I still have 1,359 friends on Facebook

Mary Lee writes | Facebook

Take a deep breath, Mary Lee, and stop feeling like the little girl who all of a sudden got reprimanded and dissolved in tears. I know that I post too much on Facebook. When I read an article that might be helpful (or backs up my own opinions) I tend to post it. I love posting memories as reminders to friends of the good times we have shared. Lately, my daughter and I have self-isolated to try to avoid coronavirus, and for this reason I have been sharing even more than usual as this is a way to connect.

There have been articles lately addressing the loneliness of older adults. Having lived in three different areas since becoming a widow nearly seven years ago, I have made a lot of friends whose support I value.

I have my bridge buddies, my PEO buddies, my book club buddies, my church buddies, my writing group buddies, my dog loving buddies, to name a few.

When I see a picture of a dog in need of adoption or a lost dog, I post. A person is missing, I post. I’m a sucker for pictures of families, especially kids and babies and older children who are making a mark on the world.

I post when immigrants are unfairly treated, when human rights are withheld, when I read a post that is clearly fake. When our President does something I think is absurd.

At 83, I have had so many people pass through my life and somehow I can’t let them go. They are a part of what makes me who I am today.

I try to be fair to differing opinions but, although I have voted several times for Republicans, I decided I needed to study the platforms carefully for each party and make my choice. I do not hate Donald Trump because I think he is a damaged human being and to be pitied. I cringe to think how his presidency will be leaving our country in shambles, and I hope voters will stop believing fake news sites and check out their sources. We owe that to the children of this country, restoring decency in speech as well as actions. Forget the fictitious border wall that “Mexico is paying for,” and put that money toward developing a fair plan for immigrants. Save the programs developed to make lives improve, such as DACA. Yes, I am a yellow dog Democrat and proud of it.

Try feeling the peace in your heart that comes from the acceptance of others, no matter whom they vote for, whom they love or what faith they follow.

I have a core group of friends on Facebook who share honestly. If we disagree, we say so. I would miss them because they remind me of my convictions.

My daughter encouraged me this morning to write a blogpost that would make you laugh in the midst of this crisis, something lighthearted. Then I received an email from a high school friend who told me he was unfollowing me. All of a sudden I was that little girl who never did anything right, so she just never achieved anything. Then I thought, grow up! The easy way out is to retreat and have hurt feelings. The adult says stand up for yourself. My old friend told me that we agree on issues almost 100% of the time, but posting once a day is really too much, that posting once a week is enough. Friends, I apologize for not controlling my passion as I believe that the bottom line is that we love one another and respect our differences. That’s all that counts. Ignore my posts or unfollow me, but stay my friend.

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Table tales

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Of course, the dining room furniture had to be imposing. The huge dining room was next to a thirty- by forty-foot living room with a fourteen-foot ceiling adorned by a striking crystal chandelier. Are we hearing a little snicker already? Looking good was important to my family.

My grandmother and a friend got on a train to St. Louis to find the right furniture. The table, more narrow than some, boasted five leaves so twelve people could easily be seated. The chairs were extremely heavy and added elegance. The sideboard was around seven feet long. A pretty matching console was chosen. Completing the set was a tall china cabinet, with solid doors embellished with a chinoiserie motif in green.

Mary Lee writes | Table tales

Chinoiserie for the china cabinet

I must back up. My grandparents, Mary Emma and Eugene Barton, purchased this house in Jonesboro, Arkansas, around 1924. My mother, Dorothy Barton Rebsamen, was single and living at home. The family had lived on West Washington until this home, located on twenty-two wooded acres and modeled on a Mississippi country club, was purchased. My mother married my dad, Lloyd Rebsamen, in 1930, and the couple moved in with my grandparents as my grandfather told them they couldn’t marry unless they promised to live with them. I was born in 1936 into that weirdness.

As I grew up in this situation, I formed a relationship with this table. The early years were torture for a child, as I was expected to sit at the table until the adults were ready to move to another room. There was an old man called Uncle Levi of whom I have only hazy memories from interminable meals, quietly listening to him “preach.” I think he may have been a retired Baptist preacher.  My grandmother always sat at one end of the table so her foot could reach the button under the rug to summon the server. The dining room had a swinging door to a hallway which then opened to the kitchen. It was not all that easy, carrying trays, clearing the plates, serving dessert. However, I don’t recall a thing ever being dropped or spilled.

