• Immigrant Interviews!

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  • Click on the link below to go to John and Marie Lawless’s Interview:

    John Lawless
    County Down, Ireland
    Marie Lawless
    County Armagh, Ireland

    It’s November 30, 2017, and we’re at Maureen Richetelli’s house.
    We’re having one of our Irish History Project meetings off-site.

    Main interviewer: Sheila Danehy. Others present: Maureen Richetelli, Nancy Smith, Sheila Johnson, Bernard Kielty, and Amy Lacey. We have three visitors who we are interviewing this evening: Marie and John Lawless and Jim Mayne.

    Interviewer: Good evening. All three of you are from Ireland, correct?

    Interviewees: That’s right.

    Interviewer: OK. We are going to start with John and Marie Lawless. We’re asking you questions and if you just want to answer or expound upon them that’s kind of what it’s all about. We’ll be asking about what you’ve done in the past and where you’re going.

    Interviewer: So first off – I’ll ask both of you together — where were you born and if you don’t mind telling us, when? (laughter from the group).

    Marie Lawless: I was born in Portadown, County Armagh in 1933, and John, you were born…?

    John Lawless: I was born July 9, 1932, in County Down, Warrenpoint.

    Interviewer: and these are the Lawlesses talking. Jim (Mayne), we will do yours separately. Please spell where you’re from so when we have it transcribed, we’ll have the spelling of the county and your town.

    Interviewer: And as far as your families are concerned, how many people were in your family and where did you fit into that picture?

    Marie Lawless: In my family, there were four boys and four girls. I was the first girl. I had three older brothers, and three sisters and a brother, younger.

    Interviewer: And did any of them come to the United States as well?

    Marie Lawless: My oldest brother was already in the United States when I came.

    Interviewer: So, you were the second?

    Marie Lawless: Yes.

    Interviewer: …and how about your parents? Did they remain in Ireland?

    Marie Lawless: Oh, yes, they’re still in Ireland.

    Interviewer: And how about you, John? Where were you in your family? Were you one of multiple children? Where did you fit in?

    John Lawless: There were eight of us.

    Interviewer: Were you the youngest?

    Marie Lawless: Yes, he was the youngest.

    John Lawless: I was the youngest of five boys and three girls.

    Interviewer: OK, so you both came from a family of eight?

    Marie Lawless: Yes.

    Interviewer: And, John, were you one of the early ones to come over or did other people in your family come to the United States?

    John Lawless: No. Just me.

    Interviewer: And in Ireland what sort of things did your family do to make a living? What sort of jobs did your parents or your siblings have?

    Marie Lawless: My father did different jobs, but he mostly worked as a crane driver at the docks in Belfast where they traveled around Belfast and then did work at the dock.

    Interviewer: Now when you say crane driver, what do you mean?

    Marie Lawless: It’s like the cranes that they usually use to lift things, and they can also drive through the city, you know, and then go to different parts of the city. It was mostly done at the famous Harland and Wolff Dock in Belfast.

    Interviewer: When he was working there, did the family join him, or did he come back and forth?

    Marie Lawless: Oh, no, he went to work. We lived in Portadown and he traveled by train to Belfast every day.

    John Lawless: And then he rode the bike home from the station about a mile and a half.

    Marie Lawless: He rode his bike to the station. That’s right. Yes, I forgot about that!

    Interviewer: And what about you, John?

    John Lawless: What about me?

    Interviewer: …your family…

    Marie Lawless: …what sort of work did your father do?

    John Lawless: My father worked around the Railroad. He was a signalman. I lived on a 32-acre farm.

    Interviewer: Oh nice. Were there animals? Was it an animal farm?

    Marie Lawless: He lived outside of Warrenpoint, but he traveled into Warrenpoint all the time. It’s a place called Burren.

    Interviewer: And what were some things that your family did to entertain yourselves, in terms of the community, or what did you do on your holidays, your sports, things like that?

    John Lawless: We used to go down to Dublin on holiday for a couple of weeks every year when we were kids.

    Marie Lawless: See, his father was born in Dublin.

    Interviewer: And did you travel to Dublin by train?

