Eight Weeks in Penn’s Woods

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William Penn

We had a lengthy gap in our international travels this past fall.

Our faithful readers, our dear loyal readers, may wonder, “why the hiatus?”

penns-woods-mapThe answer is, we spent eight happy weeks in “Penn’s Woods” (Pennsylvania), in Philadelphia where Frank was born and raised.

Philadelphia, Cradle of Liberty!  City of Brotherly Love!   That’s the place!

Brian & Frank at Liberty Bell

Taking Care of  Kate

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Frank & Kate at Artman Home, Ambler, PA

Our principal purpose in visiting Pennsylvania was to help care for Frank’s 93-year-old mother, Kate, in Philadelphia.

Already ailing and weak with a heart condition, Kate had the misfortune of falling and breaking her pelvis.

Kate the Patient
Kate the Patient

Just before we arrived in Philadelphia, she had been moved from the hospital to a nursing home, the Artman Home in Ambler, for rehabilitation.

Kate these days is physically weak, but mentally quite sharp.  Her trademark sense of humor remains intact.

There is always a lot in life to laugh about, and this fall was no exception.  The politicking and elections in the USA, for one thing, gave us plenty of material.

People have asked Kate whether it bothers her that her firstborn son (Frank) came out as gay in his 40s.  No, she responds, she doesn’t mind, because she’s crazy about Brian.  And, anyway, she says, quoting her own mother, “everyone has their own way of going mad.”

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Kate and Her Youngest, Marie…nobody does more for Kate than Marie!

The family has solid connections with the Artman Home, where Kate now lives.  Frank’s sister Kathleen recently retired as a hospice nurse, and assisted many patients and their families at Artman during her career.  Meanwhile, Emily, the daughter of Frank’s sister Peggy, just commenced her career as a nurse, also at Artman.

Kate herself is also a retired  nurse, so we actually had three generations of nurses on many shifts this fall at Artman.

Kate bore and raised seven children, of whom six survive.  (Stephen, Frank’s twin, died in 2009.)  Kate’s adult offspring, and in turn their own kids, her grandchildren, have been a reliable community of caregivers for Kate in her elder years.  Everyone chips in.

Outside Kate's Room at Artman Home
Outside Kate’s Room at Artman

Kate’s very funny lifelong friend, Jean Greer Zeiter, remarked one day when visiting Kate at Artman, “Kate, your children are wonderful to you, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why!”  Everyone got a big laugh out of that — especially Kate.

Our Three Houses – Glenside, Mt. Airy, Ambler

All around the world as we have traveled we have stayed in houses and apartments that we booked using the relatively new but ubiquitous “AirBnB” internet platform.  It has been a great success for us.  Almost like hitchhiking back in our younger years, it has allowed us to meet and befriend local people wherever we have visited.  We have had consistently nice accommodations and a sense of fitting into the community.

In keeping with this practice, during our extended stay in Philadelphia we rented a total of three different houses.  None was available for the entire duration of our visit, so the solution was to move from house to house.  We were glad we did, because each of the houses had its own distinct charms, and we enjoyed the different geographic locations.

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Our Rental House in Glenside

Our first house — to which we returned for a second stay at the end of our Philadelphia visit — was in Glenside.

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Front Door of Kate’s Apartment in Glenside

Glenside is the suburban community where Frank grew up and where Kate still has her apartment.

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Back yard of our Glenside rental house – Note the fence, below which is the gorge where the trains run, between us and the houses beyond

In a small gorge just behind the house we rented in Glenside runs the commuter train formerly known as the Reading Railroad (a familiar name to fans of the board game Monopoly).

A bit farther down the track, only a few yards from the house, was a grade crossing on Rices Mill Road.

The sound of the train horns at the back of the house as they approached the crossing was actually mild and reassuring, muffled as it was by the banks of the small ravine through which the tracks run.

Those were the same train horns Frank and his family heard from their home in Glenside when the Lindh kids were growing up.

It was all very nostalgic, for those who remember the Reading Railroad!

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Standard Pressed Steel, Main Building, viewed from the RR grade crossing

Across the grade crossing, just down the hill, is Standard Pressed Steel, or SPS, a big factory where Frank’s grandmother once work, as did Frank’s father, also named Frank.

Somehow SPS has survived and is still a big employer in Glenside.

This place was rich with memories for Frank!

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“Mt. Airy Manse”

The second of our homes was a grand old lady of a house in Mount Airy section of Philadelphia.

Mount Airy is adjacent to Chestnut Hill, where Frank’s mom Kate grew up after her family emigrated from Ireland.  Chestnut Hill is also where Frank also lived as a baby.