When I was nine, it was decided that the house needed to be renovated. My parents bought a place nearer the center of town, on South Main, and we all, my parents, grandparents, and I, moved and lived there for about three years. That was the first of several moves for the dining room table. Once the work was completed on the house, we all traipsed back in, though I have always thought my parents would have liked to stay in their own place on Main Street. The dining table returned to its place of honor, fulfilling its obligation.

Covered with freshly ironed linen cloths, the table witnessed many bridal teas, ladies luncheons, DAR State Convention teas–just about any occasion, as we certainly had the space. The prettiest table that I remember was arranged by Faye Kenward for my friend Jane Fietz Stepka’s engagement announcement party. The centerpiece was a birdcage painted yellow festooned with yellow daisies and a canary that looked almost real.

Mary Lee Writes | Table tales

Ready for nearly any occasion

My grandmother died while I was at a girl’s camp in Texas in 1950. Upon returning home, I walked into the living room to see her casket and many chairs set up for her funeral. I was totally unprepared for this, as I had only been told she was very ill. The refreshments were served on the dining room table.

My grandfather lived with us until 1954, when he attended a party in another city accompanied by an RN. While there, he met a woman younger than my mother, whom he married. He bought another house in Jonesboro where they lived until he died at the age of 84.

In 1960, my parents decided to move, and built their own new house next door.  My husband John bought the old homeplace, and we moved there with our children. We had lots of good times around that table shared with good friends. The table served many needs. One day, I entertained a bridge group and the man who helped me at the time asked what to do with the vacuum cleaner just as everyone was arriving. The closet where I kept it was in the room where we were gathering to play. I commented “just hide it someplace.” As the girls were leaving, one asked to see the house. She walked into the dining room and immediately commented, “what a unique place to store a vacuum.”  He had carefully put it under the table!

The furniture had a home for a while in Memphis, where Johnny and Mary Kathryn were in school, then it traveled to three more residences back in Jonesboro.

We hosted many dinner parties while living on Harrisburg Road and one evening, as I was checking the table before serving, I spotted a man’s wallet at the head of the table. Thinking someone had mistakenly put their wallet down, I asked around. One of the men claimed it, saying “isn’t it like a lady using a purse to reserve a seat?” At a dinner party?

The next move was to a house on Martinbrook Drive, where we did the most informal entertaining. My warmest, though saddest, memory is the night of my husband John’s memorial service. About ten very close friends and family gathered and reminisced until about one in the morning. Talk about warm and cozy!

Mary Lee Writes | Table tales

The side piece

Some months later I decided to downsize, and learned a nearby condo was coming on the market with a big dining room. I was so excited because I could keep my grandmother’s dining room furniture, as I had come to treasure it over the years as a reminder of her.

About a year later I made another hasty decision. My daughter had moved to Little Rock and a new home was nearing completion  just a block from her house. I bought it and downsized again, this time finally saying goodbye to my grandmother’s furniture, the dining room in this house being of more practical size. And, you know, it wasn’t hard at all. Material things are just that –  stuff that is not important. Less is good.

 

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Does this make me a liberal, or just human?

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Someone asked me how I got to be such a liberal coming from Jonesboro, Arkansas. I have pondered that question as I didn’t at first have a good answer.

I was raised in a home with three servants, a cook, housekeeper, and gardener. On Sunday mornings my father would pick up the housekeeper and bring her to our house. Perhaps the bus didn’t run on Sunday? My mother didn’t choose to make beds, nor did she teach me to help around the house.

I remember my mother correcting me when I referred to the person who did the ironing as a lady, telling me not to ever call a black (referred to as “colored” in those days) woman a lady.

Spot (his full name was Leonard Taylor, but he was a very small man whom I had always only known him by his nickname) was our cook, and he had a drinking problem. My father would sometimes go to the basement and have a yelling fit at him because of something – anything to hurt him in my father’s need to vent his anger. Spot was a wonderful human being and probably one of the kindest men I have ever known. His wife ”Sugar” was my nurse and died when I was five.

