The Only Honest Mother

There was a stereotype of my generation, probably others too; she was called the “Jewish Mother” but it included Italian, Irish Catholic or Eastern European mothers as well. She was the mother who hovered over her adult children like an avenging angel, bringing them smothering love and chicken soup at the mere mention of a bad day at work, a broken heart or, God forbid, a sniffle. She cajoled and pleaded openly for the daily phone call and was not above resorting to guilt to achieve her aim of being an intimate part of her children’s daily lives. She was the subject of jokes and sitcoms, and self-respecting women of my age were admonished not to stifle our children’s independence by such over-bearing imposition of our own aspirations and restrictions upon our fledglings. Between adolescence and grandchildren we are supposed to pretend to be non-custodial parents with court ordered supervised visitation only. Only the arrival of grandchildren once again bestows upon us full familial citizenship. This exile is self imposed, for the good of the child/young adult.

I’m here to tell you that is crap. The “Jewish mother” is the only truly honest mother. My children are in their mid-thirties, have lived independently since their late teens, are in stable, loving relationships, are successful in their careers and have wonderful, supportive circles of friends. I cry every time I leave them after a visit. When they get sick and I happen to hear of it, I offer advice on the best OTC cold “remedy”, when what I really want to do is sit next to them and rock them in my arms. I say “let me know if you need any help” knowing full well they don’t “need” anything. It is I who needs to cup their faces in my hands, fold them up in my arms and let their heads rest on my chest so they don’t see the tears of joy at the sheer pleasure of being allowed to comfort them once again.

The clearest expression of the way we mothers of grown children feel is one I read a while back, “becoming a mother is to spend the rest of your life knowing what it feels like to have your heart walking around outside of your body.” I’ve done my duty. They’re happy, successful and independent adults. So today I’m officially retiring as a modern Mom and becoming a Jewish Mother. L’chaim!

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Mother’s love and tuna macaroni salad

Being a parent is a funny thing. When they are small you tell them, “I love you”, every day and they look up at you, snuggle into your neck and say in a voice that could melt icebergs, “I wuv you too, Mommy”. But you can’t tell them that you can’t imagine life without them; that you lie awake worrying about unseen and unspeakable dangers not just in the present, but for every day to come; that you stand by their beds just to hear them breathe. They wouldn’t understand.

When they are teens you tell them, “Love ya, kid” and, if you haven’t crushed every dream of theirs on that particular day by asking them to do something they don’t want to do, they will smile a smile that lights up your whole world and yell over their shoulder as they head for the door, “Love you too, Ma”. You can’t tell them that you can’t imagine life without them; that you lie awake waiting for the front door to punctuate their arrival home, worrying about unspeakable dangers outside that door. They wouldn’t understand – and would definitely be creeped out a little knowing that you sometimes breech that inner sanctum of adolescence, their rooms, just to hear them breathe.

As they enter adulthood, you tell them, often by phone or some other sanitized long distance version of communication,  “I love you” and they know you do, and answer, “I love you too, Mom”. But you can’t tell them that the time you left homemade tuna macaroni salad in the refrigerator for them and they left you a voicemail at work thanking you, that you saved that voicemail for 3 years while they went off to college and deployment overseas. You can’t tell them that you cannot imagine life without them – ever.  You try to hide the tears of parting each time you say goodbye lest they think you are dying or something. You can’t tell them that you heard them say your name in your sleep one night so clearly that you had to resist the urge to call them at 3 AM just to be sure they were ok. They wouldn’t understand.

And then they have children of their own. And they understand.

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A Revolutionary Love Story

During the American Revolution there was a teenager named Elizabeth Raymond, who lived with her parents and sister and brother in New Bedford, NY, where her parents ran a tavern. Elizabeth’s father was a member of Clan Raymond of Scotland where he had married her mother, a member of the Ruthven family. He and his bride emigrated to the colonies, settled in New Bedford and raised their family. During the war, he and his wife traveled to New York City to buy supplies. Elizabeth, her sister and brother stayed at home with an African couple to mind the tavern until her parents’ return. Early one evening, the children heard thieves stealing the family’s chickens. Elizabeth found a gun and fired it into the night. The thieves, it turned out, were British soldiers, who fled when they heard the shot, thinking they had been discovered by a nearby contingent of the Colonial Army. The shot did bring the American guard so the British did not return.