Brian in Front of Mt Airy HouseMount Airy is a magnificent neighborhood of tree-lined streets and large homes on big lots, most of them dating to the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

We became friends with Kate, the owner, a delightful person who grew up in the house but now lives elsewhere.  (Yes, another Kate!!)

“Mount Airy Kate” (not to be confused with our other Kates) invited us to an election night party, which we will describe below.

We loved Mount Airy.  We became especially fond of Kate, our temporary landlady.

Our third home was a sweet little ranch house on a large tract of land in the suburbs, outside of Ambler, only a five-minute drive from Kate’s nursing home.

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Ambler House in the Spring (Note that we were there in the peak of Autumn)

The location was ideal for visiting Kate, and it also had ready access to a network of hiking trails that we really enjoyed, in the upper reaches of the Wissahickon Creek watershed.

It was a bucolic, park-like suburban setting, especially as the leaves reached the peak of their fall colors. We delighted in the falling leaves, especially since we had no duty to rake them up.

The little ranch house was a nice size for the two of us, compact and homey, and it had a nicely updated kitchen.  We did lots of cooking there.

ambler-house-interiorElection Day came and went (with its surprising outcome) while we were staying there in the Ambler house.

We stopped by the local polling station during a hike that day, which was sunny and pleasant.

There is certainly something special about an election day when the nation is about to select a new President.  It happens only rarely.

Wissahickon Outings

wissahickon-creek-watershedA significant aspect of our visit to the Philadelphia area was the time we spent on several different reaches of the Wissahickon Creek.

The Wissahickon is a sizable creek that runs through Montgomery County into Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park before emptying into the Schulykill River.

The fall weather in Penn’s Woods was sunny and pleasant, just perfect for hiking.

All along Wissahickon are beautiful old hardwood forests, a living reminder of  why this was called “Penn’s Woods” in the first place.

The leaves on the trees were just at the peak of their brilliant fall colors during the early part of our visit.  It was the perfect time to be in Pennsylvania.

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Frank & Niece Katie (Steve’s daughter, visiting from North Carolina) at the Valley Green Inn

We had several hikes in the upper reaches of the Wissahickon near Ambler, and a little farther south in Fort Washington and Flourtown, where Frank’s sister Peggy lives.

We also enjoyed several especially nice afternoon hikes into a beautiful deep gorge known as Valley Green.

Valley Green is inside the Philadelphia city limits, near Chestnut Hill, where Frank’s mom grew up.  Chestnut Hill is also where Frank’s family lived when he and his twin brother Steve were babies.

Steve’s daughter Katie came up from North Carolina to visit her grandmother while we were in Philadelphia.

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Katie & Frank on the old stone bridge at Valley Green

Valley Green was also on young Katie’s to-do list.  Steve, her dad, who died in 2009, had always told her it was one of his favorite places as well.

“Here it is, Katie!  Welcome to Valley Green!”

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Frank’s Nephew Andrew (Katie’s brother) also joined us in Philly this fall to visit his Grandmom

The old road along the Wissahickon in Valley Green, dating to colonial times, is still preserved, but open only to pedestrians and horses.

Along the old road there is the Valley Green Inn, an iconic old colonial building that still operates as an upscale restaurant.

Kate herself (Frank’s mom) especially loves Valley Green.  One nice Saturday afternoon, after her mid-day nap, by prior arrangement we picked her up at the Artman Home in Ambler, got her into our rental car, and drove through Chestnut Hill and then down into Valley Green.

Because of the fine weather that day, the place was packed, with cars lining both sides of the narrow road almost all the way back up to Chestnut Hill.  A guard was stationed at the top, preventing any more cars from driving down, since the lot below was completely filled.

Brian at Valley GreenWe explained to the guard that Kate was 93 years old, had grown up in Chestnut Hill, and used to walk down into Valley Green with her siblings and neighbors when they were young.  He waved us through with a gracious gesture and a smile.

Down we drove into the magical valley, finally bringing the car to rest at a gate across from the old inn.  We shut off the car engine and just sat there quietly, watching the creek and the crowds of people.  The warm sun was shining through the windshield and the side windows were partly open to the fresh air.

It was a moment to savor.  This was Kate’s first real outing in more than six weeks, since falling and being hospitalized and then moved to the nursing home.  She was beaming with delight at seeing Valley Green again, the place she has always loved so much.  It was such a remarkably beautiful autumn afternoon.Valley Green

As Kate herself has always been fond of saying, “the best things in life are free!”

valley-green

Camping with Peggy & the Kids

Frank’s sister Peggy and her family have a nice tradition of family camping trips.  For years, Peggy and her husband Tim have made it a practice to book cabins in various state parks around Pennsylvania for get-aways with their kids and now their grandkids.

nockamixon-state-park-signWe got to participate in one such get-away, at Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County, only about an hour’s drive from where we were staying near Philadelphia.