As I felt the underlying tension in our very dysfunctional household, in my heart I knew I was no better than anyone else. I vowed to myself that when I grew up I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.

My parents lived next door to us when the children were young. One morning Spot came to my kitchen door, probably sent by my very controlling mother to check on us. I was at the sink and Spot asked what I was doing. I responded that I was making a stew. His answer was ”you shouldn’t ’oughtta’ have to do that, Miss Mary Lee.”

I was a very spoiled only child, although thankfully I was able to develop a sense of love and admiration for those less fortunate. I have always believed that by opening our eyes and ears we embrace those different from ourselves. I believe each of us is a unique human being and worthy of being loved. A very snobbish man told me once that I always had an affinity for those who couldn’t do for themselves. At the time the remark was made, I was helping a young paraplegic with the lift on his van. He heard what was meant to be a disparaging remark about me and internalized it against himself. I tried not to cry when I saw the tears in his eyes. I have been reminded of that day often during Trump’s rallies as he mocks people.

Boundaries are necessary when caring for and about others. A physician told me I was the type of person who would see a stranger in an airport bidding goodbye to someone, and wish to cry for them.

The years of Trump’s presidency have affirmed my view that empathy and honesty are all important. No one is perfect but we can live striving to be better. I cannot understand why anyone would support a man who said in an interview, on video, that he had never had to ask forgiveness because he hadn’t done anything wrong.

I want to be available to share my experience, but I have never walked another’s path, and I refuse to give unsolicited advice or to reproach anyone. There is only one judge. Does that make me a liberal? I hope it makes me a compassionate woman who believes in loving and accepting one another as we would want to be loved and accepted. I hope to be willing to respect those with opinions and behavior different from mine and always to be open to progressive concepts.

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Bridges to better health

Mary Lee Writes | Bridges to better health

It’s time to tell my cancer story, which began sometime last year. In doing so, I hope to encourage others to ask questions and be assertive. I had worried about strokes and heart attacks, but never cancer. After all, I had escaped the dreaded “C” so far, so what’s to worry about. My husband had bladder cancer and was treated for years, and he told me once that the word changes your life.

The first six months in 2018 was a time of managing increasing pain and symptoms monitored by my gastroenterologist. In May, my symptoms became more pronounced. I contacted both him and my internist in Little Rock, and the gastroenterologist responded by saying he would order a CT scan. His office called to tell me it was normal. I learned later that a CT scan will not detect endometrial cancer. About a month after the scan, I was experiencing frightening symptoms including increased abdominal pain. I called both the internist and the gastroenterologist and asked that I be referred to a gynecologist. Both told me the other would have to arrange the referral.

I became so frustrated that I told a dear friend what was going on and that I felt I might have to go to an ER to get a referral. That Sunday, she sat by a gynecologist in church, and she said she prayed during church about whether she should tell this physician about my case. After church, she did tell her, and she texted me to call this doctor early the next morning for an appointment.

I called and was told I could see the physician later in the day but if I wanted to come in early, I could see her nurse practitioner. After an examination, I was sent immediately for an ultrasound. During the ultrasound, the technician asked if I had already had a biopsy, so I knew that I was in trouble. A day later, I had an appointment with the gynecologist, who told me I most likely had endometrial cancer. She scheduled a biopsy to be done in the hospital under anesthesia as she suspected cancer and needed to take many biopsies. My daughter booked a flight to Little Rock from California. Her trip was delayed in Dallas because of the weather, so she spent the night in Dallas and I picked her up at the airport as we headed to the hospital. She was determined to be there because I had a problem with waking up after a colonoscopy the August before. She had never told me how frightened she and the nurses had been, and wanted reassurance from the anesthesiologist who would be taking care of me for this procedure.

After this and the confirmation of the diagnosis, I decided to have the surgery at UCSF (University of California at San Francisco, a medical school in the California system that dates back to the middle of the 19th century) to make it more convenient for my daughter and son. We made many phone calls and were referred to the gynecologic/oncology surgery department there.

