A Saturday With Wet Feet

The YMCA Frostbite Swim Meet

Drawing of ed on the edge of the pool with a stopwatch

Drawing of a nervous man. Is he holding a bucket and a piece of cake? Or a stopwatch and a clipboard? It depends on which of my kids you ask.

I volunteered to do timing at my kids’ swim meet this weekend. It was -2° outside. But after entering the Y in my Inuit costume, I changed into shorts and a t-shirt to brave the tropical pool room. I wish the kids could learn to swim without splashing. I’m like, “Hey kid. I’m giving up my Saturday to help out at your race and you thank me by launching eight ounces of pool water onto my foot? You’re lucky I brought a change of socks.”

Timing for the prestigious Frostbite Swim Meet is tense. I kept saying in my head things like, “Okay, this is a 200 meter race. That’s eight lengths. Okay, he’s on his sixth length, I think. Oh crud, my lane is in the lead! I can’t look at the other timers to see if they are getting ready to hit the stop button. Okay, okay, I will try to discern if he is setting up for a flip turn or a reach for the wall. I HOPE THIS TWERP DOES FLIP TURNS!” I needed muscle relaxants by the time my morning shift was over.

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The Hale Family Christmas Letter 2015

Six Annoying Children, A Good Looking Man, and A Woman on the Edge

This summer, we drove to Colorado for a Hale family reunion. We picked up some old guy hitch-hiking just outside La Crosse, and he turned out to be my dad. He enjoyed a long, loud ride out west with his grandkids. After we got back home, we didn’t see him for a month.

The Hale family in front of the Rocky Mountain National Park sign

The Hales in Colorado, in front of the Rocky Mountain National Park sign.

Hale Family in front of Rocky Mountain National Park sign

There were a lot of Hales in Colorado this summer. And some Maedkes, Haases, Henrys and Wardens

Chicken Man

I realized a lifelong goal this summer, when I raised chickens from eggs. I told the kids the chickens would like us, if we were the first thing they saw after they hatched. They are grown now. They hate us…  and run when we approach.

Nikole holding a yellow chick

Nikole with one of my homegrown baby chicks before said chick understood he should hate humans.

Helen with several teen-aged chicks in her hands

Teen-aged chicks are not pretty. This was about the last time they thought we were okay.

The end of home school (for the big ones)

Home school was so lame, we decided to send our kids to a brick and mortar school. The kids were so distressed to leave home (except for sane Helen) that we feared they might have a cumulative nervous breakdown. But after three months at Aquinas Catholic Schools, they find they enjoy being socialized.

Four kids on the first day of school. Claire looks grumpy

Some members of the family were less than enthusiastic about going to school this year.


Lydia (5) is cute. She mostly lays on the dog and sucks her thumb. She will play the piano, when forced. She is home schooled. This year, Lydia learned to swim – like really swim with her face in the water and turning her head to the side to breathe. She also learned to ride a bike, which you can do anywhere, unlike swimming which requires a pool.

Lydia laying on Jack the dog

This is the scene every day, at least once a day.


Bethany dressed as a witch

My photo curator, Claire, promises this is the best photo of Bethany from 2015

Bethany (7) is cute. She mostly does crafts and lays on the dog. She likes Barbies. She is home schooled. Bethany enjoys crying on the piano bench, just like her older siblings did. Bethany likes swimming on the swim team, and looks forward to the competitive meets.


Ruthie holding pumpkins

Ruthie purchasing two Halloween pumpkins when most kids are satisfied with one.

Ruthie (9) is cute. She mostly likes to read books. It is all she does. She mostly reads when she should be doing something else like clearing the table. She is in 4th grade at Blessed Sacrament School where she has fooled the teachers into thinking she is a good kid. We regularly get reports of her angelic behavior, hard work and attention to detail. At home, the mask comes off. Her countenance glazes over when we give her a directive. I am convinced that when she is told to do anything, her soul leaves her body and reads on the couch. If I say, “Ruthie, clear the table.” She looks off into the distance, moves toward the table as if to obey, then turns and joins her soul on the couch.


Edward in a cowboy hat looking serious

I told Edward, “Look serious off into the distance.” Nailed it.