    Marie Lawless: Oh, yes, nobody had cars back then.

    John Lawless: The donkey wouldn’t go that far. (laughter)

    Interviewer: How far was it to Dublin from where you were?

    John Lawless: It was 70 miles away.

    Interviewer: So, when you went on your vacation to Dublin every year, did you go to see family?

    John Lawless: Oh, yes, we went to see my granny.

    Interviewer: What sort of responsibilities did you have in your particular families in the home? Were the kids responsible for certain chores?

    Marie Lawless: I was the oldest girl, so I was picked every night and had to do the supper dishes, the dinner dishes.

    John Lawless: On the black lead new range.

    Marie Lawless: And in those days, we didn’t have hot water flowing like we did, later on, you know.

    Interviewer: So, it wasn’t easy, I’m sure.

    Marie Lawless: But regarding vacations when we were kids, my father used to take us away for the day all the time, quite often, and he’d take us to Warrenpoint by train. (laughter)

    John Lawless: When you worked on the railroad you got a special pass.

    Marie Lawless: He had special passes so he could take us all the time. He’d take us many times, but usually just for a day, and we loved it! Then he’d take us to one of those little hotel houses where you have bread with your tea.

    John Lawless: Tea and bread would cost you a shilling.

    Interviewer: So, you didn’t know each other?

    Marie Lawless: No, we didn’t know each other until we were grown up.

    Interviewer: And, John, did you work on the farm?

    John Lawless: Oh, yes.

    Marie Lawless: when he was a kid.

    John Lawless: As soon as you were able to walk, you worked.

    Interviewer: And as far as schools, did you attend parochial schools or did you attend public. I’m not sure what the school system was.

    John Lawless: It was all public school but Catholics went to Catholic Schools.

    Marie Lawless: Yeah, I went to the Presentation Convent. It was all nuns and I grew up with that.

    Interviewer: Let me bring you back to the farm. When you worked at the farm, what kind of work did you do when you were small?

    Marie Lawless: He was young he did everything.

    John Lawless: As soon as you were able to stand up! – That was a mistake!

    Marie Lawless: She wants to know what you did.

    John Lawless: I was telling my kids, the biggest mistake I ever made was learning how to walk. You did anything that had to be done; clean out behind the barn, pound stuff, take the spuds up like the potatoes to the barn, and a lot of other things.

    Interviewer: So as soon as you were old enough, you went out and worked.

    John Lawless: Yes.

    Interviewer: So, you got the eggs or cleaned up stuff, or picked the potatoes.

    John Lawless: Yes, anything that had to be done on the farm, I had to do it.

    Interviewer: And after school, did you go into any careers? Did you become a homemaker? Did you move to the United States at that point after you finished high school?

    John Lawless: I worked on the railroad as a fireman. They had steam engines back then. Many a turn of coal, I shoveled.

    Interviewer: Did the firemen shovel coal?

    Marie Lawless: Yes, into the steam engines, they did that.

    John Lawless: Yes, they were steam engines and that’s how they worked. All the trains ran on steam.

    Interviewer: So, when you finished your schooling, you still worked in Ireland for a while before you immigrated?

    Marie Lawless: Well, we didn’t immigrate until we got married. After school, you know, we didn’t even meet until much later.

    Interviewer: You got married over there then. So, you met in Ireland?

    Marie Lawless: Yeah, my sister met him first, in fact.

    Interviewer: So, you stole him from your sister at a dance?

    Marie Lawless: No, she didn’t want to go with him. (laughter) He lived on the street across from me. The next street up the road. He lived in a lodging house with this other group from Derry. They were firemen. They lived there while they were working on the railway, and they’d go home on the weekends. So that’s what they did. I was working then. Well, I had no choice because in those days women were not pushed to go on to college. They figured a man should, so my brothers all went on to college. Girls don’t have to because they get married and taken care of, they thought. But I still did shorthand and typing and all that stuff. And I had a chance to take a job at Berwoods furniture place, in the office. But in the meantime, I had started working in this place where we did sewing because I liked to do sewing, and I was making more money there, so I stayed instead of the store, and later it paid off because I made all of my daughters’ wedding dresses. And I made clothes for my grandkids. They still show me stuff I did which I didn’t remember doing like little outfits and fur coats. And every Easter I’d make their clothes.

