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» Hatrack River Forum » Archives » Landmark Threads » An uncharacteristically bitter landmark (Page 1)

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Author Topic: An uncharacteristically bitter landmark
Annie
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Bonnie grunted at me as she walked out the door. She grunts when she's mad, frustrated, or purposely uncooperative. I'm not a parent yet, just an old spinster sister, but I've already blown right through about five potential parenting strategies on Bonnie. This morning she wanted me to drive her to the bus stop. It was early enough for them to walk, I was so sick I could barely see, and so I insisted that there was no reason for me to drive them to the bus stop. She grunted, yelled "Jeez!" and slammed the door on her way out. Emarie gave me a quick hug and a knowing look and ran after her older sister.

The rest of the morning was spent trying to find Hagan's clothes. He goes to Kindergarten at noon, but it takes the better part of our morning at home remembering where he left his shoes. And his pants. And his backpack. "Where did you leave them last?" is far beyond us, because when things pass out of his notice, they pass out of existence. Today is worse because it's Thursday, show and tell day. This means he spends a good hour and a half deciding what he’s going to bring, ten minutes losing said object, and the next two hours finding it again. This morning he wants to bring his G.I. Joe doll, the one that has a soft, pliable rubber face and talks. It doesn’t just have a rattling voice that plays when you pull a string; this frightening thing moves its mouth and eyebrows and has two volumes – regular and shouting. You push the button on his abdomen harder and he shouts his series of comments, things like "Devil Dogs!" and "Drop and give me thiry, Marine!"

Truth be told, I hate the Marine doll. I want to reprogram it to do things like recite the periodic table and chant, in subdued tones, the Articles of Faith. I hate everything it stands for, but I didn’t dare to say any of that when Mom and I were picking out Easter presents at Target at 10:00 pm on the Saturday before Easter. I learned a long time ago not to argue politics with Mom or answer her rhetorical questions in rants against the media and those people I listen to on NPR.

"Hagan has wanted this Marine G.I. Joe for a long time," Mom had said as she put it in the shopping basket.

"Mom, it’s $19.99," I pointed out. We had $50.00 that Grandma had sent me in return for some greeting cards I made her with which to furnish Easter baskets for four children. I didn’t see how $20 on a violent toy was a good use of those funds.

"I know," she hesitated, "but they need some Easter presents."

"Easter presents? Most people get jellybeans." I had tried this on Valentine’s Day too, to no avail. Everyone got Valentine’s presents. "They’ll just break them in a week," I added.

But Mom couldn’t do without the talking Marine G.I. Joe with moving eyebrows. "It’s a Marine. It’s important for Hagan to have something that helps him identify with his older brother. I’ll just write a check for however much we go over." Good thing we have the trusty rubber checkbook.

Hagan’s older brother Max is another of my younger brothers. He’s in Iraq, having recently transferred there from a three-year station in Japan. He graced us with his presence for three days between locations and made a fabulous impression on the little kids. He smelled like smoke, he taught Hagan how funny it is to call me ugly, he left pictures of one of his Japanese girlfriends lying around. I’ve been trying to figure out how you’re supposed to get a little boy with no male role models to live a somewhat normal life without buying plastic replicas of the prodigal son for him to admire. I’m drawing blanks.

Hagan got the marvelous rubber-faced soldier for Easter, and now had to find it for Show and Tell. We got about halfway to school, turned around, remembered it this time, and delivered him safely. Hagan hopped out of the car in his "Marine clothes" – camouflaged pants and a jacket from the Gap he got as a Valentines present – and waved at me. "I Love you!" I shouted after him. The G.I. Joe is the one who answered: "Semper Fi!"

My day at work turned out to be a harried day of – to borrow shamelessly from Jane Austen – a quick succession of busy nothings. Mom called about thirteen times from the University to remind me of things I already remembered, and I quickly forgot all the patience I had committed to practicing. I was letting myself slide into the grumpy sort of cynicism that is all too prevalent these days. Everyone who came in to the gallery was looking to talk to my Mom – "Sorry, I’m filling in for her while she finishes school this semester!" – and everyone who called was asking me a question I was unqualified to answer. The boss kept peeking over my shoulder to make sure I, an hourly employee, was using my time productively, and so I pretended to re-vamp the gallery website again or re-design a newspaper ad that had already gone out. When the phone calls aren’t accidental re-routings of someone who really wants to be talking to the pharmacy, they’re the mortgage company trying to get in touch with my Mom or my Dad angrily trying to blame her for harping on him about the late child support. At 6:00, the precise moment that people need me to pick them up at three separate locations, I’m not in the most pleasant of moods as I close and lock up the gallery.