Edward (12) is not cute. He mostly dribbles basketballs — in the house — when we have decent folks over. He also does tricks on his scooter (outside) and rides his bike. He can only do homework between the hours of 10pm and midnight. Edward is in the 7th grade at Aquinas Middle School. He also has fooled his teachers into thinking he is a good kid, to the point that he was named student of the month in November. Edward was recruited onto the middle school basketball team by a coach with very poor judgment. He dominates the floor the way Michael Phelps might dominate Kobe Bryant. Yeah, he plays like his dad. Marble runs and Legos are still big with Edward. In nice weather, he rides with the middle school all-city mountain bike team. I would say he rides for the mountain bike team, but that would require his father to fill out forms, make deadlines and leave the house and drive places.


Claire at Riverside Park

One of the many trials Claire was forced to endure at her “real” school was the Homecoming dance.

Claire is 14 years old. She mostly swims. I mean she is really into it. She would miss parties, meals and family fun time, to go swim back and forth in a cold pool. She is sort of fast. She was the big holdout on going to an out-of-home school. Now she is the one rushing the others out the door to get to school on time. (For Claire, “on time” means 30 minutes early.) She enjoys gym class games that involve throwing balls at other kids’ heads. She nails the other kids in the head and looks innocent to avoid doing punitive push-ups. She shows no signs of success in high school. Claire gets good grades, but is only on the lame honor roll. She is not on the high honor roll, which vexes her greatly. She is on the all-academic team. Claire was also named Rookie of the Year on the high school swim team, and, she lettered in swimming. (We’re praying she adjusts to school.)

The Eldest Child

Helen at La Crosse Community Theater

The famous actress, Helen Hale, back when she was a nobody in the Missoula Children’s Theater.

Helen is 16 years old. She mostly does social. She acted in the Missoula Children’s Theater play this fall. She attended Christian camps this summer. She joined the Art Club and the Journalism Club at school. When she is not social, she is doing homework. She loves to read and draw. Helen is also a swimmer who won all her events at the prestigious Winona Invitational International Swimming Championships Preseason Opener. This summer, Helen water skied to please her mother. To the astonishment of everyone, she dropped a ski and slalom skied, just like her mom at 16.

The Matriarch

Nikole is beautiful. She mostly does family maintenance. She teaches elementary home school. She is constantly (no exaggeration) driving one of the kids somewhere. She somehow finds time to cook gourmet meals, because no one else in the family can cook, as they are too busy swimming and reading books. This summer, the formerly broken Nikole chose to tempt fate by water skiing again. Fate lost and Nikole won, returning to shore every time with nothing broken and all her joints in-place. Nikole just keeps getting fitter and fitter. She gets up early and goes to the Y to exercise with the other Catholic school parents. We all laugh at Nikole, because if any of us say, “I met a kid named such-n-such today.” She will say brightly, “Oh, I workout with his/her mom!” She works out with everyone’s mom. Nikole continues to be the glue that holds us all together.

Zellmanns, Rouxs and Hales by the Zellmann cabin

Some of the Zellmann clan at West MacDonald Lake. The lake that tried to break Nikole, but failed.


I am a pile of worthless. I mostly avoid work. Not when I go to work… then I work fairly steadily. But at all other times I try to stay far away from anything that might make me think, struggle or sweat. If not for dog walks and an occasional kid-taxi mission, I might never get out of bed. I help kids with homework. I would enjoy doing other things, like working-out with Catholic cyclists, but I am up too late doing my children’s homework. While my wife gets more chiseled, I get softer. My artist muscles are weakening too. I can barely draw a stick figure anymore.

The Dog

Jack running and looking crazy

I searched to find the most flattering photo of Jack.

Jack the dog is dopey. If Nikole is the glue that holds the family together, Jack is the Valium that holds my sanity together. Every morning when I want to roll over and cry, “What’s the point?” Jack is there to tell me how much he loves me and that I am the best thing that ever happened to him. He insists I take him on a long, morning walk. As we walk he goes on and on about how beautiful are the leaves, the trees and the sky. His favorite verse is “The heavens declare the glory of God.” He repeats it over and over again as we walk. Outside, I am forced to say positive things like “Good morning” to neighbors, and soon I may begin to think it is good. When I leave for work, my dog pretends to be sad. When I come home from work and am about to curl up on the floor and cry, “What’s the point?” Jack is there, telling me that his day was a black pit of despair without me there. He reminds me again, that I am the light that makes life worth living. He insists I take him on another long walk, during which he barks at children, little old ladies and anyone else who appears to be completely innocent. And when I go to bed, he tells me, “Dad, I love you, and I promise I will not go upstairs and sleep on one of the human kid’s beds.” He is a liar.

