Mary To The Contrary

A Special White House Memory: The Seat Of Power

A Memory By Mary Wenger

Nixon White House

It was November 8, 1972, the evening of President Richard Nixon’s re election. My husband was head of Nixon’s news summary staff –  Pat Buchanan was his boss. In the future I would be working for two other presidents, but for now, I was a ‘go to’ gal for the Republicans, and I was about to have a singular adventure in The White House.

On this evening, I was alone in the Old Executive Office Building, running back and forth to the main white house all night, carrying papers and messages to the employees who would later be bussed to the Shoreham Hotel. There, in front of his family and loyal staff, The President would accept his second term, a landslide victory against George McGovern.

The White House was deserted, except for a lone guard who stood outside the President’s office. He was a young man, and he looked quite tired like me, having been there all night, like me. I asked him if I could look inside.  He said yes.  I asked him if I could go inside, and he just turned his back and yawned. So in I went.

The room was large and beautifully furnished.  On one side stood an enormous desk with nothing on top except one book, “The Winds Of War “by Herman Wouk, a famous writer of the times.  

Across the President’s desk was a huge color television set.  There I was, sitting in the President’s chair, casually dressed in slacks and loafers, watching him once again accept the position of President of the United States, and in color! A color TV was not all as ubiquitous as it is today. I was also sitting where few (if any) females had sat before, much less anyone other than the President himself.  This moment was special.

I stayed there as long as I could – the guard left his post for a snack – which was more than an hour.  The bus was bringing everybody back – it’s now nearing 1 AM on November 8th – and Mrs. Nixon had invited all of us to a celebration in the White House’s family rooms, but I did not go. My night of wonder was complete.  

I have many special memories to recall when I am down or unhappy, or ill or lonely. This is one of them.


Hershey’s Chocolate Town USA

Checking into this spectacular moment in my past is like opening a box of fresh chocolates.

My all time fondest childhood memories were the visits to the Hershey Chocolate Factory.

Living only 10 miles away from chocolate heaven, we local kids from the surrounding townships  would make a yearly pilgrimage to what we thought of as our Disneyworld, Universal Studios, and the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory all rolled into one.

We were bused each Spring in big tin school buses, the smell of plastic leather and dirty floors surrounded us, but as I thought about what was ahead all I could smell was chocolate. The moment we saw the street lights dressed as silver covered chocolate kisses, our hearts thumped with anticipation.

Hershey 5

Before we could go in, however, we would dine al fresco with the teachers on extra long picnic tables in the park adjacent to the candy factory.   Sitting outside with the smell of chocolate in the air, we shoved our little hands into our worn-torn paper lunch bags. We would wolf down thick Lebanon baloney sandwiches, and maybe an apple. The faster we ate, the sooner we were in the chocolate factory.  After lunch, mouths watering for chocolate, we marched two by two alongside other kids from nearby schools to the doors of nirvana. 

hershey 6

Walking through the main entrance of the Hershey chocolate factory, our eyes were filled with over-sized images of chocolate bars, the sweet smell of chocolate, and the noise from the machines was overwhelming our senses.  There were vats and vats filled with a constant stirring of  melted chocolate, with enormous rollers that rolled the thick gooey chocolate back and forth. We buzzed around those machines, dreaming of dipping fingers and hands into the chocolate, which of course we would never do. But in those days you would walk through the factory and could get close to everything. 

All of the build up was finally paying off.  We could hang around the shiny silver vats, smell the thick chocolate in the air, and all we wanted was for it to last forever. Then, at end of the tour, in a straight, single line, we would get our special gift.  We would extend our hands and the chocolate representative would hand each of us a little plastic cup which contained about 3 tablespoons of cold chocolate milk – one gulp and it was down. This, and a handful (3-5 small pieces) of chocolate candies.  By the time we got to our buses, everything was gone.  It was never enough and we would go home with our tummies grumbling for more.

