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Somebody Let the Cows Out

Somebody Let the Cows Out

My title for this post is a euphemism, as defined by Wikipedia: Euphemism is a substitution for an expression that may offend or suggest something unpleasant to the receiver, using instead an agreeable or less offensive expression to make it less troublesome for the speaker. To Wikipedia’s definition, I would add that it also makes it less troublesome for the one to whom the euphemism is directed—big time!

The word euphemism comes from the Greek word eupheme meaning words of good omen, and etymologically is the opposite of blaspheme, or evil speaking—the Greeks felt that one should speak well or not speak at all. An admonition oft delivered to me by my sainted mother was If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything. In my early years as a young boy, a small decorative plaque placed prominently on the wall of our combination living room/bedroom/game room/courting room bore a special poem—the poem and related information, all tremendously interesting and beautifully written, even if I do say so myself, can be found here and on my About Me page. The poem is as follows:

There is so much good in the worst of us
And so much bad in the best of us
That it hardly behooves any of us
To talk about the rest of us.

I have carried the image of that plaque and the words of that poem in my memories for almost eight decades. I sincerely wish that I could say that I’ve followed its recommendation over those decades but I cannot—so I will not. I will, however, share this claim with any viewer that happens to stray this way—at this time, admittedly a late date, I am striving mightily to follow the creed expressed on that small plaque in the hope that my failures will be overlooked and credit will be given, both in this realm and in the realm to come, for subsequent attention paid to that sage advice.

Our English language is rich in euphemisms, some created in English and many converted to English from other languages, resulting in a wealth of ways to express something that at first glance is unrelated to the subject, a pot of gold that is constantly spilling over as new euphemisms are created.

And now on to the crux of this posting:

The most recent example, at least the most recent euphemism that applied to me, was when I recently took a neighboring couple to the airport to catch a flight. After we retrieved their luggage from the car trunk the lady favored me with a goodbye hug. Her husband normally shakes hands, but this time he put his arm around my shoulders, pulled me close and whispered in my ear.

I was expecting him to say something similar to See you in a few days, or perhaps Don’t be late picking us up, but what he said was Somebody let the cows out. I was perplexed for at least two nano-seconds and then I realized that my jeans were not zipped, hence the reference to the cows being turned loose, implying that someone had left the barn door open. His courteous and euphemistic whisper in my ear was my neighbor’s way of telling me that my fly was open.

I was lucky—my neighbor could have asked me whether I was anticipating, advertising or absent minded, with the emphasis on absent minded. I suppose that such a question, whether voiced openly—so to speak—or communicated to me in a whisper, could in its self be considered a euphemism—I prefer the one dealing with the wayward cows.

I immediately made a 180-degree turn and tossed the rest of my words—over my shoulder. The ambient air temperature at the baggage drop-off point had risen so swiftly that my first thought was of Al Gore, that he was right about global warming and that it had finally arrived in central south Texas, but then I realized that the increase in temperature was caused by my blushing. Speaking quite frankly, had I been asked I would have said that I did not have a good blush left in me, but I was wrong—I did.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Mistaken identification—in the Twilight Zone . . .

In 1955 I was a staff sergeant in the United States Air Force, stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. I was an aircraft electrician and a jet aircraft and engine mechanic. That was my third year at Maxwell, having reenlisted there after my discharge from service in December 1952. It took me just thirty days to realize that I had made a mistake in not reenlisting—you see, I had met this girl in Georgia and—well, click here to see her picture. and then you’ll know the rest of that story. The photo was taken some thirty years after our marriage in 1952. I reenlisted in order to get married, and I kept reenlisting in order to stay married and retired for length of service after 22 years of military life. Oh, and the title of the posting with the picture is Peaches, Cadillacs, Convertibles, Cows and Combat. That should pique your interest a bit!

My reenlistment and the physical I tolerated in Atlanta, Georgia on a very cold winter day in 1952 are featured in one of my early bloggings. Click here to read Turn around and bend over . . . I promise you that it’s well worth the visit!

