempt many takes before I get it right. I get some really funny ones during which, after the transcendent lines of Whitman, I botch a line and start to curse–the evidence of which I have deleted from my phone–which somewhat disappoints me now. It’s not every day you get to hear “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” followed by an F bomb.

My son comes outside! We play with dogs. We reminisce about the playhouse we finally took down, about sitting in there years ago under cover while a thunderstorm raged, and about badminton competitions in the front yard. All our rackets are broken. All the birdies are gone. We are inspired to walk to a sporting goods store for some new badminton supplies. We return with two new rackets and three birds.

We play badminton without a net, trying to set the back-and-forth record, a thing we haven’t done together for three years or better. We get to 20 and can never get beyond it, fighting the whole time against an uncooperative head-wind. I had the wind at my advantage, but in this kind of non-competitive match, the wind is at no one’s advantage.

I manage more effectively today to stay clear of the news, but in times like this it is mostly impossible, and maybe not desirable. I want to know if our Governor Brown would follow California’s suit, a “stay-in-place” order. Apparently she has not, but our numbers are still climbing. 114 cases in Oregon, four of which are in my county. There are 4,500 cases in New York City. Despite this perspective, we continue trying not to be afraid. My dreams have been strange. I am still out of whiskey.

As I put the finishing touches on this dispatch and attach my backyard Whitman video, I realize I have two problems: 1. some strange audio glitch over the “boot soles” line, and 2. an inexplicable deletion of half a second elsewhere, making that particular line incomprehensible. This will not do. I will begin again, and post late, post-haste.

Whitman is the antidote today, even though working with him has proved difficult. It wasn’t his fault. Please enjoy and forgive the lack of green in the backdrop of Leaves. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones. Help someone out who needs it. Sound your barbaric yawp.

 

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#322: Sad Poem

Both of my parents died, for starters.
Not at once, of course, but within seven
or eight years of one another.

Daddy passed first and we watched
him die, the whole family, a vigil
in the meeting room of the nursing
home where they sent him after
a final, last ditch, unnecessary surgery
where he slept and took his last breaths.

And I remember
being angry that I had to share
those moments with so many
people, not just mom and my
siblings, but grandchildren and
the grandchildren’s children
and uncles and aunts
and it was too much.

And it was as if my mother
knew this, and planned accordingly
by refusing additional treatment,
spending her last days in the same
nursing home where Daddy died,
like Daddy, asleep and without pain,
but unlike him, with one visitor
at a time for the deathbed vigil.

I’ve said this before but it’s
worth repeating, worth repeating:
My brother, my sister, my other brother,
my uncle, and I took turns. Mommy waited
to see us all, or, waited for all of us
to see her before she let go and drifted
finally as far away as she could go.

 

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#287: The Resident 12 Year Old Writes a Bunch of Easter Egg Notes for His Dad

easter_eggs_hd

(a found poem, with minor edits)

Out of all the people
I could think to be my dad,
you fall into that category easily.
Thank you for making me
grilled cheese sandwiches
so I don’t die.
All around people love you
(the person in front of you,
your lodge buddies, your
workspace friends, etc.);
you know I don’t have
to explain that one.
You’re like a gallon of
chocolate milk–you’re sweet,
and love to have a breakfast.
Your skill with music
never decreases.
Thank you for helping me
through the tough parts
of growing up. In the scary
room you will find a special
treat. When we have
each other we have
everything. You are simply
amazing and life would
be different in a bad way
without you. When I am
playing upstairs when
the dirty girls are over,
I think, wow, their music
is coming along and it’s
enjoyable. You have always
been a kind and loving person
in my life. We are so lucky
to have the house we live in
and the Tanas and Rubies
we have, the bread that goes
on the table because you worked
hard and got what we need
to survive in this cruel world.
But all this just makes the world
less cruel. I loved you yesterday,
I love you still, I always have,
I always will.
Don’t facebook this shit xoxo.

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In Memoriam: Mama Shirley

Shirley Jarmer JPEG 1

A Eulogy for Shirley Elaine Jarmer, Delivered Saturday, June 10, 2017 at St. John the Baptist’s Catholic Church:

Friends, Jarmers, and Kidds. On behalf of our family, I thank you all for being here today. But we need to stop meeting like this.

