I Left My Pen at Authors Ridge

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s final resting place

On a recent visit to Boston (a two-hour drive from our home in Maine), we decided on a whim to swing through Concord, Massachusetts. Famous for its early role in the Revolutionary War, Concord is also home to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where literary giants Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson lay in rest on Authors Ridge—the focus of our impromptu visit.

A sense of solemnity settled over me as I got out of the car; I was stricken with a feeling of sadness immediately followed by regret. You see, I’d brought no offering for these amazing writers. I stopped at the base of the hill, seriously considering turning around and going to the nearest grocery store to pick up a bouquet of flowers.

After a brief confab with my husband—during which he said he’d do whatever I wanted to do (but…did I mention we were on our way home after a long day and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast?)—I waffled but reluctantly decided I’d pay my respects and that would be good enough.

We climbed the small hill to the ridge, first faced with Henry David Thoreau’s gravesite. As I looked at the large stone, I noticed a few pens to one side of the monument…were these left by accident, I wondered? But then I looked more carefully. Each author’s headstone had some small offerings: pens, pinecones, rocks, pennies, all piled on or next to them.

These small items…were they offered as gifts to the deceased greats, I wondered? Or were they more? A prayer, a beseech? A hope? A silent wish? Perchance, were some visitors hoping that a small amount of greatness might rub off, be imparted?

We conferred briefly, my husband and I. He commenting that most of the pens were of the modern, plastic, cheap variety. What would Thoreau or Hawthorne make of such a thing, he wondered? They who wrote each of their manuscripts in long hand with pen dipped in ink—as no doubt did all other writers of their time. What choice had they?

As for the pennies, the pinecones, rocks… even sticks… what of those? We considered the hierarchy. If a visitor thought in advance, they might have brought flowers (there were a few bunches). Others, either by plan and design or simply because they were the compulsive writer type (like me) who never goes anywhere without a pen and paper, had a pen to leave. Others, without pen, must surely have a penny—a common purse or pocket content—and there’s a long tradition of leaving coins at gravesites (with many opinions and ideas of origins).

But what if you didn’t have even a coin? A writer might search to find a pinecone (Authors Ridge is ensconced in a large bank of White Pines, fitting because this was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s favorite tree). Still others, unwilling to take the time to find a pinecone, might have reached for whatever was immediately handy: a pebble, a stick, a handful of pine needles, some other natural adornment.

The more I wandered amongst the headstones, the more determined I became to leave something… a pen seemed preferable—an offering to the muse, but more: a token of appreciation for my hours of enjoyment reading their great works. I dug through my bag and found two. A plain black ballpoint from an insurance broker, his logo etched on the side. And my favorite editing pen—a magenta Inkjoy 500RT. I knew immediately it had to be that one. I pulled my small notebook from my bag and wrote a short note to my favorite of the four. Nathaniel Hawthorne. After folding and clipping my note to the pen, I leaned across the small fence surrounding his gravesite and placed my pen and note among his other offerings.

I’m not going to lie, I had a tear…and a silent hope. I won’t divulge what was in that note. My words to Master Hawthorne’s ear. But in that moment, as I leaned across the chain cordon, I felt a personal connection—a shiver, a presence—across the eons from one writer’s soul to another.

Have you ever paid homage to a great writer? Left something, a token? How, where, and to whom? If not (and you could plan in advance) what might you leave as a sign of respect?

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About Julia Munroe Martin

Julia Munroe Martin (@wordsxo) is a writer and blogger who lives in an old house in southern coastal Maine. Julia's other passion is photography, and if she's not writing at the dining room table or a local coffeeshop, you'll likely find her on the beach or dock taking photos. Julia writes The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series as J. M. Maison.

Comments

  1. says

    Nice story of offerings and paying homage. The pinecones might actually have appealed to Thoreau. This reminds me of recent visits to ancient Catholic churches where one exvotos or votive offerings finds in their treasuries along with the even more curious relics of the saints. Some are ostentatiously decorated while others are deeply morbid. But they all appear weighed down by a deep desire to connect.

    I suspect your offering of your pen is ever the more valuable because it was so beloved to you. I wouldn’t be surprised if it brought you even closer to Master Hawthorne.

