Mary Beth Holman and Shawn Mullin
DescriptionMary Beth Holman and Shawn Mullin returned to the Storycorps booth to talk about the influence of their maternal grandmothers on their lives. They both said that their maternal grandmothers loved them unconditionally. They agreed that each of their relationships with their mother’s was the reason for their strong relationship with their maternal grandmothers. Shawn’s grandmother has died, and Mary Beth’s grandmother is in advanced stages of Alzheimers.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Mary Beth Holman
- Shawn Mullin
Recording LocationLower Manhattan StoryBooth
- anecdotes (humorous but true stories)
- Big Doll
- birth of first child
- Cape Cod
- Emma Marie Roberts
- family naming and nicknames
- Family Traditions
- family trips and excursions
- Ida Mae Duke
- memories of growing up
- New Hampshire
- personal experiences
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00:03 My name is Sean Mullen. I'm 36 years old today is February 12th 2008. We are in downtown Manhattan. I am with Mary Beth Holman who is my coworker and friend?
00:20 My name is Mary Beth Holman. I am 39 years old. It is February 12th 2008. We are at the Lower Manhattan storycorps booth and Sean is my colleague and Friends.
00:38 I guess we should start today by and I'm telling
00:42 Whoever were telling.
00:45 What brought us back here to storycorps and that is you interviewed me about a month or so ago, and we decided at the end of that interview that we had something in common that we didn't know we had in common which was our grandmother's maternal. I believe grandmothers were probably the most important women in our lives. So we wanted to I guess talk today about who our grandmothers were who these great women were and what they've done for us and our lives so
01:21 Mary Beth, will you tell me who your grandmother was?
01:25 My grandmother's name is Ida Mae Duke.
01:31 And she was the daughter of
01:37 Polish immigrants and she
01:43 Was a teacher and a nurturer and a mother and a grandmother and was someone who welcomes everyone with open arms. And where does she live?
01:58 During most of my upbringing she was in Stonington Connecticut with my grandfather and a house that he built.
02:06 And what is your earliest memory of your grandmother?
02:13 I was just thinking about asking you that let's see.
02:20 Maybe that's enough to be here.
02:23 I guess the memory that first comes to mind is the fact that we spent every Christmas at my grandparents house and we always arrives on Christmas Eve.
02:36 And Nana was always.
02:40 Waiting with the fresh apple pie that she was pulling out of the oven when we were opening the door and the smells and the textures and everything about that is so vivid. It's like it's in the room with me.
02:57 And still to this day the best apple pie you've ever had that's right.
03:01 Secret is lard. How about you who is your grandmother? My grandmother's name was Emma Marie Roberts and she was the daughter of French Canadian immigrants. She was born in Holyoke Massachusetts and moved at a very young age to Winchendon Springs, Massachusetts, which is a very very small town next to the town of Winchendon, which I think is the only town in America with that name.
03:37 And that is where
03:40 I knew where she lived in Winchendon her entire life married my grandfather and they had a little house on Juniper Street. And when I was born my mother and father were living at the other end of that street, so she was in walking distance and my
04:04 Memory of her was just always, you know being so close that I could go there at any time.
04:14 She was a seamstress and a homemaker.
04:19 And probably the worst cook in the world.
04:24 But you know, she she was the probably the
04:29 One of the few people in my life who loved me unconditionally and was probably my biggest fan.
04:42 I don't know if you can really know how somebody loves you unconditionally, but you feel it and I
04:51 I had a feeling from her that I
04:54 Didn't have from my other grandmother. I've always felt that you were always closer to one grandparent one set of grandparents than you were to the other. I didn't get that from my dad's.
05:06 Parents. I didn't necessarily feel that way from my mother or my father. I mean to me my grandmother was my mother more so than my mother ever was.
05:20 And that there was nothing she wouldn't have done for me.
05:26 Did she ever do something that upset you?
05:32 That's a really good question. I think that
05:38 As I got older.
05:41 You know when and I cannot begin to kind of push back a little bit more and I did live with her in my early twenties when I come back from my travels and I was sort of lost and broken and had nowhere else to go and I'm glad that we got to spend those years together. But you know living with your grandmother when you're in your early to mid-twenties and your grandmother still is treating you like you're eight or nine, you know that can really get under your skin, but
06:12 She never really did anything.
