Mummo’s Piano

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I recently added more music to our house. Well, sound, anyway.

My mother moved from her mobile home in Florida to a smaller, more manageable, apartment. In doing so, she had to downsize her possessions. One major item that would never fit in an apartment was the piano that had belonged to my grandmother, Mummo.

Mummo’s baby grand piano was the one she tried to teach me to play on. It’s a lovely, dark mahogany, Stodart piano. It had its own special niche in the front room of Mummo’s home. The technician who came to check it out and find out what repairs were necessary said that she is from the 1920s. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Mummo's House

As a bit of background, Mummo (whose first name was Marion) was born in New Jersey in 1891. She was the next youngest of five children. Her upbringing was extraordinarily Victorian, but she was always something of a rebel. She told me stories, in whispered tones, about sneaking the horse out of the barn, walking it over the hill – out of sight of her parents – and then riding off bareback and ASTRIDE!!!! Imagine, the indignity of a “lady” straddling a horse. She kept some the things she was taught as a child, though, all through her life.

One of her closely-held beliefs was that there were only a very few occupations that were suitable for ladies. Those were – teacher, pianist, or piano teacher. Nursing was off limits because – HORRORS – you would see naked people (even men). My desire to be a racehorse trainer was met with disbelief and a firm dismissal that a racetrack was no place for a lady. Actually, up until the past few decades, Mummo was not alone. There was a widely-held belief that women could not train or ride racehorses. So, Mummo determined I really had to learn to play the piano.

God bless her, Mummo tried. Unfortunately, I was only seven or eight years old when she tried to teach me piano. It was a lost cause – at that time.

She was so gifted! Not only could she play the most intricate and complicated pieces, she composed glorious music that was all her own. I remember her sitting at her piano making it sing the most remarkable songs. Her house was full of music. There was classical, sure, but there was also more popular tunes and Christmas carols. She just could not understand why her wayward granddaughter would rather be out climbing trees or riding horses. What she didn’t realize – nor would I until this past year – was that her granddaughter really was paying attention. I was just too young and too scattered to sit and practice an hour or more every day.

In her late years, Alzheimer’s (although it hadn’t been named, yet) stole Mummo’s mind. She retreated further and further into a world where she couldn’t communicate with words. Sometimes, though, she’d find her way to the piano. Her piano was her voice. It was so incredibly sad for us that this was her sole way to express herself. Even when she was finally moved into a nursing home, they would occasionally find her at the piano in the common area. There she was – a very tiny, sad, old woman making the whole place ring with music.

When the time came to move Mummo’s piano, a dealer came to my mother’s home and told her he would buy the piano and “give” her $500. Once I was told that, I realized that there was no way I could allow “Voce Marion”  (Marion’s Voice – the name I’ve given to the piano) to go to someone who would never know my Mummo. No one else could ever know how desperately she loved that piano – nor ever hear the beauty that came from her fingers. I had to bring it home to be with me.

I still can’t play “her,” but I’m going to learn. I probably will never be able to make that instrument sing like she used to. She will, however, be loved and cared for. I will remember the way she used to sound when a true musician touched her keys. The technician who came to give her a checkup is a talented musician and he sat and played her. That same, rich tone came tumbling out for the first time in probably 40 years. For those few minutes, Voce Marion was in her glory again. The tears just couldn’t be stopped. I could almost feel Mummo standing over my shoulder smiling.

Poor thing, she’ll probably have to put up with some awful clunkers to begin with. I guess the learning curve will be steep as I’m no longer a kid, but I’m going to persevere. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to bring the music that still resonates in my mind to my fingers. I think Mummo would be very proud.

Up Next: Remembering a Dear Friend

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Christmas Memories

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This time of year brings so many memories. Most are sweet. I’ll share a few of these with you now.

My Little Angel

 

One of my earliest memories is of making my little angel ornament. I am told I was only three when I made it, but the memory is quite clear. We made them at church. This angel is made out of paper. The teacher had us glue feathers for her wings, and took over from there. She is simply closed in the back and a string is looped through her halo. Every year, my little (50-something) angel gets a place of honor on my tree.