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    • says

      Thanks, Marialena, glad you enjoyed. And I agree that Thoreau would love the pinecones. Such an interesting story about visits to Catholic churches. Yes, the same deep desire to connect. Which brings me to thanking you. Your comment about being brought closer to Hawthorne gave me a shiver. Thank you.

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  2. says

    If I visited Nathaniel Hawthorne’s grave, I’d like to leave him a photograph of one of the houses I lived in as a kid. I remember reading The House of The Seven Gables and thinking it sounded just like it. Totally changed my perspective on that house – in a good (if somewhat creepy) way!

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    • says

      I recently just visited the House of Seven Gables for the first time — and it was beautiful but also quite moving to see the room that Hawthorne was born in! I can see how reading the book would change your perspective on your house. Thanks for reading and commenting, Lori!

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  3. says

    What a refreshing post, Julia. I love Concord and have a ghost story published about the Old Manse (Hawthorne is one of my favorites too) and a novel published with Emerson’s transcendentalism elements as the backstory. The whole town is rich with literary inspirations. When I visited Authors Ridge I left a handful of beautiful leaves and imagined them blowing over all the graves as my tribute.

    One interesting thing I just learned is that there are ley lines (electromagnetic fields) that have been verified at the Old Manse (ghost activity there is legendary). EMF instruments measured a vortex over a large rock in Hawthorne’s orchard. I learned this from the tour guide director. This particular rock was a gathering place for Hawthorne, his wife Sophia and many of their guests like Emerson and Lydia. I do believe there are essences of those great minds lingering in certain places. It seems to me that the more we read the dead authors we favor, the more alive they remain in our minds and our hearts.

    My favorite Hawthorne short story is the deep and dark “The Haunted Mind” a short-short where he writes about dream ghosts and being wide awake in the realm of illusions. Mesmerizing! Thank you for your post. Love it.

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    • says

      Thank you so much for reading; so glad you enjoyed. I love that you wrote a ghost story about the Old Manse and definitely want to read it — along with your novel. They sound fascinating. I love the tribute you left. Thanks, too, for the ley line information, so interesting! Thanks again for your kind comments — and I agre that the reading of the great authors is a way to keep them alive.

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  4. says

    I’ve never visited an author’s gravesite, but I’m not surprised that it possessed tremendous power. Thank you so much for sharing this, for you described it well.

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  5. says

    I love it that you paid your respects with a secret note clipped to your favorite pen! That is perfectly appropriate. I haven’t yet visited a famous author’s resting place, or home, but there are many places I want to see and visit. And hopefully catch a bit of lingering brilliance in the air! :)

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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    • says

      I am so glad you understand. I agree, there are many places I want to visit and see, and hopefully once again to catch that lingering feeling. Nice way of putting it! Thanks for reading and for your comment!

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  6. says

    Concord, Massachusetts, my favorite town. When I consulted in Boston, I was a commuter from Arizona and took the train to Concord every weekend that I had a layover. Once I found an 1850 rare book in the library that fit the research I was doing for a historical novel. I asked the librarian if there was any way an out-of-stater could borrow the book. She told me that due to the long literary history of the town, the Concord Free Public Library issued library cards to anyone who asked. In a few minutes, I walked back to the Colonial Inn with my treasure. Better yet, Boston Public Library wouldn’t issue me a library card, but my Concord card was honored there as well. Now that I no longer consult in Boston, I miss Concord.

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    • says

      Well, James, I think we are kindred spirits. I can’t think of anything I’d enjoy more than to have a library card from Concord — wow, what a wonderful story! I love that you were able to check out that rare book. I’ve had the opportunity to hold original volumes of Hawthorne’s works and letters (some with his original handwriting) and those feelings of holding a treasure I well understand. I’m sorry you miss Concord, but I understand. I’ve only been there a couple of times, and I miss it as well. Thanks for reading and for commenting!

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  7. says

    What an appropriate offering, Julia. I’m ashamed to say I have not visited Concord, even though I’ve lived in Connecticut most of my life. My ideal offering would be a quill pen and a small bottle of ink. Thanks for these warm thoughts on a cold snowy day.