Jack the dog in the yard

Jack the dog looking fairly normal for a change.

As I proofread this, I thought, “All my friends are going to wonder why he hates everything and gets joy only from his dog.” Rest easy, my friends. My kids also do a fairly good “Welcome to the Morning” and “Welcome home from Work” greeting. And a kid who wants me to read a book can get me out of the fetal position. The Hope of Heaven also gives me great peace, as do Christmas movies, bicycles and my supermodel wife.

We hope you have a good year with kids less weird than ours, a house cleaner than ours, and a dog who sleeps in the dog-bed you bought him. Merry Christmas.

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Villain Illustration

A drawing of 5-year-old Lydia looking cute and happy, but with tiny fangs

My rendition of “Villain” for IllustrationFriday.com

I swore I would never interact with illustrationFriday.com again. Last week I made an illustration for the theme “Work.” It was late Thursday evening, and just as I was uploading the drawing to my blog, some jerk at IF changed the word to “Villain!” It was way before midnight!

Tonight I was working on my drawing when my 16-year-old, Helen, said, “It’s 10:15, Dad. You have to upload that thing in the next few minutes.” She was cheering me on as I rushed to scan it, upload it to my blog, and submit it to IF.

I made it! We cheered. Now I am so worked up, I cannot sleep.

You were good to me this week, IF. I might hang out with you again sometime.

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People Illustration

Many kids hugging a dog and each other with a bike in the background

My rushed, unaltered sketch of “people”

It was Thursday night at 11:58pm and I was about to scan and upload my “People” themed illustration to the illustrationfriday.com web site, when my daughter came to me and said, “I have to do these math problems before tomorrow.” I turned away from my goals and my dreams and helped my daughter with her geometry. Someone was asleep at illustrationfriday.com, because the word of the week was still “people” after mid-night, and I was able to rush my drawing into the ether.

Today, I did some of the shading I didn’t have time to do before uploading yesterday. Which do you think is better, the one above, or the one below?

Little kids with a dog. The figures are shaded with cross hatching

My people illustration with a little shading.

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My Exciting Birthday 2015

Ed with his cake and very many kids

By late evening, the guest list had swelled to include neighbor kids and kids I don’t even recognize. Look closely. My kids are in there somewhere.

My birthday started like any birthday. I was ignored and forgotten. When, later in the day, my family could avoid me no longer, they condescended to a family bicycle ride. We rode through town being sure to find the busiest streets with uncontrolled crossings. Then we had a pleasant time riding through the traffic-free bicycle trails. My tough little kids and my lazy older kids rode seven long miles.

I spent the evening grumbling in front to iMovie, trying to splice a little video together. I spoke threats as I tried, unsuccessfully, to legally add copyrighted music to my movie. I had to settle for the least lame, free music I could find. At about midnight, following the direction of my teen-aged daughters, I made final revisions, and I published the video.

Thank you, Nikole and kids for going on a ride with me while I careened dangerously all over the trails looking into the LCD of my point-and-shoot camera. Thank you, Dad for hanging out with me and drinking coffee while I made this silly video and gave you half of my attention.

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I Realized a Dream This Week

Me and Lydia and Jack paddling

I realized a tiny dream this past weekend…
I have a dog who will go paddling with me.

It all started many years ago when I saw this guy peacefully paddling his cedar strip canoe past my in-law’s cabin with his trusty golden retriever sitting calmly amidships. I thought, “I want that someday!”

I tried coaxing my father-in-law’s dog, Maddie, into a canoe, but she wasn’t into the whole paddling thing. She sort of blew it on the “sitting calmly” part of the dream.

I will never have the “cedar strip canoe” part of the dream, because I gave my stalled out wood strip canoe project away to my nephew, Josh. But I do own a pretty, baby blue, 17-foot Core Craft canoe. And I own a pretty, 75-pound, almost white, yellow lab. And on the first day of July, the two came together to fulfill my tiny dream on West MacDonald Lake.

