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Saying Goodbye

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dear friends,

For two wonderful years, I had the joy of publishing this blog, showcasing for the word the advertisements that I studied during my PhD process. As you see, however, I went silent. This was for two reasons: first, I was starting to run out of ads that were entertaining enough to feature! But more importantly, my time became much more constrained with a new (non-academic) job. Posting these blog entries was more time-consuming than you would imagine, and it became enough work that it was stressful instead of fun.

I never imagined that this blog would become so popular, and it's been a real honor to have so many fans. Maybe one day I'll take a sabbatical and finally publish the book. But until then, I bid you all farewell.

With love,


Well at least he's honest

Thursday, June 2, 2011

 Matrimonials had a bad reputation.  All the critics thought it was only gold-diggers and scalawags, or people who were totally desperate, who would ever use such a crass and horrible means of trying to find a spouse.  Now I argue, quite convincingly (if I do say so myself), that in reality many of the people who used these ads were normal men and women who just couldn't meet anyone any other way for whatever reason.  While there were certainly scoundrels and desperate people and gold-diggers who used matrimonials (and some things never change), I think the majority had good intentions.

All that being said, I come across an ad like this, and I think, no wonder these ads got a lot of heat!  But, as my title says, at least he's not beating around the bush.

A noble Frenchman, of title, connected with highest families in France, but without means, wishes to marry lady or widow with means; correspondence strictly confidential.  Address C. 580 Herald Uptown office.

You know, there's a part of me that thinks this might just be for real.  I feel like if he was lying about being noble and connected to titled families, he would try to be all romantic and say he was in exile or couldn't meet the girl of his dreams in France so he came to the land of opportunity...or whatever.  Then, theoretically, he could sweep some naive girl off her feet and then abscond with all her money.  But he's not appealing to anyone's romantic side.  He is making a business deal.  You support me with your money, and I will make you a marchioness or a comptess (is that the feminine form of compte?).  There's no talk of love here.

On the other hand, however, the barefaced mercenary tone might convince some women that he's being honest for the same reasons I think so, while in reality he's just got an accent and still plans to run away with her money.  Clever!

Did people really do this?  It certainly shows up in novels all the time.  Both sides benefit, if they're willing to sacrifice marital happiness (but who knows, maybe they could be happy!).  I suppose a woman whose family was nouveau-riche, and therefore snubbed by the old-money crowd, might consider this a way to get revenge.  "You treat me like dirt?  How are you going to feel when you have to call me Duchess?"  Besides, even sympathetic characters in Jane Austen novels openly admitted to this kind of thing (I'm looking at you, Colonel Fitzwilliam), so it's not like this was unheard of or even entirely frowned upon.

So...I'm on the fence.  I'd tentatively buy this...but maybe not.

©2011 Pam Epstein


Orphan preferred

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why do all these men only want to marry orphans?  Okay, one other guy.  But I feel like I've seen this elsewhere.  Anyway, one man or twenty men, it's weird and I want to know why.

An American gentleman, thirty years of age, wishes to form the acquaintance of some American lady (an orphan preferred), not less than 18 nor more than 24 years of age, with a view to matrimony.  She must be of the highest respectability, prepossessing and genteel in appearance, of good education, accustomed to good society and of a loving disposition.  Any lady answering the above can do so with the utmost confidence, as all communications will be strictly confidential, and letters returned when requested; for this means just what it says, nothing more and nothing less.  Address for three days, giving real name and where can be seen (none others will be noticed), Knickerbocker, box 164 Herald office.
I call foul.  None of this rings true to me.  Here's what we know about the desired lady: she has no living parents, is very young, respectable, genteel, of good society, loving, and will give her real name and her address.  Here's what we know about the advertiser: he's 30.  Well, I guess at least he didn't say she must be wealthy to boot.  However, just because he doesn't mention money doesn't mean he doesn't want it.  It's actually somewhat clever, because by not saying you want a wealthy wife, people might be like, oh, he's not a gold digger, he must be sincere!  But probably he's hoping some young, foolish, unprotected heiress will respond and he'll ignore everyone else.  On the other hand, if you're hoping to seduce silly girls, this ad isn't really designed to draw them in.  Knickerbocker, my friend, you're supposed to talk about how rich and loving and handsome you are if you want a romantic young miss to write you back.  This ad is very no-nonsense.  So, I dunno, maybe it is sincere?  Maybe he's just kind of tactless and thoughtless and didn't really think through how this ad might come off? 

