Reflections of a former urchin

With any bad news – maybe there is always some good to share.

I hesitated greatly to write this post – with the untimely passing of the man known as EFA and the attendant posts – I feel guilty a bit about posting so soon. It doesn’t seem proper in some ways. Maybe a little happier missive with a side of humor is in order, maybe it’ll help to ease some pain, I don’t know. I hope so. If it offends – forgive me – I do apologize.

I was ( being the poor excuse for a human that I am -I  forgot)  reminded today that April 22nd is indeed a rather important day in my little world. It might be just another day to some – in fact most people would consider today as just another day. But for me I felt compelled to maybe share a bit of a success story in life.

My Mother quietly reminded me that today was their Anniversary – 55 Years ago, A girl from the hills of West Virgina and a City Slicker steel worker married. Polar opposites in the worlds they grew up in – they somehow met, fell in love and now for 55 years they have made it work.

Mom was a mountain girl and the youngest of three kids – born in a small log cabin 15 miles or so outside of Charleston. We always had real working hurricane lamps when I was growing up, it never crossed my mind that those lamps, those were a part of my mothers life when she herself was growing up. She related years later when I asked about them – they didn’t bring electricity into the “holler” until she was a freshman in High School. If the electricity went out she studied by lamp light, and she clung to that tradition. I don’t think even living in a modern city she fully trusted the electric company. That cabin was gone by time I came along – the “holler” was full of mobile homes by time I set foot in her world, her father having built a home with his bare hands that still stands today. It overlooks the same area she grew up in. Time moves on.

When I was a kid – that house her father built still had a hand crank well and cast iron stove. I remember it being my ‘chore’ in the morning to draw the morning’s water, I thought it was the funnest thing in the world to do, it was terribly important – or so I felt at the time, I couldn’t for the life of me fathom why people called it a chore…My sister would try to help- and I’d tell her to get lost, this was a boys job. There was also an outhouse or “privy”. They didn’t have running water.

It wasn’t until my Grandmother’s second heart attack that everyone pulled together to have plumbing put in for her, she could no longer climb the 40 some odd steps up the side of the mountain to reach the privy. I reflect often on the few weeks every summer we would visit – a city kid like me – dumped into the middle of the mountains of West VA. It was pure heaven – or hell I guess depending on your outlook in life. Of course I spent a fair amount of time, some of it down right scared half witless,  roaming around lost on that mountain and in the woods – unable to find my way home for hours, but my Grandfather, retired from the logging industry,  had always told me “if you get turned around – climb as high as you can and follow the ridge line west”, and showed me how to do it – “it’ll bring you right home if you get lost” I remember him saying. Mind you if that sun sat below the ridge and you weren’t home, scrubbed and washed for dinner – there was probably a switch of your choosing waiting for you. Grandad was 6’5 – and he brooked no lateness to the dinner table. It was a powerful incentive. I was a pallbearer at his funeral.

Dad, The third generation of German immigrants that made their way from Ellis Island in the late 1800’s via PA and into Ohio to work in the steel mills. The last of 10 children only two of them, him and my aunt Bett still alive today. At 81, and in frail health he’s the physical shadow of the man I remember growing up around – the one that would show you what a steel worker’s right hand could do should you forget that “yes sir, or yes Dad” at the end of a reply. He never made it past the 9th grade, and I remember him pouring over books at night – learning to read better. My Mom helping him, because he was going for a Master Pipe-fitter Trade Certification.

Frail he may be, But he still commands respect, his life has been nothing but hard work and being a provider for his kids and wife. Nary a complaint ever, he just always worked it seemed, if he wasn’t at the mills or out at the GM plant where he wound up after the mills closed, he was working on the house.  He cried when they blew the stacks to the mills at US Steel during the demolishing of the plant. That was back when  the forming of the rust belt started in earnest. I can remember being as scared as I ever was lost in the woods of West Va to see my father with tears on his face. Dad didn’t cry.