 

Another very early memory involves the song, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” The song is an African/American spiritual. It’s an unbelievably sweet song. There was a soprano soloist in our church (I believe her name was Jean Merchant) who sang this song one Christmas Eve service when I was only about 5 or 6 years old. I vividly remember hearing the words and bursting into tears. I was in the front of the church with the other children as we had done our song earlier in the service. My poor dad had to run up, pick me up, and hurry down the side aisle of the church. I do remember everyone being very nice to me after that and saying how sweet I was. (Well, when I was that little, I guess I was.) Years later Mrs. Merchant asked me if I remembered it. Of course, I did. She said that was the best compliment she’d ever had for her singing.

 

My family had some unusual traditions, too. According to my family, Santa’s elves brought the Christmas tree just before Christmas. The tree was, supposedly, some form of reporting device. It was an early form of nanny cam. Santa is so busy right before Christmas, that he uses reporting devices (elves and Christmas trees) as the final word on who was “naughty or nice.” We couldn’t decorate the tree until Christmas Eve so that it could do it’s job reporting. Now, where on earth did THAT tradition come from? Pretty diabolical, if you ask me. Have you ever heard of this?

 

Like many families, we would decorate the outside of our house with colored lights. My dad was quite particular about how the lights should be strung and in what color order. Getting the lights up on the house was always something of an ordeal, but it was a great honor to be able to help. One year, we had a color wheel on the front porch, too. Our house was white, so the color wheel (if you’re old enough, you might remember these wheels being used with aluminum Christmas trees) would turn the front of the house, red (well, pink), blue, yellow and green.

 

Christmas in St. Petersburg always meant lots of colored lights. The “Million Dollar Pier” (which was a WHOLE lot of money back when the original pier was built) had trees on each side of the road. The pier sticks out into Tampa Bay. The original pier was a beautiful Spanish-style building that had many interesting stories around it. I’ve heard that there was even a casino in it in the early years. The “new” pier is nothing like the beautiful original. It’s an ugly, upside-down pyramid – but I digress. The city’s service groups and many of the businesses sponsored trees on the pier. They would be covered in colored lights and had signs with the sponsors’ names lit up at the base of each tree. It was quite a big deal to drive downtown and out to the pier. The Vinoy Basin Park would also have lots of lighted decorations and, sometimes, a live nativity.

 

One house that was a “must see” was Doc Webb’s house. Doc Webb owned Webb’s City. Webb’s City was “The World’s Largest Drug Store.” It had started out as a pharmacy way back, but it became a multi-storied precursor to WalMart. You could buy just about anything imaginable (including baby alligators) and go visit the “live” mermaids. Talk about a tourist trap… Every year, though, Doc Webb’s house got more and more elaborate in its Christmas décor. It started with a revolving mirror ball (more than 20 years before disco). It evolved into another live nativity with thousands of colored lights, huge standing decorations, and the ubiquitous mirror ball.

 

I still have one favorite Christmas present. I got this present in 1979 from my sister. What could have been so memorable? It was a little, white kitten with a huge black smudge on his head. The first thing Sambuca (shortened to Sam) did was climb my mother’s Christmas tree going after a lizard. Sam became my best buddy for a long, long time. We had many memorable moments. I’ll tell you more about Sam (and the rest of the kitty menagerie we used to have) in a later post. Sam lived to be 19 years old. I miss him to this day.

 

Another of my best memories involving Christmas came in 1985. That was the first Christmas Jim and I had together. We planned to go cut our own Christmas tree from a farm in Georgia. Wouldn’t you know it, Jim came down with a terrible cold, but he wouldn’t let that ruin our quest for our first tree. I didn’t realize at the time that he was even running a fever. We did find a beautifully shaped cedar tree. It was cut down and brought home. Jim got the lights on the tree then went to bed (poor guy was sick for several days afterward). I got the rest of the decorations on except for the star which had to wait for the tall person to get out of the bed. I’m not sure how it happened, but that tree managed to drop a seed outside our house and the rest of our years in Georgia, our first Christmas tree’s scion grew tall near the front steps. I’d like to think it’s still there today.