How the Dream Took Shape

Lydia and I coaxed Jack into the canoe and cast off before he could change his mind. The ride was pretty exciting at first, as Jack walked from one side of the canoe to the other, threatening to tip us at any moment. Every half a minute paddling stopped and white knuckles grabbed the gunwales. (Be sure that even though I spell out “gunwales,” I pronounce it “gunnels” like any good sea captain would. This along with my use of, and correct spelling of, “amidships” must convince you that I am the real deal in the world of expert paddlers.) When we asked Jack to sit, he would flop all his weight against the side of the canoe as if it was a backrest, and we would travel along tipped at a scary angle.

After quite a while, he laid down right in the middle of the bottom of the canoe and we had smooth sailing. Toward the end he got a little whiny, I think because he missed his loving grandfather. Or he just longed to run and jump again with firm ground under his feet.

So, yippee for me! I have a dog who will go paddling with me when nobody else wants to. And who knows, maybe the sight of Jack and me exploring the lake together will inspire some other kid to buy a 50-year-old, used canoe and a two-year-old used dog and live out the dream.


At 9:30pm, Jack and I went for a moonlight paddle. We got to try out my new LED running lights and we marveled at how bright the world was under the almost full moon. And Jack laid still most of the time.

Very blurry photo of a man in a canoe with running lights and a full moon in the background

Photo by Marilyn Zellmann

jack watching from the dock as Nikole and me paddle away

“Hey, I thought I was your paddling buddy!”


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How I Narrowly Avoided Incarceration

Ed on the ground with boot on headThe Dilemma

As I rode my vintage Cannondale bicycle to a meeting with Gathering Waters Design this morning, I wondered, “Where will I lock this beautiful machine in the sketchy neighborhood around Gathering Waters?”

When I got there, I looked for a bike rack by Gathering Waters and found none. I was early so I rode around the nearby fire station to see if they had a bike rack. They didn’t. I decided to lock up to a tree in front of Gathering Waters.

After I looped the cable through the wheels, frame and around the tree, I closed the lock and yanked on it several times to make sure it was latched, I stepped back and surveyed the situation. It was right on busy 4th street. Surely no one would steal it in broad daylight.

My bike by the tree in front of Gathering Waters Design

There is my old, dirty, wonderful Cannondale by the organic bike rack in front of Gathering Waters Design.

I checked the time on my iPod and I was too early for my meeting. I decided to walk around a little. I sauntered down 4th Street looking at the houses and craning my neck to see gardens in back yards. I turned back toward Gathering Waters, but after checking the time, I turned around again to continue my walk around the block. I studied the garage on the corner thinking, “That looks like the place where we picked up our parakeet after her failed escape attempt.”

The Bust

I didn’t have time to walk around the whole block so I turned into the alley, thinking, “It’s just a residential alley in a rough neighborhood. I will probably make it.” A few paces into the alley, I heard a car behind me. I turned to see a shiny, black Ford SUV turning into the alley. I moved to the side of the alley to continue my walk, and I nodded to the professional looking man in the passenger seat of the passing SUV. Then the vehicle turned to cut off my progress, the doors flew open and two young men stepped quickly out and stood on my right and my left. Immediately, I thought, “Oh no, the fuzz.”

The tall, dark-haired cop was on my left. The shorter red head was on my right. The tall cop did the talking. “Sir, can I ask you a couple questions?”

I said, “Sure,”

“Can you take your hand out of your pocket?”

“Sure.” I removed the offending hand.

He said, “What is your name?”

“I’m Eddie… Eddie Hale.”

“We saw you looking at that bike on the other side of the block. There have been a lot of thefts of higher end bikes in this neighborhood, and we wondered — what are you doing?”

I smiled a broad smile and said, “That’s my bike.”

He smiled back and said, “Oh… Can I ask you what you are doing in the neighborhood?”

“Sure, I have a meeting at that little church building on the corner. I got here way too early, so I thought I would walk around the block to kill some time.”

He said, “Oh. Okay. We saw you looking at that bike, and we pulled over. We said, ‘If he pulls a bolt cutter out of that backpack, we’ve got him.’”

I said, “Do you think my bike is safe there while I go to my meeting?”

