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My youngest grandson gives me a letter that was a homework assignment. It is on orange, lined paper with a picture of a turkey at the top wearing Groucho Marx glasses with big nose, bushy eyebrows and mustache, holding a sign that reads "I'm not a turkey." It is addressed to me from 38 Cowtown, New Jersey, 000001. In 9-year old handwriting it says, Dear Mrs. (name spelled wrong), My name is Dr. Turkey. This is why you should not eat me. Im so short, skinny, not juise I have 157 bones and 3500 feathers and not good looking. If you try to eat me I will bite your finger off. I eat acorns and bugs I might have a disease and I also eat seeds and poisonous berries. Would you like to eat that for dinner? You should eat warm juise beef with hot tender gravy and a monntian of fluffy mashed potatoes with red cranberrie juicy. That's why you shouldn't eat me. From, Dr. Turkey

The middle grandson, who will be 12 next week, sports a mohawk and tells me how he went to the mall with his ex-girlfriend so his buddy could try to get her best friend to be his girlfriend. I said, so you're not only helping your guy friend with his love life, but trying to remain friends with your ex-girlfriend? He gives me a look, then says, "I don't really know what I'm doing." Then he wanders off to watch his mother set up a train underneath the Christmas tree.

The oldest, who just competed in a skateboarding competition with injured knees, and won, is 14 and turning teenager fast. I remember his birth as if it were yesterday, his father still in the Navy, who took over as labor coach when I couldn't bear to see my daughter toughing it out without pain medication, but then getting to hold him minutes after his birth, as if he were my own. Blue green eyes to blue green eyes, both of us born in New York. The year his Dad was in Iraq, we found out in March that his New Year's resolution was to be more encouraging to others. He was 10. And he was still encouraging in March.

For the next two weeks their father will be at Fort Dix for mandatory training. We are on call, whether it be shooting hoops, driving and picking up, just hanging out, listening, listening...because that's what family does, in the best of times and the worst of times, and in-between.

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