I remember being very young, waiting impatiently for the big copper colored Plymouth Fury III he drove to come nosing into the drive way. The big 440 under the hood ticking over like a watch, His face streaked with black coke dust and sweat tracks – I would rush to the car and as he got out I’d  rummage through his lunch pail and steal his salt candies. They gave them to the guys to replace the salt they would sweat out working on the blast furnaces.

I remember the summer day Dad was late coming home. I sat there until almost dark, and Mom called me in and said, “The mill called, there was an accident. Dad is at the hospital we’re going to go see him so help get your sister ready”. I remember my gut hurting, this gnawing fear. My uncle came and got us, Mom to this day never drove a car, we never owned more than one at a time until I got my first car that I can remember. We went to the hospital – and Dad was there. I can remember not understanding what happened, only being relived that he was cussing with my uncle, who was also a steel worker, about oxygen in the furnace and then smiling at me and patting the bed. My sister and I were allowed to crawl up on the bed to sit next to him, while he talked things out with the Union safety rep guys and my Uncle. He’d been forced to jump off a blast furnace – something went wrong with a safety device that should have prevented the addition of pure oxygen into the furnace and there was an explosion and fire, he jumped 3 stories to the rail road tracks below, it was that or burn to death. Busted ribs, some bad bruises, and they picked cinders from the tracks out of him for a while. Then he went home. Next morning he went to work. I always cringe now a days – when I get a case of “fuckitall” and blow off a day of work to just screw off. I work at a desk behind a computer for the most part. I get a twinge of guilt because there is no way in hell my old man would have ever thought about it. That would be lazy.

So 55 years today they’ve been married. It’s certainly not the norm by anyone’s standards today – careers, no fault divorces, changing outlooks on the sanctity of the word marriage. Times have changed. My parents seemingly are almost relics now-  of a time gone by.

There’s something else tho about this day. Never got a clear answer on just how they managed to pull it off, but the day of their anniversary, in 1972 was also the day a judge’s gavel fell – maybe fell is too light of a term. It was hammered – that gavel was wielded by my sister – sitting on a family courts judge’s lap. The foolish man had told her she was to close the proceedings and handed her the gavel, he said “hit right here”. I think he underestimated how fast that little tyke could swing that gavel…She just missed the mans fingers, and she hit the damn wood plate used with such an instrument so hard she left a dent in it….CRACK!  It’s a story we still laugh about over coffee.

We had, after at least 18 months that I can remember, of being bounced from foster home to foster home, been legally adopted by two people that cared enough to share their homes, hearts and their lives with a couple of kids that had the bad luck to be born to a couple of jack asses that couldn’t seem to get their acts together and the kids wound up in foster homes. I was 5 and a half years old. My sister just 4. 20 some odd years after, another sister turned up, the baby. I never knew of her, She had been abandoned at the hospital, our maternal mother just got up and walked out and disappeared. This all came out decades later after my maternal mother had passed. Hard realities passed by family members, didn’t paint too kind of a picture of either her or my father.

Looking back it took me awhile to figure out that the damn state case worker, her name was Mickey- wasn’t going to come in one day and say “Okay kids it’s time to go meet your new family”. I lived in fear of that moment for lord knows how long after my parents adopted us. It used to keep me up at night.

There was quite a battle before the official adoption when we had come for a visit – The state had decided it was best since we were older to ease us into this new life and home. So we went for supervised day visits. I didn’t know who these people were but they gave me a Tonka Truck with a speed boat on a trailer – that toy still sits in the basement – 4o some odd years later collecting dust. I’ll never forget it. Anyhow, The case worker tried to take us back to the foster home and according to most accounts – she ended up with quite a few dings, as I kicked, fought, and generally did my utmost best to  pummel her, I wasn’t leaving if I could help it. These people didn’t scream at me – they didn’t curse at me, they gave me a sense of place, and security…. and as far as I was concerned – hell itself was going to freeze over before I ever left. It was my soon to be Mother that defused the situation – talking to me, calming me down, and assuring me that I could come back any time I wanted – and the sooner the better. The next time I was given new shoes, they had taken note of the fact the shoes I had on last time I came for a visit were too small. I thought I had a kings ransom, my feet didn’t hurt.