    John Lawless: I had to kill the rabbits for the fur. (laughter).

    Marie Lawless: I did so much sewing in those days. Once I came here, the first I thing I bought was a secondhand sewing machine. I did a lot of stuff on that sewing machine!

    Interviewer: So, what prompted you to move to the United States? What made that decision happen?

    Marie Lawless: Well, I’m trying to think — it’s hard to remember — but we were planning to get married and his job offered him a job in Rhodesia. The firemen were offered jobs in Rhodesia and it was a pretty good job with good money and everything. And some guys took it and I said, “I’m not going to Rhodesia. No way.” So, we said if we wanted to go anywhere, we’d go to America. In the meantime, the year before this, I had come here with my mother on a trip to see my brother, because he had been in the Korean War and was wounded and spent three years in the hospital. So, I came over with my mother because we wanted to see him. I was around 20, and we came on the Mauretania, the second biggest ship. It was great. It was like a cruise ship when I think back on it now. So, we came to America to see my brother. I had spent some time here and I liked it. But I said if I’m leaving home at all, I’d rather come to America. Especially when my brother was here and my uncle who lived in Manchester.

    Interviewer: So where was your brother living?

    Marie Lawless: When I came with my mother, he was already married then. He got married on crutches, actually. He even got engaged and he spent three years in the hospital and he was out of the hospital and living in Thompsonville, Connecticut. My mother and I spent about two or three weeks here with them, you know.

    Interviewer: That was very country-like then, right?

    Marie Lawless: Yes, kind of.

    Interviewer: And still is, I think! What year was this?

    Marie Lawless: This was 1956 when I was here with my mother and I got kind of homesick after a while because I was so used to so many friends at home and family. And while I was away, my father says that fella’s been coming around here all the time! (laughter)

    Interviewer: Looking for your sister? (more laughter)

    John Lawless (laughing): Very good, very good.

    Marie Lawless: No, no. So, when my mother and I came back from America, I said to John, well, if we’re going to leave home and go anywhere, I would pick America. I think I could go for a couple of years. My father says to me in the meantime my father had come here to America at one time. He took leave from his job because my brother was living here and he thought he might stay here and claim us all out, you know, with my uncle. And my father came home and he surprised us because he didn’t want to stay. So, when he came home, the door opened, and there was my father, standing there. (laughter)

    John Lawless: We all thought it was her uncle John. He and his brother John looked identical.

    Interviewer: So, he came here and he didn’t like it?

    Marie Lawless: He liked it okay, but he couldn’t see himself staying here. So, he said to me look at you. You’re married and you have no little kids. I figured I’m all set, I said. So, we’ll go for a couple of years. Well, he was right, because he said to me, “Marie, don’t go with that idea, not just for a couple of years.” And here I am, it’s over 59 years, I think now, 59 years last May.

    John Lawless: What’s that place in Manchester called that I was working when we first come over? Cheney’s or something?

    Marie Lawless: You worked at Cheney’s. You had that job and everything for a while.

    Interviewer: How old were you when you married?

    Marie Lawless: I was 24. I was old getting married.

    Interviewer: That was old?

    Marie Lawless: It was. My brother told me I was an old maid because I wasn’t married yet. My sister got married at 19 and she was younger than me. She was married at 19, and she went to live in England, but she didn’t like it and came back home again.

    Interviewer: Now did you sing at all? I know you sing now, but did you sing when you were in Ireland?

    Marie Lawless: Not unless we had a party but just taking turns. But nothing special.

    John Lawless: We’d play spin the bottle you know (laughter)

    Interviewer: Did you dance as well?

    Marie Lawless: We did a lot of dancing. We loved modern dancing. In fact, when we were on our honeymoon, we were supposed to be at a dancing contest. We used to go to St Patrick’s Hall in Portadown; they had dancing every week and they’d pick so many to be together and then have them dance for the final. The final was fun, but we were on our honeymoon, so I don’t know if we would have won. We were picked to go in it though, but I don’t know if we ever won. We did tangos, foxtrots, slow waltzes. Now he can’t dance; he won’t dance. I think I’ll find a dancing partner. (laughter) No, he doesn’t dance anymore, but he did in Portadown. My hometown where I was born. It was a good size town. It was in County Armagh.