He said, “Well… um… er… ya know… probably. I mean it’s on a busy street, and most of the thefts happen at night, though some of them have been happening during the day lately.”

I said, “Hmmm… Okay.”

Tall cop said, “Can I see your identification for the record?”

I pulled out my wallet (he was not worried about my hands venturing into my nefarious pockets anymore) and showed him my driver’s license. They both wished me a good day and got back in the car. I walked briskly toward my meeting and waved as they passed me on their way out of the alley.

A Better Place for a Bike

When I got in the little former church building, I was greeted by the photographer who owns the place. He said, “Go on up. They’re expecting you.”

I said, “Can I ask you a question? A police officer just wondered if I was stealing my own bike out in front of the building…”

He interrupted and said, “Sure, bring it in.” I went back out and wheeled my bike into the photography studio and leaned it on the wall. I went to my meeting and regaled my cohorts with the story of my brush with the law. They thought I was dressed too well to be a bike thief.

My wife thought it was ironic that I seldom arrive early for anything, and the time I when I do show up early, I almost get busted for it.

So you can all rest easy. My vintage Cannondale is still my vintage Cannondale. And the La Crosse cops know there is one bad guy you don’t mess with when he’s in the ‘hood.

The Making of…

The reveal. Claire wearing Dad's pants and boot, with boot on Dad's head.

I think Claire enjoyed the making of the “Boot on Head” photo a little too much.


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Mary Kratzer Hale — A Eulogy

Mary was born in La Crosse at Saint Mary’s Hospital, which is mildly interesting because Saint Mary’s would later become Franciscan Skemp Medical Center.

Old photo of Jo Ann, Hazel and Mary Kratzer

Mary is on the right, with sister, Jo Ann and mother, Hazel.

Catholic School Girl

Mary Hale yearbook photo

Mary Kratzer’s Aquinas yearbook photo. This is probably a copyrighted image and I am going to be in deep trouble. But isn’t my mom cute?

Mary went to Catholic school, first Saint Mary’s elementary and then Aquinas High School. Mary remained lifelong friends with her classmates, Kathy Flanagan, Mick Wilder and Sally Renstrom.

At Aquinas High School, Mary roamed the halls with, but did not notice the good looking Edward Hale. During her senior year, she went to a dance with her friends Mick (Wilder) Klein and Joe Wilder. Joe’s best friend, Ed, asked Mary to dance and the rest was history. Shortly after they became an item, Ed joined the Air Force and was deployed to Larson Air Force Base in Moses Lake, Washington.

When Mary graduated from Aquinas, Ed came home on leave to see her. Mary must have been irresistible, because, shortly after Ed went back to Larson Air Force Base, Mary received a letter containing a marriage proposal. Mary sent back a letter accepting his proposal.

Mary, JoAnn, John Pintz, Hazel Franzen

Who wouldn’t try to marry that cute chick? I understand why my dad was afraid to approach her in-person, but had to propose by way of the U.S. Postal Service.

The next Christmas, Ed came home on leave and married her. A week later, she and Ed were on a train headed for Washington State.

Mary and Ed Hale wedding photo

Mary and Ed Hale wedding, 1952 at Saint Mary’s Church.

A Family is Born

In hot, dusty Ephrata, Washington, Mom gave birth to my sister, Joie and then my sister, Ruthie. They liked to tell us that Joie’s hospital bill was $7 and Ruthie’s birth cost $4 — so Ruthie was on sale. When our father was done with his service, they moved back to La‌Crosse. Mom gave birth to two more girls, Laurie and Mary. Finally, Mom gave birth to a boy, and the family was complete.

Mary Hale, in Ephrata, Washington, with baby Joie

Mary Hale with baby Joie… her favorite.

Our family life was characterized by togetherness. We didn’t have a lot of money, so togetherness was our only option. We piled on the couch to watch movies on T.V. We went on camping trips to Goose Island or Hatfield, Wisconsin. Sundays meant crowding in the T.V. room for a Packer game. And when the ref made a bad call, Mom was as loud as any man in the room as she registered her complaint.

When mom and dad threw a birthday party for one of us kids, there were no themes or party favors. Mom made spaghetti or goulash and had cake and ice cream. The guest list consisted of me and my sisters, my grandmother and whichever kid we were hanging out with that day. Now, that was a party. My family carries on the same tradition — on birthdays, we have cake and ice cream and Mom and Dad come over.