I wish I could say “and they all lived happily ever after”,  I can’t. It wasn’t any cake walk for my parents I am sure. It would take paragraphs to describe my earliest memories but suffice it to say – my earliest memories were of being on my own, I went where I wanted, did as I pleased most the time, and I cannot recall really ever having any sort of direction or guidance. I was all but feral when I showed up at that early turn of the century home overlooking the mills – looking back at things, I wonder if those two people would have still taken me in knowing what they were getting themselves into. I suspect they would have, they were not about to ruled by a 5 year old wildcat.

I might have been a bit of an urchin – but I was fiercely protective of my sister. Mom still chuckles about the day shortly after that gavel fell – she gave my sister a scolding and a crack on the butt for one transgression or another – only to be confronted with 50 or so lbs of seriously pissed off big brother who told her in no uncertain terms “lady- you hit my sister again and I’ll break every f**king lamp in this house”. I spat out soap for a solid day after – and I remember it being a bit hard to sit too….I never called her “lady” again either. To say I lost that battle to the girl from West Va would be an understatement, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort on my part. But the boundaries had to be drawn I suppose, and draw them she did.

I could go on the length of a novel relating the test of wills over the years as I grew up. But I won’t. There was good times there was bad times, It was our life in the rustbelt.

So now March 22, 2013 it’s 40 years later, I’ve been around the world, got two kids in their 20’s of my own. My beard I trim short – it helps hide those grey hairs that are coming in so more quicker …And at times, I wonder if I was half the parent that that steel worker and mountain girl were. Maybe even half the person they were and still are. I doubt it. In fact I know I am not. Because had I had to deal with my insolent ass all those years, my half feral and utterly independent steak that I never really was able to let go of, I fear I would have killed me, or at least put me in a home for troubled yutes ….Patience of Job those people had.

I’ve seen it said here many a times – “there before the grace of God go I” – and so it is. Because had not two people cared enough, had compassion enough to open their hearts and homes to a couple of urchins, one with a rather severe attitude… who knows where it would have ended. Certainly not here, writing on a blog reminiscing to people I consider friends, But it ended well. And yeah sometimes I think my life sucks a bit, I think we all do from time to time, I’ve chosen things that make it a bit more chaotic then some – but I’ve had fun too, and today, being reminded of how it all started 40 long years ago, well it hasn’t been a bad ride. Not bad at all.

So in closing I’d like to thank my lucky stars, God, and most of all my parents. I don’t know how you did it but you did, and I am eternally in your debt.





  1. 1

    Brother, I must say that where you were brought up was that same “God’s Country” that I spent every summer in from 61-65. Aunt Dana, in Brushfork WVA taught me some damn fine lessons back then. You turned out fine, bro. Just fine.

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    irish19 growls and barks:

    A wonderful tribute. My own parents were married 59 years when my Dad passed last December. And I know for sure and for certain I’m not half the man he was. My mother is still trying to raise us. I don’t think she’ll ever quit. It might piss me off when she tries to tell me how to run my life, but I know she means well.

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    Tallulah growls and barks:

    What a wonderful read! You sure do have a way with words. And a great tribute to your folks.

    We can’t be grieving all the time. The year my mother And sister died, I clung to my favorite comedy like a lifeline in a blackout cave: “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which I discovered at that time, actually saved my sanity. My dad confessed he would watch “Home Improvement” every day — “not that I’m addicted to it, or anything,” he added, embarrassed.

    Take a breather; have a laugh. The sadness will be there when you can pick it up again.

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    Delftsman3 growls and barks:

    I wish I could be as eloquent in describing my parents. They too had a hard row to hoe. They came to this country with $60. in their pockets and two young children;not knowing the language and having no family here as a support system. They had nothing but a dream for a better life for their children. They raised six kids to adulthood, and none of us ever got in trouble with the law and three of us served in our armed forces during time of war (VietNam).

    My Mother died last September just 22 days short of their 61 wedding anniversary. I miss her and think of her every day; sometimes I just start crying for no apparent reason, and think back of some memory of her that triggered the outburst. My father is lost without her and seems to have lost the joy of living; I fear that it won’t be long until he follows her….