But if sincere, why the preferred orphan?  I hear-tell that sometimes in-laws can be a real nightmare, but are you really going to base your marriage choice on your concern that your wife's parents might be annoying and overbearing?  Because otherwise I can't think of a single legitimate reason why you would "prefer" an orphan that isn't completely nefarious.  I would imagine in the 19th century, an orphaned girl in her late teens or early twenties would be living pretty precariously and easily preyed upon, so it's hard for me not to be suspicious of Knickerbocker's motives here.

Speaking of that name, though, I was inspired to look up the origins of that word, which I amazingly never had done before, and I thought you'd like to know too!  According to handy Wikipedia, Washington Irving wrote a book about New York City under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, and ever since then it's been a term used to describe New Yorkers.  Indeed, it's where the New York Knicks gets its name too.  So now there's two things we know about Our Hero.  He's 30 and he's a New Yorker. I'm still not sold.

©2011 Pam Epstein


Leaving a legacy

Monday, May 9, 2011

I find this ad both charming and a little weird.  There's something a little...romantic and even heroic, I guess...about what this man is trying to do, but I have to wonder what lady would take him up on this offer.  See for yourself:

Matrimonial. - A young unmarried cavalry officer, who intends to serve his country till "this cruel war is over," desires, should he be slain during the war, to leave an heir to his name and inheritance.  He therefore wishes to open correspondence with a view to matrimony with a patriotic young lady of intelligence, accomplishments, common sense, &c.  Address K, Nineteenth New York cavalry, Manassas Junction, Va.

The quote in here, "this cruel war is over," is the title of a song of the same name, "When This Cruel War is Over", which apparently at one time the most popular song in America, possibly because it was sung by both Confederate and Union soldiers.  In any event, there's so much I want to say about this!

First, I think it's funny that he says he's "unmarried."  Yes, K, that should be fairly obvious given you're publishing an ad in a matrimonial column.  But I suppose he just means he's a bachelor, not a widower.  But I love how patriotic he is.  Man, these Civil War soldiers were the best.  He's not only saying he'll fight till the end of the war, but he's also saying that he knows he might die in the war and he's still determined to stay the course anyway.  There's something so honorable about that to me.  I know that there are people who still feel that way today, but here's the thing, this ad was published toward the end of 1863 by which time the casualties of war were unbelievably high.  American soldiers were much, much, much more likely to die during this war than in any other conflict the country has ever been involved in.  So when he's saying that, he and everyone else have to be aware that it's not just hyperbole.  He really, truly has high odds of actually dying.  Now, of course, soldiers were more likely to die of disease than being "slain," but you can't blame a guy who, if he's going to die, would rather die fighting the good fight then die of dysentery.

Anyway.  It's also so fascinating to me the impulse to leave his name behind.  That makes sense too.  I think that's a desire many people still have today, though I doubt it's something anyone would articulate or think about consciously much.  (But it is the reason why so many people name their sons after themselves, like the guy I knew in college whose name was followed by V!)  I think especially a soldier who knows he might die wants to leave a piece of himself behind.  Because you want to fight for your country, of course, which was what most Union soldiers wanted - but you also want to fight for something more tangible: your family.  That's why this is so romantic and heroic to me.

But...on the other hand, I'm not sure how this would go over to women.  They would probably see the romantic impulse too, and admire this soldier enormously, but I don't think many girls are going to think to themselves, I want to get married to someone who just wants me to have his kid.  You want to marry for love, of course, even if you're the most patriotic woman in the world.  I guess she has something to gain: respectability, avoiding being a spinster in an era when a lot of young men are dying, and if he really is going to leave an inheritance, that is some nice security.  On the other hand, if he lives, which you would obviously want him to do, you want to make sure you spend the rest of your life with someone who you care about and who cares about you.  I dunno - I'm sure there were plenty of women who responded, but they must have had at least some misgivings.

