Tag Archives: grandmother

Aside

I told her what I had told almost no one. It was important to me that she knew the truth. I revealed myself in that first conversation with my story of reunion and reconciliation. Continue reading

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Precious Things – Part 2

Email response to Cathy (link to Cathy’s blog)

Hi Cathy,

You’re welcome to do whatever you’d like with the pens. They are a gift and intended to make you happy – however that works best. Being “just yours” was just a fantasy in the context of all you do for everybody else. I love the image of the three of you drawing together. All that you wrote about it here was lovely.

I don’t relate to it as a blog topic because I, too, was raised that everything is shared – with so many siblings that may be what turned me into wanting something that’s mine alone – so I don’t see a parallel that will be any different – the reason had more to do with honoring your desire to have them.

So I’m not sure how to tango and would love a different topic to consider.

I love your thoughts around it all and feel your response is so loving – we’re both glad for the joy it brings you and your comments are full of the loving person and mother you are.

Your email was amazing to read. Thank you for your beautiful explanation. You’re such a good writer, Cathy! I love you. ~kate

Next email (Kate to Cathy)…

Well, now I’m streaming in thoughts from your idea.

I guess another take is that “Precious Things” might relate to other things too – like the cape – that I don’t wish to discuss publicly because they are precious and the dilemma doesn’t feel like one that belongs to the public when it’s unresolved between us.

Still, there’s a lot of interesting fodder in what you say.

Send me your thoughts. If we can find a place to point to the dialogue, I’ll be game but it’s sensitive territory so I’d rather express it with you first and then decide.

The pens were simple – we’re broke, you’re precious and it was a sacrifice to buy them and a labor of love with an invisible touch of O’Henry. Maybe the difference would be seen as your parents had money and currently we don’t – I don’t want to get into a class difference or seem petty or stingy or pathetic.

So what is it about? Possession vs. Relinquishment? The have’s and the have-not’s? the sensitive and the insensitive? The caring and uncaring? What’s mine? What is valued as a gift? Does reception of a gift reflect the value of the giver as well as the receiver? Hmm.

Let me know if you want to pursue this. I’ll continue to chew on it. You may have struck an interesting chord.

I love you, Cathy. You’re response was beautiful (and you are a rascal!) ~kate

To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.

Precious Things – Part 1

The following is (one of two parts) an email exchange between Cathy and Kate this week that relates to the reception and disemination of Cathy’s birthday gift; the meaning of meaning of the gift – distortion clarified and the revelation of threads from differing origins … (please click to ReunionEyes blog  for Cathy’s response…) This set of two blogs, part 1 & 2, will be parallel blogs – call & response emails to issues that arose around birthday love. Happy birthday, Cathy! 41 years ago today, I was in labor to deliver – born April 16th.

Hi Cathy,

Everything was so busy this morning. When we gave you your birthday gift of art pens, we had wanted to present them with the caveat that they are only for you – not the kids. This isn’t because we’re stingy but because you are special and they are high end art pens (expensive) and we took an hour picking them out for you. We didn’t want to interfere when you so gently and magnaminously let Quinn and Reed rip into them but they have their special art pens and now this was for you.

Being two humble artists who are sweating for every dollar we make to pay our way – we wanted to give you (who deliberately is not buying maple syrup or parmesan reggiano) something you really wanted for your birthday and something you wouldn’t go out and just get for yourself because it’s too spendy.

We’d be happy to bring the boys more art supplies but if you could hold your art present from us for your exclusive enjoyment, that would mean a lot to us. It was intended to be a meaningful gift (and the kids can get their expensive pens when it’s their time 🙂

I hope this doesn’t dampen the joy your gift was intended to give you. We love you very much and are big fans of your artistic side.

Happy birthday!

I love you.

Always,

Kate

To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.

Cathy’s Birthday

Today is the first day of Spring. The bunch of crocus off the back kitchen stoop sign “hallelujah!” from thawing ground as yellow stars tip long skinny branches of an old forsythia in back of the shed. Arbiters of warmer weather tickle a wily charge out of nowhere to jumpstart my low mood with possibilities in spite of one raw rainyass afternoon. The flowers wear their colors proudly, bellwethers of sunshine to come after months of wet weather in the rainforest.