At the time, I had reservations for a flight to North Carolina to spend a week with two friends. The timing was perfect, as it was just before the appointment in San Francisco. I had a wonderful week with them, feeling such love and support. Instead of returning to Little Rock, I flew directly from Charlotte to San Francisco for my initial appointment with the surgeon. After seeing her and having a workup by the anesthesiology department, I was scheduled for surgery on August 23.

I had a complete hysterectomy and lymph node removal and was awake very soon and without pain. I was given a prescription for oxycodone but I never took one, only needing Tylenol. I was back at my son’s by the middle of the afternoon. When I returned to the surgeon for the pathology report, I celebrated on hearing I would not need chemotherapy.

I was referred to my radiologist/oncologist and was scheduled for 25 radiation treatments. However, when I arrived for my “marking” my treatment was delayed by a few days. The doctor had received more pathology reports and was concerned about the involved lymph node, which could not be completely removed because of its location. The radiation was strengthened in the area of the lymph node, so I do have some side effects.

After spending three weeks with my son and the next three weeks with my daughter, I decided I wanted to move to be near them. I rented an apartment in Corte Madera with a gorgeous view of the bay. They worried that I had made the decision to move so far away from friends too hastily. But most of my Arkansas friends are computer savvy, and we stay in close touch. Facebook has helped me keep up with Jonesboro and Little Rock happenings. I feel I am exactly where I need to be at this time in my life, though I miss our face to face chats. One friend in Little Rock and I Facetime, which I enjoy. And I have had lots of company, which has been wonderful.

Mary Lee writes | Bridges to health

I saw this on my phone yesterday. Good advice.

At this writing, my health is good. I will continue to be checked every three months because of the aggressiveness of my cancer, rotating between the surgeon and the oncologist. I have been totally at peace during this whole process and feel no matter what happens, I have my faith to lean on. I will be 83 in September, and though I have health issues I continue to enjoy and embrace life, very thankful to have lived this long. Gratitude for just being grows each day. The flowers seem prettier, the music more soulful, the brightness of the sun more comforting, and the support of family and friends more important. Mother’s Day is Sunday and will be celebrated with my awesome children, my son and his husband and my daughter, plus two longtime friends from Jonesboro. Life is fulfilling and joyful.

I am writing this for two particular reasons. My doctors here have not dismissed health concerns as “it’s your age.” They strive to keep me as healthy as I can be at my age and as active and involved as I wish to be.

The other reason is that I want to pass along a warning. The highest risk of endometrial cancer is among women over 80 who have never been checked because doctors assume we have all had hysterectomies. I was never once asked if I still had my female organs. It was just a blanket comment that after a certain age, pelvic examinations are not needed or suggested. I assumed that all was fine until I began having symptoms. It was thought that I had a class 2 very aggressive cancer which turned out to be nearer a class 3. I am so fortunate that my angel friend took the advocacy position needed for me to be seen.

So: Stand up for yourself when that gnawing feeling is present. Be your own advocate and find a doctor that listens and observes. A while back I went to an endocrinologist while in Little Rock and on a first visit he commented that I needed to take care of a place on my hand. I told him I had just seen a dermatologist and he told me it was nothing to worry about. As I left, the endocrinologist said, “go see about that hand.” I did, telling the dermatologist why I had come, and he said he would biopsy it if it would make me feel better. The pathology report showed an aggressive squamous cell carcinoma. That was an observant and caring endocrinologist. He was sitting across the room from me, and noticed the red and rough spot on my hand.

A nurse friend told me once to listen to my body and the story it is telling.

My thought? Once you feel that nudge, find a doctor with “ears on.”

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Fateful meeting in St. Louis

Book of Discipline

My heart has been heavy for a long time out of fear for the future of the United Methodist Church, which has always been an important part of my life. The Methodist Book of Discipline was first published in 1784, and is updated every four years after the church’s General Conference. In 1972, the church added this language:

“The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

This demeans those who wish to serve but are not “good enough” to represent the United Methodist Church. In my opinion, this is a divisive and hurtful passage and needs to be taken out of the Discipline. Fundamentalist clergy oppose that idea, citing Biblical scriptures which they take literally.