On a final note, however, the letters are addressed to "K."  K?  Don't you think there might be more than one soldier in the Nineteenth New York with the initial K in their name - since that could be first or last?  There were at least a couple hundred men altogether, and although there were fewer cavalry officers, he doesn't actually specify that in the address, so the "K" could be anyone in the entire outfit!  Right?  I guess during mail call they'd just say, anyone expecting mail for "K"?  But most soldiers did include their names in these ads so it seems odd to me.

Well, I hope he survived the war after all, but it's unfortunate that I'll never know if he managed to make his name immortal...

©2011 Pam Epstein



Wednesday, May 4, 2011

These are two funny missed connections that were from the same day.  They both seem just a little out of the ordinary, in that in both cases there is a decided brush-off involved.  See for yourselves:

Will the lady that the car stopped for in Greenwich avenue on Tuesday last, and then refused to ride, have the kindness to send her name, stating if a meeting can be had, to G.F., box 13 station A.

Arion Ball - The lady who so ceremoniously removed the rose bud from a gentleman's coat at the Arion ball will please return it, and no questions asked, to Rose, station D.

These are...interesting.  Okay, so the first one I initially thought the car must be a streetcar, right?  (As in a trolley.)  But if the lady waved down the car, which she must have done if it stopped for her specifically, why would she then decide not to get on?  Could it have been some guy in his own carriage who stopped and tried to offer her a ride?  That seems highly unlikely in that day and age, unless of course he thought she was a prostitute, in which case it would make a great deal more sense.  Still, I don't think anyone ever called carriages "cars," so I'm not satisfied with that explanation anyway.  I wonder if she waved down a streetcar, and G.F. was grinning at her and she was like, forget that, I'll take the next one.  In which case G.F. is a dense idiot.  But it is the interpretation which I am leaning toward.  After all, he wouldn't send a message if she hadn't seen him (or at least I assume not, because not a respectable woman in the world would ever respond to an ad from someone when she didn't know a thing about what he looked like), but maybe he was so stupid as not to realize that it was his lecherous grin that kept her from boarding the streetcar?  I dunno, but I can't come up with any scenario in which this guy comes off well.  Conclusion: G.F. is daft.

Now the second ad is even more intriguing.  A lady "so ceremoniously" takes a rose from, er, "Rose's" lapel at a party.  I can totally see that.  She's all flirty and batting her eyelashes at him or something and then takes the rose with her eyebrows arched and a suggestive smile (it's weird how minutely I can describe this, isn't it?) and there's nothing he can really do about it, even if he wanted to, because he is a gentleman and you can't rebuke a woman publicly.  But, how came she to take his rose out of his lapel?  If she didn't know him, did she literally just walk up to a total stranger at a ball and grab his coat?  That's...ballsy.  That's ballsy even today.  I hate to fall back on the same old explanation of her being a prostitute (could prostitutes even getting into a fancy dress ball?  I guess why not, if she's a high-class one) but I can't fathom another explanation, because if she was some working-class girl who didn't observe Victorian middle-class propriety she wouldn't be able to afford to get into such a ball.  Ooohhh, maybe it was some kind of ritual?  Like, maybe the women got to go up to men they find attractive and take the flowers out of their lapels?  Rare moment when women could shed rules of etiquette?  Like a Sadie Hawkins dance but not?  But then how were they supposed to find each other, because no one else was posting ads like this?

So, fine, somehow or other a complete stranger comes up to this guy and takes away his rose very ceremoniously.  We don't know why.  But then he posts an ad and...asks for it back, no questions asked?  Um, really?  What kind of rose was this?  Was it made of gold?  Because after a day or so a normal rose is going to wilt and then I guess unless he planned on pressing it between the pages of Romeo and Juliet in his Shakespeare folio, he's going to have to toss it anyway.  Maybe his real girlfriend gave it to him and he's like, if I don't get that back, and she figures out that some other girl has it, she's not going to be so pleased.

I have a feeling I'm reading a much more complex story into this scenario than really existed.  Maybe this was actually a code for a drug deal gone wrong.  Or maybe "roses" it's like when people on Craigslist were soliciting for sex by asking for or offering so many "roses".

Whatever the case, this is definitely something I've never seen before!

©2011 Pam Epstein


Pretty women

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

 Well, hello there!  I haven't written in quite some time!  Can't believe how time flies.  Well, despite the fact that I am teaching today and still haven't finished my lecture (please don't tell my students), I feel so bad about being so remiss that I'm putting up an entry anyway.  So here are two missed connection ads that are from 1853!  I didn't even realize till recently that they went so far back.  Some things never change.  (Except the clothes.)