    John Lawless: …We used to call it dirty Portadown.

    Marie Lawless: It was a very bitter town it was when we were growing up, but we didn’t realize how much.

    John Lawless: A real protestant town in Northern Ireland.

    Interviewer: And when you came to the United States, how did you go about meeting people, getting jobs, you know, making your homes here?

    Marie Lawless: Well, we came here, and we went to live with my brother. We came here to Willimantic. My brother was finishing college there, and we came to live with them. Then, we got our own place, and John got a job right away, and I got a job for a little while. After about a month, I discovered I was pregnant.

    Interviewer: For a Change? (laughter)

    Marie Lawless: No, it was the first one, just the first one. We came in May, so I think it was May that we came. The first one was born in February. And he was born four days before our first anniversary.

    John Lawless: We had six kids before we found out what was causing it.

    Interviewer: John, you got a job doing what?

    John Lawless: I worked in a factory.

    Marie Lawless: He worked in some kind of a factory in Willimantic for a while and then he got a job at the Coca-Cola Company, driving a truck. He did that for quite a while. Then he got into the Stop and Shop business and that’s when we decided to move because they offered him a job in the Produce Department and he traveled all over the place.

    John Lawless: I used to open the stores for them.

    Marie Lawless: At first, he’d be in Greenwich, Stamford, Westport, the towns near where we lived in. And then we bought the house in 1963 in Milford.

    John Lawless: On New Haven Avenue beside the Queenth’s Store.

    Marie Lawless: Back then he still worked at the Stop and Shop, and they had him going to different Stop and Shops, remember? You were in West Haven and were there for a while.

    John Lawless: I first traveled to Greenwich and then to Stamford. I worked my way up, didn’t I?

    Marie Lawless: Well, then you left that job and got a job at Northeast Utilities, where it was the best ever. Right in Milford and he worked there for 15 years or so. He was 23 years at Stop and Shop.

    Interviewer: So, when you first immigrated, was it easy to find these kinds of things or was it difficult to find a job?

    Marie Lawless: I didn’t even look for a job right away.

    John Lawless (to Marie): Remember you worked at Burndy for a while.

    Marie Lawless: Aye, in Milford, I did get that job for a while. After I had kids, though, I worked for six months, and then I got a layoff which was good because they give you so much for that. Then, I got into Weldun Upholstery down on Gulf St. If you’re coming from New Haven Avenue you go down Gulf St. and pass St. Mary’s. It was on the left-hand side there. Do you remember that? I got a part-time job sewing there, and I worked there for years. It was taken over by a different guy. I did all of their cushions and sewing for them.

    Interviewer: When you first got here, how did you find out about these jobs? I mean was it a newspaper or something?

    Marie Lawless: I had a couple of different things before that, little jobs. I worked at Burndy’s as John said, for a short time.

    John Lawless: She was doing some kind of soldering work for a short time.

    Interviewer: Did you ever find that there was a network of Irish people that you could talk to or did you just assimilate into the town?

    Marie Lawless: The family we met was the McCann’s who I told you died. They came to live in Trumbull and her mother had met my mother in Ireland, and she herself had known my brother when she was younger. So, she got in touch with me and they lived in Trumbull. In fact, her husband is related to Langanke’s Florist in Trumbull. Well, his cousins came to live here in Milford also, so we saw them quite often too, and then I met different Irish ones but I don’t remember much.

    Interviewer: What about through church? You’re Catholics, right? Did you get help through Saint Anne’s?

    Marie Lawless: We never did. We never really needed anything, thank God, because we were lucky. When I came to Devon at first, I wanted to find out what doctor I should go to because I was pregnant and Dr. Highland came to the house. He was so nice. He came to the house to see me because I had my other four kids up in bed. I don’t know if I drove at that time. I didn’t drive right away. No, it took me a while to get driving. So, he told me to go to St Mary’s because that’s where he went, and I said we were looking for houses and we were going to look in Stratford. And he said, “No, go look in Milford.” And he was so right, you know. He was so nice. He knew what he was talking about.