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Nockamixon Cabin

Peggy had rented two cabins.  Peggy’s son Brendan occupied one of the cabins, along with his beautiful wife Brandy and their daughter Imogen.

Peggy and the rest of us had the second  cabin.  Along with the two of us, the cabin comfortably housed Peggy, her daughter Emily, and Emily’s three kids, Juliet, Connell and Wyatt.

(Peggy’s husband Tim stayed home, ostensibly to mind the dogs, but no doubt he also enjoyed the solitude.)

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The Lake at Nockamixon

It was nearly sundown on Saturday when the two of us arrived to join the rest of the group.  There was just enough daylight left to stroll down along the lake with all four of Peggy’s grandkids.

Juliet, the eldest, has a good camera and at age 11 already has had some training in photography.  She took lots of pictures (alas, none of them shown here), including action shots of stones in flight as the rest of us threw them into the lake.

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Brian, Peggy and the Grandkids at the Campfire

Then we built and lit a nice, big campfire in the fire pit outside the cabin.  We enjoyed a wonderful outdoor cocktail hour around the fire before dinner.

We supplied French-style hors d’oeuvres (cheese, olives, baguette and — best treat of all — a can of foie gras we had purchased in France last summer), and a couple of bottles of French rosé wine, nicely chilled in the freezer.

Brendan, always a thoughtful and considerate person, brought a very good bottle of bourbon whiskey and ice cubes.

The conversation flowed effortlessly and with lots of laughter.  All the adults were mildly inebriated by the time we went inside the cabin for dinner. The kids were in great form.  Everybody felt relaxed and happy.  It was all family.  Peggy was truly in her element.

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The Grandkids at dinner:  Juliet, Imogen, Connell and Wyatt

We enjoyed a delicious dinner.  Peggy, Brendan and Emily each had prepared dishes in advance, which made it all seem rather effortless.

After dinner, we went back outdoors to the campfire and roasted marshmallows.

Mind you, dear reader, we did not have a late or raucous night:  The whole bunch of us retired to our beds early, shortly after nine o’clock.

In the morning, after yet another nice meal (pancake breakfast), we packed up the cabins and cleared out.

It was a night for the ages, out there at Nockamixon.  Everyone had so much fun!

Mischief Night at Johnny Dawson’s

First, a bit of background is required for the uninitiated.

In the Philadelphia area, and apparently in only a few other places in America, they cling to an old tradition dating back to early immigrants from Ireland.  The tradition involves the night before Halloween, which is called “Mischief Night.”

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The Lindh House on Woodlyn Avenue, Glenside

When the Lindh kids were growing up on Woodlyn Avenue, there were roughly 100 kids on their block, and pretty  much every kid was out on Mischief Night, doing what kids do on Mischief Night.  What they do is mischief, harmless provocations like ringing doorbells and running away before the resident answers the door, soaping car windows, hurling toilet paper rolls up at the trees and bushes.  Things like that.  Nothing really bad, but definitely mischievous.

It would be hard to describe how exciting and satisfying Mischief Night was to the children of Woodlyn Avenue.  Suffice to say it was even better than Halloween, when all the kids were out again, this time begging for candy.

So, with that background, our readers will understand the implicit signal in the text message Frank’s brother Connell sent him on October 30.  The message was short and simple.  It was the Glenside street address of the house of Connell’s great friend and companion, Johnny Dawson.

Johnny Dawson is a story unto himself.  Suffice to say he is a very funny guy, as is Connell.

Instantly we devised a plan for Mischief Night.  Circumstances were perfect.  It was a rainy, dark night, and on television they were broadcasting not one but two big Philadelphia sporting events — the Eagles and the Phillies.  Virtually everyone would be glued to their television sets watching one or both of the games.  This would serve as a perfect distraction from the mischief outside.

The trick we devised was to steal two political lawn signs for candidates from the Republican Party.  Johnny, you see, like us, is a Democrat.  So, with furtiveness suitable for a Special Operations squad, we stole a Donald Trump sign from one lawn and a Pat Toomey for Senate sign from another lawn, and transplanted both of them on the unsuspecting Johnny Dawson’s front lawn.

Like everyone else, Johnny was watching the sporting events on television and was unaware of our mischief.  Only in the morning, as he left to take his kids to school, did he discover the provocative signs on his lawn.  Then, more or less on queue, Connell texted Johnny a photo we took the night before.  Since Connell was in California, 3,000 miles away, Johnny was left to wonder how the deed had been done.