    Talk to your loved ones as often and as long as you can, the day will come all too soon when you will no longer be able to.

  5. 5

    What a wonderful testament! Thank you for sharing it 🙂

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    LC Guy S growls and barks:

    A palette covered with memories, a brush made of equal parts of respect and love. What a beautiful picture you have painted sir!!

    Mom is now in her mid 80’s and still going strong. Still living in the house her and dad moved into some 50 odd years ago. Dad has been gone just over 12 years now (it can’t be that long ago, cause it still hurts). They raised three kids…and we all learned where the lines in the sand were at an early age. And the occasional “reminder” on the butt, never hurt for very long….must have been because of the balm of love.

    A great read sir. Isn’t interesting that none of us appear to be half the parent (or person) either of our parents were. And yet they still love us none the less.

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    What a wonderful tribute. You are so fortunate to still have them here. Don’t let a moment pass without spending what time you have left with them both.
    My Dad was a hard worker also. Hated being stuck indoors. He was a truck driver for several years before getting his Mechanics Certificate to work on the trucks at the same company. He was a master BBQ’er and Biscuit maker. Always one to have a smile on his face, he never, ever turned down a request for help. He loved being around people, and loved even better, making sure they walked away with a smile on their face. My three brothers and I certainly made his life a hell of alot more complicated than it should have been, but he carried on the best he could. We knew that to cross the line meant a close and intimate encounter with his leather belt. Once, I made the mistake of telling my Mother to shut up. Not knowing that he was standing directly behind me. Talking about seeing your life pass before your eyes. My last encounter with the Leather Belt of Doom was when I was 21. Yes, 21. I was bitching and moaning about having to wash the dishes when I would much rather be out running around with my friends. So intent in venting my self-centered frustration, I failed to hear him walk into the kitchen. Next thing I knew I was getting a rather serious smack across my backside. I whipped around only to be met with his finger right at the tip of my nose, and Daddy telling me “Don’t ever think you’re too old for me to spank young lady!!”. Lessen learned. Never one to be interested in modern “contraptions” (as he would say it) he surprised us all one year when my Mom was scheduled to have double knee surgery. She was going go be confined to the recliner in the livingroom for quite awhile, which meant Daddy was going to have to stay close. Instead of bowing to the inevitable of being inside the house for hours on end, he went and bought himself a cell phone, so Momma could call him outside in the yard when she needed him. His usual spot to sit and contemplate life and other such issues was sitting in an old cane bottom chair right outside his BBQ pit, underneath a black walnut tree he planted himself. He got very attached to that phone. He loved going to my Grandmother’s house and calling her while sitting in the driveway. She always laughed about that. He was out mowing the grass one day and that phone slipped out of his pocket, which he promptly ran over. He stopped the mower, got into his pickup, and went and bought another one. Came home, got back on the mower and finished cutting the grass. While he and my Mother were in Houston for his cancer treatments, he would sit outside on the metal stairs next to their hotel room and call all his family. ( The phone bill that first month was over $500.) He couldn’t sit on the hotel chairs. Way too much pain, and he wasn’t about to spend any minute more than he had to inside that room. I immediately went to Walmart and bought him a camp chair….with cup holders for his ever present cup of coffee. Within a week, he knew every person staying at that hotel, where they were from, which hospital they were getting care at, and what they were being treated for. They learned fast that if that camp chair was sitting outside, he was there. If it wasn’t, he was at the hospital getting his treatments. He passed away two days before his and Mother’s 42nd wedding anniversary. On their anniversary, instead of celebrating all those years together, my mother was at the funeral home picking out his casket. We buried him on what would have been his 64th birthday, with his cell phone stuck in his shirt pocket. Over 700 people came to the funeral home to pay their last respects, and about 300 attended the funeral. Daddy wasn’t a big wig. He wasn’t rich or high society. He was a common, ordinary, hard working country boy, who lived his life with honesty, and laughter. He was loved for that. Very much loved. I miss him more every day, but I am thankful for the memories he left, and the pride of having had such a wonderful Father as he was.