During my three years at Maxwell Air Force Base I was assigned to the Transient Alert Section, a maintenance unit charged with meeting aircraft not based at Maxwell but transiting the base, including Marine and Navy aircraft as well as US Air Force planes. Our duties were to meet aircraft on landing, escort them to the proper parking place, secure the aircraft and then escort the crew and passengers to various places. We drove the yellow pickup trucks with the huge FOLLOW ME signs on the back end. While their flight plans were being filed for the next leg of their flight we serviced the plane with oil and fuel and performed any required inspections and maintenance as necessary.

We had a special parking place for VIPs—Very Important Persons—any member of Congress, any high-level member of the current administration, and any aircraft carrying a Code Five person or a general officer. We parked them immediately adjacent to Base Operations, and at the entrance to Base Ops, there was a small office that we shared with the AOD, the Airdrome Officer of the Day. The mistaken identification, the one interesting enough and strange enough to be featured in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, a popular television show that ran for five years and 156 episodes—it began in 1959 and continued until 1964.

On a special day in 1955, the FOLLOW ME driver led a B-25, a World War II bomber configured for passengers. The B-25 was a favorite for senior military officers to flit around the country in, supposedly on official business. I suspect that some of its use was comparable to that of certain members of Congress, Nancy Pelosi, for example. I can remember a five-star general that came to Montgomery frequently to visit old friends. Oh, I’m sure he delved into something official while there, but I doubt that the results justified the cost of the trip—but, of course, I could be wrong.

On that day the B-25 carried a Code Five, a number corresponding to a full colonel, the one that wears silver eagles on collars and shoulders. After the aircraft was parked and chocked and the passenger off-loaded, the flight crew chief stepped into my office to discuss fuel and maintenance needs and departure schedules. When he entered he smiled broadly, shook hands with me, said “Hi, Dyer. I have to go into Base Ops but I’ll see you before we leave.” I didn’t know him, but I said something to the effect that, okay, I’ll be here.

The crew chief returned an hour or so later, he entered smiling and asked, “How long have you been here?” I told him I had been there almost three years.

He was still smiling when he said,”No, really, when did you get here?” I told him I got there Maxwell three years before, in 1952. The smile vanished and he became visibly angry. He said that he didn’t know what kind of game I was playing, but he knew that I had not been at Maxwell three years. He said that he had seen me just before he left his assigned station at Randolph Air Force Base at San Antonio, Texas, that my name was Dyer and that I was a crew chief on a B-25 in his squadron.

I was dressed in white one-piece coveralls. My name was stamped in blue above a pocket on my the left side of my chest, and I pointed to that and asked him if his Dyer wore white coveralls. Then I turned around and showed him the back of my coveralls, with the large blue letters proclaiming Maxwell AFB.

None of this impressed the B-25 crew chief. He cursed and stomped out of the office, escorted the pilots and the passengers to the aircraft and in a very few minutes the aircraft was just a faint dot gaining altitude for the next leg of its planned flight. I never saw the crew chief again, and I never made my way to Randolph to meet my twin, the other Dyer in this version of the twilight zone.

The Airdrome Officer of the Day, a young first lieutenant, was a witness to our conversation, and after the plane left he asked some pointed questions. I could only tell him what I had told the crew chief, that I had never been to Randolph and that I had been stationed at Maxwell for almost three years.

Hey, Dyer, if you’re out there somewhere and you read this, please get in touch. You can contact me through this blog, or you can contact me on Facebook.com. There are thousands of Dyers on facebook, but only one named Hershel. I assure you that I will respond. And if anyone out there has ever known a crew chief named Dyer that was stationed in the 1950s at Randolph Air Force Base and would want to help me solve this puzzle, you can contact me through the same venues and I will definitely respond. Oh, and I’ll accept and acknowledge any e-mail sent to bdcooper@aol.com.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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11th Street South and a gravel pit . . .

Eleventh Street South is where I lived for a couple of years that included my first year in elementary school. It was the second house we lived in following our migration from Vernon, Alabama to Columbus, Mississippi. That first house, located on Fifth Street South, has some vivid memories I intend to share with my visitors, memories that are just as fresh as when they were acquired. The house was where I and my youngest sister were administered to by our mother—medicated—when she became convinced that we both had or soon would have scabies—the itch. Click here for that story—it’s worth the visit!