Unless Johnny Dawson reads this blog, he will never know who the culprits were.

Mischief Night - Johnny Dawson's House
Johnny Dawson’s House on Mischief Night

Election Eve Rally, Election Night Party

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Frank’s Sister Kathleen, Loyal Hillary Supporter

We learned that President Obama was scheduled to headline a major, final campaign rally at Independence Hall on Monday night November 7, the night before Election Day.  Besides the President, the roster included Former President Bill Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Chelsea Clinton, and of course the candidate herself, Hillary  Clinton.  Music was provided by Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.

frank-brian-in-line-at-democratic-rally-center-city-philadelphiaWe took the train to Center City and met up by prior arrangement (and thanks to cell phone text messaging) with Frank’s sister, Kathleen, in the blocks-long line waiting to be admitted into Independence Mall for the rally.  We waited in line for several pleasant hours in the late afternoon sun — yet another of the many beautiful fall days we enjoyed in Philadelphia.  The waiting itself was quite enjoyable.  Everyone in the crowd seemed so friendly and upbeat.

We were going to help defeat that mean-spirited Donald Trump and elect America’s first woman President!

It was really a great night.  The spirit in the crowd and amongst the speakers was very positive.  The only sign of trouble to come could be discerned on the face of Former President Bill Clinton, who seemed a bit haggard and downcast.  He referred to himself as someone “with more yesterdays than tomorrows.”  True enough, we thought, but not a particularly uplifting thought.

Bruce Springsteen sang alone, accompanied by his own acoustic guitar.  Absent was his high-energy E Street Band.  Oh, but we do love Bruce!

Jon Bon Jovi we don’t know so well, but he is magnanimous and very good looking, and like Bruce owes much of his early success to a loyal fan base in Philadelphia.

Last in the roster of speakers was Hillary Clinton.  She was noticeably less magnetic than any other speaker that evening, even compared to the local politicians who spoke.   She is not a natural politician.  We were reminded that, whatever her virtues, she would never have been a successful candidate for any public office but for her marriage to the magnanimous Bill Clinton.  We noticed that large segments of the crowd, which had listened attentively to the other speakers, began exiting even as she spoke.

As we exited Independence Mall at the end of the rally, it felt like we were walking on air.  We were all convinced we were on the verge of a great Democratic victory, and the continuance of Barack Obama’s progressive legacy.  The mood was contagiously upbeat there amongst the faithful.

Kate with Hillary Button - Election Day 2016
Kate with Campaign Pin on Election Day – “I’m With Her”

The next night — Election Night — after putting Frank’s mom to bed, we headed out to Bryn Mawr, to a party our Mount Airy hostess Kate had invited us to attend.  It was a Hillary Clinton election night celebration party, hosted by two very warm and funny sisters.  They had prepared a variety of topical drinks and dishes, mocking Donald Trump, the Republican candidate.  These included Megan Kelly Bloody Marys and cupcakes designed to look like vaginas, with a sign saying “grab one.”  It was a festive and fun crowd that gathered there to celebrate what everyone was sure would be a decisive and early victory for the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.

As we all know, in an outcome that surprised virtually everyone, including apparently Trump himself, by the end of the evening Trump emerged as the clear winner of the electoral vote.   Despite winning a majority of the popular vote, Clinton was obliged to concede defeat.  It was a crushing blow, especially to the group of feminist-leaning women who had invited us to their party.

We stayed at the party until after 1:00 AM Eastern Time.  Somehow we felt that if we kept the vigil, Hillary would pull out a victory in the end.  It was not to be.  In fact, Trump took Pennsylvania, among other swing states, on that memorable night.

Dave Chappelle & Chris Rock - SNLLater that week, Saturday Night Live broadcast a funny sketch starring the comedians Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock.  It captured exactly the mood of many such parties around the United States that night.

Here is a link to the SNL skit.

New York!  Hamilton!!

One weekend Frank’s daughter Naomi came from Chicago to visit her grandmother.  She stayed with us in our Glenside house (see above).

On Saturday afternoon, Naomi got the bright idea of going to New York for the evening.  Within the hour, we were in the car, heading to a town in New Jersey to catch a train to Manhattan.  The name of the town is Hamilton.

Naomi & Sarah - NYC
Naomi & Sarah at Times Square
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Brian, Naomi & Frank at Times Square

When we arrived in Manhattan, we walked directly from Penn Station to Times Square, to the half-price ticket booth.  We got tickets to see an Emmy-winning best drama, “The Humans.”