06:15 Major to upset me, you know, I realize now and in retrospect that you know that I probably a lot of what I didn't understand was, you know my own, you know full of snacks and I'm My Own being naive at a young age. So
06:33 How about you?
06:35 Well, I in preparation for this interview this morning. I pulled out some old letters and I had forgotten probably the most difficult passage with my grandmother.
06:46 My grandmother loves me unconditionally in just like you I can't really give you a how but it was a sensation and it was a sensation that I did not receive from my mother or my father growing up. And so it was a really fun to it and craved it and I remembered that we were in very close touch throughout my childhood and then part of the reason I chose the university that I attended which was Connecticut College was because of the fact that was very close to her home.
07:24 And so mixed in with the extraordinary memories of bringing friends into the per home and lying in her backyard that's covered in daffodils and just these perfect afternoons. I was reminded of the fact that it became clear to me after I moved abroad that it was equally important to her that I loved her unconditionally and that I loved her most
07:56 And that became clear because I fell in love with a man in London and she was very very disappointed and angry and it was most appearance when I introduced her to him and she had absolutely nothing to say to him. And this is the most loving woman and this is the woman I've been telling his name is Darren about four years and about this hugely warm and passionate and loving and concerned human being and she was as cold as ice. Did she ever warm up to him? She didn't
08:37 And that was actually that was a huge realization for me. And so then I wanted to test it a little bit. So being a communicator I decided what I should just talk to him about it and say that I can love both of you equally as much and she wasn't able to talk about it. She was hurt them or yeah.
09:01 I mean when you when you said this
09:05 I know I am. I think my grandmother wanted I think she wanted our lover especially my love. I mean, I have a sister and my sister was never really as close to my grandmother. I don't think that my sister got her the way I got her and I think she just wanted to see there's nothing she would have done for us and she only thing she asked in return was for our love and respect him and for us to just check in with her and you know, my mother couldn't do that, you know, my mother built my grandmother build my mother out so many times.
09:42 And my mother just burned her every time and I that was one of my own reasons for falling out with my mother. But also my grandmother know when my grandmother died 10 years ago. I told my mother not to come to the funeral.
09:55 And she didn't.
09:58 But I'm thinking about my own relationships. I mean, I remember, you know, being a junior in high school and my girlfriend had moved to Toronto and my grandmother was petrified to drive but she got her friend to drive me all the way to Toronto so I could see my girlfriend and you know when I was in my twenties and living with her and I was dating somebody I wish I had a long-distance relationship but you know that person would common, you know, my grandmother was like sure she can stay in the house. She didn't care that we slept in the same room or in the same bed. She
10:39 She wanted me to be happy and she supported me and the only thing that she asked in return was so, you know for me to love her and then to be there for her and
10:51 I tried I mean I I I I wish I could have been there for her more cuz I I feel that my you know, just sort of being 20-something and and wanted to kind of get on with my life and being in a hurry to get out of a small town, especially after I been around the world then.
11:08 You know, I wish I had slowed down a little bit more and been so you have been less anxious to get out cuz I would have loved to have had more time with her.
11:19 How was the experience of her passing away for you?
11:24 I was some.
11:27 I was on my way to see her. I was caretaking a house in Maine on the coast of Maine and
11:38 She's been asking me to come and see her and I just didn't want to make the drive and but I finally said that you know, I'm coming down and I left that morning to Sunday morning and I left him. I had to stop in Portland on the way down to pick up something from my sister. And I remember my sister saying and she had this look on her face and she said that you know, your grandmother is dead.
11:58 And I immediately thought it must be my father's mother can't be my mother's mother and she said No, it's it's Graham. It's you know, it's your mother.
12:09 And I still had like two and a half hours to drive.
12:13 And I couldn't get there fast enough by cry the entire way and I pulled in and started making funeral arrangements and I was there for a month. I had literally took off just thinking I'd be for there for a day and go back. It's like I I wanted to see her but I didn't want to stay and here I was I was there for over a month taking care of her.
12:36 Papers in her bills and everything else and
12:41 I just felt really horrible afterwards.
12:45 I wish I had more time.
12:54 I know that things for you haven't been so easy with what's going on with your grandmother. Can you talk a little bit about that?
13:02 Yeah, I actually brought in a couple photographs in this is these were taken Mother's Day 2001.