Memories seep under the surface like an incoming tide overrunning the shore with fishes from deeper places once thought to be extinct. When the tide and light is right their shapes shift between light and darkness, air above, water below, rampant reflections blinding definition as movements tease my eyes into focus, lost again when I look away.

I sit back up in my seat and roll my shoulders to shake the past back to “before” and resume. Circumstances range the lines of my face caught sideways in the mirror across from my desk. Laugh lines counter the child I once was, now hidden far behind the face of an old lady.

If I had known then what I know now, my life might have been different. For better or for worse, who’s to say? I do know that someday my grandchildren will need to understand the role I played in the family story. As they grow from toddlers to teens, questions of where they came from will rise and curiosity will need answers. I am determined to love them freely now before I scramble to unhook the chains of regret hung across my heart. My story will shape karma in their lives. As I keep praying for happy endings, they will be working through what remains unfinished and it will be them, not me, who determine how the story turns out. My job is to be true and to give them love that is sound and good.

When Cathy’s adoptive parents came to visit years ago, I asked her mother if she had any pictures of Cathy’s childhood that she could share with me. It was an innocent request and Dottie’s response was “Of course. I’ll bring them next time.”

On their next visit that following Christmas, she handed me a wax envelope filled with a dozen pictures of Cathy in her childhood. I gasped with the prospect of seeing what I had never been allowed to see before. Except for two pictures Sr. Alice sent me of Cathy when Cathy was 4 and 6 years old, I had never seen pictures of my daughter as a child. Dottie and I sat down on my living room couch and she recounted each photo in a gentle, matter of fact voice.

“This is Cathy’s christening picture” (Cathy’s a baby is in a perfect white taffeta baptismal gown with satin ribbon, holding her mother’s finger with her chubby hand.)

“Here is one on her first birthday” (the identical feminine of my grandson, Quinn with a paper cone birthday hat tied under her chin and sitting in her chrome throne high chair – Cathy points her finger at the birthday cake with the candle lit to wish on top.)

“These are from her tap dancing class at dance school when she was eight.” (four small portraits in dance costume… Cathy looks so much like I did at that age – her hair is auburn, thick and wavy – her smile is warm, bright and wholesome under a headband adorned with a red and white feathers to match her showgirl outfit trimmed with pearls and bow-tied tap shoes. Her smile is radiant as she poses in long over-the-elbows fingerless red gloves.)

“This is Cathy’s 8th birthday. (Cathy looks a little pale as she blows into a party favor, a top heavy blue corsage hangs on her flowered blouse at a table set for guests with birthday hats, plates and paper cups lined up around her birthday cake.)

“This is her First Holy Communion from that same year” (a tiara-veiled beauty in white holding a sweet bouquet of daisies as she stands in front of the gold-embroidered “Alleluia” background draped behind her.)

“And another communion picture…(It’s 1979. Cathy smiles standing in front of the cake with her mother’s hands resting on her shoulders she looks into the camera with confidence, ready to cut the white sheet cake with two little statues of a child being blessed by Jesus and “God Bless Cathy” scrolled in yellow script.)

“School picture, age 9.” (round cheeks have thinned from little girl to young girl.)

The next picture is a school picture – she looks around eleven with braces, feminine lavender blouse with a high collar. I wonder if she’s started biting her nails – her nails so short on poised hands posed for the portrait.

Then she’s thirteen and looks like she may be getting ready to go to a school dance as she sits on a patio chair in a pink skirt and pink sweater patterned with white hearts under a double strand of pearls. A peanut butter sandwich and a plastic mug of milk rest on a red and white-checkered tablecloth. Everything looks so normal.

Next she’s in her cheerleader uniform with “Captain Cathy” embroidered on her jacket and her hands in her pockets standing in front of an autumnal living room fire. Her face is in the shape of a heart and her smile is serene – so lovely.

Then high school pictures followed stylish blonde-colored hair, more prominent makeup, proms with boyfriends and high school and, finally, high school graduation.

To see her framed in snapshots over various stages of her development of the life she had lived without me had an unexpected effect.

I thanked Dottie for the pictures and carefully put them back in the wax envelope. I brought them upstairs to my bedroom and tucked them deep in the back of my writing drawer and made a mental note not to forget where I put them before I closed the drawer, turned and went back downstairs to finish making Christmas dinner for all of us.