The two young ladies who were walking in Broadway on Thursday morning, between Canal and Broome streets, one wearing a brown silk bonnet and fur cape, the other a black velvet hat, with a fur cape, dark dresses, will oblige an admirer by sending their address to L.L., Herald office.

If the lady dressed in a watered striped silk, black velvet mantilla, and white satin hat, with feathers, who attended Wallack's Lyceum on Thursday evening, 6th inst., and upon leaving took one of the Fourteenth street line of stages, at the same time bowing twice to a gentleman standing upon the sidewalk, will condescend to address a note to Randolph, Broadway Post Office, granting an interview, it will be the means of conferring a great deal of happiness upon one who would be pleased to make your acquaintance.

The first one I just find amusing because you have one guy addressing two women.  I always wonder how that can end well, unless he has a friend he wants to introduce to them.  But if not, how can this work out?  Is he going to date them both and decide which girl he likes best?  Because that seems like a recipe for disaster.

But it's the second one which I love.  First, I always think it's awesome when guys are able to describe the woman's clothing in such intimate detail.  Honestly I can't remember what I was wearing three days ago, much less someone else, and - not to stereotype or anything - I do think guys tend to be less observant about women's clothing.  However, her outfit sounds especially stylish, especially the mantilla (women wore mantillas in the States back then? Weird).

Then the rest of the ad is super adorable.  I like the part about "it will be the means of conferring a great deal of happiness."  Aw.  That's cute.  I would like it if meeting me would confer a great deal of happiness.  (I like to think it does, sometimes!)  That being said, him following her out of the theater and watching her get on a 14th St streetcar is a little weird because Wallack's Theater (according the the amazing interwebs) is on Broadway and Broome, which is nowhere near 14th St.  And maybe she bowed at you because you were freaking her out, Randolph.  I don't know - maybe that particular street car went up Broadway and then turned on 14th, and it was one he was familiar with, so he knew where it was going?  I'm going to assume that's the case and give him the benefit of the doubt, mostly just because if she did get onto a 14th St stage at 14th St, she walked pretty far to get there.

Well, my lecture awaits.  This is the last week of classes, hooray!  Two months off from teaching.  I love teaching and all, but two months off is even better (if only I didn't have a second job, but a girl's got to pay the rent!).

©2011 Pam Epstein


Sign me up!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friends, I only wish I had this option today.  Clearly I would no longer be single if I had someone like Madame Morrow to consult.  Look at what she promises!  This is for reals, guys.

Astonishing to all. - Madam Morrow, the seventh daughter, has a natural gift to tell past, present, and future events, and all the concerns of life, even the very thoughts, and will cause speedy marriage, and show the likenesses of the intended husbands and absent friends, and will bring together those who are separated, who will enjoy the greatest happiness of matrimonial bliss.  All who wish good luck may call soon for relief and comfort.  Thousands have expressed their belief that she is the  most wonderful astrologist in the world, or that has ever been known, though she practices nothing but what is reconcilable to philosophers.  No charge if not satisfied.  76 Broome street, between Cannon and Columbia.  Gentlemen not admitted.

Side note: did anyone know that there is a Cannon Street in New York City?  I sure didn't.  I thought maybe it was a street that has had its name changed or was destroyed when they were razing tenements in the 1930s.  But as it so happens, it is still there, right by the East River south of the Williamsburg Bridge.  And I call myself a tour guide.

Anyways.  The point is, I wish Madam Morrow was still around so she could bring about my speedy marriage, and even show me what my future husband is going to look like, and ensure that I will enjoy the greatest happiness of matrimonial bliss.  And I'm sure she could have too, because thousands believe that she is the "most wonderful astrologist in the world."  Wow.  That is quite a claim!  I think it's funny and kind of awesome that she won't have male clients.  I hate to say it, but I think women were probably a lot more gullible about astrology than men, and I bet she knew if men came they wouldn't believe her and might even reveal the tricks of her trade.