13:14 And actually the last time that Nana's that I have that I saw and Anna when she still had some clarity and it just so happens Chief. It was clear that she had dementia. We weren't sure if it was Alzheimer's she continue to live in.
13:34 The house that Grandpa built after he passed away a few years before and she started to forget to turn the stove off or she would forget where the phone was she would she had to be taken to the hospital a couple times because she taking her medication too many times.
13:53 And one of the
13:58 One of my discomforts was the fact that she continued to drive.
14:03 And to this day, I have no idea how difficult it would be to take your parents license away.
14:11 So my mother's sister rigged the garage door, so it couldn't open but eventually Nana had someone come and fix it. And the reason that we finally decided that she needed to be put in some type of long-term facility. She did not want to live with any of her children.
14:37 Is that she for the fourth or fifth time drove off the road after driving for miles and miles and miles and not knowing where she was driving.
14:50 And she's really I mean, it's such a gift that she didn't kill herself and she didn't kill anyone else.
14:57 And that happens just a couple days after the photo after I took this photo.
15:07 It's been well has all families are it's been a really complicated Road in terms of the fact that my mother is the eldest child. She was the first child after.
15:19 I'm not sure where there was two or three miscarriages so she was considered the miracle baby and she grew up at the miracle child and
15:31 We grew up is the perfect grandchildren and I did not fully recognize the damage that that did to the rest of our family until I was an adult and so not only did my mother's siblings suffer from never measuring up but my cousins suffered from never measuring up and it was
15:56 It was
16:02 It was a very difficult reality to absorb because I felt responsible and all of a sudden I felt as if
16:10 The accomplishments I'd had in the successes. I had Were Somehow hurtful were directly hurting other people.
16:20 I was the first born.
16:24 My mother was an only child and
16:29 I think that I was the Sun that they probably always wanted. I don't know why they only had one child, you know now realizing, you know that my mother was such a handful I could see why you know, but
16:46 So when I came along I kind of got that Golden Child status bestowed upon me and my grandmother.
16:57 Didn't really hide it and I mean I can see why my sister might have been distant from my grandmother and some ways because you know growing up it was always well Sean is the first one.
17:10 And I'm sure that that had to have had an effect on her and it was certainly nothing I was asking for and it wasn't something that I wanted but you you're right you begin to question, you know, all of these things like that you've done with your life in the successes and you almost want to hide them or you're ashamed of them even to this day. I feel that.
17:36 You know deep down that my siblings resent me my sister and now I have a half-brother.
17:42 Because I made different choices with my life.
17:47 So I can see how hard that is has got to be for you.
17:52 What's your mother's relationship like with your grandmother?
17:56 My mother was an extremely responsible loyal and dutiful daughter.
18:04 And she sacrificed ever having her family's holidays in our family's home and because of the connection I had with Nana, especially I craved spending the holidays with grandparents and it's now that I'm an adult and I'm watching my brother make decisions about his family that I realize that it's a huge sacrifice to pack your family up and drive two and a half hours for every holiday, and we ritually went to Nana's house every month for weekends and
18:45 Mom was the apple of my grandmother's I and could do absolutely no wrong. And that I think is one of the things that was a real disservice to Mom because there wasn't really room for her to fail and that combined with the fact that I think my mother from
19:17 The way she was treated as a child to my senses that she was very
19:24 Passively angry about the fact that my grandmother is so generous of spirit and she felt as if
19:34 Grandma and Grandpa didn't have enough to give to be giving so much away.
19:42 And how has she been dealing with your grandmother's condition?
19:50 This is hard to talk about because there's a lot of no no. No, I want to talk about it.
19:59 She's devastated.
20:01 She's she's absolutely devastated in that. She's lost a woman who?
20:10 Only her perfection
20:13 And in very brief.
20:16 Moments of what I consider Lucidity was able to reveal that. She recognized that my mother had a lot of weaknesses. So this person has left. I mean her physical body is still here but her spirit and her intellect are no longer with us and
20:41 My mother tends to focus on what I would consider the less important details so little thing cuz she needs she's she needs to control things. So she was very adamant shortly after Nana was prescribed and started taking medication. That was specifically for the Alzheimer's she's very upset that Nana was gaining weight and the weight gain was completely correlated with the medication she was taking so she was
21:19 Angry with Nana's was angry with the doctors and she was trying to get Nana set up with diet plans and it just the focus here. I felt like it was wasted time because here's this woman who's physically and mentally and emotionally evaporating.