It had been a generous gift for Dottie to share those pictures with me. I didn’t want to appear ungrateful as they opened up a volcanic pile of emotion that I kept forgetting lived behind my sunny disposition. Vapors of feeling steamed at my seams and I felt the volcano getting hot. My heart was racing and I practiced a smile to break the tension in my face. I took a breath and forced myself to forget about it for now and shifted my focus on the turkey in the oven, refilling drinks and passing hors d’oeuvres around the room.

I took out the pictures today to look at them for the first time since that Christmas almost ten years ago. The wax envelope has yellowed to a dry crinkle. In a couple of weeks Cathy will turn another birthday. She’s coming up on the train to write with me this weekend. Maybe we’ll celebrate early.

Maybe I will get to bake her a cake this time. We’ve had a few birthday cakes together now. She’s due for one. I’ll sing her happy birthday on my ukulele. My heart is grateful for all the cakes her mother baked and for the gift in turn that I may do the same. That we both love her and call her “my child” is an enigma of a mother’s heart, first and last.

To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.

An Ordinary Act

Here we are at Starbuck’s writing together, laptops touching, our coffees on the side, her sneakers tap in secret code out of the corner of my eye. The sun is shining as skinny green tips point from the ground in a dress rehearsal for the real thing and false spring charms us into forgetting the dump of snow just weeks ago.

My daughter is so unpretentiously pretty in her warm pink thermal top and jeans as purple-colored locks fake out her otherwise reddish brown hair and dance like freestyling loosestrife on the perimeter of her heart-shaped face. With the uncanny beauty of wild roses, she is so lovely without trying – zero makeup and no time to primp with her two young sons tugging at her from either side. After delivery of a cup of juice to the three year-old and a sketchbook for the five year-old, they are left in the open arms of “Uncle Grandpa” (Steve’s beloved moniker) and we dashed out the front door to steal up the street on foot for an hour of writing together in the closest coffee shop with wi-fi.

It’s Sunday – a gorgeous day that makes me homesick for my thirty-five year-old hometown here where I used to live just ten blocks from Cathy’s house. Now its a hundred miles to get to this familiar spot. That I get to be with her this way is no small thing for me and I am happy, thankful to be here.

Steve and I played the Winterfolk Concert last night at the Aladdin Theater amongst a stellar lineup of musician friends.  Our songs transcended the oldest of bonds and grew a few new ones, both in the audience and backstage. Musical memory took me all the way back from 1981 and the Irish sessions in the East Avenue Tavern to last night thirty-years later. We joined once again over music and raised money to feed the hungry and inspire community on one of the city’s most historic stages. The folk element of Portland came out; the connection was strong, the music was alive and it was one fine night.

My daughter was amused this morning by the role reversal at play as it was we who arrived home to her house at 2am while she and her family slept a full night’s sleep on a Saturday night.

I was a thirty year-old playing those sessions back in 1981. Cathy was ten and growing under another family’s roof in New Jersey.  Thirty years have passed since then and we have become closer with time.

At almost forty-one, my first daughter sits across from me, pounding out her thoughts in her own words while I face her and search for mine. Being together this way thrills me. We have been given one precious hour alone together. After that she will return to Sunday with her family and Steve and I will head north on I-5 and home in Olympia.

I take it all in from behind my sunglasses. People swing through the door just beyond Cathy’s left shoulder. They come and go like crows sweeping in to feed and settle inside and out with caffeinated cups held carefully in their clutches as they perch to sip and talk.

To passersby, we look like two women involved in what has become an ordinary act of writing on computers together at a little round table in the window with only the sun connecting them in the light of afternoon sunshine. Our postures suggest a routine between two women who bear a resemblance to one another and seem otherwise disengaged, synchronized, non-attached.

I peek at her behind my sunglasses and cherish the furrow deepening in her brow. Her eyes dart back and forth across her computer screen, scanning the map she has choreographed from her tapping fingertips.

I love that my eyes are invisible to her just now. She is unaware of my eyes holding her as she freely watches her thoughts tumble into words on screen and reflects on whatever she might be saying about me, us and this. I’m not curious. I just want to be here.