When I pick up the last two kids, Hagan and Bonnie, at the after-school program, they’re already arguing.

"I call seat by window!" Bonnie yells, running to the car.

"I already called seat by window!" Hagan squeals.

"I can’t sit in the middle!" Bonnie grunts, "I’m too big!"

I breathe deeply. "Bonnie, you can sit in the middle. I sit in the middle sometimes and I’m two feet taller than you."

"Well, I can’t! My legs are too big!"

It takes five minutes of haggling, but Bonnie sits fuming in the middle seat as we pull out way too fast. We pull out way too fast because Haeli, the 16-year-old sister, insisted on driving. Emarie is sitting wide-eyed in the other seat-by-window, meekly enduring the ranting of the still-angry Bonnie.

"I’ll sit in the middle," Emarie offers.

"No!" I say firmly, indignant with some sort of firm-parenting philosophy I’m determined to ride out. "Bonnie needs to take her turn in the middle."

We get about fifty feet out of the parking lot, which is really quite good compared to how long it usually takes to remember something we forgot, when Hagan cries out shrilly.

"My G.I. Joe!"

I hesitate before I answer. Am I supposed to let him learn the consequences of leaving his things behind? Is this a good learning opportunity? "Where did you leave it?" I ask.

"On the playground at first recess!"

"On the playground?! Hagan!" I try not to be too "mean" in my frustration, but I really want to be. Visions of a sobbing little boy whose $19.99 toy went home with someone else flash through my mind. We turn around and go back to the playground.

Hagan and Emarie hop out to go search the playground. There are various groups of kids still playing, some that look like particularly menacing "big boys." From my viewpoint, the chances don’t look very good. No G.I. Joe to be seen.

Soon Emarie is holding up a pair of Barbie-sized camouflage fatigues. I groan inwardly at the thought of sand and playground dirt being lodged in the fragile soundbox on G.I. Joe’s abdomen. But the search turns even more dire.

Hagan, at the direction of the little disabled boy Harry, is now digging in the sandbox. A plastic rifle emerges, then a helmet… then….

Hagan and Emarie are running towards the car, Hagan clutching something to him with an unreadable expression on his face. My heart soars for a moment – is he holding back squeals of happy excitement?

When he gets closer, I realize that something is very wrong. His face is contorted in that tight frown that means he’s about to burst into tears. I see the naked Marine doll clutched in his hands and remorsefully imagine its voicebox clogged with sand. I roll down the window.

"It’s broken!" he sobs, and thrusts the doll at me. I take it and am shocked to discover what I see.

The doll is indeed broken – its rubber face is totally gone. The mechanisms in its face that made its jaw move and its eyebrows form that angry look are white plastic with a blank stare. It looks like a skull – vacant eye sockets, weird robotic white blanks for the face – but has a complete set of teeth and a red plastic tongue that was more lifelike when it was inside a mouth. It’s obscene, really. A fully muscled Greek hero of a figure with a blank skull for a head and a laughing skeletal mouth, it weakly whimpers something gritty when I try the voice button.

Hagan is hysterical with grief now. Bonnie insists on looking at it, and then flings it, frightened, back at me when she sees its face. Emarie, who bursts into tears when someone else cuts a finger, is sobbing uncontrollably. Harry is smiling happily from the sandbox, waving the camouflage pants that the two children, in their hasty grief, forgot.

My hands shudder and drop the horrid toy. It’s just a toy! But I can’t help but flash back to a conversation I had with Max during one of the awkward car rides while he was here last month.

Having already poked gentle fun at the rancid tobacco smell on his clothes and asked him idly about his newly acquired language skills, my conversation with Max took a turn for the mocking type of dark humor which seems to be the only thing the two of us can talk about. Somehow, shockingly, the topic of how much money the government pays families of dead soldiers came up.

"Well, at least them Mom wouldn’t have to sell the house," I heartlessly joked. "We could pay the mortgage for quite a while with twenty grand."

"A hundred thousand," Max informed me brusquely.

"What?"

"They bumped it up. Now if I get shot, they’ll send you a hundred grand. You can get me a nice coffin and have enough left over to buy everyone a toy."