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    • says

      I’m glad you thought it was an appropriate offering — thank you for your kind comments! I hope you’ll have the chance to visit Concord; I’d very much recommend the trip. And I absolutely love your idea for an offering. Hope your cold, snowy day is at least a little warmer than ours…

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  8. says

    This is a touching post, Julia. I haven’t paid homage to a great writer or a great anyone, but I’m glad you did, and I appreciate the share. Your experience has given me story ideas.

    Thank you

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  9. says

    Julia – Your lovely post that has seeded my mind with a bevy of thoughts:

    Would I have left my favorite pen (a JetStream by Uni)?
    What would my note have said?
    What words would I have whispered at the graveside?

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    • says

      I’m so glad to give you something to think about, Laurie. And all those things you mentioned are things I thought about (and more), and I did actually whisper a few things, too. It was a moving visit. Thanks for reading and commenting, and I’ll need to check out your favorite pen!

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      • says

        Julia – When you check out the pen, please know that mine is their “jalopy” model as opposed to the “Ferrari” version. It’s retractable, comfortable to hold, writes beautifully, and uses ink (as opposed to gel).

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        • says

          Julia – When you check out the pen, please know that mine is their “jalopy” model as opposed to the “Ferrari” version. It’s retractable, comfortable to hold, writes beautifully, and uses ink (as opposed to gel).

          Haha, duly noted, Laurie! I can’t wait to check it out!

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  10. says

    I found myself one evening in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel a few years ago, a year into sharing RAGING GAIL online. I’d just finished with another gathering, which was decidedly *non* writerly, and finding myself before the table Dorothy Parker traded tales with Alex Woolcott and George Kaufmann, placed to the side with a plaque, left me in awe.

    I bought two drinks, left one at the side of the plaque (along with an ad card for RAGING GAIL; hey, you run into writers, you share your latest project…) and with the other toasted them. I didn’t try and share with them any of my wit, because the hotel staff was looking at me funny by then, finished my round and headed into the night…

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    • says

      I LOVE this story, Jim! I would love to have a drink with Master Hawthorne, and I know if I’d been in the same circumstance I’d likely have done the very same thing as you did. What a wonderful description of your evening encounter. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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  11. says

    Julia, I loved the thoughtful concern about the selection and intention of your token—and the sense (however evanescent) of the connection with the recipient. I paused at a beautiful Hemingway tribute bust outside of Ketchum, Idaho; its plaque reads:

    “Best of all he loved the fall
    The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods
    Leaves floating on the trout streams
    And above the hills
    The high blue windless skies
    Now he will be a part of them forever”

    And there’s a lovely shrine to D.H. Lawrence outside of Taos, New Mexico that I visited on that trip as well. (There’s also a nice plaque dedicated to Otis Redding too that I saw, placed on the shore of the Madison, Wisconsin lake where his fatal plane crash took place.)

    I didn’t leave any pens at these sites, but they gave space for nice reflection on the artists’ lives.

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    • says

      What a lovely reply, Tom! Thank you so much. I love the Hemingway tribute and poem — amazing — thank you for sharing the memories. I agree that those kinds of tributes give wonderful opportunities for reflections on artists’ lives and contributions and how they connect to ours. Thank you for your comment!

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  12. says

    Your post made me think of leaving offerings to the gods of a place before an enterprise – as a request for an auspicious outcome.

    I don’t think we do enough of this – and it would make a lovely inclusion in a piece of fiction. Mind if I steal the idea?

    Alicia

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    • says

      I’m so glad that my post reminded you of the offerings to gods… it is similar, isn’t it? I agree, that we don’t do this enough! As for “stealing” my idea — as long as it’s your own infusion (not my specific experience and story) it wouldn’t be stealing at all and of course I’d have no problem with it — I’m so glad to inspire!

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  13. says

    The closest I’ve ever come is when I visited the NY Public Library, happily and accidentally, during the exhibition celebrating their 100th anniversary. They had brought hundreds of amazing artifacts out for display, including handwritten manuscripts, letters, and even writing instruments from the greatest. Truman Capote, Nathanial Hawthorne, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Dickens… and so many more. I didn’t leave anything there, but I took something with me: the knowledge that these authors were living, breathing, people who created in the midst of ordinary life, and that somehow I had touched them that day.