Laurie, Mom, Ruth, Heidi and Dad

Members of the typical Hale birthday party guest list: Laurie, Mom, Ruthie, Heidi the dog and Dad.


When we were growing up, Mom and Dad showed us that God was important to them. They took us to church every Sunday. Are any of you old enough to remember Saint Wenceslaus church? Our family attended St. Wence, then later The Cathedral. Even later, Mom and Dad attended right here at Holy Trinity. We kids are thankful for our Christian upbringing and we teach our kids about our faith too.

Mom was our dad’s straight man. She would often encourage Dad to tell stories about the funny things they had done together. Then she would laugh and laugh at his stories. Mom was Dad’s biggest fan.

Mom Supported Her Kids

I remember one night staying up late working on homework for an art class. Mom had to get up early the next morning to work at the bank, but she stayed up past midnight with me applying paper maché to some silly sculpture I was working on.

Later, I took up bike racing. I think My parents came to every bike race I did. I remember them cheering for me all over the race course. I have VHS tapes of me racing. But they only show half of me, because while Mom was filming me with a huge VHS camera, she was watching me with the other eye and yelling at me to go faster.

Mary Ed and son, Eddie at a bike race

My supportive mother at a bike race. Are not my parents beautiful, especially in contrast to their strange looking son?

The Golden Years

When Mom and Dad got rid of all us kids, they realized their lifelong dream of retiring in the south. Mom and dad would live the winter months in Brownsville, Texas and the summer months in La Crosse. During the winter, I would call Mom (not often enough) and she would regale me with stories of her and Dad’s social exploits. They were always going out to lunch with another couple, or visiting a museum, or going to an air force base, or touring into Mexico. They often went to South Padre Island and sat on the beach in good weather and bad. (I’ve seen photos of them sitting in lawn chairs on the beach bundled up in hooded sweatshirts.)

Mom and Dad in sweatshirts on South Padre Island

Mary and Ed on the beach on South Padre Island. Dad looks like a tourist. Mom looks like a secret agent scanning the surf for smugglers.

They liked to try different Catholic churches and would even attend services in Spanish, though neither of them spoke Spanish. (I remember my mother telling me once “We went to a restaurant called Casa Blānca.” I told her, “Mom, you gotta call it Casa Blanca when you are that close to Mexico.”)

When my sister Laurie and I took up country western line dancing, my mother was right there with us at the dances. I remember practicing dances with Mom and Laurie in Mom and Dad’s basement. After retirement, Mom began teaching line dancing to other retirees at their trailer park in Texas. And my Dad would dance too, so the little old ladies could follow his steps.

Mary and Ed Hale in matching line western shirts.

The most dedicated line dancing couples would buy matching shirts.

When Dad lost his hearing, Mom became his ears. And somehow she was also his interpreter. I could ask Dad something and he might look at me quizzically, not sure of what I said. Then Mom, without raising her voice, would repeat what I said, and Dad would catch every word and respond to the question. I guess after 60 years together, his ears were trained to hear her voice.

Mom and Dad arm in arm

Later, Mom always had hold of Dad’s arm to keep steady. He could not hear well and she could not walk well.

Mom and Dad were almost inseparable, especially after their kids were out of the house. They did everything together, from checking the post office box to going to the laundromat. Toward the end of her life, my mom’s body became unsteady. Then my parents were not just together, but they were hand-in-hand. It reminded me of how, when we were little kids, Mom and Dad would hug in the kitchen when Dad came home from work. I remember that consistent, reassuring image of Mom and Dad embracing — telling us kids that some things were solid and unchanging.

very young Hale kids

The very young Hale children who owe their existence to Mary Kratzer Hale

Thank you, Mom, for being a supportive, loving, steady part of our lives. From all of us kids, we love you.

The End

Except For Two More Pictures

Mary Hale and Helen Hale

My mother with my first daughter, Helen. That’s a cool grandma!

Mary and Ed Hale

I love how young and happy my mother looks in this photo (and that ‘stache on my dad is deserving of awe too.)

family photo circa 1975

My mother looking very cute in spite of the efforts of my four older sisters to drive her crazy.

Me and my mother

The author and his mother at Winona Lake Park in the summer of 2014

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