My heart blooms in the ingredients of this moment. Doing what we are doing together, is something that, no matter what direction it takes, belongs to us and only us. It is so delicious. My eyes smile through dark lenses on my poker face as I take hers in. I want to draw it, paint it, frame it, hold it, kiss it, keep it. I wish it was a sketchpad instead of my computer under my fingertips but I don’t mind. It’s good to be here, doing this work we’ve made up together.

I feel all this and she doesn’t even know.  Like a baby whose mother croons and kisses her child’s temples and cheeks, I sit and watch her serious expression shift in and out as her thoughts dance and recede with the furrow on her brow. Baby’s have furrowed brows sometimes, even middle-aged ones.

It would be so easy to list why this simple act is so freaking wild. Instead I hold my head in my hand and act as though this is just another routine on just another day in just another town with just another daughter – and all along my heart beats, bare-assed and yelping on the roller coaster ride inside my skin.

My daughter sits on the other side of the table and doesn’t hear my holler echo, “I love you, Cathy!”

To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.

Wist and Wonder

By the south shore of the Sound, tidal waters came and went, salty and teaming with life in motion. High water from record snowfall rose and fell under the 4th Avenue Bridge in Olympia and stories of otters, heron and marine life returned with my husband’s daily walkabout on his errands to town and back.

My back injury would take a while to heal. Fall turned to Winter, and with it a season of stillness held my body in place as my mind traveled across far-reaching deserted memories I had left for lost.

Chapters for Kathleen~Cathleen tap their feet, waiting to be redressed. I’ve only told my side of the story in starts and pulls.  Finished, it awaits refinement. The story begs to be told – the way only Cathy and I can tell it.  Our story is held private by all but ourselves, even from each other. As we approach the tale, we find our own truths embedded in pearls of synchronicity and along the edges of conflict.  The glue that binds us together is a gooey mix of pain, hope and surprise. There is tenderness but that is kept in a safe place where none from outside can touch or steal it. What we have is ours, it belongs to us and we have come a long way to claim it, in each other and in the world. It is our love.

Cathy is my firstborn child. I am her original mother. She joined the physical world through me, if not with me, when I was eighteen.  She was delivered from my body to another family through adoption. We met eighteen years later. Our overt relationship began then but we have always been in relationship.  Cathy was part of me and I was part of her, we were invisible but keenly felt in each other.

Now we are working, together and apart, to tell the story.  In between the husbands, children, jobs and quirks of daily life, we steal to our corners and write our sides as we can in hope that we will deliver the story as it was delivered to us in time to help the people it’s intended for.

One of our mutual topics is dealing with the holidays. I’m not sure what hers will say but I’d guess her version might contain a similar mix from her end…

Christmas holidays came and went. It used to be, before we met, that we thought of each other with wist and wonder, imagining how the other might be celebrating. Now, twenty-two years into our reunion, we still think of each other wistfully and wonder how it is for the other. The main irony between before and after our reunion is that the invitation that was impossible before is still left unexpected.

When we lived close by, there was possibility for more spontaneity and sneaking time together in-between plans with adoptive parents and in-laws didn’t interfere with the mainstream of life. Offers to babysit were always grabbed with excitement and gave us a place to be with our grandsons – beautiful bits of time.  Now that we are a hundred miles north, opportunity thins to rare phone calls and occasional emails. Attempts to connect spin outside the chaotic chase to keep up with life at hand. Her parents come out from Florida every Christmas for a couple of weeks. Her in-laws live nearby. Even when we were down the street, it was complicated to drop by uninvited and invitations didn’t come often.

The birthmother is still invisible on the official list of celebratory characters and the experience of the past many years tells me that it’s awkward for my daughter to include me without struggle. As thick as the rope might be between us, the sinewy threads that twist us together are not readily mixed with the fibers that make up the rest of our lives. Her primary family is counted without me. Just because I count her as a member of my family (better late than never) that doesn’t mean that the reverse is true. I claim her as my firstborn daughter but in light of her family hierarchy, that holds no weight or semblance of expectation in her plans or her life as she knows it. Our relationship is a sideline to everything else and it’s optional. She calls the shots. I mostly wait.