    Maureen Richetelli: He used to blush. He always had a blush on his face!

    Marie Lawless: He was from Athlone.

    John Lawless: That’s the capital of Ireland. No, no, it’s not the capital, it’s the most central city in Ireland, I think.

    Interviewer: Oh, that’s interesting. Can you spell that?

    John Lawless: A-t-h-l-o-n-e.

    Marie Lawless: So, Dr. Highland was one of our doctors, and then we had O’Malley at that time as our family doctor.

    Interviewer: Was that what made you end up in Milford? What attracted you to Milford like to buy your house in Milford?

    Marie Lawless: Well, my brother in the meantime had graduated and he went to live in Long Island and we really wanted to move away from Willimantic. His job offered him these different jobs in the area and the closest place to live would have been right around the Milford/Stratford area, so as I said, Dr. Hyland told us to look in Milford for a house. So, you know, that’s one of the reasons we decided to look in Milford, we liked it better. I’m glad we came. I really am, when I look back on it, you know we’ve been very lucky.

    Interviewer: Did you ever consider going back to Ireland?

    Marie Lawless: For the first four or five years, I used to wish I was home. I was homesick constantly. He’d go into work some days and I’d sit and cry my eyes out. I mean, I left all my family home, and we didn’t have a phone right away. My parents didn’t either until later.

    John Lawless: No, television or anything.

    Marie Lawless: But then, you know the kids started coming along. We went home for Christmas when my son, the first one, wasn’t quite a year yet. We went home for Christmas in December and he was a year in February. We went home and I discovered I was pregnant again. I couldn’t tell them that, you see because we were just home for Christmas. It was great! And then I get out of the back of the taxi and my family comes running out and grabs the grandchild and just left me! Grabbed the baby!

    John Lawless: We landed in the train station at Portadown and there wasn’t a car around or available because the dog races were on in Dundalk, and we had no way to get in touch with them. I went home in a hearse, didn’t I? (laughter)

    Marie Lawless: No, no. It was one of their taxis. I forgot that whole thing, you know, now I remember a lot of things that happened.

    Interviewer: And what prompted you to join the Irish heritage society in Milford? Did you hear about it through word of mouth?

    Marie Lawless: Yes, someone from the club told us. We were already members of a club and because it was local, it’d be nice and handy for us.

    John Lawless: We were already members with the Gaelic Club of New Haven forever.

    Marie Lawless: We used to go a lot. We used to bring our kids down every Sunday though we hardly ever go anymore. I don’t like driving on the highway.

    Interviewer: Did you ever go to the Gaelic American Club in Fairfield?

    Marie Lawless: We joined it for a while. My daughters used to work there for a little while bartending. Aileen and Kerry did it for a while there, but then they gave that up. We used to go for a while and then we didn’t go as much.

    John Lawless: I remember Frank McAvoy.

    Marie Lawless: Oh, yeah, yeah. You’re right.

    John Lawless: He was a gentleman.

    Marie Lawless: He was very nice. He was alone. My daughter had him over for Thanksgiving one year. Because he met her when she was doing bartending. Course she brought him, and we were all there.

    John Lawless: When she was working there alone, Frank would wait until she closed up and walk her to her car.

    Interviewer: Thank you both for your memories. Is there anything more you’d like to add?

    Marie Lawless: I have a girlfriend in Ireland and we grew up together since we were two years old, so we were friends for 80 years and we never missed each other’s birthdays. She passed away about six months ago. I was very sad about that. Her name was May McClean, married to Mallon, May Mallon.

    Interviewer: That‘s a long friendship. Any more questions for the Lawlesses?
    What do you enjoy about the Milford Irish Club?

    Marie Lawless: I like being with the people there, and when you have something on there, you know, but I don’t get out very often. That’s the problem. I don’t get to go too often. I enjoy when they have things going on and music.

    John Lawless: Is this the week the bazaar is going on at the Gaelic Club in New Haven?