    I have learned from him that it doesn’t matter how we die. How young we are, or even how old. What matters is what we leave behind in other people’s hearts and minds.

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    Tallulah growls and barks:

    Misha, could you let the gang know about this? (Saw it at Ace’s place.)

    Yesterday a documentary about LT Michael Murphy called Murph: The Protector opened in limited release. Here’s a list of theaters.

    This being a Smart Military Blog™ and all, I know you all know the story, but here’s his Medal of Honor citation.

    For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life and above and beyond the call of duty as the leader of a special reconnaissance element with Naval Special Warfare task unit Afghanistan on 27 and 28 June 2005.

    While leading a mission to locate a high-level anti-coalition militia leader, Lieutenant Murphy demonstrated extraordinary heroism in the face of grave danger in the vicinity of Asadabad, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. On 28 June 2005, operating in an extremely rugged enemy-controlled area, Lieutenant Murphy’s team was discovered by anti-coalition militia sympathizers, who revealed their position to Taliban fighters.

    As a result, between 30 and 40 enemy fighters besieged his four member team. Demonstrating exceptional resolve, Lieutenant Murphy valiantly led his men in engaging the large enemy force. The ensuing fierce firefight resulted in numerous enemy casualties, as well as the wounding of all four members of the team. Ignoring his own wounds and demonstrating exceptional composure, Lieutenant Murphy continued to lead and encourage his men.

    When the primary communicator fell mortally wounded, Lieutenant Murphy repeatedly attempted to call for assistance for his beleaguered teammates. Realizing the impossibility of communicating in the extreme terrain, and in the face of almost certain death, he fought his way into open terrain to gain a better position to transmit a call.

    This deliberate, heroic act deprived him of cover, exposing him to direct enemy fire. Finally achieving contact with his headquarters, Lieutenant Murphy maintained his exposed position while he provided his location and requested immediate support for his team.

    In his final act of bravery, he continued to engage the enemy until he was mortally wounded, gallantly giving his life for his country and for the cause of freedom.

    By his selfless leadership, Lieutenant Murphy reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

    Here is the movie preview: [Watch for what his father has to say.]

  9. 9
    Tallulah growls and barks:

    More about Mike Murphy, from McTavish Pictures’ website.

    The Man

    LT Michael Patrick Murphy, USN

    Lt. Michael P. Murphy, fondly referred to by friends and family as “Murph,” was born May 7, 1976 in Smithtown, N.Y., and grew up in the New York City commuter town of Patchogue, N.Y., on Long Island.

    Murphy grew up active in sports and attended Patchogue’s Saxton Middle School. In high school, Murphy took a summer lifeguard job at the Brookhaven town beach in Lake Ronkonkoma — a job he returned to each summer through his college years. Murphy graduated from Patchogue-Medford High School in 1994.

    Murphy attended Penn State University, where he was an exceptional all-around athlete and student, excelling at ice hockey and graduating with honors. He was an avid reader; his reading tastes ranged from the Greek historian Herodotus to Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” Murphy’s favorite book was Steven Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire,” about the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. In 1998, he graduated with a pair of Bachelor of Arts degrees from Penn State — in political science and psychology.

    Following graduation, he was accepted to several law schools, but instead he changed course. Slightly built at 5 feet 10 inches, Murphy decided to attend SEAL mentoring sessions at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point with his sights on becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL. Murphy accepted an appointment to the Navy’s Officer Candidate School at Pensacola, Fla., in September, 2000.

    Murphy was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy on Dec. 13, 2000, and began Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in Coronado, Calif., in January 2001, graduating with Class 236. BUD/S is a six-month training course and the first step to becoming a Navy SEAL.

    Upon graduation from BUD/S, he attended the Army Jump School, SEAL Qualification Training and SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) school. Lt. Murphy earned his SEAL Trident and checked on board SDV Team (SDVT) 1 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in July of 2002. In October of 2002, he deployed with Foxtrot Platoon to Jordan as the liaison officer for Exercise Early Victor.

    Following his tour with SDVT-1, Lt. Murphy was assigned to Special Operations Central Command in Florida and deployed to Qatar in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning from Qatar, Lt. Murphy was deployed to the Horn of Africa, Djibouti, to assist in the operational planning of future SDV missions.