The next day, General George Washington and his party, among them a Capt. James Pardee, came to the tavern and dined on some of the chicken. Pardee complimented young Elizabeth on her bravery and quick thinking and laughingly remarked that he would return after the war and marry her.  In the same spirit she replied, “Come on!”.  Well, he did, and they did.

James and Elizabeth Pardee had 12 children. Their daughter, Elizabeth (1785-1848), had a daughter, Olivia in 1817. Olivia married Jacob Seamans Robinson and had a son, Charles, born 1851. Jacob was captured during the Civil War and died at Andersonville Prison, July 27, 1864. Olivia, faced with the challenge of raising her young family alone, eventually became a toll taker on a highway. Her life is a story in itself for another day! Charles Louis Robinson had a daughter, Margaret Elizabeth. Margaret married Norman Nelson Alger and had a daughter,Norma, in 1911. Norma Alger Smith was my paternal grandmother. The pot in which that fateful chicken dinner was cooked, was about a foot in diameter and for many years was passed down in the family.  The last known owner was Mary Susan Gerow, granddaughter of James Pardee Jr. and Elizabeth Raymond Pardee. Although no one knows what happened to the pot, the story that went with it has been passed down from generation to generation to us.

I supposed Grandmother must have told me the story at some point but so far as I know it was lost until I found it while helping my father sort through family keepsakes during a visit shortly before he passed away last year. Also in the papers was James Pardee’s family history. James was the son of Ebenezer Pardee, baptized in 1699 in Connecticut. Ebenzer was the son of George Pardee, born 1656 in New Haven Connecticut.  George owned a ferry in East Haven, CT. George was the son of George Pardee born 1624 in England.  So that means he must have come to the colonies sometime between 1624 and 1656.  That George was the son of Rev. Anthony Pardee, who was baptized 7/17/1591 at Pitminster and Taunton, England, and his wife, Anstice Cox, baptized 6/25/1587, married 5/3/1614.

So – for my children and grandchildren, this is your family history too. We are very fortunate that Grandmother took the time to do the research and also that we not only have the public records of births, deaths, marriages and baptisms, but we also have these stories that make our ancestors “real” for us. That is a real gift.

Post Script: Recently I visited with a dear cousin who was kind enough to gift me with a couple of items from the family homestead in West Amboy, NY (the same farm from which came the vinegar jug, milking stool and candle mold). One of the items was this curious old three legged pot, encrusted with years of soot and seasoning from untold meals cooked over an open hearth. A curious little pot  . . . about a foot in diameter.


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Andy and Opie


I took the morning off yesterday to take Mom to one of her doctor’s appointments, so I was “home” at a time of day when I normally would be in the city working.

As I pulled out of my little fifty-home neighborhood onto the main road, the surveyor working in the intersection waved to me. Mental note: Lone surveyor – not a highway crew of eight, six of whom are standing around drinking coffee and talking.

I pulled up in front of the Village Offices to drop off our water bill payment. The sign on the door said CLOSED so I got out to ask the man sitting on the front steps of the old bank building which now houses the offices, when they would open. I’ve seen this man around town many times and it turns out one of the few black men in our rural upstate community is a Vietnam veteran who, like many veterans over the years who suffered from various mental and physical scars of their service, lives in a group home just up the street. He says he likes living here better than any place he’s ever lived because the people are friendly and we have everything we really need right here, as long as we reach out for it. Well, there’s my attitude adjustment for the day! We passed the next five minutes chatting until the lovely lady who is our clerk realized she had forgotten to flip the Open/Closed sign and the two of us outside had a good laugh because neither of us had thought to actually try the door.

On my way to pick up Mom I passed a grandma pausing in her walk to allow her stroller-bound charge the opportunity to smell and touch lovely flowering bush along the way, Gary of Gary’s Hots opening up his lunch wagon across from the plant, and the usual suspects headed into the diner for the weekly old farts’ breakfast.