The question of knowing where to include her and be included by her agitates in rough silence before holidays, summer vacations, school plays, birthdays, graduations, hallmark days, weddings and funerals.

It’s not that we don’t mix with her family members, we do.  We are a varied but likable mix and Cathy is the common denominator. We all played a part in their wedding. We were all in the waiting room when each of the grandsons were born. Three sets of grandparents, hers, hers and his, respectfully waited together in anticipation; cajoling, knitting and looking at the clock. We all came because we wanted to be there and took our place to share in our part as Cathy’s family-in-waiting. Even her birth father was welcome.

Season after season of holidays, birthdays and family events later, I find myself fighting urges to become recluse and to take expectation out of her equation. I don’t expect invitations anymore and stopped looking for it a while back.

I know there’s a place for me somewhere in this. We do have a relationship. It seems so natural when we are together.  In it’s way, it’s motherly and daughterly. I struggle for equilibrium and wander through oceanic feelings that toss and recoil as I reach and pull my way back and forth from where we were nothing to where we are something, from where we come together to where we don’t. I’m never sure where I stand. Sometimes takes mock strength to move forward. It’s still better than nothing or not knowing who or where she is. It’s hard not to want more but I’m lucky to have a turn at all.

She seems to feel close to my husband at times, he is genuine and their relationship has a ring of affection and authenticity. There is no barrier of grief or loss between them. I can’t help but envy how easy they are together. Our grandsons love him and that love is safe, warm, fun and natural. My husband’s voice resonates with stories as he reads from their favorite books. I am tongue-tied but so happy to be near them. It is a gift worth more than gold.

I look on with longing, not sure if it’s okay to love them as much as I do. I cling to their innocent acceptance and affection. Underneath the question remains whether they will shun me later when they learn what I did?  What will allow them to trust me when they learn the truth, that I let their mother go? I was young, not evil, but the consequence was grave, important and permanent. Even if she forgives me, will they? If I’m not on the family list of the invited, then I don’t belong. I’m an anomaly. That’s the kicker and it’s not her fault, it’s mine.

I would rather be their champion. Instead, I carry a terrible role in a tale that must wait until they are old enough to hear it so they can bear its meaning. In order for them to understand who I am and where their mother came from, they will need to know the truth. This is true of all my line; in the beginning it was my siblings, family and friends, and now my children’s children who will need to grow old enough to hear the story that is as sad as it is good. The story is its own riddle and it is my pass from invisibility to having a relationship. That makes it worth the trouble.

Hope rises in spite of myself. I blame this on optimism that seems to refuse to go idle in spite of myself. My daughter’s love and acceptance, or not, is what my grandsons will know, feel and respond to in time.  I would like their hearts to find love inside the complicated truth. I hope for the best.

My fingers drum simpler questions into my knee as I wonder how school is today and whether they have colds or need their jackets zipped up to their chins. I wish I could walk them home like grandmothers do; like a mother would have walked their mother home when she was their age.

“Love is the answer” a mantra whispers as one foot follows the other on a recent walk around my brother-in-law’s block in New Jersey. I called Cathy on my cell phone from our mutual childhood stomping grounds to tell her where I was, that I was thinking of her and that we would be coming to Portland soon. She asks if we’ll stay over when we come and I think I hear a hint of hope in her voice. I grin and say yes. My heart flutters. We will.

To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.

mother’s day 2010

Life has its quirks. Just when you think you’ve got some things figured out, the mystery reinforces itself. Staying open to the surprise of not knowing as much as you think you do is one of the consistent charms of being awake and curious. If I ever get it all figured out, it’ll probably be over.

One of these topics for me is motherhood. Now there’s a word that evokes response that is completely subjective and strongly felt, no matter what side of the word you live on. None of us would be here without one and everybody has an opinion they feel deeply about.

I grew up in a large family. I watched my mother selflessly hand herself over to the day-to-day and wondered if that was what was waiting for me. It didn’t occur to me to get married and have kids. I didn’t think any more about doing that than going to the moon. It looked like a lot of work and there were other things I wanted to do. From the eleven year-old perspective, life in the world was worth exploring and the freedom to discover what lay ahead, under rocks and over bridges as a free agent seemed a lot more appealing than wiping snotty faces of small people who need naps and feeding a husband you hadn’t seen all day.

That was eleven. At this side of sixty; three husbands, two daughters and two stepsons later, I ask myself if the reason I didn’t hear from any of my children on Mother’s Day is rooted in that eleven year-old resistance to motherhood and a life outside the box as a traveling musician. Or maybe we were just too far out of cell range…

I didn’t know what made it all work in the family I grew up in, but “love” was the reason I was given when asked. “God’s will” was another answer to some of the scarier, deeper youngster questions, like “Why was I born?” “Why do I have so many brothers and sisters?” “Why do we have to go to church?” “Why are we moving?” and “Why do we die?” “God’s will” covered a lot of territory. It wasn’t the answer to why I had to eat my peas at the dinner table but it was a holding place for many of the deeper questions. In retrospect, “God’s will” may have stimulated my sense of urgency to work for civil rights and social justice. Bucking the system for a better world seemed like my best defense to a blanket holding tank I felt a strong need to avoid. “God’s will” changed lives, justified wars, broke people and made them sad and powerless. Working for civil rights, against The Vietnam War, pro-Women’s Equality, gay rights, all became platforms for change that made more elbow room on the playing field for the disadvantaged. I was naive and irrepressibly optimistic. Motherhood looked submissive and didn’t appeal to me. I decided to become a folksinging songwriter instead.

Then I got pregnant. I was eighteen years old and it was two weeks after Rowe & Wade went through. I got the word that new life had started its motor inside my body and I had two weeks to decide what I was going to do about it. The doctor handed me a script with the phone number of a certified abortionist. If I did nothing, my condition was going to turn into a person with all the quirks and needs built into its DNA. If I had an abortion, I could put off motherhood until another time.

I was young and had dropped out of college after an unsuccessful freshman start. Since I didn’t know what I was doing next and “God will” wasn’t clear, I opted to take the next six-plus months and have the baby, give it up for adoption to a nice family who wanted a child to take care of, and then get on with whatever life had in store for me. These were dues and I was paying.

That’s what I did. It was in the olden days of homes-for-unwed-mothers, alias pseudonyms for birth certificates and a months-long disappearance act from the local scene to pull it all off. Eight years later I had another baby. She filled the void and began to heal a hollow sadness created by my relinquishment. Everything about her made me happy. Then her father wanted more children and I left.

Years later, in reunion with my first daughter and reunited with my second daughter, my life steered toward a man I loved and married with two stepsons, 11 and 5 years old. The boys were young, beautiful and traumatized by divorce fallout. I was an outsider but had a sense of humor and could cook. They liked my youngest daughter and wanted her around to scamp with. The kids chose each other. They invited us over. Perhaps they sensed my mother-apprehensive nature and unconsciously thought I might be safe. They could ignore me without offense and I would be part of the background of home with legs that walked around and talked to their father. I could be motherly at times and put good meals on the table. They had their own mother for the rest and she ruled the mother ground in their lives with a regal hand.

Sixteen years later, the four children are grown and gone happily into their adult lives. The girls are beautiful and mothers themselves. The eldest has two gorgeous sons we love without bounds. The youngest has the first grandchild, a young girl who won us all over at birth and will always be the first. There was no question from the start that she possessed my heart in no small way.

The boys are men now, handsome with beautiful hearts and single. The two brothers are close and they treat their youngest sister like blood. The oldest boy was present at both births of my oldest daughter’s sons. They are proud of their roles as uncles to our grandchildren.

We are a family. Hallmark holidays do not define our family. The children in our family have other parents in their pool to consider. Ex-spouses and primary caregivers. We have blossomed into a small tribe of diverse, compassionate, bright and loving people. Life is complex. Proximity is sometimes out of range and we forge ahead to what is in front of us. We give what we can to help them, whatever we have. We hope they feel the love we feel for them. A great deal of the time, I wonder if they even know how much love is here inside for them, how much each of them spends on my mind every day.

I want the eleven year-old in me to go away and get busy making a better world so I can concentrate on making a turkey dinner with all the trimmings and find the place for my family to gather around the table. I want to cook all day and lay their dinner down in front of each one. A prayer slips off my tongue and whispers a hope that God’s will brings my children home and fills them with questions that I can only answer with love.
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To read Cathleen’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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