21:39 And this is the focus and then that everything else was out of her control and I shared with you yesterday and this is still really disturbing to me and I had to check in with other people to recognize that it actually is okay that it's disturbing to me either last Christmas or a couple of Christmases ago. My mother gave me a photo album and it's a photo album of photos of she and Nana and every photo has been taken since Nana has been in last stage Alzheimer's and she put the Serenity Prayer in the photo album and she wrote a very brief note that she was giving us to me because she knows how much I love my grandmother.
22:32 But that's not how you want to remember her.
22:37 No, I look at those photos in my my grandmother's not there.
22:41 You've got to remember her.
22:44 The way that you remember her.
22:47 My grandmother didn't even like going to the hospital, you know when I lived with her at night. I had a teaching job in New Hampshire. I had to get up at like 5 in the morning. My grandmother would be completely dressed. Like why are you eating dressed and she said about you never know who's going to stop by and I'm like who possibly has come by in 40 years at 4:30 in the morning, you know, but she didn't want anybody to see her vulnerable.
23:14 I mean it's as suddenly as she died in his quickly as she died.
23:19 I mean that's the way she would have wanted that she wouldn't have wanted anybody to see her.
23:25 In a hospital or overtime. I mean she still had this like little lady image that she had to kind of keep up, you know even to the end and I'm a night at the funeral. I mean she wanted it to be closed casket. She didn't want anybody to see her and I saw her before and it's just that's not the way.
23:49 Even she would have wanted me.
23:52 To see her to remember her.
23:55 So if I think you've got to remember her your own way tell me about some of these photos situation photos about something.
24:10 Cuz I asked you before about a difficult experience and and I think actually that I gave you the wrong one.
24:17 And I also do you want to talk about these photos, but some
24:21 Soap before my grandmother was officially diagnosed she
24:29 She tried spending the holidays with us after Grandpa died. So it would the reverse happened and I think that's a blessing for my mom that she had to that. She had some holidays that she hosted and two instances are so clear one and this is before I knew that Alzheimer's patients can get very angry and very irrational and that you cannot take it personally. So the first instance was not about anger. I was we're having Thanksgiving dinner and my grandmother called me her big doll. So all my letters it starts my big doll. And so
25:11 I was sitting next to Nana and mom was sitting across from Anna and Nana looked up and she said that Ian.
25:22 Where is that big daughter of yours the one I call my big doll? Whatever happened to her. Where did she go?
25:32 And Mom said
25:35 Mom, she's sitting right next to it. She looked at me and she looked me up and down and she looked in my eyes for what felt like 5 minutes. It was probably 60 seconds and she said oh, no, that's not her.
25:49 That was that was the first really big memory loss that I experienced about me and then
26:01 We were on Cape Cod. My grandmother came with us everywhere. My grandfather didn't like to travel so she came on our family vacation. She came to Cape Cod. She just she was part of everything we did and we were in the living room and I don't know what that Nana off. I cannot remember now, but she proceeded to criticize insult demean and belittle me for about 20 minutes straight.
26:29 And I had plans I had previously made plans with my father to go to the movies which was actually complicated in itself because my mother doesn't like my father and I never spend time alone together. That's a problem for her not because there's any bad history there. And so it was my father ever said to me on the way to the movies, you know, Mary Beth, I think.
26:57 I think Mom is a banana is lashing out at the people. She loves most.
27:07 And it's so hard, but that's
27:11 And it's so easy to say but it's something that you can't take personally. It's not her. You know, I mean, you just got the brunt end of that that anger and it's
27:25 And she may not have been aiming at the big doll. You don't like somebody else.
27:33 Okay, so photos these are random cuz I didn't let's see.
27:40 Well because we were always there.
27:43 Here's a photo of my brother and my mom at Christmas at Nana's. This was shortly after my second brain surgery at Nana's for another Christmas or holiday or Thanksgiving. We're going through that experience. Well, because my mother is the center of everybody's attention. It was like my brother and my father she was unable to be there for me. She was there for my mom know I was your grandmother through this. How did she know she was she was very lucid. She is I said that because I still had him a little annoyed about the fact that three days after brain surgery. I'm home. And my mother was very upset that I had not gone outside since I've gotten home and I've been home for 12 hours.