Once again, I have the great honor and responsibility of sharing with you remembrances of a dearly beloved parent, family member, and friend on her passing. What I tried to do seven years ago for my Daddy I will try now to do for Mama, Shirley Elaine Jarmer.

She was a remarkable woman. Although, sadly, I know little about my mother’s childhood, I know she was a dedicated daughter, loved her parents deeply. She was a high school dropout who nevertheless had beautiful penmanship and serious skills in writing and math. She was a loving and super young mother of three. The fourth child came late—that would be me, not a mistake, she said, but a surprise. Pregnant with me, I heard a story recently that Mom just couldn’t believe it—“How did this happen to me?” she said.

She became, perhaps before it was acceptable to do so, a working mother. But that’s a dumb thing to say, after all, because what mother is not hard at work all the time. No, I mean she was employed outside the home in the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, and the 80s. She worked at Berg’s department store, she took receptionist jobs at an insurance company and for Jarmer Electric, she did a stint in textiles for a division of the White Stag brand, and she was a checker in Fred Meyer apparel. I think Mom worked so she could have an independent income all her own—to raise what she might call FUNNY MONEY. Because Dad was kind of a penny pincher. In her retirement she worked less for herself and more for others: she did volunteer work with the Providence Hospital Lady’s Auxiliary, worked the gift shop, and later she counted money every Sunday for this sacred institution, the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

Earlier, I called Shirley a loving mother—kind of a cliché suitable for probably any mother who loves her kids, but I remember Mom as going the extra mile in the love department. She was kind, gentle, comforting, welcoming, and caring. I knew my father loved me, but mama’s love was huge and expressed with freedom and tenderness, with kisses, hugs, pets, and food. I think a general and all-capital SWEETNESS was a trait she shared with her sister Beverly and one that I see reflected in Beverly’s daughter Suzanne. Shirley was sweetness embodied and she loved her children, but she loved her grandchildren and her extended family; she loved her friends as well, and she shared her sweetness with all.

And she was an adoring wife to Dad. She took such good, loving care of him. I remember Mom washing his hair in the kitchen sink—which must have been difficult for a woman of her stature—massaging his head and shoulders in the evening as he sat on the floor in front of her in a chair before the fire or listening to music together. She took good care of him in his final difficult year. She treasured him. “My Daddy”—she called him this—she lovingly referred to him chiefly as the father of her children, and even though I know she loved him in lots of other ways, perhaps she cherished him most because of this.

Her last request: I want to be with my Daddy.

Mom demonstrated to me every single day Dad was alive, and even after, what a strong marriage could look like.

Mom was full of personality. Everybody loved Shirley. She lit up a room—or a campground. She was the life of the party. She was super funny, could be very silly and she had a penchant for baby talk, one she kept up until the very end, speaking to her favorite nurses in a childlike, playful way, even in the last days of her life. She had a seriously dominant cuteness gene, a gene she passed on, I must admit, to at least one of her children. You’d never know it looking at me—but I can baby talk with the best of them.

Part of her dynamic personality included her way with words, or at least, with particular words or phrases used often and to great effect. She had, for example, several alternatives for swearing.

“For crying out loud,” she’d say. A more extreme variation and therefore my favorite: “For crying in a bucket!”

And here’s an odd one: When frustrated or angry she’d say: “Manischewitz!” (I only just recently, like within the last few weeks, learned the origin of this word. Did you know this? It’s the last name of a Rabbi who at the end of the 19th century founded a company that would produce kosher food and wine. Who knows why she picked up the habit of using this poor Rabbi’s name in vain; we’ll never know).

When things were wrong or went badly: “This is the pits! This is just the pits!” I heard Aunt Marian say this as she visited mom the night before Shirley died. Marian speculated that maybe she picked up the habit of that phrase from our mom).

Another one of my favorite Mom expressions along these same lines: “This is for the birds!”—This particular idiom is a puzzler—I’m not sure what it means: whatever bad thing that just happened, I guess, is good for birds somehow? It’s certainly not good for us but might be fitting for birds, because, you know, birds are okay with almost everything?

And last but not least: “I can’t believe it.” Like when she was pregnant with me: “How did this happen? I can’t believe it.” This one fascinates me. It’s probably the phrase she used more than any other. And I think it represents this part of her personality—she was just always mystified by the unexpected, both the good and the bad, puzzled when people did great or stupid or terrible things or when things went horribly wrong in her circle or in the world. “I just can’t believe it.” She preferred things in order. And she liked it when one thing followed the next in a logical reasoned sequence. She liked things, people, and events to be neat and tidy. Consequently, because things, people, and events are rarely neat and tidy, she said she couldn’t believe it a lot. “I just can’t believe it.”