I lived on Eleventh Street with my mother and three older sisters in a small frame house, a three-room shot-gun house, so called because it was said that one could fire a shotgun through the front door and the shot would go straight through the house and out the back door. The house boasted electricity and running water but had no bathroom. The necessary, a one-hole privy or outhouse, was located a few yards from the back door. Ours was the next-to-last on the block, and Fuqua’s Grocery was located at the other end of the block, a mercantile that figured prominently in our lives, especially mine—it’s a fit subject for a posting, and deserves individual attention. It’s mentioned in a previous posting, and among other things includes a discussion of my first job and my first firing—click here for that posting.

The last house was the residence wherein resided my best friend Tootie—his name was Edward Earl but he was nicknamed Tootie and for good reason—he had a predeliction for producing gas—flatulence—he would have been more aptly named Flatus—that has a nice Roman ring to it—a Latin lilt, so to speak. Tootie figures prominently in this posting and will be featured in a future story concerning a significant Saturday, a day when Tootie and I were privileged to ride in a city police car for a short distance and a day on which in current times would have warranted an Amber Alert.

Just as a harbinger of tales to come, Tootie once nailed the door to our privy shut—I’m unsure why, but the act was probably his revenge for something I had said or done. My mother had to borrow a hammer from a neighbor in order to pull the nails and put the family back in business.

Just as an aside, back in the 1980s while living in the Washington, D.C. area, I spotted an auto license plate that read FLATUS. I was traveling to my job in downtown D.C. with a friend and his wife. I laughed when I saw the plate and they asked me what was so funny. I told them and they both laughed, but after a short pause the wife said, “What does that mean?” Her husband unashamedly admitted that he didn’t know, so I had to explain. In their defense, I must tell you that they were from Minnesota, born and bred there—that should be adequate explanation for anyone that remembers Rose Nylund on  TV’s Golden Girls, portrayed by Betty White as a typical native of Minnesota.

The asphalt pavement ended at our house, and the two-lane gravel road continued straight for a short distance and then made a sharp left turn, almost ninety degrees, before continuing on into rural areas, outside city limits. If, instead of turning left, a driver or pedestrian continued straight on a two-rut road for a mile or so, they would come to a large gravel pit filled with water—cool, clear, blue and deep water, a magnet for the boys from a nearby orphanage, the Palmer Home—and for me. Click here for a brief history of the home. Over the years the orphanage has grown and is now known as the Palmer Home for Children. Click here for an update.

My mother often threatened to send me to the Palmer Home unless I changed my ways, specifically concerning my frequent trips to the gravel pit. I never told her that I would welcome the transfer because I envied the kids there. They had all sorts of animals—cows and horses and dogs and goats and a farm where they grew vegetables—they were allowed to feed the animals and milk the cows and work in the garden and had what appeared to be unrestricted access to the gravel pit—in fact, the gravel pit was on property owned by the Home.

For those unfamiliar with the term, gravel pits are created when material—gravel—for use in road building and construction, is mined in an open pit. Because the water table was high in my area, a grand swimming pool was formed—a pool of cool, clear, blue and deep water, a magnet for the boys that lived at Palmer Orphanage, and of course for me.

On a memorable day in a hot summer, memorable for the heat and the cooling effect of gravel pit water, but most memorable for me a day in which my mother came to the gravel pit looking for me and found me. I was blissfully floating around on my back in the middle of the pit, face upturned to the sun and eyes closed, and a clamor arose.  I looked around and watched my friends from the orphanage scramble for their clothes and head away from the pit towards the orphanage in considerable haste. And I saw my mother standing on the bank, my short pants in one hand and my leather belt in the other.

With the departure of the other boys the area grew silent, a silence broken only by my efforts to stay afloat and offshore as long as I could. After awhile my mother told me I might as well come on in because she wasn’t leaving without me. I stayed out in that cold clear deep water until my lips turned blue and everything I had shriveled up—you know, like fingertips, toes, etc. When I finally came out my mother refused to let me have my shorts, but instead pointed me in the direction of home and ordered me to march.