In any event, ads like this were actually fairly common in matrimonial columns.  And I think some of these people must have been fairly successful.  Madam Morrow printed this ad for months that I know of, and it can't have been cheap.  It's a good way to drum up business, of course, but she still had to have the money to afford it.  I also wonder who her clientele was.  The location was right in the midst of a growing German and Irish immigrant neighborhood that was not particularly wealthy, so she was practicing out of a tenement.  Were middle-class women making their way to the Lower East Side to meet Madam Morrow?  Somehow I doubt it, but I guess...maybe it would be an adventure, right?  If anything I would expect that she'd be getting the daughters of immigrants coming to her for advice, but to be perfectly honest with you, I don't know how literate they would have been when this was published (early 1850s.  I should totally know this but I don't).  Or how much money they would have had to spend on astrologers. 

Whoever they were, astrologers back then were clearly thriving.  But that's not surprising, given the number of astrologers you still see today.  Even on my own street I see signs for psychic readers.  Hmm.  Maybe I should visit one and see if she can find me a husband.

(I'm kidding y'all.)

©2011 Pam Epstein


For pity's sake

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

These make me sad.  But the second one, at least, makes me fascinated.

D - Any night but Wednesday; write at once; come this week; for God's sake, pity.

D.M. - Last delivery made, but no mail for Pennsylvania.  Have you no mercy?  A dreadful calamity is awaiting him.  He wanders like a shipwreck, with no soul to stand by him.  Write immediately that you will W. be early.

Juan - Utterly wretched; cannot rest; wait anxiously; send letter care Swed. Log., London; going there; give safe address to reply.

Jimme A.F. - I am broken hearted; write and let me know where you are.  Katie F.
Wow.  These are mostly pretty typical heartbroken ads, but that second one is awesome.  I'll get back to that in a minute though.  The other three, all from the same day, could practically have been written all by the same hand.  There were a few, rare people who believed that these ads were all inventions of the newspaper editors as a way to ensnare a romance-loving audience.  I don't think that's true, for a lot of reasons, one of which is that it would have been a full-time job coming up with clever new ideas every day, seven days a week, with as many as 10 or 15 ads each day.  That's my own personal opinion; I also have some compelling evidence that backs me up.  That being said, why are these so similar?  This is one of the things that I found really intriguing as I worked on my dissertation (and funnily enough, by sheer coincidence, I was sort of talking about in my last entry).  Were people modeling their ads on the ads of others that they saw? Or on romance novels?  Was it a self-conscious decision to make themselves sound so tragic?  Did people actually talk this way?  I don't think they did.  I think people 150 years ago talked pretty much like they do today, except maybe more politely.

Anyway.  It's interesting to think about the possibility that despite the fact these people were miserable, they still wrote in a style that indicated an awareness of the romance of their affairs.  And the knowledge that they were appearing in public must have made that even more clear.

And the second ad is a perfect example.  "He wanders like a shipwreck, with no soul to stand by him."  Oh, that is wonderful.  Who are these people?  Who is "he"?  What dreadful calamity awaits him?  What can D.M. do to save him?  It sort of sounds like "he" and D.M. were together, but D.M. broke up with him, and now he's totally miserable.  He can't live without her, he's directionless and alone, etc etc.  But while that would make a lot of sense if "he" was writing the ad himself (because he'd be all overwrought and whatnot), it's bizarre coming from a third party.  What does the writer have at stake here?  Why is s/he so wrapped up in this affair that s/he draws on this shipwreck analogy?  Parent?  Sibling?  Best friend?  And the "dreadful calamity"; is that just, he's going to be even more depressed, or is something bad actually going to happen?  Oooohh, the romance-thriller is shaping up in my head as I write...

©2011 Pam Epstein


A Matrimonial in Maryland

Monday, April 4, 2011

My dissertation begins with the 1860s (actually 1850s a little) so I didn't spend much time doing research in the preceding decades.  A girl has to start somewhere, and for a variety of reasons that aren't very interesting, this is where I chose to begin.  So, every now and then, I like to look back at older ads to see if they were much different than ones from later decades and the answer, interestingly enough, is: not really.