Finally, her choice of nicknames for people, most frequent of which was the mutation of the family name: Jama! If you were a Jarmer and you were in some kind of mischief, she’d playfully call you Jama. If you weren’t a Jarmer and you were in some kind of mischief you were still a Jama. Everybody was a Jama. And if you weren’t a Jarmer or a Jama, you were a farmer, and if you weren’t a farmer, you were a Charley. I have no idea where this came from. For a time she was calling everybody Charley.

She had a special nickname for her son-in-law Kevin. He was her “favorite son-in-law.” Quite an honor—a coveted, highly competitive post. (Just in case the joke is lost on you: Kevin was Mom’s only son-in-law).

But, in keeping with her general sweetness, she also called EVERYONE honey, dear, sweetheart, or punkin (my phonetic spelling of mama’s “pumpkin”).  Everybody was a honey or a punkin. And everyone, no matter what size, was little. A little punkin. A little honey. That little doctor. My little daddy. My little David. And not wanting to offend anyone, she would always think of some gentle way to describe what a person might be sensitive about. Her last doctor, a bald guy, she described as being “short of hair.”

She loved playing games with her family, mostly cards, gin rummy, progressive rummy, Uno, or Crazy 8’s. The story goes that she stayed up until 1:00 a.m. playing Crazy 8’s with her niece Kate, yelling “Wild Baby” every time an 8 was played, keeping everybody else in the house awake. She loved a moderate and conservative round of gambling. She loved a good meal and hated a bad one. Like Dad, she loved her martinis. She loved camping. She loved animals, was probably the sole reason why we ever had a pet in the house—and we always did. She loved “swimming” or rather, floating in the pool that mom and dad built. She loved to look good. Loved a good hairdo. She loved beauty—from her fancy jewelry to her funny little dancing solar windowsill toys of which she had acquired quite a collection, and flowers. As far as I can tell, as she looked at the bouquet we had brought from the hospital to her room in hospice, her last coherent words were “they’re so pretty.”

In closing out this remembrance, this portrait of mama Shirley, I’d like to conclude by saying that mom was a woman of values:

One of her chief values I’ve already discussed: Loving kindness. And acceptance, tolerance—she welcomed all into her home—and I think she evolved a great deal as our family diversified; she evolved way beyond the intolerance of the culture in which she grew up.

She valued honesty and responsibility—even if it takes a long, long time, 50 years maybe, one must be truthful and accountable. She was forgiving and forgiven in bountiful measure.

She valued gratitude. She exuded gratitude; she was appreciative, always thankful for what other people gave to her or did for her: She didn’t want to trouble anyone. To a fault, she didn’t want her issues, whether physical, emotional, or moral, to be anybody else’s burden, so she was often tight lipped when it came to describing her own pain or sorrow, but she was always grateful when someone helped her out—and said so. “Thank you,” she’d say.

Last, she valued family.

Even if we have no right to do so, it makes sense that we do it: we try to make meaning—we interpret the behaviors of our loved ones—especially in these crucial last moments, to help us make sense of, to add meaning to the ends of their lives. And this is what I noticed about Mom —Mama waited to die until she could spend a full night with each of her children in succession; Rick, Jan, Dave, and I were all able to be with her for an entire night over the last four nights of her life—and she waited to die until she could spend the last moments with her only surviving immediate family member, her brother Bill.

Among all the tremendous gifts of life and love she gave to us all, what a gift she gave to us here—giving each of us in turn an opportunity to say goodbye in our own way. Thoughtful, considerate, and selfless to the very last. That was our mama, your grandma, your auntie Shirley, your sister, your friend, your parishioner.

From Rumi, the 13th century Persian mystic poet: “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.”

Godspeed, mama Shirley. You will always be with us in every moment of every waking day, in our memory, in our hearts and souls, and even in the sweetest of our dreams.

Postscript: Tremendous gratitude from us, Shirley’s children, to Aunt Marian, Suzanne and Gene, Uncle Bill and Aunt Leslie for being with us and with mom steadfastly through the last few weeks. You have been a tremendous help and comfort.

 

 

 

 

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