At the last General Conference in 2016, delegates deferred any decision on the question, and appointed a special commission to explore alternative approaches. The commission is due to report back later this month at a special session of the Conference in St. Louis. Striking the language is one of five options the conference will consider, reports say, with the commissioners themselves recommending a sort of local option for individual congregations and regional conferences.

To me, the scriptures cited by the fundamentalist clergy run counter to other scriptures. I personally place much more faith in Jesus’ teachings about loving one another. How many problems would be solved if we showed unconditional love to everyone?

Several weeks ago after church in San Anselmo, near where I now live, I was introduced to the guest speaker. It was six years after he completed seminary before the Presbyterian Church accepted gays and he could be ordained. I had no idea he was gay until he told me that story. His sermon was outstanding, and his personal circumstances in no way undermine the power of his or any other church leader’s message. What a loss it would be if, with his faith and dedication, this individual were denied the privilege of preaching.

If you have questions in your mind and heart, I suggest that you read Stranger at the Gate by Mel White. It could be a life changer. White was for many years a pastor who served as a communications consultant and ghost writer for Evangelical leaders. His book provides moving insight and perspective about the place of the church in the lives of faithful and dedicated gay clergy and the pain and loss of exclusion.

My hope is that the vote at Conference will be favorable to removing the devastating language in the Discipline, and permitting the ordination of many individuals who would serve faithfully as ministers and in other positions of leadership. I pray that the church will not split.

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Mission accomplished

Mary Lee Writes | Mission Accomplished

When I decided to move to California last September, I began dreading taking the written test required to get a driver’s license in my new home state. I don’t know how many of you have taken a driver’s test lately, but I had to re-take the Arkansas one several years ago. The renewal notice had not been forwarded after I moved. As soon as I discovered my license had expired, I called the local office and was told I would have to retake the written test. I headed down there, picked up a pamphlet, studied that night, and passed the next morning. All good.

I was disheartened to find that the California test book is 134 letter-size pages. I studied hard and took the practice tests over and over. On the appointed day, I summoned up my courage and went to the DMV office, having checked many times that I had the documents needed to apply. When I got to the counter, after waiting for a while, I thought I was in good shape. Not so! The clerk looked at me and said, “Where is your proof of name change?” I asked what she meant, and she told me my birth certificate said I had my maiden name, but my Arkansas driver’s license had my married name. Without further proof of a name change, I could not use my legal married name. I showed her several papers including the lease on my apartment, but she said they didn’t provide proof of my “new name.” At the time, my emotions were pretty raw as I was having radiation each day in San Francisco, sapping my energy. I asked the woman what I could do and she replied nothing until I got proof of name change. When I returned home, I searched on the internet and found the application form. I sent the needed information to Arkansas along with my check. Several weeks later I received a document certifying I had become Mary Lee Marcom on December 29, 1956.

Then I kept delaying the return visit, reading something entertaining instead of studying. The clerk had given me a card saying I could come without an appointment, saving another few weeks of waiting. I procrastinated because I dreaded a repeat of the experience.

One Sunday evening I decided I was being ridiculous and needed my license. I opened the booklet on my laptop and reviewed the practice tests thinking, so what if I fail, many others do, I had learned. (The rules actually say you must have a California driver’s license within 10 days of moving to the state.)

I happened to be assigned to the same person who had helped me on the previous visit. She recognized me and had a little laugh at my expense. I took the vision test and passed. Then I was escorted to the testing room. I was happy to find the test given on computers but felt insulted when the attendant tried to tell me how to use it and that she could stand by me to be sure I could enter my answers correctly. She also told me I could miss up to four questions and pass. Comforting. I finished the test quickly and passed. When I went over to the counter to pick up my license, someone commented, surprised and congratulatory, that I had passed on my first attempt. The people standing around gave me a big smile. I left there as proud as if I’d just received a college diploma. This 82-year-old had confronted a challenge and accomplished her goal.

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View from somewhere new

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After a hiatus from blogging, I am back, now publishing from a new perch by San Francisco Bay. There’s some catching up to do, so here goes.