At the her appointment, one of the nurses asked about my grandbabies and Mom’s physician spent a good 15 minutes with us inquiring as to the quality of her life and helping both of us adjust to her changing needs and concerns. Since he is also my and my two brothers’ doctor, he is in a unique position to advise the family.

I dropped Mom off at her apartment complex afterward and headed out of town. As I watched a boy of about twelve, fishing pole and bait can in hand, his curly chestnut hair sweat matted to his face, peddling his bike down to the creek, I thought for sure I heard whistling.

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CLAFOUTIS. God bless you!

Kevin says if something has an exotic name, I’ll like it. Ok, maybe that’s a little true – but only because I’ve learned the coolest things I never heard of, simply because the sound of the name intrigued me enough to explore further. This is especially true with foods. Like Lahm Lhalou – an Algerian lamb stew with almonds prunes and dried apricots. I’ll share later, I promise.

I don’t remember where I first read about clafoutis. Maybe I was looking for a cobbler recipe, or a rustic tart. Maybe I was reading an article about Julia Child, who was fond of them. Clafoutis are rustic French fruit desserts that are a cross between a cobbler, custard and pancake. I have a favorite easy cobbler recipe but I had a lot of blueberries to use recently and thought I would try something different. Clafoutis are easy, have common ingredients, AND it has a cool sounding name!


Grease a 9″ baking dish with butter and assemble ingredients: 1 pt. blueberries (or cherries, raspberries or other fruit), 3/4 c flour (I used King Arthur Unbleached White Whole Wheat Flour,, which I am now using almost exclusively instead of all purpose white), 3/4 c. Sugar ( I used 1/4 c each organic raw sugar, 1/4 c refined white sugar and 1/4 c. Stevia), 4 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/8 tsp. salt and 1 c. Milk.


Pour your fruit into the greased baking dish and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the eggs until light and frothy; add sugar and continue whisking until slightly thickened. Stir in milk and vanilla. Gradually whisk in the flour and salt but don’t overdo it. Pour the batter over the berries. Do not stir. Bake for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar – or not. We dug into ours as soon as I snapped the finished dish. Serve warm.





I’m thinking it’s eggs, milk and fruit so it should be good for breakfast, right?

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Nana and Grandpa’s Let’s Go Bag

I confess. I may not exhibit full-blown OCD, but I definitely lean that way. I sort my M&Ms by color and then eat them so as to even out the piles. I stack silverware in the tray. Open dresser drawers WILL be closed after I walk by. . . . and I make lists. It’s a family thing. I remember my mother taping lists inside our suitcases before we went on vacation each summer and my father made lists for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. He was a meticulous recordkeeper who kept mileage calculations and a daily expense ledger that would pass IRS scrutiny right up until he went into the hospital three days before he died.

I also love little adventures, day trips, hikes; whatever you want to call them. These short outings of exploration are one of the things I most look forward to sharing with my grandchildren.  Between my upbringing, my Girl Scout training and previous parenting and grandparent experience (I think everyone can relate to the toddler public venue full-diaper diarrhea blowout), I realized that a little advance planning and preparation was probably in order. Trying to hose down said toddler in a restaurant ladies’ room sink, discarding his clothes because they made me gag,and carrying a naked and crying 3 year old past all the other patrons to grandpa waiting in the car is not a scene I wish to repeat anytime soon.

Another thing I notice is many parents, even the most focused and dedicated ones, tend to sabotage their own efforts to get their little ones out the door on a happy and relaxed note. Getting kids ready to go anywhere at anytime is a challenge.Kids have their own agenda and we adults don’t always telegraph our intentions real well. Either the parents spring the news on the little tykes (that’s right, they didn’t hear you talking about it for the last half hour), then expect them to drop everything without complaint and run to the door, pulling on shoes and picking up toys in one fluid motion; or they announce with great excitement that “we’re going bye bye” and then proceed to spend the next 15 minutes gathering everything together while simultaneously trying to get Junior dressed, and they wonder why Junior keeps wandering back to his toys. Everyone’s stress level ratchets up a notch and communications aren’t always zen-like in tone. A little advance logistics planning and preparation is worth well the time.