And march I did, driven on by frequent pops on my bare derierre. With each pop I accelerated my pace a bit, but each time my mother told me not to run, that it would be even worse when she caught me. The blows from the narrow belt were not delivered in anger—I would like to believe they were delivered with love, but with repetition they began to take a toll, much as does the fabled Chinese water torture process. She whipped me for the full mile, all the way to our house, along the two-rut road and into the middle of the street, past Tootie’s house where that worthy was standing on the front porch, laughing and pointing at me as I hopped, skipped and jumped along, and finally after an eternity, through the front door of our house.

No, that derierre above is not mine—that’s a plastic replica of Donatello’s sculpture of David. The colorful ones on the right are those of naked cyclists, presented here only because the colors are as fascinating as they are functional.

I learned a lesson that day, not to stay away from the gravel pit, but to be far more furtive—sneaky, so to speak—in planning my trips to the gravel pit. I couldn’t help it—it was in my nature—as a child I was a vagabond and probably would have been well served with around-the-clock supervision. Had I been a a few years older I would have been riding the rails with the multitude of others during the Great Depression.

As a child I was inexorably drawn to water in all its locations, whether pond, lake, creek, river, swimming pool, mud puddle or sewage ditch—yes, sewage ditch—our next home, also located on the south side of town, was adjacent to an open sewage ditch where I spent many blissful hours. Because of water’s attraction I had great difficulty staying at home, a trait—call it a fault if you will, but I consider it a trait—less admirable than others but nevertheless a trait rather than a fault. There will be additional postings in reference to my fascination with water in all its aspects. That’s a threat as well as a promise, so be forewarned and govern yourselves accordingly.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game

Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game:

FROM WIKIPEDIA: The fruit of a Chinaberry tree is a berrylike, round fleshy fruit. It continues through winter and contains a stone with one to six seeds inside. The berries are yellowish green turning to yellowish tan.

On color I am somewhat in disagreement with Wikipedia—a full grown Chinaberry is very hard and green—not yellowish green, but green green—I should know, because I have a close association with Chinaberries—a history, so to speak. I agree that the berry turns yellowish while still on the tree and softens with age, and predictably, with that softening it becomes ineligible for Chinaberry pitching. On further thought, it’s been years since I’ve seen a Chinaberry, so it may be that today’s berries are in fact yellowish green, perhaps due to global warming caused by Al Gore.

As a young boy I lived with my family—mother, sister and stepfather—for several months near a railroad stockyard for animals. I lived near the stockyard at two widely separated times in different rental houses for several months each time. Shipments of cows and horses were held in the stockyards for a brief time waiting for transportation by rail to some destination, whether to auction, to pasture or to slaughterhouses. The holding pens were fenced with steel posts and pipes rather than wooden posts and railings, and the top pipe, or rail, of the enclosure was the perch on which Chinaberry-pitching contestants sat for the competitions.

A special note: When I googled the word stockyard, I was rewarded by the image on the right. It does not seem to be related to stockyards in any way, but I decided to share it—go figure!

Having arrived at the pen with pockets filled with Chinaberries, a contestant could choose to stand on a lower rail and pitch, but was then constrained to lean forward over the rail for balance, or hold on with one hand while pitching with the other. For most contestants, that stance proved to be a distraction. The more effective pitches were launched while straddling the top rail at a right angle to the target, or while seated facing the target. The latter position was, for obvious reasons, far more comfortable than the straddle.

Multiple contestants were not necessary. I can remember many hours of competing against myself—yep, I was always the winner, never a loser, in such contests—that’s just the way the game worked. That’s the way I believe life should work but, as opposed to Chinaberry pitching, I don’t always get my way.

Our targets were cowpies. A definition of the term is probably unnecessary, but I’ll define it anyway. Cowpie is a euphemism for the fecal matter excreted by a bovine animal, whether male or female, and on that note one must needs witness the excretion to determine the animal’s gender—the sex of the bovine cannot be determined by the nature of the cowpie—diet and approximate age and size, perhaps, but not gender—not even by the most knowledgeable rancher, veterinarian or Chinaberry pitcher.