Those words come back to me as I stare at the body of the mutilated Marine dug up by a retarded six-year-old in a desert sandbox. Haeli throws a backpack on top of it, looks at me knowlingly, and pulls out of the parking lot. We head home, all disturbingly heavy-hearted.

I hesitate, not knowing even how to breathe, much less what to say. I’ve got two sobbing children in the back of the car. Bonnie is gazing absently out the window, having taken the window seat in the recent trauma. Is this the time to bring up a little lesson on taking care of our things? If I had any sort of money, I’d be tempted to drive the thirty miles to Target right now and buy a new one, if only to rid my mind of that obscene image that’s sitting under Haeli’s backpack. But do I need to be firm? Do I need to talk about responsibility? Do I need to talk about forgiveness?

"You guys can’t be mad at Harry," I say. "If he’s the one who broke it, he doesn’t know any better." My words are met with silence.

A moment passes. "I really liked that guy because he reminded me of Max," Hagan sobs.

I start to lose my composure. "I’m sorry, Hagan. I wish I could buy you a new one, but I don’t have any money." This toy is replaceable. What if it were a real man, dug out of the sandbox with his face ripped off? I have morbid fantasies of having to explain to the little kids…. The insurgents don’t know any better….

"We could save up our money," Emarie offers.

I appreciate her effort, but don’t want to get her hopes up. "I don’t know if you guys could save up that much. It was like $20."

There’s silence for another moment while we try to muffle the crying.

"I have $20," Bonnie announces.

"What? How?"

"I saved my Christmas money," she explains, shifting in the seat-by-window. "Hagan can have it."

I am shocked. This is the child who hounded me for a year and a half for five dollars I borrowed for lunch . "You would give him $20?"

"Well," says Bonnie, and she turns toward me. It is only now that I see that she’s been crying. "It’s really sad. Those boys who did it were really mean and I know it was really special to Hagan."

I start crying in earnest now. My voice comes out strangely, in a loud sort of squeak. "Bonnie," my voice sounds like I’m about to lecture her, like I always do, "that’s the nicest thing I’ve ever heard."

So, I gave in to the commercial crap. We drove 30 miles and searched three box stores, even the discount chain that will not be named, until we found a Special Forces ReCon Marine G.I. Joe with a rubber face who moved his eyebrows while he shouted, "Devil dogs!" Bonnie fished twenty wrinkled one-dollar bills out of her wallet.

We buried the hideous corpse of the fallen soldier, without clothing or dog tags, in the backyard and the funeral scene that followed was a little too portentious for comfort.

And I wrote a long, sincere letter to my brother Max that night. I thanked him for serving the country, without interjecting any venom about the injustice of the war or disappointment with how he was and how I wanted him to be.

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ElJay
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Wow, Annie. Just wow.

*hug*

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Kwea
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That was great.
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mimsies
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*speechless*

that was powerful, amazing,

wow

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Hobbes
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Annieness...

(((((((Annie)))))))

Hobbes [Smile]

[ April 20, 2005, 12:31 AM: Message edited by: Hobbes ]

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Stan the man
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quote:
Valentine’s presents
I never knew there was such a thing. Easter, it wasn't uncommon to get a book. Nothing much, but something to do on the long drive to other family.

For the rest I agree with the wow from ElJay.

Here's to hoping you don't get too bitter.

(((Annie)))

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Annie
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Wow. It was so great it made everyone post twice! [Smile]

thanks

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Hobbes
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(Check you're e-mail Annie [Kiss] )

Hobbes [Smile]

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Avadaru
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That was lovely and touching...thank you.
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rivka
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*teary* Annie, that was awesome.

*hug*

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Leonide
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It's people like you who make me realize that you can't learn how to write well -- it's kind of just...always there with you.
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Shan
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(((Annie)))

You're doing an absolutely splendid job as an elder sibling "parent" - don't ever doubt it.

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Zotto!
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Jeez. That was amazing and thought-provoking, Annie. You're one of my favorite Hatrackers, and I'm glad you're here. I don't think I could handle situations like that half as well as you.

[ April 20, 2005, 01:01 AM: Message edited by: Zotto! ]

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tt&t
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I'd have to agree with the "wow"ers.

Amazing. Thank you for sharing. [Smile]

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ketchupqueen
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Wow. It's sweet that Bonnie did that for her brother, though. Isn't it amazing how, when you think kids are mercenary and greedy and just want, they'll turn around and be the most generous little people you ever saw?