    (I read your blog fairly regularly through the service Theoldreader, but I think this is the first time I’ve commented. :-) )

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    • says

      I love your story, Brianna! I know exactly how you feel. I’ve done a lot of ephemera research and it’s the closest feeling I’ve ever had to feeling like the author was living and breathing. It’s an amazing feeling. Yes, “somehow I touched them that day,” is EXACTLY how I’ve felt! I’m so happy to hear you’re a regular reader of my blog! Thank you so much for reading and especially for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it so much and I’m glad to meet you! :)

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  14. says

    What a lovely post and offering … I have never gone to a writer’s gravesite but I routinely ask my favorite writer saints to pray for me — St. Augustine, St. Teresa de Avila, Blessed John Paul II. I think of them as my friends in high places :)

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    • says

      Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words, Vijaya! I didn’t know there were writer saints, but it is wonderful that you pray to them as your friends in high places :)

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  15. says

    Years ago I stopped at Author’s Ridge after a pilgrimage to
    Walden Pond, but I didn’t think to leave an offering for Mr. Thoreau. What a lovely gesture to leave a pen.

    I’m always amazed to think at how those transcendentalists all hobnobbed around together, trading ideas and work. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at one of their gatherings.

    Great post, Julia!

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    • says

      Thank you, Jackie! You know, I got a shiver when I read your comment, because I have had literally the same thoughts. The transcendentalists were so ahead of their times and absolutely fascinating in their thoughts and processes of thought. It is quite captivating to consider the opportunity to be near them! Glad you enjoyed!

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  16. says

    Greetings, Julia from DownEast. What a cool thing to do. I would have never thought of leaving something at a grave other than maybe a family member’s, but I love it. And I have to confess, I grew up in Concord and never once went to visit Sleepy Hollow, but I did spend a lot of time in Walden Pond. Ah…memories.Ci

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    • says

      I have to say I really enjoyed the trip — thank you for your kind comments about it! As for your confession, I think we all have those kinds of places near where we grow up (and even where we live as adults…I know I do!) that we never go to… it’s just so easy to never consider it in the course of our daily lives! Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment!

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  17. says

    It occurs to me that these authors would LOVE the offering of a pen, especially our modern ones. They’d marvel at the technology, the miracle of not having to continuously dip it back into ink or get smudges all over their fingers!

    I love that you left a secret note for Hawthorne. I’ve never visited an author’s gravesite, but if I ever do, I think I’ll leave a note of thanks for the inspiration.

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    • says

      I thought that very same thing about the pens, Natalia! In fact I always am amazed thinking of someone writing an entire novel longhand AND having to dip ink… in an accounting written by his son, I read that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wife sewed a special patch on his robe where he could wipe his inky fingers! And he would smudge out an error and re-write over it. I love those details. The secret note is a must, I agree! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  18. says

    I love where I live, but quite frankly, we don’t have that kind of history within driving distance. My province is too young.

    My husband and I were recently at the Holocaust Museum in Houston. They had an outdoor memorial garden and had sufficient foresight to provide a container of polished stones at the entrance. Visitors, if sufficiently moved, were encouraged to place the stones where it felt right or natural to them. It loaned extra solemnity to the occasion and a tangibleness and physicality that wouldn’t have been there if we’d simply stood in silence. So I can appreciate that your offering would make a difference.

    I’d be tempted to leave a blank Moleskine, but your solution seems neater.

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    • says

      I can well imagine, having been to other Holocaust memorials, the solemnity added with the smooth pebbles… very moving and wrenching.

      Your idea to leave a Moleskine for the literary greats is a great one! I never realized I’d be tempted to leave anything…but that would be a great offering! Glad you enjoyed & thank you for your comment, Jan!

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  19. says

    Nice homage to some of the greats, Julia! Meanwhile, behind one of the towering white pines, awaits the person who left the cheap bic pen as “bait,” thinking, “Ooo…she’s leaving a magenta Inkjoy 500RT, my favorite!”

    I’ve wondered where to get buried. Now I have to write something worthwhile.