Hershey 2

Presently, to visit the Hershey factory, you can’t walk through the factory like we did in the early 50’s. The tour now consists of a narrated ride in the form of a continuous chain of theme park-style cars (like at Disney World) with a  manufactured feel; an education on where chocolate comes from, how the cocoa beans are selected and cured, the importance of milk in the process, and how chocolate is transformed from the cocoa beans to the chocolate we buy and enjoy every day. The conveyor belts and whirring machines are fake, and there are no people making or packaging chocolate; it’s organized fun, processed and not personal.  In many ways, I think Mr. Hershey’s people goofed with these changes.  That personal touch, literally, and wholesome family feeling is absent from the sterile upgrade.  Yet, I hold on to my chocolate memories as delightful postcards from my past.

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Hershey’s meant even more than this one day a year to the chocolate factory.  Listening to our elders at the family dinner table, we knew that anyone who could get a job at The Hershey Chocolate Factory was set for life.  Free medical and paid vacations were part of the employee package.  This was before unions made their way to Hershey, Pa. As kids, we would dream about being employed in the Hershey Chocolate Factory, and tell ourselves that we would work for free.

hershey 7

Since I now live far from the Hershey Chocolate Factory and the great state of Pennsylvania,  I have no idea what is happening in Hershey, a town originated on the heels of chocolate bars, except that the town boasts a top of the trees amusement park, a beautiful and first class medical center, and forever in my heart, a chocolate factory built by a good man named Milton Hershey.   

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Hershey Chocolate World Theme Song circa 1981

Hershey Radio Jingle 2002

My Pets Are “My People” Too

Do you remember the name of the person who sat opposite you at your brother/sister/cousin’s wedding dinner?  Or the name of the salesman who sold you your first car? Or when you lost your first molar?  No, you likely can’t. Because these people were not all that important in our lives.

However, I would bet a dollar to a doughnut that you can remember practically all of your pets, if indeed you were lucky enough, like me, to grow up having animals in your life.


There are those of you who, like my sister, do not like animals. Or, you are unlucky to have allergies out the kazoo to fur or feathers of any kind. Or, you have not had the privilege to have a friend-to-the-end pet in your life.  I have had many pets who helped to make my life more enjoyable, more interesting, and just happier because they were there. My friends. To the end.

I would like to share a few of my friends from my past, and in my present, who traveled along my life’s highway.

“Peso”, a German Shepard, stood guard at the family compound when I was growing up. Nobody, but nobody crossed his path who was not a familiar face.  I can’t say it was “Gunfight At The O.K. Corral” (a famous movie from 1957 starring Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, and Dennis Hopper, among others) in my neighborhood, but close enough. Peso protected my family and my home. His loyalty to us was second only to his love for us and us of him.  The pictures are long gone of me as a child, standing next to this loyal friend as I hung on to his thick furry body, me smiling, and Peso looking happy, with his tongue hanging out; my love for him remains forever in my heart.


I don’t remember the names of all of the goldfish I had, but I do remember how happy they made me just watching them do their swimming thing.

I remember the kitten I rescued who had fallen into a hole in the ground. He was huddled on a little ledge.  I climbed in halfway and, with my 12-year-old feet digging into the seat (it was an outhouse), I grabbed the crap-covered, wet cat and pulled him out. Both he and I were hosed down by the neighbors who later helped me bathe our furry friend.


I remember my brother’s rabbits, especially “Big Pat”-one huge, big-eared, friendly bunny who lived for years with us.  We could take the rabbits out of their pens and let them graze in the yard.

I remember “Holly”, a black lab who, like Peso, kept the family safe, as one teenager found out. This teen was looking for drug money and tried to enter our house through the patio doors only to be greeted by a very angry Holly who took a bite out of crime (the kid’s leg)…

Holly decided she was my private friend.  Each night she would sit down right next to me in bed and I would pet her good night. Holly lived a long life.  When she left us, for many nights afterwards, I would put my hand down to pet my dear friend who was not there.

I remember “Inky”.  My daughter wanted a pet of her own, and finally my husband relented to her having a cat, to which I mean we returned home with a beautiful little black dog — it was Inky. My husband was not talking to us for a day. A few days later and many years later, Inky was carried around in my husband’s arms, or he was on his lap in his office.

Inky became Don’s dog, and remained his dog until the end. Many weeks before my husband’s death, Inky stayed on Don’s bed next to him.  For many weeks afterwards, he was still on his bed.

I remember when I first moved to my present home, I took a walk to a dog park a few blocks away, feeling unusually low.  I met a small  brown and white Beagle named “Nimbus”.  He took one look at me across the park, strode across to say hello as if we were the best of friends.  Nimbus introduced me to all the “park regulars”,   the hidden ‘ole swimmin’ hole, the fountains for dogs and people, and you think i’m crazy now, but it happened…I discovered quickly that Nimbus was the King of the park

Nimbus eventually introduced me to his family and they too became my close friends. One day years later, Nimbus did not come when I called him from across the park.  I knew what this meant and said goodbye to him at the park. He died a few weeks later.

“Marley”, named after Bob Marley, comes from Turks & Caicos and was carried home in my daughter’s purse. He was found, tiny, half starved,walking down the middle of a one lane dirt highway.  That was 11 years ago.  Marley is over 60 lbs., my main squeeze. There is no room in this story to tell you about Marley.


And then there’s “Will”.

Will is a little white dog; a member of the Coton de Tulear family. He is a ball of fluff who puts a smile on my face the minute I hear his yap yap yapping as he drives up in his Toyota to visit.  He is accompanied by another friend, a female human. Will, named after William Shakespeare, has all knowing marble black eyes.  He has conversations with me on a dog-to-human level, always happy conversations.


I’ve had conversations with many exciting people, and not so exciting people, but my conversations with Will are always more interesting.  And anyway, would you rather talk with Will or with the IRS?  I thought so.


How CLEARASIL And I Met When I Was 13

It was 1951, I was 13 and Clearasil was new to the market. It was invented in 1950 to fight pimples, a powerful medicine which gave hope to millions of teens around the world, and it was very popular in my little corner of the world, the small town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

Clearasil was “skin-colored to hide pimples and end embarrassment”, and it could be bought on the relative cheap (.59 cents). It supposedly would rid us of the dreaded scourge-the pimple, which every teenage boy and girl worried over, cried over, wanted to commit harakiri over.


In those days of no computers and mobile phones – to name a few hundred astounding inventions – soap and water scrubbings, or a visit to the doctor, were the choices we had to rid the blackheads, or the red, raw eruptions.  Neither of these methods were usually successful. So we, the future of the present old people, “went bananas” as they say, when we discovered Clearasil.

I broke into my piggy-bank one morning and bought a tube of Clearasil from the local five-and-dime, a luncheonette store called Kresge’s. The next day, I smeared some of this pinkish-white stuff all over my face. I had to do this at school, and way under my parents’ radar, as any teenager to this day would understand.

In those days, that miracle medicine, when on the skin, looked like Michael Jackson’s face when he was performing in the early 2000’s; white-white and theatrical. When it dried, I kind of got the feeling that I was wearing a white mask, and the longer I wore it, the stiffer it got.  But then again, I was pimple-free.  The stiffer it looked, the better I thought I looked. But you know the saying, “when something is too good to be true.”


My school was an old, old, broken down McMansion, run by old, old (plus two young) nuns who barely spoke English.  They were well educated ladies, but they lapsed into Slovak whenever they spoke to each other.  They took no nonsense and they showed no mercy.  If you have ever been schooled by nuns you will understand.  And woe to the boys.  Rulers on knuckles were the order of almost every day, the nuns rarely cracked a smile, and the boys would have to kneel on stones when they were bad.

We had no cafeteria, and no hot water  Our lavatories were converted stables, OUTSIDE! (though luckily they were segregated for the boys and the girls), and we could only flush on the third rotation and had to count to know whose turn it was to flush. There were no mirrors in the restrooms, we didn’t have hallways (because it was a house), and for 8 years, I only had seven other classmates.  And like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classroom’s in Little House On The Prairie, there were two grades to a room.  And can you believe that my parents were paying for this? Yep, it was a private school! I would longingly look out the window of this dark, cold McMansion and dream of attending the big, brick public school across the road. However, at graduation, I was the student with the highest average, among all eight of us…I know, wow!

Being a fairly new teenager to the school at the time of this Clearasil story, how proud I was of me. I was sporting this pasty white, pimple-free face.  So there I was, preening, smiling like a jackass eating bumblebees, so sure I looked lovely.  And then, from on high I hear the fateful words from Sister Cornelius.

“Mary!  What on earth did you put on your face? Go out to the lavatory [she would be referring to that nasty stable that I would be hiking to a mile away] and wash that makeup off.  YOU ARE NOT A MOVIE STAR!!”

As I said, there was no hot water, and if you did not bring your own hanky, you were out of luck; the McMansion was not stocked with towels, and we did not have paper towels at this time.   I tried to wash off my masque, but it refused to come off, except in streaks.  It also dried in streaks, thick, pasty race tracks down my face.  If I looked outrageous before with my white masque, I could looked far worse now, and there was nothing I could do, I had nothing to wipe my face with.

I walked the mile hike back to my classroom, red from embarrassment seeping through the thick white streaks on my face, red-white-red-white, where I had to take my seat among my classmates.

And then, as I sat shivering in embarrassment, as gently as a kitten, one of my classmates, a boy named named Leonard, turned to me and said, in a soft voice “Mary, you really did look nice.”  And those five words saved my day.

Doris Day



During the Vietnam War, I was a 1st lieutenant nurse stationed at Clark AFB hospital in the Philippines. During my tour, more than 90 percent of Vietnam casualties were routed through Clark.  They were treated immediately or they were rerouted to other military establishments throughout the Continental United States to continue their care.

My first year at Clark was spent in charge of two operating rooms.  They were the most bloody of all the rooms; all of the surgeries done in these rooms were performed on multiple casualties on individual men.  Most days I was so glad to end my 12-hour shift,(my feet, back, hair, knuckles, brain hurt) except that this was the week before Christmas and all hands were on deck.

Christmas carols were blaring in the halls throughout the hospital. After my shift, I walked down to the huge recovery room to see if the staff needed extra help. At first, the recovery room looked empty.  It WAS  empty, except for one stretcher in a corner, with the sun still streaming on the face of the patient.   I walked over to the Marine Captain, (his chart was at the foot of the bed.)  All the recovery staff were at the nurses desk, singing White Christmas. Apparently, all The other patients were sent to the wards.

The staff had checked on my Captain within the last few minutes.  At first I thought they were taking the rest of their time on duty to relax from a very busy day.  As they had only one patient left, I wondered why they were all still there. They were softly singing White Christmas, all with tears in their eyes.  I thought they were homesick especially since it was a holiday… I went back to the only patient they had left.


Clark Air Force Base

The Captain was lying quietly, his young and handsome face bathed in the sunlight.  As I approached the head of his bed, I saw the tears.  The sheets were wet with tears. Apparently  the Captain had been weeping for quite a while. I read his chart.  It was easy to see why this veteran marine was crying. I too, cried unabashedly.

It’s not as though this was the first patient I wept over, and he would certainly not be the last.  War, disease, accidents- many reasons to cry  for any nurse during his or her career, and especially at a military hospital in the middle of a war. However, the Captain’s situation was heartbreaking.

My Captain, a Father of 2 little boys, had spent 4 years in the midst of the war in Vietnam. He spent those years in the middle of the severest fighting. He was being decorated for his bravery just prior to stepping onto the plane to take him home forever.

A stray bullet from a nearby firing range on base made the Captain a quadriplegic; he would be forever paralyzed from his neck down.                                                    

The Captain never said a word while I stayed by his side until he was transferred to the ward.  

And the holiday music played on…



Recently, the YMCA in my town put on a series of exciting lectures on the subject of BALANCE, as in: have you got it?  Have you lost it? Are you scared ? And the answer is–it depends.

Swimming was my passion.  When I was very young, in the summertime you would find me at Coleman’s Park, teaching little kids to swim, jackknifing off the high board, doing the back flip on the lower board, and swimming until the park closed. One summer, some fifty years later in the beautiful pool on the Walt Disney World Floridian hotel resort property, I jumped in to swim under water, and nearly drowned.


I could not swim any more.  The damage to my spine was now permanent. Some people may lose their shirt, or they may lose their teeth, or their hair. This day I knew that I had lost my balance as I had known it.   

The classes I attended was designed to help you get your balance back, if possible.  Even if we will not again tippy-toe on a high wire, there are measures to improve what little, if any ability we have to stand upright or ride a bike, or dance, etc.   But not to swim underwater for me again.

Everybody who attended the course had a history of falling.  (A few years ago, I fell more than 20 times; mostly in the park, walking my grand-puppy Marley).  I have had lots of black and  blue places and sore muscles, so now I cannot walk Marley anymore. My falls were mainly on soft earth, or a foot of snow. However, each of the rest of the class members had suffered a bone break. I did not break a bone [yet], but we all know it could still happen.  A fall of any kind at our age is scary.

We students all had the same complaint: we have a fear of falling. It affects us all the time. Our quality of life is diminished.  We carry this fear to a greater or lesser degree throughout the day.   Women who once balanced on spiked heels now tread cautiously on Nikes or New Balance sneakers, and they likely ever will again. Men walk slowly, where once they walked briskly.

Falling, for the senior set, is an extremely major problem. However, it should not be accepted as a natural part of growing old. It also doesn’t mean that an older person cannot take care of himself or herself.  But we must tell our physician that we are having this problem.  By the time he or she finds out when the metal rod is being inserted into our hip, they’ve likely figured that out

The thing is, worrying about falling makes it harder to push through our fears about falling.  We were taught to replace our fears with first, constructive ideas.  “I can’t make it up those steps without losing my balance,” etc…  So It’s time to play mind games on ourselves. “I haven’t  fallen down these steps before..If I take my time, hold onto the rail, watch where I am going –Bob’s Your Uncle!” Thinking positively, you increase your chances of success.  You are thinking confidence-building thoughts.  

It doesn’t hurt to keep physically fit either.  My back is always hurting; ask my daughter-she hears me complain enough. (What can I say? It hurts, and I am trying to NOT take meds for everything-Wait til these young people grow old!)  However, I must tell you that I take my steps a lot more gingerly, and yes, I TRY to exercise as much as possible. Besides, after exercise I am in a much lighter mood.   I do not have small area rugs in my house  I had my eyes checked. I try to get enough sleep. I watch that I do not walk on ice, and so on.  If you take a course on balance, you will reap the rewards a hundredfold.

There are loads of organizations besides the national council on aging that focus on this imbalance problem; for example the Arthritis Foundation, (1-800-568-4045), the National Safety Council (630-285-1121); or, get a  video called Be Bone Wise Exercise from the National Osteoporosis Foundation (Exercise Video 202-223-2226).    There are many  ways to improve your balance folks, so go forth and learn.  I did.  

The Golden Years (Or Not!)

One moment I‘m skipping down the sidewalk in my cheerleader’s outfit, happy as a clam. I am holding hands with the basketball star who just gave me my first kiss. The world turned around a couple of times and then, here I am, bent over in a one-size-fits-all, grey haired, 100 different physical problems, and old, really old. Never will I skip again…


We, us old guys and gals, are called Senior Citizens.  We have worked and prayed, or not, and loved a lot, or not and paid our taxes, or not, and raised kids, or not, and watched our peers, friends, family members, spouses, and all of the above leave us, or for some maybe not.

Chances are, when you reach my age, you probably have had happy times, sad times, glorious times, and then also missed some great opportunities because of the road on which you are traveling. The point, is, you can say what Auntie Mame’s secretary, Agnes Gooch said, “I have lived!”

It takes a lot of guts (courage) to grow old.  Think about it, no matter how a life is played out, growing old is fraught with all kinds of dangers, physically, mentally, emotionally, or all three.  No one escapes this world without a boo boo or two.

The thing about reaching old age, by definition is, we have been in this world a long time.  So we know more than the average young person about many things and in many areas.  Even though  this is the age of computers and cloning sheep, we who have lived are catching up at our own pace. Nearly two decades ago I was fortunate enough to attend the Cannes Film Festival with my daughter, where I attended a panel with Mark Cuban among the luminaries seated.  I stood up and asked “ How can I bring seniors around to using computers in AARP meetings?  I was using the computer, but most of my peers at the time were not.  His answer: “Don’t worry, they will catch on from their Grandchildren; they will be taught how to play games on the computer”.  He was right. And they taught their friends,etc…Of course, there are those who took courses at their senior center, or junior college, or from their brilliant high school grandson.

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2014 - Day 1

We Golden Oldies still have a life to live.  We who have a working brain contribute and still contribute in all areas of life when we can.  We vote, we teach, we listen, we applaud, we love.  We miss our youth sometimes, and sometimes for example, we women are so happy to never have cramps again.

We can choose to continue to work, or maybe we will take up another profession (there are more persons living after age 80 than ever before who still collect a paycheck).

There are dependent, independent, really, really nursing home dependent where many beautiful old people live.  Physically, mentally, or maybe both, they have lost the fight to engage like once they did.  Nonetheless, they are here until they go.  Like all of us.  Who is to say their lives no longer matter?

Like all of the other human beings on the face of this earth, we matter because we are here. So, I say, to use a modern metaphor used by a bear on a TV toilet paper ad, “We all go…so why not enjoy the go?”

Senior Days And Senior Nights

This morning, Manchester City and Southampton fought to a draw.  It was a fascinating vision of gorgeous young men running, running, running and sometimes kicking a ball into a little net, which is guarded by one man from the other side.   I have no idea how soccer is played obviously, but it doesn’t matter to me.  I find it so exciting to watch physically fit young people running, running, running, on the “telly”.  .They are running in England at this very moment.  How extraordinary for someone like me who used to sit on the living room floor, one ear pressed against the “radio” while I listened to “The Creaking Door”, a popular horror radio show.


That was extraordinary and exciting then.  But then, I could run like a Manchester player. Today, I get my kicks watching others, as I cannot run anymore, nor will I again, unless somebody comes up with a new spine pill.  Hey, it could happen…

Today we “young at heart” members of society have television, yoga, tai chi,  pickleball, and physical fitness machines of all sorts.  We have any or all of this at our disposal in our homes, or the YMCA, or the Senior Center, or a, “pay for exercise’ place. We can, if we want to, continue to live our lives using any and all tools at our disposal: pills, people, programs, prayer,et al.

Anything we need to know, about what we need to know, by the way, is all on the National Institute on Aging website, or by calling (1-800-222-2225 or TTY 1-800-222-4225).  There is no place, no number, no other arena in this country that can give an oldster, or a youngster who is caring for an oldster, the essential information regarding how we can continue to keep on keeping on with elan.(enthusiasm).

It would be remiss of me to not mention the other offers to assist the old, both federal, like social security and medicare and the like, or private institutions like AARP, or what our states or city organizations offer. And do not forget about all the religions, private clubs, that go out of the way to do whatever they can to help enrich the lives of the aged from all sorts of angles.  It goes on, almost infinatum, how much help there is in these United States for anyone who is old and who needs help, of almost any kind, mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and yes, financially.  However, one must ask if one wants help.  Or, if there are those who cannot help themselves, we who can help, should help to assist those in need of (help).

Once, when I was young, I found an old woman crying.  She was in a nursing home, she was just put there by her family the day that I found her weeping.  I asked her why she was crying, not knowing what I know now about old people and their families and the cruelty of some families.  The old lady told me that she was crying because she did not want to be in this nursing home, but she could no longer take care of herself, and none of her family wanted her in their homes.  The lady died weeks later.  The nurse said she mainly died of a broken heart.  Years later, I thought of her when my Mother died.  She died peacefully, in her own home, with all her children around her.

None of us knows anything about the future, as by definition it is the future.  We can try to plan, we can pray, we can plan and pray and do lots of other things.  According to Leonardo di Caprio, we will be under water in a few years anyway…  Personally, he is not one of my favorite actors nor a bonafide fortune teller.  He, like all of us, is “absolutely scared” (the climate change thing), about his future.  Welcome to the club, Leonardo!

#AskMary – Past Our Sell By Date?

Submitted by –Sleepless in Seattle

Dear Mary:

How do you find the dating scene at this point in your life?


Thanks for the question, darling.  The short answer is that the “dating scene” is the same scene as it was when I was 21, only better because of the Internet. We can meet on the beach, at a church, clubs, exercise class, etc…The only problem, well it’s the SAME as it was when I was 21.  Not enough eligible males!

But if I were to marry again, I’m thinking Walt Disney World. First, one might his or her Prince Charming or Cinderella, plenty of those running around there too, on-site, and the wedding planners here have it all down.  Even the wedding invitations are themed after Disney Princesses:  Aurora, Ariel, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Belle, and so forth.


Anyway, Sleepless, get where I’m coming from?  Just because we’re old doesn’t mean we can’t live like a Prince or Princess.

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