But it sounds like you have as many worries as I do. ((((hugs))))

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Ryuko
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Annie, that was really insightful and well-written. I commend thee. [Smile]
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Rappin' Ronnie Reagan
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Wow. That was an amazing story. And you're an amazing person. [Smile]
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Annie
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Thanks so much, everyone. [Smile]

Sarah, darling - we need to hang out again one of these days.

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Lyrhawn
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Wow...that was really something. Not often a piece of writing by anyone can engage me so much and touch me, really get to me.

Thank you for sharing that.

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larisse
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Annie... that was beautiful and touching. It's hard to think about what might happen to any of your family members, especially ones that are in a dangerous place or profession. In your case, it is both. Your brother and family are in my thoughts.

{{{{Annie and family}}}}

Oh... your brothers and sisters have such beautiful names (yours included). [Smile]

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Narnia
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(((Annie))) Mmm. I admire you dear.
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Derrell
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I'll add to the chorus of wows. That was very well written. You are a truly cool person.
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tt&t
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quote:
Isn't it amazing how, when you think kids are mercenary and greedy and just want, they'll turn around and be the most generous little people you ever saw?
Oh heck yes.
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Morbo
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Wow! Anneke, that landmark was definitely worth the wait. Your writing keeps getting better--I am very eager to buy your book when I can.

I didn't know your brother was in Iraq. I will pray for him.

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Beanny
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Is another "wow" unwanted?

SuperCaliFragilisticExpealidocious!

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Shigosei
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Thanks, Annie. That was a very thought-provoking piece.
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Beren One Hand
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What a great example you are to your siblings. [Smile]
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Minerva
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Incredible.
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mothertree
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Almost thou persuadest me to be a liberal. (It was good, thanks for sharing.)
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Stray
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Thanks for an excellent landmark, Annie. I really enjoyed reading that.
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Jim-Me
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*Joins the chorus* [Smile]
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sarcasticmuppet
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(((((Annie))))) [Smile]
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TomDavidson
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Well done, Annie. Hang onto this.
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Farmgirl
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I'm crying. at work.

[Cry]

wow.

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Dragon
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Oh wow Annie! That is a wonderful piece, thank you so much for sharing it with us!

[Smile]

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Brinestone
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Annie, publish this. You write beautifully, and anyone would be stupid not to publish something so amazing. And finish/publish your novel while you're at it. I'm totally serious.
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KarlEd
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Annie, that was beautiful, frustrating, hopeful, sad, and stragely happy all at once. [Kiss]
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advice for robots
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Good stuff, Annie. Very well written and very moving. Tell me you didn't just write this for your landmark. [Smile]
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ludosti
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What a beautifully written slice of life - frustrating, bitter, and sweet all at the same time. [Smile]
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Noemon
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Exactly what Karl said.
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no. 6
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That was the best landmark ever. By anyone.

I was glued to every word of that post.

Remarkable.

I don't know what else to say. You just rock, Annie.

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Annie
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quote:
Tell me you didn't just write this for your landmark.
Umm.... I was going to write it anyway. For my LiveJournal....

Thanks everyone for the compliments. It was basically just a story that really wanted telling. It happened a couple weeks ago and I meant to sit down and write it right then but for some reason it kept not working. So then I just spewed it all out and it wrote itself.

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Dagonee
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*speechless*
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Zalmoxis
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You, my dear, are a writer. Well done.

And -- thanks for sharing this with us.

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Alcon
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*whitles in awe* That was amazing.
(((Annie)))

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Speed
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Wow. Very nice. I was just wondering when you were going to write your landmark and free us all from the confusion of Susie Derkins. I'm glad I didn't start bugging you to get at it... when you take your time on something it really shows. The very model of what a landmark should be, and an excellent example of why they exist.

[Hat]

[ April 20, 2005, 01:38 PM: Message edited by: Speed ]

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romanylass
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Annie,wow, that is beautifully written. It was very touching...I can tell what a wonderful person you are.
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The Rabbit
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Wow Annie. I don't know what to say. This is indeed a story worth telling.
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Tater
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It was great.

Book? Book, you say? You're going to get one published? Wow.

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Annie
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Um, not so much published as CafePressed. [Smile] I'm a small fry.

edit: it's available here. It does, however, have three typos and I haven't had time to submit a new manuscript version. And it's about Mormons. Take it as you will.

[ April 20, 2005, 05:56 PM: Message edited by: Annie ]

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