Three years ago in February, I moved to Little Rock, having lived all my life in Jonesboro. My daughter, Mary Kathryn, had moved to Little Rock two years before that to be closer to her kidney transplant team. I suddenly began to wonder why should I stay in Jonesboro when I could be near my daughter. One day she called to tell me about a house being built about a block from hers in west Little Rock, close but far enough to give us independence. I drove down the next day, fell in love with it, and signed a contract that afternoon.

My friends were stunned. What I had not shared was that I felt so very alone, and I would be living the same sort of life in Little Rock with the advantage of being near my daughter. It was an easy drive to Jonesboro so I could return for visits. I was ready to make a change. One promise that I made to myself was to be open to new experiences, to be comfortable having lunch alone, going to a movie alone, getting involved! And I did.

I absolutely loved life in Little Rock. Old friends and cousins made sure I was included in lunches and bridge games. My P.E.O. chapter members became dear friends. A church group became extended family. Precious times were spent with friends who visited from Jonesboro. First United Methodist Church fed my soul with its inclusiveness, great sermons, and awesome music. I had found such a friendly and welcoming church and felt so at home in my Sunday School class. I tutored with Literacy Action of Central Arkansas. The Bridge House became my second home. At first, I was very shy about playing there but soon I realized they what a great group they were. They became my support system. Another bonus was getting to know a cousin and becoming his bridge partner. Little Rock was good to and for me. I plan to visit Arkansas this spring.

Then, last June, I began having symptoms that I could not ignore. I could not get my internist to refer me to a gynecologist, and I talked with a dear new friend about the problem. That Sunday at church, she deliberately sat by a much-admired gynecologist and she said she prayed about asking her to see me. She texted after church to give me the doctor’s name and information. I called the next morning and was in the office by 9. I had a scan by noon, and shortly after that a probable diagnosis of endometrial cancer, with a biopsy scheduled two weeks later. The biopsy confirmed the diagnosis (and a later PET scan told of lymph node involvement).

I wanted to have the necessary surgery in California to make it easier on Mary Kathryn and her brother. Mary Kathryn moved out to the San Francisco area earlier last year (and had flown back to Little Rock for my biopsy), and Johnny has lived there for the last 15 years. With referrals, I was able to see a gynecology/oncology surgeon at University of California San Francisco’s medical center. After surgery, I spent three weeks with my son Johnny, and the next three weeks at Mary Kathryn’s apartment. The good news was that the surgery went well, and I would need radiation therapy but probably would not have to have chemo. It seemed sensible to figure out a way to continue that treatment at UCSF.

I felt great pretty quickly after surgery, and about a week later asked Johnny if he would take me to see an apartment advertised, of all places, on Facebook. I had done a lot of internet searching and was fairly sure where I would like to be if I moved. Mary Kathryn joined us to look at the area, and I fell in love with the view. The place is high on a hill on the north side of the Tiburon Peninsula, with a sweeping view across the Bay towards the Richmond Bridge and the hills beyond.

Looking east from my balcony.

Looking east from my balcony.

They thought I made my decision in too big a hurry, and perhaps I did, although I have not regretted it. I was really hesitant about going back to Little Rock for the move, as I just wasn’t ready emotionally for more goodbyes. Johnny and Mary Kathryn went for me. Mary Kathryn and a dear friend picked up my dear Zach and Kodi, whom I’d left at the boarding kennel eight weeks earlier before heading off to San Francisco. Johnny stayed another couple of days in Little Rock and supervised the packing and loading.

By then, the end of September, I had possession of the apartment and had rented a bed, sofa, and chair. I moved in and had two very happy dogs with me. During October and November, I drove back and forth to the city for the prescribed course of 25 radiation treatments. Sometime during the early part of the treatments the moving truck arrived. Johnny arranged it all, from the unpacking to hanging each picture. Mary Kathryn helped as much as she was able. There are not enough words in my vocabulary to express to them what it meant to me.

I have excellent medical care, I love California, and the biggest bonus of all is a day like last Saturday, when both Mary Kathryn and Johnny dropped by for a visit. He lives across the bridge in San Francisco and she is a few miles up the freeway in San Rafael, so I am located approximately halfway between them. What a wonderful way to spend these years.

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