28:31 And so my grandmother trying to please my mother said Marybeth, we've got to get you to take a walk outside because it's really upsetting your mother and you know, my head is, you know Staples across from ear-to-ear and she bundles me up and takes me out into 20 degree weather in Boston in February.
28:59 But it's kind of funny when you know, she knows your mom. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
29:08 I mean like my grandmother worried sick about me.
29:12 You know when I when I went to China and meat sheep when I was 19, and I said I want to go to China and study. My grandmother was one that offered to buy the ticket.
29:22 Cuz she knew it was something that I wanted to do.
29:26 And then I went back again after I graduated but she just couldn't comprehend. I mean when I got back she said all I could think about when you were in China was it you were stuck in a black hole and she was just constantly worried that I was in danger.
29:44 I mean, I'm in many ways and I regret that she never got to meet my wife.
29:52 But I'm happy that she wasn't here to see me sick cuz I don't.
29:59 I don't know how she would have dealt with it. I mean I had some health issues when I was a kid, and I'm sure that that worried her as well. But I just I'm glad she couldn't be here for that part of my life.
30:12 Yeah, I am. I told you earlier that I just found a letter from Nana and actually makes me laugh now at the time. It was really upsetting. But so I moved to London after I finish college and that was very scary for my mom actually moved to London with my father when we were very young children not London to maidenhead to England and she was really lonely and miserable for most of the time she was there and I was so excited to be going to London then to be getting across the ocean and away and so about a year to year-and-a-half in.
30:55 I was living with my boyfriend, which my parents did not know. My grandmother did not know but then we decide we were going to travel through Eastern Europe in a little bit of Western Europe. So to save money we decided to move in with his father. So for some reason on a whim I decided what I'm just going to tell Nana Nana loves me unconditionally if anyone will understand and her to really angry letters where she's telling advising that you have to get to the local YWCA. This is a problem. This is really inappropriate. You're living with an older man and his son. I don't care if his son is your age. I don't care if you love him. This is very inappropriate and I'm just now I mean, it's just at that time. I was so angry at her but now I just feel for her because here's her big doll.
31:48 Living in some strange city, which isn't so strange but to her some strange city with
31:58 The father and son and she's obviously so upset about it. So it's it it's funny and tragic and heartwarming all the same time.
32:10 Yeah, I think that if you if my grandmother had a few would bring her letter. She probably would have said, you know, that's great. You know, I love you. I mean like the thing about like when I lived in my grandmother my twenties looks like I could do anything. I wanted not that I was you know, this wild crazy kid, but I know I took I lived in the upstairs at the house. And I said why I want to paint the bathroom and she said fine you whatever you want to do. As long as I like you as long as I can spend any money my grandma didn't like me to spend money. You know, she said what we have paint in the basement you can use it, you know, the pain was like for 1953 it was hard as a rock, you know, there was no way you can we're going to revive the paint, you know, and she said whatever you want to do. You know what I want to tear out the closet in and put a desk in my room Vine tear out the closet, you know, but I think your grandfather had some old males in the garage use those, you know, I could do anything I wanted but as long as I didn't like cost any money, you know, but at the same time if I said, you know, I need $200 for whatever she would have opened her purse.
33:12 That was what was supposed to mean I could have cared less about the money or anything like that. But it was the fact that there was just throughout my life everybody that was part of my life. My father my mother questioned everything I did for no good reason. I wasn't a bad kid, but when I went to my grandmother's house, it was like I was free, you know, and I kept a like when a grandfather was alive, right, you know, we wrote letters back and forth and I was always, you know, I want to go back home. I want to go back home. That was the place. I wanted to be. That's the place. I guess. I should have grown up.
33:49 I never wanted to leave Nana's house. Yeah, I mean it was heartbreaking when I but I mean even though even as an adult I cried when I left there.
33:59 I to the state when I go back to Winston and I don't I have to drive by her street and I will not look at that house. It broke my heart to sell it and when I left it, so I'll never go back and look and I literally have to avert my gaze when I go to that town because I can't I don't want to picture it any other way than the way it is in my mind. So
34:23 And I just I mean I still dream about it. I still feel like I've forgotten something in the house. I have to go back and get it and I think it's just this feeling that I will never have again, and I'm sure you won't either you know.