Take this little gem from 1840:

Matrimony. -- The advertiser (lately arrived from the South,) being unconnected with society here, is induced to seek a matrimonial engagement through the medium of a public journal.  As the advertiser is in earnest, so will he be brief in explaining his wishes - his age is 27, of good family, moderae income, musical, fond of literature, and considered by his acquaintance of engaging manners and appearance, early habits have induced moral rectitude and religious observance.  Any lady possessing accomplishments calculated to render the advertiser happy by an union is sought for.  Money is no farther an object than as it conduces to domestic happiness.  All communications will be considered strictly confidential.  Address F.T.W. office of the Sun.  j18-2t*

It's not too surprising to me that this ad closely resembles ones from, say, 15 or even 20 years later.  But what about 30 or 40 years later?  For example, these two ads were printed in 1879 and 1880, and while the men themselves don't sound a whole lot alike, is there anything strikingly different in their use of language, style, etc, that reveals the 40 year gap?  How much in the world has changed in this time!  I just can't imagine that a personal from 1971 would really resemble a personal from today as much as these two ads resemble each other.

As for the ad itself, I really like F.T.W.  He sounds charming.  Everything about this ad just breathes sincerity.  He's honest about his circumstances (moderate income) but not looking for a rich wife (not that he'd turn down a little extra cash if she has some).  He's got an "engaging" personality and appearance, he's musical, he's literary, and he's moral.  Granted, he seems slightly more concerned about whether or not his wife can make him happy than the other way around, but I guess that he describes his qualities implies that he recognizes that he must be able to satisfy his wife's needs as well.  So I will give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.  Hope you found what you were looking for, F.T.W.!  I bet you made a really great husband.

©2011 Pam Epstein


Ha ha ha!

Monday, March 28, 2011

That was my first reaction when I saw these two ads sitting right next to each other. Ha ha ha haha hahahah!! What's so funny, perhaps you ask? See for yourself:

A cultivated gentleman of 40, said to be of agreeable address, desires the acquaintance of an amiable little lady with a view to matrimony if mutually inclined. He has an income large enough to provide for a cosey home and to indulge in some luxuries outside, such as all the new plays and operas, with a pint of champagne and delicate lunch after. All answers strictly confidential. Address Sincerity, box 142 Herald office.

Booth's - Last Wednesday's matinee, gave programme to lady with red silk handkerchief. Send address to Wicked, Herald Uptown Branch office.

Say what?

These are both totally awesome. The first starts out pretty normal: agreeable, cultivated man wants a nice amiable wife whom he can support in relative comfort. In fact, his income is large enough to, yes, take her to the theater and buy her a champagne lunch afterward! I am bewildered and befuddled! Not that every girl doesn't want to be treated to the opera and a "delicate" champagne lunch now and then (just sayin') but that's sort of an odd thing to put in a matrimonial ad, don't you think? Aren't there slightly more important things in life to consider when you're looking for a spouse? I can't help wondering if this is some kind of when you say you're going to take a girl out for a matinee and lunch what you really mean is: "I don't have any intention of getting married, I'm just looking for some girl for companionship and by 'plays and operas' I mean 'my bedroom.'" But even in the unlikely event that this is true, if it's a code, no one else is using it.

Maybe this is just his way of highlighting his own interests in life. He likes going to plays and operas, and he likes drinking some bubbly in the middle of the day. In other words, he's a fun-loving guy, and he wants a wife who also enjoys the good things in life. Fair 'nuff. I still think that's the sort of thing that should come up in a correspondence rather than a matrimonial, but whatever works for you, Sincerity. I'm sure it did prompt a lot of replies.

But really it's the second ad that rocks. Speaking of matinees! Ha! Wouldn't it be funny if this was the same guy. Seriously, though, yet again this starts out fairly typical. I've seen plenty of missed connections based in theaters and balls and so forth, which I'd link to if I felt motivated enough. However, the name he uses for his address. "Wicked"! Wicked!!! Is that fabulous or what?? I think his intentions are pretty clear. And I don't think he's looking for a wife. Oh man, this is great. I wonder if possibly the "Wicked" is a reference to something in the play? That would make some sense, as otherwise it seems almost too risqué. But even if so, it's still a pretty bold decision to make. After all, if there's a wicked, there's also got to be an angelic, and choosing to go with the former rather than the latter is a meaningful decision, right?

Wow. I wonder if she responded. And if so, what that led to...a champagne lunch, perhaps? "Plays and operas"? Heh.

©2011 Pam Epstein


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