    Good article, Julia.

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    • says

      Glad you enjoyed — thanks for reading and commenting! Haha, I never considered the person behind the pines…hmm sounds like a movie? Now… where I’LL be buried, that never did cross my mind! And it’s impossible to imagine that it would ever involve anyone visiting and offering… but it does give me some ideas for stories. Thank you!

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  20. says

    This is SUCH a cool story! It’s funny that you should choose the Papermate Inkjoy, because those are my favorite pens — although I’ve gone with the non-retractable 100M instead. (I actually didn’t know about the 500RT; I’ll have to buy one!) I think it’s lovely that you left a note and your favorite writing implement. It’s such a compelling image: all the writers and visitors leaving stacks of little offerings like collector birds. Thanks for sharing this.

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    • says

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Annie! So happy to meet another InkJoy fan, too!!! Let me know what you thinko of the 500RT, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed… one good turn deserves another…we’re still using the butter and shampoo you recommended on your blog!

      As for the compelling image, you have no idea. The combination of the quiet reverence and offerings on a fall day was quite moving. I know I’ll revisit someday — I feel quite drawn.

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  21. says

    Oooh – all these great pen ideas :-) … I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t know it was ‘custom’ to leave writing implements on gravesites. As you know, the first I’d read of it was on Abi Burlington’s site a few years back. And it made me think back to my visit to Stratford Upon Avon, William Shakespeare’s birthplace and final resting place. While I was enamored of the hamlet — even commercialized as it was — and in awe that I was walking the same streets that Bill once walked, I never thought of how I could pay tribute (I am, like so many others, a fan of Shakespeare’s brilliance). I’m going to chalk it up to be only 22 when I visited. Is that a good enough excuse? Next time, though, I’ll come wall-armed, or should I say, well-penned?

    I love that you gave up your favorite pen and that you were so inspired by that trip to write a book!

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    • says

      I know… so many pen ideas!! I had no idea either, Melissa! It’s such a rarity to get the opportunity. I am way jealous of your visit to Shakespeare’s haunts and resting place. And yes, age may have something to do with the desire to leave a token — of course we do think of these matters differently as we age. Next time I think we’ll ALL be “better penned” ;-)

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  22. says

    All my years in Maine (and Mass!) and I never got there–how is that possible?? Thanks to your wonderful tour, though, I feel as if I have, Julia. I do remember seeing the House of Seven Gables in Salem and being very smitten with Mr. Hawthorne’s presence and history afterwards. His novels are such an ingrained part of New England history and life, IMO.

    Hope you are staying warm, my dear!!

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    • says

      I had the same reaction to House of Seven Gables… particularly standing in the bedroom where he was born. What an experience. I totally agree that his novels are ingrained as part of life and history in New England. I’ve also driven by his “childhood home” in Raymond (Maine). It’s quite eerie to think of him walking these same paths. Thanks for reading and commenting, Erika!

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    • says

      If you decide to swing through Concord on your way to Maine, let me know and I’ll meet you there … then we’ll caravan up here to my neck of the woods! Now that would really be fun! Glad you enjoyed the post, Jamie!

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  23. says

    Julia – I’ve been to a few grave sites of famous literary greats and had the same feeling as you. I think I left a sacred page from a book on had on me at one. Leaving a page was a huge sacrifice as I don’t like to mar books that I eventually put on my shelf. Glad to see that I am not the only one doing this. Thanks for writing on this topic.

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  24. says

    Julia – I visited a few grave sites of famous literary greats and had the same feeling as you. I once left a sacred page from a book I had on me at the time. Leaving a page was a huge sacrifice as I don’t like to mar books that I eventually put on my shelf. Glad to see that I am not the only one leaving something behind. Thanks for writing on this topic. (And sorry for the numerous posts…little people were around me!)
    Jeralyn Lash-Sands´s last blog post ..Festivus

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    • says

      I’m so glad you could relate, and I love that you left a sacred page from a book — I can imagine the sacrifice because I’d have felt the same way, but a page is a wonderful offering. It did feel so important to leave something behind, didn’t it? Thanks so much for your visit and your comment (and no need to apologize for several comments, I completely understand, and the more the better!).

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