 

I could go on and on (I see you out there nodding in agreement), but I’m cutting this post off here. I hope you’ll share some of your Christmas memories with us! Simply click on the “Respond” button at the bottom of this post and add your memories.

 

Up Next: What do You Do for New Year’s Eve?

 

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Our Visit to Florida (Finale)

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Now you know about a couple of our “destination” restaurants during our recent Florida trip. In this installment, I will talk about the final two Florida specialties we were determined to enjoy.

 

Have you ever had smoked mullet? If not, there’s only one place I know of that does it right. That place is Ted Peter’s Fish House in South Pasadena, FL. South Pasadena is in Pinellas County and is adjacent to St. Petersburg (between the city and the beach).

 

Believe it or not, while growing up in St. Petersburg, I hated (or thought I hated) fish. The only thing I would eat that came out of the water was shrimp. For a while, I wouldn’t even go into the water in the Gulf or Bay because a school of small fish had rushed through my legs when I was quite little. They scared the poo out of me at the time. Yes, I got over that, but didn’t get over “hating” fish until I met Ted Peter’s smoked mullet. What a wonder. Flaky fish with just enough smoke that ate more like “meat” than what I had always considered fish. No strong fishy taste. Just delicious smoked morsels in every bite (do look out for pin-bones, though). If I hadn’t learned about fish from Ted Peter’s, I may have never learned the joys of grouper (see previous post).

 

Ted Peters was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” but more for their terrific burgers. I’ve had the burger there – it IS special, but the real specialty is the smoked fish. You can have the mullet (my favorite), mackerel, or salmon. The main thing to remember is to come hungry. They serve a huge plate full. The fish comes with pickle, lettuce, tomato, onion, cole slaw and a small bowl heaped full of delicious German potato salad. They also have smoked fish spread that they serve with crackers. This is good enough to make a meal out of.

 

The final local specialty I really was wanting was a Cuban sandwich. Even before the troubles of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Tampa Bay area was a destination for Cuban émigrés. Tampa had a thriving cigar industry (and still does). The classic Cuban dishes started to become widely available after the large influx due to the difficulties in Cuba. My particular favorites are “Spanish Bean Soup” (garbanzo), black beans and rice, and Cuban sandwiches.

 

Since we really didn’t have the time to travel to Ybor City, we looked for a place closer to find a Cuban sandwich. We’d seen a big crowd at a bar across the street from Sloppy Joes, so we thought we’d check it out.

 

Ricky T’s is exactly the kind of bar/grill I used to go to (as a local) 30 years ago. Every age group was represented and it is completely laid-back and fun. We went for lunch, so the crowds hadn’t started to gather. They serve an excellent Cuban. It’s not quite as authentic as one found at either the “Columbia” or in Ybor, but it was pretty darned good. The bread was authentic and they pressed it properly. Jim got a fried grouper sandwich. Again, the fish was about twice the size of the bun, fresh and delicious.

 

While not a destination at the time, we were introduced to a new favorite by our dear friends Richard and Julie Lilly. Caddy’s on the Beach is on Sunset Beach and is one of the last, true beach bars in the area.

(From their website) No where near this many people on Sunday morning

 

We went to Caddy’s for breakfast. I wondered how good breakfast could be in a beach bar. I should have had more faith. The coffee was really hot and fresh. The food was plentiful, delicious and inventive. While we were there, people started getting very excited about several dolphin who were cruising right along the shore. One of them was in an especially exuberant mood and was leaping clear out of the water.

 

We didn’t do too badly for only being in Florida from Friday noon until early Monday morning. Most of the time was spent attending the reunion and with friends; but we still found time to see a few birds and dolphin and to check off all the restaurants / foods on our “bucket list.”

 

 

Up Next: A True Scary Story – Just in Time for Halloween!

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Our Visit to Florida (Part 2)

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In my previous post, I talked about the birds and the sites we saw in two quick days in Florida. Now, I’m going to tell you about another part of our “bucket list” for the trip…restaurants.

 

Don’t know about you, but some of my fondest memories about growing up in St. Petersburg involve restaurants and (later) hang-outs. I’m willing to bet that there are places that you went to as a child or a teen that you still have fond memories of.

 

Sadly, one of my most favorite places is no longer. Aunt Hattie’s Restaurant was around for years and years. There were waitresses there, when I was a child, who told stories about Babe Ruth coming in with a large entourage for meals. Apparently, he’d always say he was paying, but he only had a $100 bill. You have to remember, that in those times, a meal wouldn’t be more than a couple of dollars and no restaurants would have change for $100. I guess the Bambino was always “comped.” Loved that story and the place. It was across the street from Albert Whitted Airport and near the Coast Guard base on Tampa Bay. When I was very little, it was a small place that specialized in “Chicken in the Woodpile” (chicken and dumplings). They also served the most amazing chocolate pie (never learned the secret – DAMN!) They had a small wishing well outside. Later there were several expansions and they started a small gift shop in the front (so people waiting for a table could shop – LONG before Cracker Barrel). A wonderful man named Kenny Jones was a woodworker who fashioned gnomes and elves for the restaurant’s garden. (Mr. Jones and his shop later did many pieces for Tampa’s Busch Gardens.)

 

Chattaway’s is still there! In my early 20s, a group of friends and I “discovered” The Chattaway Drive In (affectionately known as Chattaway’s). The owner, Everett, used to have a panel truck that he would use to pick up supplies that said, “Chattaway: You can’t beat our meat!” Seriously! You know what? Even after all these years, you still can’t. There are times that I get so homesick for a Chattaburger (their namesake burger) that I am almost ready to jump on a plane. Needless to say, the first place we headed from the airport was not the resort where we’d be staying, it was to Chattaway’s. (I taught Jim the wonders of the Chattaburger and the ethereal onion rings years ago.) There’s something so comforting sitting out on the patio eating THAT burger, onion rings, and quaffing a beer. I must say that they’ve really spiffed the place up quite a bit from the days when there were just concrete tables with benches, bar stools around the bar, and a few tables and chairs inside, but the food is still the same…WONDERFUL.

 

Chattaway's Patio

Another “must have” when I travel to St. Petersburg is grouper. Grouper is a delicate fish (which seems pretty strange considering the size and flat-out ugliness of the fish itself). I know that there are those who like grouper fried or blackened, but I think that’s near sacrilege. For me, the only proper way to eat grouper is broiled or grilled.

 

We both also had a hankering for conch fritters. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of eating conch, let me ‘splain. A conch is a large sea “snail.” Okay, don’t get grossed out. It’s the animal that comes in those beautiful, pink-lined shells that you see in photos being blown like horns. The meat is tough, so it needs to be chopped quite fine. Most fritters involve the conch, corn meal, onions, peppers, and celery. They’re truly delicious.

 

Lucky for us, we found Sloppy Joe’s – Treasure Island. This is the same team as the more famous Sloppy Joes found in Key West, Florida. Sloppy Joe’s is in one of the resorts on Treasure Island and is fairly well hidden from the front. However, they have a large, casual dining area inside, and wonderful tables on the patio overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and the sugar-sand beach of Treasure Island. They also serve a mean conch fritter!

 

The fritters came in a boat-shaped plate with an avocado remoulade. They were light, yet substantial with lots of good crunch. Delicious! I followed up with a grouper sandwich. The filet was day-caught fresh, perfectly cooked and huge! The bun was good, but the best part was that it didn’t get in the way of the fish. Appropriately, the fish was the star of the show. It immediately fulfilled my grouper “jones.” Jim had the grouper tacos. In that preparation, the grouper was fried into strips and added to tacos. He said they were excellent. All of the above was enjoyed with a couple of draft beers. Authentic (and extraordinary) key lime pie was dessert.

 

I can’t imagine a more beautiful way to end a great day and a wonderful meal than the sunset we were treated to. Here we were, relaxing on the restaurant’s patio, when the sun began to set and treat us to an incomparable Gulf-coast sunset. I must admit to being a bit of a “homer” when it comes to the sunsets in that part of Florida. What do you think? Isn’t this amazing?

 

Up Next: Our Trip to Florida (Finale) – Yes, more about food.

 

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Our Visit to Florida (Part 1)

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If you read my last post, you know that Jim and I recently went to my high school reunion. It was held at the Sirata Beach Resort on St. Petersburg Beach. This previous post was about the reunion. This post is about the setting.

Sirata Beach Resort

 

The Sirata Beach Resort is and older resort. The amenities (wonderful beach, pools, beach bars, water activities, café, etc.) are quite nice. We found the food in the café to be good and reasonable, the bars were a bit pricey, but that’s not abnormal for a resort town. (I guess it shows that we don’t go clubbing, it’s expensive!) The hotel room itself was a bit odd. We had a king suite. The layout was backwards to our way of thinking. The door from the hall opened immediately into the bedroom, and the living/entertainment area were in the back. The television in the bedroom didn’t work, and the shower came on immediately when the water was turned on. Those negatives aside, the room was clean and the staff did a wonderful job of making the bed and assuring that the towels were replaced. To a person, every staff member we met was friendly, welcoming, and helpful. With that kind of environment, it was easy to overlook a couple of glitches.

 

As you know, Jim and I are birders. I guess I’ve been a passive birder all my life, but only got into really being interested in knowing the different species for the past 15 years or so. We were visiting one of the very best birding spots (although it’s better known for birding in the winter), so we took the opportunity to go out to Ft. Desoto Park.

 

Adult Ibis
Juvenile Ibis

Having grown up in the area, the actual Fort was not something we wanted to go see again. It’s interesting, but the birding was on the beach. We went to the east end of the island first. This is an area where we had seen large numbers of migrating birds (including warblers) the last time we visited. Again, the last time we visited was in the winter and this time we were between migrations. However, we did find some Ibis (the white ones are adult; the darker colored one is a juvenile). We also found a Great Egret.

Sanderling (thanks, Allen C)

Above is a photo of one of the many Sanderling (thanks, Allen C),

Willett (Allen C, confirmed)

and several Willet on the beach. In the trees around the picnic area, we found an active Palm Warbler (sorry, no photo) and several Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers (also, no photo).

White Peacock (thanks Cathy)

There were several beautiful butterflies, as well. Unfortunately, the wind was fierce, so our opportunities to find and photograph were hampered.

 

Gulf Fritillary (thanks Cathy)

This is a great spot to see and photograph the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

This is a photo of one of the freighters that regularly travels under the bridge. Many years back, one of the pilot-boat captains made a terrible error in piloting a huge barge under the Skyway. Unfortunately, the barge hit the bridge and sent a huge part of the span tumbling into the water. Sadly, several people lost their lives when cars went over the edge. This is the new Bridge. Only remnants of the old bridge remain as fishing piers on both the north and south side of the waterway.

 

Egmont Key

We also got excellent views of Egmont Key with its working lighthouse.

 

We then went down to the pier across from the Fort. As we were walking out toward the pier there was a great hubbub! Several dolphin (bottlenose) were playing under the pier. They were also eating the leavings of the fish that were being cleaned on the pier. We hustled out to see and, sure enough, there were dolphin swimming around the pier. Wish we’d gotten photos, but it’s virtually impossible to guess when and where a dolphin would surface. It was thrilling to see how well they are thriving in my “home” waters.

 

Ruddy Turnstone

Out at the end of the pier there were several “cleaning stations.” We found out that dolphin aren’t the only animals happy to clean up after the fishermen. These photos are of a Ruddy Turnstone (very confiding) that was enjoying the bounty left on the cleaning table. There were several other turnstones clambering around on the rip-rap jetty just to the side of the pier.

 

Turnstone on Rip Rap

We left the long pier, but stopped again at the shorter, more easterly pier on our way back to the resort. This pier had a small refreshment stand and we were parched from the blowing sand. Along the beach were lots of gulls and several terns. I have to admit it, I really need to bone-up on my shorebirds. I would really appreciate knowing what the different species are that are in these photos.

Common Tern? Sandwich Tern? Laughing Gulls

Sandwich Terns, Common Terns? Willet, and Laughing Gulls (thanks Jacco)

On the Bayway (the road back to the resort) I made Jim pull over because I saw a large group of Wood Storks and there was a Roseate Spoonbill with them. Hope you can see it in the photo.

 

Roseate Spoonbill/Wood Stork

Considering the weather and the time of year, we didn’t do too badly. Of course, all it did was serve to reinforce that we need to make another trip at a different time of year and (hopefully) when the weather is more cooperative.

 

Up Next: Our Visit to Florida (Part 2)

 

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Old Friends at the Beach

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Who say’s you can never go home again? You know, I always thought that was probably true. That was until I went to my 40th high school reunion on the beach in Florida. 40th?!!! Yep, I’m an old f*&t, alright.

 

Sunset: St. Pete Beach (Reunion Site)

I could right a whole blog on just how we came to decide to go to my reunion, but I won’t. Suffice to say, I was informed that my high school class had a website and that the reunion was being planned. I went to the website and found out that so many of my old friends (some of whom went from 1st grade through high school graduation with me) were planning to attend the reunion. I also got in touch with my very best friend from high school whom I hadn’t seen since her wedding 35 years ago. Once plans were made to go to Florida, I learned that more and more old friends would be there. I started to get excited. The decision was sealed when I found another person whom I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years. My best friend in junior high school is living is Sarasota (just across the Skyway Bridge from our reunion). I was going to have the opportunity to see (and introduce Jim to) two of the people I had loved and missed most.

 

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

I’d attended my 10 year reunion and had been somewhat underwhelmed. Let’s face it, at that point, we were all clawing and scratching our way into the business world or starting families. The emphasis, at that time, was on jobs, money, cars and babies. Since I didn’t have a high-powered job, didn’t have any extra money, drove a pretty ugly car and was single with no children, I really felt pretty alienated. Right then and their, I decided no more reunions. I’m glad I changed my mind.

 

Now, we’re all old f*#ts, and we could care less about any of that. We’re just happy to see old friends have made it through the “wars” and survived. Sadly, more than 40 of our classmates have passed on. It’s not something we think about on a daily basis, but it’s a fact of life. The older the lucky ones of us get, the more other we find have left us. It was quite a shock to read some of the names on the website, and I’m so very glad that we had a memorial service on the beach to remember and honor those who have gone to their rest.

 

Just SOME of the Grads

Most of the crowd have grown children (who really weren’t a topic of much conversation) and are in the twilight of their careers. We’ve all figured out that the secret isn’t the money or the position so much as it’s the satisfaction of doing something we enjoy to the best of our abilities. Some lucky souls have already retired (grrrrr), but the rest of us are hoping to be able to do so before our next 10 years pass.

L to R Judy Rausa Mamo, Me, Cheri Wix Hill, Julie Parker Lilly

The very best part of the whole reunion was getting so many of our old friends together and finding out we still can laugh, be silly, and, yes, for one weekend be 17 again. No, we can’t limbo like we could, but we can enjoy the music and each other’s company like 40 years had somehow magically disappeared. The bonds, while stretched across time and space, were still there.

L to R: Me, Cindy Clare Brickey, Gloria Byrd Mann, Julie Parker Lilly

I have to tell you, though, that the funniest thing that happened during the when a dear, old friend came up to me aghast and said, “You’re not DEAD!” My name wasn’t on the list of the departed, but she had been told that I had died. So, now, I was either Lazarus or a zombie. I had to suppress a giggle and a desire to say, “I can smell your brain.”

Richard Lilly, Julie Parker Lilly, Me, and Jim

 

Now that the reunion is over and we’ve all gone back to our four-corners of the globe, we’ve promised that we will stay in touch. I think we will. I hope we can find a way to get together, too. It sure would be a pity to lose touch once we’ve found each other again.

 

A Fabulous Group

Do you have a reunion coming up? You might have just as much fun as we did. I just love reunion stories. If you have one you’d like to share, please add it to this site.

 

Up Next: More Fun in Florida 

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