    In early 2005, Murphy was assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 as assistant officer in charge of ALFA Platoon and deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

    On June 28, 2005, Lt. Murphy was the officer-in-charge of a four-man SEAL element in support of Operation Red Wing tasked with finding key anti-coalition militia commander near Asadabad, Afghanistan. Shortly after inserting into the objective area, the SEALs were spotted by three goat herders who were initially detained and then released. It is believed the goat herders immediately reported the SEALs’ presence to Taliban fighters.

    A fierce gun battle ensued on the steep face of the mountain between the SEALs and a much larger enemy force. Despite the intensity of the firefight and suffering grave gunshot wounds himself, Murphy is credited with risking his own life to save the lives of his teammates. Murphy, intent on making contact with headquarters, but realizing this would be impossible in the extreme terrain where they were fighting, unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own life moved into the open, where he could gain a better position to transmit a call to get help for his men.

    Moving away from the protective mountain rocks, he knowingly exposed himself to increased enemy gunfire. This deliberate and heroic act deprived him of cover and made him a target for the enemy. While continuing to be fired upon, Murphy made contact with the SOF Quick Reaction Force at Bagram Air Base and requested assistance. He calmly provided his unit’s location and the size of the enemy force while requesting immediate support for his team. At one point, he was shot in the back causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing at the enemy who was closing in. Severely wounded, Lt. Murphy returned to his cover position with his men and continued the battle.

    As a result of Murphy’s call, an MH-47 Chinook helicopter, with eight additional SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers aboard, was sent in as part of the QRF to extract the four embattled SEALs. As the Chinook drew nearer to the fight, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the helicopter, causing it to crash and killing all 16 men aboard.

    On the ground and nearly out of ammunition, the four SEALs, continued to fight. By the end of a two-hour gunfight that careered through the hills and over cliffs, Murphy, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny Dietz, and Sonar Technician 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew Axelson had fallen. An estimated 35 Taliban were also dead. The fourth SEAL, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SEAL) Marcus Luttrell, was blasted over a ridge by a rocket-propelled grenade and knocked unconscious. Though severely wounded, the fourth SEAL and sole survivor, Luttrell, was able to evade the enemy for nearly a day; after which local nationals came to his aide, carrying him to a nearby village where they kept him for three more days. Luttrell was rescued by U.S. Forces on July 2, 2005.

    By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit and inspirational devotion to his men in the face of certain death, Lt. Murphy was able to relay the position of his unit, an act that ultimately led to the rescue of Luttrell and the recovery of the remains of the three who were killed in the battle.

    Lt. Murphy was buried at Calverton National Cemetery less than 20 miles from his childhood home. Lt. Murphy’s other personal awards include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Ribbon and National Defense Service Medal.

    Lt. Murphy is survived by his mother Maureen Murphy; his father Dan Murphy; and his brother John Murphy. Dan and Maureen Murphy, who were divorced in 1999, remain close friends and continue to live in N.Y. Their son John, 22, attends the New York Institute of Technology, and upon graduation will pursue a career in criminal justice, having been accepted to the New York City Police Department.

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    Igor, Imperial Booby growls and barks:

    “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”. We Salute you, Lt. Murphy.

    CiSSnarl5.7, a very moving and eloquent tribute to you true parents, not those who brought you in to this world. Biological Mothers and Fathers bring you here, but parents are they who raise, care for, and love you.

    They will be waiting for you when your time comes. I look forward to meeting mine.

  11. 11

    Tallulah @ #:8
    Tallulah @ #:9

    I just recently finished “Lone Survivor” The book by Marcus Lutrell that details what happened on that mountain side in Afghanistan.

    Great read – highly recommended if you haven’t already read it.

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    CiSSnarl5.7, a very moving and eloquent tribute to you true parents, not those who brought you in to this world. Biological Mothers and Fathers bring you here, but parents are they who raise, care for, and love you.

    Hammer – meet Nail – you hit it squarely on the head. :em01: