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Book Excerpt: ‘Hippie Homesteaders’

Posted by | April 8, 2014

Head shotThumbPlease welcome guest author Carter Taylor Seaton. Seaton is the author of two novels, Father’s Troubles, and amo, amas, amat…an unconventional love story, numerous magazine articles, and several essays and short stories. In her earlier life, she directed a rural craft cooperative, was nominated for the Ladies Home Journal’s “Women of the Year 1975” Award, and ran three marathons—Atlanta, New York City, and Marine Corps—after she was fifty. Her newest book, the non-fiction Hippie Homesteaders, was just published by West Virginia University Press. We’re pleased to offer an excerpt from it here:

 

Unraveling the tapestry of efforts that culminated in West Virginia’s strong reputation for supporting its arts is tricky business. Pull one agency thread, and you’ll find it tied to others. Although Don Page and the West Virginia Department of Commerce seem to have been the very earliest proponents of handcrafts as an economic engine, others took up the cause in short order. In addition to Don, artisans of that period give credit for help in launching their careers to Tim Pyles, then Coordinator of the Crafts Program at Cedar Lakes, Norman Fagan and Jim Andrews at the Department of Culture and History, and Rebecca Stelling, manager of The Shop at the Cultural Center. The Mountain State Art & Craft Fair and the West Virginia Arts & Crafts Guild that formed at the first fair, while not actual state agencies, also were entwined in the state’s efforts. They provided another valuable layer of marketing assistance to the emerging craft community.

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When the West Virginia Department of Commerce sent Don and his fellow staffers across the state to find these folks who made arts and crafts, they did so knowing that of all their tourism-marketing efforts, craft events were the most lucrative. Thus, their mission was to encourage the artisans, offer additional training, if necessary, and find markets for their work, often through the craft fair venue.

For the upcoming 1963 centennial, they either identified or encouraged the creation of over one hundred fairs, festivals, or celebrations statewide that included arts and crafts as an essential component. One of these was the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair (MSACF), which was conceived by several folks involved with the Cedar Lakes Conference Center at Ripley, West Virginia. When Cedar Lakes was created in 1950, it was dedicated to providing educational opportunities for students and adults. Situated on a former farm, the 360-acre venue originally included four groups of cottages, an assembly building, dining hall, and chapel surrounding a four-acre lake. An arts and crafts center offering “training in the craft field to anyone in West Virginia interested in learning to make craft items for fun or profit” also was part of the initial plan.

Therefore, during the run-up to the state centennial, Ron Thomas, Larry Cavendish, and Margaret Pamalon decided the best thing they could do for the celebration was put on a craft fair, and that Cedar Lakes was the ideal location. They wanted to showcase the work of some of the people who had been taking workshops at the facility’s craft center. With the joint support of the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Education, the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair opened in July 1963 with fifty-four exhibitors. They intended it to be a one-year only event. Invitations to come see what the state had to offer were sent nationwide. Huge crowds attended, including folks from the Smithsonian Institution.

Faced with such success, it became an annual event, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2013. Although its first exhibitors were indigenous artisans, it didn’t take long for word of the MSACF to spread to the back-to-the-landers who were arriving as early as 1965. Don Page was eager to help them get accepted by the fair. A former industrial arts teacher, Don had operated twenty-six craft workshops while he was in the military. Each offered a different discipline. He knew his stuff. “I was receptive to those people, because they often had a background in design, and could move vertically in the craft medium whereas sometimes, the traditional people could not break themselves from their old molds,” he recalls. This honing of a traditional craft is often what made the back-to-the-land artisans so successful. Some began to exhibit at the fair after adopting both West Virginia and their new craft.

Connie weaving 1

Others, like potter Brian Van Nostrand, who landed in Webster County three years after the centennial celebration, were already practicing artisans. Don learned about Brian after reading a letter the artist had sent to the Department of Commerce seeking sales outlets. Van Nostrand was typical of the new breed of artisan, according to Don, and he reached out to the young man.

One day, Brian looked up to see Don and wood sculptor Wolfgang Flor walking up his road. Surprised to see any visitors at his remote homestead, he was even more amazed when Don told him the department would pay his expenses to come to the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair. He recalls thinking it was a dream come true. “I went, and remember making about four hundred dollars, thinking, ‘Oh man, we’re going to be making big money here – not big money, but maybe I can make a living doing this,’” he says as we sit chatting at a picnic table outside McDonald’s near Flatwoods, West Virginia.

After nearly thirty years, I’d been thinking about this reunion for several days, knowing I’d recognize him instantly. His engaging smile and steel blue eyes were indelibly imprinted after fifteen years as his tent-next-door neighbor at the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair. I was just as certain he would remember me. We had talked by phone, planned the meeting. Finally the day arrived. I found him sitting inside McDonald’s, bent over the table, his hands enveloping a coffee cup as if it were an unformed ball of clay. Only the top of his head was visible. Brian is no longer young, but he remains lithe and wiry. Bearded like most of the artisans of that earlier day, he still dresses in a tie-dyed T-shirt and jeans. He hasn’t changed, except for the graying hair. As I approached, he looked up, his blue eyes smiled, and crow’s-feet formed. “It’s been a long time, Carter,” he said. After we chatted a moment, we moved outside into the sun and he continued his story.

Joe at wheel

New Jersey born Brian Van Nostrand was studying art and philosophy at Furman University in South Carolina when he met Montie, his future wife. While waiting for her to graduate, he apprenticed with a nearby studio potter and discovered that ceramics was something he really loved. The experience set the course for his future career.

When Brian learned that West Virginia was hoping to attract artisans for tourism and promotion purposes, the couple decided to look there for their future home. They knew crafts held a strong tradition in the southern highlands and had learned from Brian’s mentor that other artisans were building successful careers in the mountains. Young and eager, after working for about six months in New Jersey to save start-up money, they headed south to look at West Virginia. Within eleven days of leaving home, they’d bought land in Hacker Valley, Webster County, where they currently live. It cost twenty-six dollars an acre—cheap even then—and they were debt free. They’d brought a year’s worth of canned food, basic materials, and foodstuffs, including potatoes, and were determined to have no overhead from the beginning.

It was a brutal first year. Brian had few, if any building skills, much to Montie’s dismay. Arriving in October, they slept on the ground under a makeshift canvas lean-to until the weather turned so cold Brian’s beard froze when he breathed. Neighbors gave them a miniature wood stove, and they moved into a structure built for drying corn that was still standing on their property. Although he knew next to nothing about construction, Brian did know about the basic materials, having worked at a building supply store in New Jersey. Soon, he began building their home by reading an instruction book one chapter at a time: Chapter One – How to Frame, Chapter two – Rafters, etc. By spring they had moved in, although the house still lacked windows. Once they were under roof, he set up his studio and began making pots.

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Book Review: ‘Grandma Gatewood’s Walk’

Posted by | April 7, 2014
Bette Lou Higgins

Bette Lou Higgins


Please welcome guest book reviewer Bette Lou Higgins. Higgins, Artistic Director of Eden Valley Enterprises, is working to document Emma Gatewood’s life with a storytelling program, e-book, one-act play and PBS documentary. The project is being undertaken by Eden Valley, FilmAffects and WGTE/PBS. Bette Lou says that whenever she tells the story of Emma Gatewood her audiences are always inspired – even if it’s just to take a walk around the block!

 

When I was in 11th grade at Garfield Heights Senior High School in Garfield Heights, OH, I had an English teacher – Mr. Toneff. We did quite a bit of writing in his class and Mr. Toneff had a mantra: “V.S.D.!” Vivid Specific Detail… for writing to be good, it had to have V.S.D.

Mr. Toneff would love Ben Montgomery. His new book, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, has A LOT of V.S.D. On the very first page, as Montgomery describes Grandma’s ride up the mountain to start her record-setting hike on the Appalachian Trail, he vividly describes the trip: “Now here she was in Dixieland, five hundred-miles from her Ohio home, listening to the rattle and ping in the back of a taxicab, finally making her ascent up the mountain called Oglethorpe, her ears popping, the cabbie grumbling about how he wasn’t going to make a penny driving her all this way.” You can practically see a little old lady looking out the car window with anticipation. You can practically feel the bumps on the mountain road. You can practically hear the engine and the cabbie complaining.

And Vivid Specific Detail is what fills this chronicle of a woman’s life travels.

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Emma Rowena Caldwell Gatewood was 67 years old in 1955 when she started on a trail that would lead her, not only to the top of a mountain, but to fame, celebrity and status as an inspiration to hikers (and non-hikers) for years to come. At this time of her life, when most women her age were settling into quiet domesticity, Emma took a hike. She started at Mt. Oglethorpe, Georgia and stopped 2,050 miles later at the top of Mt. Katahdin, Maine to become the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) alone!

Montgomery’s book follows her as she moves forward on the A.T., but also looks back at the events in her life that came before THE hike – the childhood spent in poverty, the endless chores, the marriage that gave her 11 children and ended after 33 years of abuse. However, Ben Montgomery doesn’t just look at Emma’s life – he looks at her times. He sandwiches her story between the histories of the Appalachian Trail, the automobile, and even a kind of history of walking and hiking and the country. His view of her life is as vast as the view from the top of the mountains Emma climbed.

Emma’s “walk in the park” wasn’t – not on the trail, not in life. The trail, which was relatively new in 1955, was not in the “advertised condition” of a comfortable four feet in width with food easy to obtain and shelters nearby. The trail barely existed in many places, shelters were often filthy or uninhabitable and it was helpful to be able to forage for food growing wild if you wanted to eat regularly. In life, she worked hard and endured poverty and abuse. Her husband, Perry Gatewood, started beating her shortly after their marriage and didn’t stop until their divorce. Emma raised her children, crops and flowers. She wrote poetry and enjoyed nature. She was bent, not broken. She rose above it all and Ben Montgomery tells it all.

Emma’s hike wasn’t the end – it was the beginning of a new phase in her life. It wasn’t any easier than her past, but it was HER choice. She went back and thru-hiked the A.T. two more times. She hiked the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail in 1959. She helped establish Ohio’s Buckeye Trail. Between 1955 and her death in 1973 she hiked MORE than 10,000 miles. At 82 years old she was still working on the Buckeye Trail – clearing it, blazing it, leading hikes on it. She said, “Why, I’ve done more since I was ‘too old’ than most young women.”

Though Montgomery tries to answer the persistent question of “WHY did she do it?”, there seems to be no one answer. Emma gave different ones every time she was asked – “After 20 years of hanging diapers and seeing my children grow up and go their own way, I decided to take a walk – one I always wanted to take.” “I want to see what’s on the other side of the hill, then what’s beyond that.” “Just for the heck of it.” But he concludes with some Very Specific Detail with the answer that seems to make the most sense. Grandma Gatewood told one reporter that she did it “Because I wanted to.”

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk is the story of a remarkable woman. Her life covered the time when walking was the main form of transportation to the time when man walked on the moon. Her story gives us all hope that our trip can be an adventure, too, if we only keep putting one foot in front of the other. So read her story and then go take a hike!

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Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by | April 6, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with guest author Rita Quillen. Quillen’s new historical novel Hiding Ezra has just released. “Not long after my husband and I married,” Quillen tells us, “he told me the incredible story of his grandfather, Warner Pridemore Quillen, and the trouble he got into during World War I. He showed me a tattered journal of writings by Warner about that time. It was an amazing tale!”

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

It has been 175 years since more than 15,000 Cherokee were forced from their homes to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) on the Trail of Tears. Have you ever thought about the roads the Cherokee took or the buildings they passed by and asked yourself how much of this historic landscape still exists?

Driving through downtown Wheeling, WV, it can be easy to overlook the old buildings that flank each side of Main and Market streets. Motorists are more likely to focus on traffic lights or be too busy searching for a place to park. With the decline of pedestrian walking and downtown shopping opportunities, the truth is that people just do not spend much time walking around—much less looking at—the buildings in downtown Wheeling. The Ohio Valley Young Preservationists are seeking to change that.

We’ll wrap things up with a look at the life of the man who is considered the father of American botany. William Bartram was one of America’s earliest adventurer-naturalists, an unassuming Quaker who was something of a recluse. He shunned public accolades, yet he became internationally famous for his rich descriptions of the flora and fauna he discovered in the Southeastern wilds in the mid 18th century.

And thanks to the good folks at the Digital Library of Appalachia, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Hubert Rogers in a 1977 recording of Cotton Eyed Joe.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.

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The Southern Appalachians: Salamanders Galore!

Posted by | April 4, 2014

This article by Patrick Brannon of the Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, NC is running in the April 2014 edition of ‘Salamander News‘, published by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. It is reprinted here with permission.

 

The southern Appalachian Mountains boast some of the highest levels of biological diversity in the temperate world, and one of the most diverse groups is salamanders. More salamander species exist here than perhaps anywhere else in the world, and nowhere are they more abundant. More than 45 species of salamanders representing five families occur in western North Carolina alone.

Red Salamander ( Pseudotriton ruber ); photo by Steve Tilley.

Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber); photo by Steve Tilley.

Salamanders are often the most abundant group of forest-floor vertebrates, and play significant ecological roles as predators on a variety of invertebrates, and also as prey for snakes, shrews, birds, and even each other. Salamander biomass in the southern Appalachians can exceed that of all other vertebrate predators combined, with densities as high as 2 salamanders per square meter!

Environmental moisture is essential for the survival of salamanders because most species lack lungs and respire directly through their skin. The region is considered to be a temperate rainforest, and its cool, wet climate provides an ideal environment in which salamanders may live and reproduce. Salamanders are most abundant in old-growth forests, where large amounts of rotting logs and moisture-conserving leaf litter provide optimal microhabitats for terrestrial species.

Part of the reason why there are so many kinds of salamanders in the southern Appalachian region is the wide range of elevations (around 1000 to 6000 feet, 600–1800 m). This altitudinal variability mimics the latitudinal changes you would experience traveling north to Canada, only over a much shorter geographic distance. Animals common to the southeastern U.S. thrive in the foothills, while species common to northern states find suitable environments at higher elevations.

The southern Appalachians are also very old, giving plenty of time for a variety of salamanders to emerge. During the Pleistocene (about 10,000 years ago), when glaciers covered much of North America, this region served as a refuge for many organisms. When the glaciers finally retreated, many species remained within habitat “islands” on different mountain peaks. The longer populations remained geographically isolated, the more they diverged genetically and morphologically to become distinct species.

Above, top: A Jordan’s Salamander, Plethodon jordani, the base species, (photo by Marty Silver, Year of the Salamander Photo Contest), and below, one of its offshoot species, the Red-legged Salamander, P. shermani (photo by Madelyn Messner, Year of the Salamander Photo Contest).

Above, top: A Jordan’s Salamander, Plethodon jordani, the base species, (photo by Marty Silver, Year of the Salamander Photo Contest), and below, one of its offshoot species, the Red-legged Salamander, P. shermani (photo by Madelyn Messner, Year of the Salamander Photo Contest).

A good example of species diversification is the Jordan’s Salamander (Plethodon jordani), a common species that once occurred as one continuously distributed population, but later became fragmented along different mountain ranges as the region’s climate began to change. Subsequently, it diverged into three distinct species with unique physical characteristics. In parts of the southern Blue Ridge it became the solid-black Gray-cheeked Salamander (P. metcalfi), while in extreme western NC the Red-legged Salamander (P. shermani) occurs. True Jordan’s Salamanders are currently found only in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and have red cheek patches.

Additional species may also arise if two previously isolated, but closely related, groups come back into contact and interbreed. At a few isolated locations in the southern Appalachians we find narrow “hybrid zones.” Hybrid salamanders possess genetic and physical traits of both species, but there is usually a gradient between the distributions of the two parent populations, usually associated with elevation.

The number of species of salamanders in the southern Appalachians continues to grow, as modern DNA testing has allowed biologists to distinguish identical-looking populations into separate species. Discoveries of previously unknown salamanders are very rare, but in 2009 a never-before-seen species, the Patch-nosed Salamander (Urspelerpes brucei), was described. It is the smallest species of salamander in the United States, and is the first new genus of four-legged creature discovered in more than 50 years!

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Book Excerpt: ‘Hiding Ezra’

Posted by | April 3, 2014

Please welcome guest author Rita Quillen. Quillen’s new historical novel ‘Hiding Ezra’ (Jan-Carol Publishing) has just released. We’re pleased to be able to offer up an excerpt from it. Says Quillen of the book’s origins:

Dear Reader:

Not long after my husband and I married, he told me the incredible story of his grandfather, Warner Pridemore Quillen, and the trouble he got into during World War I.  He showed me a tattered journal of writings by Warner about that time. It was an amazing tale! That he and his family found themselves in such a predicament while also in the midst of the worst pandemic the world had ever seen, the first world war, economic hardship, and some of the coldest weather in their lifetimes is a truly harrowing situation!  When I began to write poems and stories a few years later, he said, “You’ve got to write a book about Papaw-you’re the one to do it.”

rita quillen

School, work, children, and life interfered for a long time, but eventually, sometime in the early 1990’s, I sat down and wrote the outline of the story that would become HIDING EZRA.  Since I knew few actual facts of Warner’s time on the run, who had helped him, who had hunted him, how he survived, I knew it would have to be fictionalized.  So while the story is inspired by real events, the characters, places, and events are all imaginary, as I tried to re-create an unbelievably difficult and challenging time in history and in the lives of people like my characters.

I hope Ezra, Alma, Eva, and Lieutenant Nettles will become favorite characters for you and help you have a whole new appreciation for one of the most difficult and tumultuous times in American and Appalachian history. Here’s a little snippet of an opening chapter and then some entries in Ezra’s journal.

 

Life on the Run

Lying in the cool shade with his belly full, Ezra drifted off to sleep still thinking of Alma. She was walking toward him, with her hair blowing and her skirt blowing around her legs, showing her bare feet. But then the dream changed, and Ezra saw his mother reaching out to him, handing him bread, and he woke himself, moaning. He sat up to make sure he wouldn’t fall asleep again. Mother. Mother.

She had suffered so much at the end. Nothing had prepared him for the messy, unbearable reality of watching her die. When the note from Eva had arrived at Camp Lee telling him to come quickly because their mother was very sick, Ezra thought he would come home to find her down with pneumonia or gout and that she would bounce back in a few days, like she always did.

When he walked into her room, with only the single lamp at her bedside table lighting the pitch black, the only pinpoint of light in the little hollow, he saw that his mother had shrunk, her once-beautiful thick hair had turned to little dark wisps like the last fall leaves on the trees. He knew then what Eva hadn’t dared tell him in a note.

HIding Ezra cover

“Ezra, Ezra.” She rasped at him, and he knelt down by her bed, took her hands, the veins dark blue and swollen, and kissed them. He remembered those hands breaking piles of green beans into a huge pot, remembered her standing all morning over a stove, remembered those hands looped through the handle of her coffee cup, remembered her hovering over all ten of them seated at the supper table as they ate like starved pups. Her hair would be curled into little wet ringlets around her face and neck, but she would smile and say, “Y’all go ahead before it gets cold. I believe I’ll just have a little buttermilk and cool down.”

When Ezra knelt down beside her bed, he could smell the death there, and it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “Ezra, you’re here. You know what’s happening, don’t you?” Her eyes burned into his, and she grabbed his shirt collar to pull him closer. “Stay. Eva needs you. Stay. Promise me.” Those were the two words he had dreaded hearing.

“I promise.” He said it now aloud, in front of his little fire, eating the greasy groundhog, the last dead leaves twisting in the almost-still November air. He had stayed by her side as long as he could. By the time the Army figured out that he wasn’t coming back to Camp Lee and sent word by Sheriff Carter that he was now officially AWOL, his mother was long past awareness. He packed up some things and took off into the woods.

Eva found only a note, the back door ajar, the smell of his tobacco hanging in the air.

He knew the sheriff wouldn’t look for him that hard, anyway. He had told him so.

About ten days before his mother had died, Ezra had been standing on the porch, wishing he could cry, while Eva was inside working with his mother. The sheriff had come riding into the yard. He had some papers in his hand, and the look on his face of one bringing bad news. He motioned Ezra over.

Ezra knew all along this day would come. But he also knew that to have done else would have been unacceptable to him, his family, and his community. He had hoped his mother would be gone before any trouble started. It was a hard place to be in, and he told the sheriff so. Sheriff Carter agreed and squeezed Ezra’s shoulder and patted his back before he left. After the sheriff left, Ezra and Eva had packed clothes, blankets, some food, and other supplies into a sack and put it in the smokehouse.

Ezra stayed one more day to say goodbye to his mother, then slipped off in the night so Eva wouldn’t have to watch him go.

In just a few days, his mother passed on, and Ezra found himself having to watch the funeral hidden in a rhododendron thicket a little way up the mountain, watching and crying, flat on his belly, as his mother’s coffin was lowered in the ground. He could barely hear Psalm 121—his mother’s favorite—read over her, as family and neighbors huddled around Eva and his brothers. Ezra stared hard into Eva’s back, hoping she could feel his presence and know how sorry he was that he wasn’t down there with his arm around her, too.

Oct.1918
Hello book. I am going to write to you every day so I can remember
things later and so I won’t forget how. When you are by yourself
all the time with no one to talk to, your mind could get rusty.
They talked to us about it at Camp Lee about what could happen
if you get captured and wind up in one of them prison of war
camps. They said that the only ones who come out of it pretty well
are the ones who keep their mind occupied and don’t let things
get to them so bad. So I’m gonna write down what I do every day,
the weather, memories of good times, my prayers. I can remind
myself of what I was and what I am now.
I know a lot of people will wonder about me because of this.
They’ll say I’m some kind of chicken, call me a weakling or a
momma’s boy. It hurts me to think of it. It hurts me even more
to think that people might say so to Eva or some of the rest of
the family. I hope that most people will know me better than that.
They know I’m a hard worker and I’ve never been one to run from
a fight or from trouble if something had to be done. Times is just
so hard for us right now.
I can’t see that government making me go clear across the
ocean to fight about something I don’t really understand when
my mother and daddy was both sick and so much work to be
done just to survive. And on top of that, everybody’s sick and
dying with this terrible flu. I heard one of the officers at Camp
Lee talking to another officer, telling him that the flu was killing
more of our men than the Kaiser’s men ever would. What if Eva
was to get that flu while I was over across the water somewheres,
not even knowing what was going on? Who would take care of
daddy? The Army will forget about me, and I can get back to
doing what I need to do.

Winter-1919
Walking toward the store to find a newspaper, I see a piece of
paper stuck up on a tree and when I got closer, I couldn’t believe
my eyes. It said “Ezra Teague—Wanted by U. S. Army.” It listed
some other names, too, but I didn’t know any of them. I just stood
and stared and stared. I would never have thought such a thing.
To see your name up on a poster like a criminal is a real bad
feeling. I started to just walk on like somebody stupid, but then I
had sense enough to walk back and tear it down.
It had a description of all three of us. It said I was 180 pounds.
I laughed about that since I’ve got so skinny out here my bones
are poking out like an old milk cow. And it said I was last seen
near the Wise County line. That’s funny, too, because whoever
seen me in Wise County is either drinking too much or seeing
ghosts.

COPYRIGHT 2014
AUTHOR PHOTO: ASHLEY BRIGGS
COVER ILLUSTRATION: WILLARD GAYHEART
JAN-CAROL PUBLISHING, INC
JANCAROLPUBLISHING.COM
U.S. $12.95 CAN $14.95

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