Enter Nana and Grandpa’s “Let’s Go” Bag! Basically a diaper bag for the toddler to pre-teen set, it will stay packed and replenished with perishables and age-appropriate substitutions, ready for planned excursions or an impromptu walk on the butterfly trail, to help ensure the comfort and safety of our little charges and maybe a few more minutes of sanity for Grandpa and Nana.

Tomorrow we are taking our almost 4 year old grandson and 7 year old granddaughter to one of our favorite places, the Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford NY, meaning a couple of hours of walking and a good amount of that time outdoors. Food and drink are available but not always convenient. Dominic is potty trained now, so we no longer need a diaper stuff, but we’ve learned that messes happen, that they are hungry and have to go the bathroom at THE most inconvenient times and they get restless easily. So, Nana is packing our Let’s Go bag tonight.


Get a lightweight and not-too-dorky looking backpack and load ‘er up.

Contents [Large Zip-Loc or mesh bags keep things organized within the backpack]: 

The Comfort and First Aid Bag:

  • Diaper Wipes for Sensitive Skin {better than hand wipes because they are larger and don’t have a lot of alcohol}
  • Paper Towels [use as placemats or for big spills]
  • Baby sun screen,
  • Band Aids
  • Sting Eze or After Bite Itch Eraser
  • Small water tight covered container, balanced sterile saline solution [tooth preservation kit]
  • Eco-friendly, non-toxic bug repellent (I used Burt’s Bees)
  • Lip Balm 

Disaster Recovery Bag:

Plastic grocery bags, hand sanitizer, disinfecting surface wipes, and extra T-shirt, shorts and underwear for each child. So even if they toss their lunch on the Teacup of Terror Ride, you can still get them semi-presentable in a jiffy and not have to ride home with all the windows down. 

Snacks and Drinks:

  • Water
  • Sippy Cups or Reusable Drink Boxes with Built-in Straws
  • Straws and extra paper cups (also double as collection cups for pretty rocks and leaves)
  • Child size plastic eating utensils
  • Small covered dishes 
  • Covered Plastic Container and Zip-Loc Sandwich Bags
  • Individual packages of snacks for each child (sharing is a mess waiting to happen)

Boredom Buster Bag:

  • Fat Crayons and Small Activity Books or Paper Pads
  • Stickers
  • colored pipe cleaners 
  • Small plastic cars or figures
  • small puzzles or books

We discourage the use of electronics when we go on outings because, well, we want to spend time with them, educate and entertain them,  and maybe even have them remember what we looked like after we’re gone. I will admit though that after the 14th game of “I’m going camping and I’m bringing a_____” on the car ride home, Grandpa begins to turn white around the lips, at which point a little handheld game may or may not appear out of Nana’s wonderful magic bag. 

Happy Trails!




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Weeds! Glorious weeds!

Winter just held its breath until it turned blue. I did not even get a spade into the ground until late in May, and what we have is a bare bones garden of a few tomato plants, pumpkins, fennel, cucumbers, and collards. So here we are almost to July and I nearly blushed with embarrassment when some friends posted their first harvest of berries, radishes and summer squash. What I DO have though, in abundance in fact, is weeds.

Luckily, I am not a fussy eater, and even luckier, I have learned to identify, utilize and appreciate some very tasty and incredibly nutritious edible wild plants. Nature, it turns out, provides for my sustenance better than I and my feeble gardening skills.

The knowledge comes from a variety of sources over a fifty year period. I think the first I remember is when I was maybe six years old and living the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. I remember a woman’s voice, my mother I suppose, although I cannot see her, telling me that the hoary velvet-leaved plant could be steeped into mullein tea. I do remember Mom, paper sack in hand, picking dandelion and plantain leaves in the yard. We didn’t have a lot of money, but I am certain she was not picking them because we didn’t have money for “real” food. It was just what one did. Another vivid memory around that time was being in the woods and biting into the shiny leaves of a low-growing plant known only as ” mountain tea”. I still remember that flavor vaguely reminiscent of wintergreen and sassafras.

Summers at my Grammy’s meant lots of good cooked greens, which were most always a mixture of wild and garden greens – collards, beet greens, mustard, kale, chard and poke, cooked to perfection with a bit of ham and seasonings? Later, when my family moved north to upstate New York, my father, who fancied himself an amateur archaeologist, would take us out into the woods hiking, looking for old farm and native people sites for his digs. I could not have cared less then about old bottles, button hooks, broken pottery and arrowheads, but I looked forward to the real treasures he showed us near rotting logs and tree stumps. Leeks or ramps, fiddlehead ferns and puffball. But it was one of the neighbor kids who told me you could snack on the “sour grass” growing around the foundation of our house in town.

Once as a young wife at our home on a few acres stretched from a wooded hillside down to a creek, I asked my sister who was visiting one spring with her new husband ( a city boy), if she would like to go get some greens for a salad. As we grabbed a bag and headed for the door, he asked her didn’t she want the car keys? Silly boy.

Even with all that, it was not until a trip one of our favorite places, the Genesee Country Village & Museum that we were introduced to purslane. In reading about the incredible nutritive value of this ubiquitous member of the portulaca family, that I began to fully realize the value of this acquired knowledge. Most people cannot get past the fear that they will accidentally eat something poisonous, thanks to every adult admonishing us to never eat anything from “outside”. What a shame. The internet now makes it possible to have an illustrated field guide in our pocket that our parents could not have imagined. I am so grateful that eating wild plants was a natural part of my experience growing up. I truly believe it contributed to my present health as well as my adventurous palate. I look forward to passing along the gift on many walks with my grandchildren for many years to come.

Pictured is tonight’s “weeding” salad of purslane, dill that has reseeded itself all over the place, cilantro, chives, and wood sorrel ( sour grass) tossed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, salt, pepper, a few drops of light olive oil and a 1/2 tsp. stevia.



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In Defense of Genteel Speech

I get it that some of your friends think you are funny as hell, that you have an acerbic wit, a dark or ribald sense of humor. I understand you grew up where life is faster, edgier; that you have had different life experiences. Maybe you have issues because someone you identify with a type or group has taken advantage of you, or is seemingly getting a benefit they do not deserve. Let’s face it; people out there are sometimes just dumb, thoughtless, arrogant, ignorant, selfish and mean. I understand we sometimes seek and receive affirmation for our frustration with all of that by posting on FB. But HOW we describe the foibles of humanity for humor’s sake or just to vent, does make a difference. It makes a difference in how our comments are received – whether they cause laughter and “Oh, I TOTALLY get that!”, or a ripple of recognition and a silent promise to self to try not to be “that” person, or whether they cause hurt and alienation among our audience of “Friends”. I am not talking about the passive-aggressive shot at someone you really do want to call out. I am talking about labeling the anonymous. Language allows us to be funny, cutting, edgy, witty and even brutally honest without being thoughtlessly hurtful. Be careful how you describe someone whose behavior has annoyed you. Try to confine your description of the person to criteria that actually matter. People will respond very differently to a post that reads, “Just almost lost it – the driver of that white sedan just crossed three lanes of traffic in front of me like a stone skipping the surface of a pond – while texting!!!” than they will to, “Nothing I hate more than people like that sliver-lipped ass-less grey hair who just cut me off!” Why? Because nothing matters about the physical characteristics of the driver in the story – until you label them. The first tells me you are annoyed by dangerous behavior. The second tells me you make broad generalizations about people, that you equate reckless behavior with people who may be like me in some respects and are likely to regard all people with those characteristics unkindly. To borrow from Marshall Rosenberg, if we speak the language of jackals we should not be surprised when people respond accordingly. We live in at a time when our culture and the media engulfs us in angry, combative, aggressive jackal language every waking moment. It pits us against each other for sport (sports like ratings and political races). It diminishes us. I used to tell my children that swearing/cussing was what people did because they were too ignorant to use words that actually had meanings. It takes presence of mind to elevate our speech above the 2nd grade level we are fed every day. It is going to take individual acts of conscious and courageous self-will not to be dragged down to the level of animals snarling at each other in a pit. The first step is to understand the power of language and to choose our words carefully, even in casual conversation, even in disagreement – or maybe especially then.