There are various other euphemisms  for bovine excrement. They include terns such as cow flop, cow plop (from the sound of hitting the ground), cow hockey, cow dung, cow stuff and some terms that are not readily accepted in mixed company or in the presence of one’s parents. As an aside, a bovine sometimes continues its forward motion while “going to the bathroom.” This produces a trail of cow flops, or plops, that decrease in size as the motion progresses. Counting the separate flops was routine by country boys—the trail with the greatest number of flops won any bet that was waged. In any game of Chinaberry pitching, accurate hits that stuck to the small ones counted more than hits on the larger ones.

Overhand pitches thrown on a level trajectory may have been accurate, but the ability of the berry to stick to the target was minimal, and did not get the job done. The missile had to come down on the target as close to a ninety degree angle as possible. The berry was held delicately between thumb and forefinger and the hand drawn back toward the shoulder, lining up the berry with the target, squinting with one eye and sighting with the other, just as a firearm is aimed by a marksman, then propelled upward and outward to produce an arc that would enable the missile to drop downward onto the target. The farther away the target, the farther back the hand was drawn in order to provide the necessary momentum. This procedure was variously called a pitch, toss or throw.

Part of the scoring included the distance from the point of release to the target—distance was necessarily an estimated figure—as one might imagine, walking to measure the distance was somewhat perilous, especially if one had just come from church and was wearing one’s Sunday shoes—you know, the ones in brown and white with long laces that, unless carefully tied, sometimes dragged along the ground when one walked. And in the rush to claim the greater distance, a misstep was not only possible—it was highly probable—bummer!

The sport of Chinaberry pitching required considerable finesse, comparable to the sport of darts but far more challenging. The ultimate skill one could demonstrate was to nestle the berry on a thumbnail with the tip of the nail placed at the junction of the first joint of the forefinger at the halfway point, then snapping the thumb up to propel the missile towards its target—this was called a “flip.” Since the berry was traveling at a greater speed than the overhand throw, more altitude had to be factored into its trajectory to provide the proper angle to allow the berry to drop nearer to the perfect ninety degree angle. Following release of the Chinaberry, the thumb would be straight up and the forefinger would be pointed straight at the target—at this juncture most contestants vocally reproduced the sound of a firearm, something such as pow or bam. Well, not always vocally—these were boys, and as they say, boys will be boys! In either case the intent was to irritate and distract one’s competitors—the louder the better, particularly in instances of non-vocal sound reproduction.

One’s position on the top rail was important, whether in a straddle or seated facing the targets. the right angle was the safest position, but the face-forward with both feet on the same side had much to recommend it, although in the heat of competition the possibility of falling backward was more pronounced.

And here I hasten to add that horses have nothing to contribute to the game of Chinaberry pitching—without going too far into detail, I’ll just say that it doesn’t work, and anyone familiar with the difference in cow dung and horse dung  will understand (we referred to the horse dung as road apples). The horse provides a target for Chinaberries, of course, but a hit, however expertly aimed and accurate, bounces off and leaves nothing to prove the accuracy of the hit—unless ones opponent happens to see the hit when it occurs. Conversely, the cow plop clings to the evidence—or vice versa—and the accuracy of the toss, or flip, can neither be denied nor overlooked.

In 1942, Chinaberry pitching was the closest thing we boys had to today’s video games. I specify boys, because I have no recollection of any girls having shown even the slightest interest in the game, neither in Chinaberries, stockyards or cowpies. Bummer!

And in order to close this posting, I’ll quote that immortal couple Archie and Edith Bunker of television situation comedy fame with the title of their signature song, “Those were the days!”

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Why they call it Garcia’s Cave . . .

In the spring of 1979, a father-and-daughter team (a college student of 18 tender years and a military-retiree father of 47 not-so-tender years) embarked on a memorable sojourn, an excursion into the wilds of Mexico. The start of our trip was discussed in detail in this posting here.