34:36 So I just had this sub.
34:39 I just remembered because my grandmother used to take she was living in Connecticut. So she their Stonington proper that's the affluent fishing Village and then there's Route 1 and she lives they lived in something called Harborview Terrace, which was like the working-class part of Stonington. And so she used to take the bus cuz Grandpa didn't like to travel to take the bus to Providence and we would drive to Providence pick her up and drive out to our house on the cape.
35:10 And my grandmother is social she's really social. So we all know where you're going from. Although I was extremely shy Child. So So Def on you in a big way somehow in my adult life she did so she always was prepared with shopping bags full of food that she would be passing out the window of the car as soon as we hit traffic to other people sandwich.
35:45 Just from to some random person in a station wagon.
35:54 Apple bread and cookie
36:01 Sometimes an end if if she'd already passed it all that she would go in the cooler in the back and start going into the food that Mom and Dad were bringing down to stock the house with like the poor starving people of Cape Cod or what getting to know your neighbors on the road cuz it was that there was so much traffic that we would be stopped dead holding actually playing a card game from one window to the next. Wow. That is awesome. Oh my gosh. Wow. Wow.
36:45 But knowing you as well as I know you I I wouldn't put that past you. I mean, it sounds to me like something you would do to this day. I was class president in my college and I had this fantastic idea, which I didn't really totally think through but I decided that when it came to Valentine's Day, I was going to buy candy and I was going to locate every member of the 500 members of our class and hand out candy to I was so excited about it. And then there was something written in the school newspaper about how even though you can trust Mary Beth home and you never know what's in the candy, you know what the world but that to me and to this day during the Christmas holidays. I always carry around bags of chocolates and I give them I slide them under the subway token booth and give them rather than asking them for something and I jump up on buses.
37:45 Give them candy and get off. I love doing that her. I wouldn't say really you know, what's in the candy. I would just buy the candies from
37:55 My last question is what do you get? What did you get from your grandmother mean what to this day?
38:04 What do you carry if her how is what part of her is in you?
38:10 I hope I can say I got her generosity of spirit.
38:20 I think I'm working on this, but I think I also got some of her I need to be.
38:29 Special and loved in a way. That's not always so healthy.
38:34 And I just
38:38 What did I receive I mean, I just receiving her love was the biggest gift of all how about you?
38:50 I guess some.
38:53 I mean, I always said that if it wasn't for my grandmother, I'd probably be in jail or on drugs. So the fact that you know, I was able to get through.
39:04 Pretty messed-up childhood unscaved in Ellen and I can still get up in the morning and function and I think I owe that to her and and
39:15 The childhood in the absence of a childhood I got from her.
39:23 And what you said we know just this unconditional love.
39:28 My grandmother always
39:32 Thought it was important to put your Sosa blood was thicker than water. My grandmother just was always have these kind of crazy philosophy.
39:43 You know, she always used to say when I get society says society says it's sort of was her way of saying like this is what you have to do. This is life. And this is what you have to do these things. You may not like them but suck them up you got to do them, and I'm
39:58 But she was always saying that blood was thicker than water that you had to take care of your family first before you help other people and it's rather ironic that I've spent my life pretty much helping other people. I don't know if she really would have gotten that but I think she would have been proud of me none the less so
40:16 And I do want to because Nana.
40:21 I don't feel as if Nana is able to hear me the way she used to I just want to say I love you Nana and you're an extraordinary woman and that it hurts me deeply that I can no longer reach you but I have memories that are with me everyday.
40:44 My grandmother collected elephants and they always had to have the trunks up and you know, she's she died 10 years ago, but every now and then and really odd times I always come across elephants with their trunks up in very strange places, you know walking into a store and they'll be one on the shelf and like one place where it's not supposed to be or I had a student in December who just walked up and handed me an elephant with the trunk up. So this is a gift from my country and I always feel it's like in those little moments that to my grandmother reaching out to me and just letting me know that she's still there and she still with me and I hope that
41:25 You feel that too that your grandmother will always be with you.
41:31 Places where you wouldn't even expect
41:37 I really appreciate that. We spent this time together. I'm glad we did this to our grandmother's. Yes.
41:46 Thank you, but you