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Having the Girls Over

The last month has been busy with mostly good things – a wonderful week long visit with my son and his family in Virginia, welcoming a new colleague at work, winter finally giving up the ghost and the yard work that comes with it. I was feeling guilty because I don’t have a single thing planted in the garden. Hell, I haven’t even prepared the soil! I haven’t executed an honest to goodness cleaning binge in a good three months, the mail’s piled up and I still have a basement full of my parents’ things to go through and organize. I haven’t made a card since around Easter, and sewing patterns and skeins of gossamer butter-colored yarn, nascent visions of adorable heirlooms for baby Naya (yes, baby Blossom has a name!) taunt me every time I walk into my craft/ sewing/dressing room. So what do I do? Well invite the girls over for a direct sales party, of course!

“The Girls” are a crazy quilt of women – some I’ve known for almost 30 years, others only a couple of years. They are farm wives, business women, mothers of school age kids, grandmothers I met at work/kids’ activities/church/neighborhood. We’ve shared office war experiences, parenting angst, mountaintop experiences on mission trips and more tears, laughter, cups of coffee and glasses of wine than I can count. The common denominator is that I cherish them all. A cookware/jewelry/makeup/home decor/craft party is just the excuse you need sometimes to do nothing but enjoy each other’s company and engage in a little retail therapy – and the guys are sure to hightail it out of the house for a while too.

Honestly, it was also a chance to brag on my husband a little bit and show off all the work he’s done around here lately, the kitchen wainscotting, woodwork and refurbished cabinets and the beautiful floors throughout, even some of our furniture. Oh, and did I mention that girlfriends make the BEST guinea pigs when you want to try out some interesting sounding recipes you’ve found on Pinterest? So what does one serve at a grown up ladies’ ” tea party”?


Caprese Salad Stacks: Skewer bite size mozzarella balls, fresh basil leaves and grape tomato on a toothpick, sprinkle with sea salt, coarse ground black pepper and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Classic summer freshness.


Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Dates: Cut large pitted dates in half (but not all the way through), stuff with a chunk of Gorgonzola, Feta or other strong cheese. I used herbed goat cheese. Wrap with a strip of prosciutto. I placed them on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and roasted in convection oven at 400 degrees for about 6 minutes. These were absolutely delicious!


Guacamole Deviled Eggs

Salted Caramel Pretzel Brownies: Yes, I used a brownie mix. Don’t judge. Fudge-y, crunchy, gooey, salty nirvana.

Drape your table in something unabashedly girly, put on the spa music, light a scented candle and serve up the lemonade in your prettiest pitcher, and you’ve got your self a party. Oh, and wine. Don’t forget the wine!

For Pauline, Kathy, Amal, Judy, Donna, Marie, Jennifer, Abigail, Rekha, Cindy.

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Milking stool, vinegar jug and candle mold

Ever wonder what artifacts will remain of your time here?

My father, and his mother before him, were the custodians of a few items from my great grandparents and their families, now passed along to me. What strikes me is how personal they are. Simple household tools, made to last and used every day, they beg to be touched. No modern packaging has the tactile appeal of my great grandmother’s primitive vinegar jug. From family recipes like Switchel and potato salad handed down through the generations, I know vinegar was an important commodity in her kitchen.

How precious would light be if your only source were candles you made yourself? Her candle mold would have been as important to them as any appliance in our homes today. No fine jewelry or furniture could tell me more about this woman than these tools she used regularly taking care of her home and family.

One can almost see Uncle Burton Potter casually swinging the handmade milking stool in one hand and the milk pail in the other as he rose to go from one milking station the next. Clearly repaired several times with hand cut nails and scraps of feed bag, birch bark still clinging to the worm riddled wood, preserved for 100 years by the sweat and oil of a humble farmer’s hands and most likely a few decades of cow urine and barn muck, it has become the favorite perch of our three year old grandson, who swings it just as easily from its usual place by the fireplace to the bathroom to brush his teeth.


And what will future generations know of us? They will certainly have more photographs and writings, but I wonder if anything from this culture of disposability will beg to be touched and speak of the dignity of hard work and convey anything of the person who touched it every day.

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