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Frank & Naomi, on the train to New York

Naomi had made plans to meet up at Times Square with her we met up with her old friend Sarah Hendricks from Marin County, California.  Sarah is living in New York.  She joined us for dinner at a restaurant nearby before our show.

Playbill - The HumansThe Humans was beautifully staged, acted and directed, and very well written.  It was true Broadway caliber and a joy to experience.

Later we took the train back to New Jersey, picked up the car, and were home in Glenside and in bed by midnight.

Naomi & Brian - Train Home from NYCIt was a great little outing. There’s no place like New York!

We did not get to see the famous “Hamilton,” for which tickets were either unavailable or prohibitively expensive.  But we did get a nice picture of the three of us at Hamilton!

Frank - Naomi - Brian - Hamilton Station NJ

The Last Supper:  Thanksgiving Dinner at Kate’s

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Dinner Table, Set with Kate’s Wedding China and Silverware

We treated Kate to a really nice home-cooked Thanksgiving Dinner at her apartment in Glenside.  We cooked the turkey and other dishes there in her small kitchen.  Just as the food was nearly ready, we drove to Ambler and picked her up, by prearrangement, at the Artman Home.

Granddaughter Emily was on duty that day and got her ready for the big night.

Thanksgiving Dinner - Kate & BrianIt was a complete success — cocktail hour with Irish whiskey before dinner, and then the full, traditional turkey dinner with all the regular side dishes.

Thanksgiving Cocktail Hour - Kate & Brian
Cocktail Hour, Thanksgiving

We played Kate’s Frank Sinatra disk on her Bose system during dinner.  Sinatra never sounded better, or perhaps we should say he never had a more appreciative audience.

The food was delicious, as Kate herself noted more than once.

Pearl Bailey
Pearl Bailey

On the way back to Artman Home after dinner, we continued the old music on the car stereo.  We played Pearl Bailey’s “Tired.”

All through the song, the singer complains of feeling tired.  Eventually, she goes to her doctor, who tells her, “Pearl, you just tired.”  It’s one of those great comical Pearl Bailey recordings.

Kate’s main complaint with her congestive heart failure is that she feels fatigued all the time.  She is by nature very energetic, so she hates the feeling.

Now, when Kate says she feels fatigued, we say with a smile, “Pearl, you just tired!”  It gives Kate a good laugh.

Birthday Send-Off

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

          – The Beatles

Our final day in Philadelphia, before flying off to San Francisco, was Frank’s 64th birthday.

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Birthday Brunch, with (from left) Brendan, Frank, Emily, Naomi, Brandy and Imogen (foreground)

In the morning, we had a brunch for the niece-nephew generation.

We roused up Emily, Brendan and Brandy and their daughter Imogen, and Naomi.

In the evening, we managed to gather all the Lindh siblings at Kate’s apartment, for what will be the last time. Kate,, you see, has given up her apartment and is now living full-time at the Artman Home.

Birthday Party
December 3 Birthday Dinner:  Lindh Siblings, with (clockwise from left) Michael & Diana, Peggy & Tim, Brian, Naomi, Frank Marie, Kathleen

A group of us went out for dinner at a restaurant nearby.  Connell, who had arrived in Glensise a couple of days before, stayed home there with Kate.  It was a warm and wonderful evening.

And then, early the next morning, it was adios to dear old Philadelphia!

9 comments

  1. Love, life, humor and great pictures. Thanks you so much for giving me a chance to go along with your wonderful ride!!

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  2. What a rich and delightful time you guys experienced in the East. I loved your family pictures and stories, particularly ones about your sweet mom, Kate. I hope she’s continuing to improve. Philip and I will spend a couple of nights in Center City in September. It’s been decades since Philip was there and probably 15 years for me. Your stories about The City of Brotherly Love are whetting my appetite. Miss you guys, and take care!

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  3. Jeez Frank,

    Have you now broken Brian in to: “wauder” (or, hard core, “wooder”); “Ah’m” for I’m; “Ahrange,” for orange and the strange diphthongs involved in “on,” and “towel.” Whether you watched the “iggles” or not, I’ll have to leave up to you.

    I wish I’d known you were back for so long, I might have pointed your way to another “Mount Airy” just outside Lambertville, NJ where about half of my grandmother’s ancestors are buried. I’ll post a picture from that Mt. Airy on F-book. E-mail directly when you get a chance [jakff@astound.net] and we’ll arrange some sort of meeting.

    Jack Fallin

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  4. WOW:) That was a lot! At the end, did I read “now on to San Francisco”? Does that mean your travels are over for now?

    For some reason, my 64th birthday seemed more meaningful. I have wondered if it was because of the song you reference.

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