At the conclusion of that posting I promised to return and give more details of the excursion, and here I am, making good on my promise. Check out the other posting—in my completely unbiased opinion, it’s well worth the read.

And here I must digress in order to discuss the word excursion:

The ex in that word comes from the Latin and means out of. I therefore rationalized that since our trip was in to Mexico rather than out of Mexico, it was an incursion rather that an outcursion, but alas—although that seems rational, we are stuck with excursion simply because the words cursion and incursion do not exist in our English lexicon.

Bummer!

My daughter recently sent this message suggesting some details to include in the promised posting:

Hey, don’t forget to talk about the actual ride up, going into the cave, lights being turned off while we were climbing treacherous ladders, you talking in Spanish to the “tour guide” (VERY loosely defined; he was probably the short order cook in the cafe, too) and asking him why they named it Garcia’s Cave, then you trying to cajole me into walking back down to our teeny tiny Volkswagen Rabbit in the desert—seemingly miles away—a bright orange (um, sorry, Panama Brown) speck in the dirt below—then your silence on the tram ride back down—then you finally telling me how the cave got its name.

Following our guided tour of Garcia’s Cave, my daughter took an interminable length of time to photograph the world that was visible from our location near the mountain peak. While I waited (impatiently) I struck up a conversation with the mule operator, a likable fellow that spoke excellent Spanish.

Although my ability and agility with Spanish was, and still is, far south of excellent, we managed to have a useful discourse by using combinations of our two languages. Mule was the term used in reference to the engine (not the operator) that huffed and puffed and wheezed and snorted and brayed while moving the tram cars up and down the mountain.

Our English term mule is translated as mula in Spanish, pronounced moola with the accent on moo. I once spent an eternity in a small theater in Reynosa, Mexico watching the movie Dos mulas para la hermana Sara, starring Shirley MacLaine and Clint Eastwood—the English title of the movie was Two Mules for Sister Sara.

Yes, I had a lot of time on my hands!

In response to my question concerning the origin of the cave’s name, the mule operator told me that it derived from the death of the cave’s discoverer, a death that occurred when a tram cable broke and Senor Garcia was killed at the conclusion of the car’s accelerated trip to the bottom.

Bummer!

I found a site online that tells us that the appellation Garcia’s Cave is derived from the name of a nearby town called Villa de Garcia—Garcia’s town. I suppose the name is similar to the argument of whether the chicken or the egg came first—in this case, Garcia’s death or the town of Garcia. I submit that the point is moot, especially in view of the fact that our solar system, the one that includes our planet, is hurtling through space at warp speed toward some unknown and unknowable finish—so who cares which came first?

I rest my case.

Okay, where was I? Oh, now I remember—I was visiting with the mule operator while my daughter was taking some outstanding photos of our surroundings. When she had finished, I suggested that it would be ever so exciting to walk down the mountainside, along with the cows and goats that roamed the mountain at our altitude—I reasoned that if they could do it, we could do it.

My daughter was adamant—she refused to take the walk, and I eventually was reduced to begging rather than suggesting (I knew better than to attempt ordering!). We both rode down—I simply held my breath and kept my eyes squinched shut, silently repeating to myself (an always avid listener), Never again, never again—never, never, never!, until the car came to a bumpy stop at the bottom.

There are several web sites that go onto considerable detail concerning Garcia’s Cave, and I suggest that everyone visit the cave through that venue—you’ll find the excursion interesting and educational. Should you choose to make the incursion to the mountain, you’ll find that the railway has been replaced by a modern system of airborne cable cars, a system undoubtedly safer, but not nearly as exciting (and scary) as the old system.

I will therefore conclude this rambling recitation by telling the viewer that, at one point in our guided tour, while deep in the bowels of the cave our guide, without warning, shut off all the lighting, leaving us stranded in an infernal, hellish state of stygian darkness—frozen, afraid to move in fear of sinking farther into said bowels. I wanted to express my feelings in Spanish, but I knew very few Spanish cuss words. I did, however, mutter a few English cuss words, heard only by my daughter—I hope.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

To learn more about Grutas de Garcia, click here.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2010 in Family, foreign travel, Humor, Writing

 

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