    Interviewer: Yes, it is. So, what do you like to do at the Irish Club? What was something that you really enjoyed doing?

    Marie Lawless: I like to dance, but I have nobody to dance with (laughter).

    Jim Mayne: And we like to drink! (laughter).

    John Lawless: Yes!

    Marie Lawless: I’m not a big drinker. I never drank a beer in my life. I tasted it but never drank a whole drink.

    Interviewer: Well you can sing! They have sessions now where you can sing. Have you ever heard her sing?! That reminds me. When people came over from Ireland, I think they belonged to the pioneers. Were you ever involved in that?

    Marie Lawless: He used to be a pioneer.

    John Lawless: Oh, yes, I was a pioneer.

    Interviewer: Now, how did you get involved in that?

    John Lawless: When you took your Confirmation over there, you automatically became a pioneer. I wasn’t able to drink until I was 21. I don’t know whether I broke my pledge or not (laughter).

    Marie Lawless: We all broke our pledges. (laughter) He broke his pledge over in this country.

    Interviewer: But he was a pioneer when he came to this country.

    Marie Lawless: Yes, he was a pioneer for quite a while when he came here. Then he came home one Christmas Eve….

    John Lawless: But then they tried to send me out west…

    Interviewer: …with all the rest of the pioneers! (laughter)
    Incidentally, I have a question about Northern Ireland. Were you raised Catholic or Protestant and was that a problem growing up? Were there any problems growing up being Catholic in Northern Ireland?

    Marie Lawless: In Portadown, it was kind of (a problem), because where I went to school, we had to walk two blocks to school to the Presentation Convent, and we had to pass a street that was ninety percent, at least, Protestant, and once in a while they’d be nasty, and the kids would come up and start hitting you with something.

    John Lawless: On the 12th of July they always had these big arches.They were celebrating Billy (King William III) crossing the Boyne (river).

    Marie Lawless: And the street that my parents moved to was better. The street was ok, it was almost all Catholic, but when they moved to a bigger house up the block and over half of them were Protestant, so they put stuff up near our house. But they weren’t too bad there, the neighbors were not too bad, some of them.

    Jim Mayne: But it was always segregated. Because there was a group of Protestants who lived in this area of the town and Catholics in this area. So, when they started moving into each others’, that was when the trouble started.

    Marie Lawless: Yes, and Catholics could never hold a parade down the town or anything but Protestants had their parades right through. In fact, there were those times when they were really nasty. They came right down our street which was a dead-end street and there were only one or two Protestants on our whole street, and they would just come for badness. And some of the Catholics at the bottom would chase them, you know, but, you know, they did it for badness because they knew we were all Catholics, Fenian’s as they called us. Even where I worked, there were a lot of girls who weren’t Catholic, but some of them were pretty nice. There were always a couple of older women who didn’t want to know us. I can’t remember any of their names.

    John Lawless: Cordnor.

    Marie Lawless: Yeah, she was a very bitter type towards Catholics.

    John Lawless: I knew her husband and he was the nicest guy ever.

    Marie Lawless: And there were a few girls I got really friendly with that were Protestants, and they were nice, just fine, we just didn’t talk about religion. We did our own things, you know. But it wasn’t too good in other places.

    Maureen Richetelli: But were you there during the real fighting? I remember when I went to Ireland. We crossed over and went into Belfast and they had these barbed wire fences. I got scared! I really was scared. I couldn’t believe it. I never expected to see that.

    John Lawless: That’s as the song says ‘Behind the Barricades’.

    Marie Lawless: I still wanted to go home, no matter about the troubles. I went home, and I actually asked one of the times I was home and I was driving in the car. My brother might have been driving and my father was there, and you got stopped at these barricades and you turned around and these soldiers were lying on the ground with guns pointed at your car. It doesn’t feel very good. We went through that a few times, and I feared the rifle which was pointed at the car.

    John Lawless: (Sings) ‘Armored cars and tanks and guns, came to take away our sons. But every man will stand behind the men behind the wire’.

    Interviewer: Did you have anything else you wanted to add?

    Marie Lawless: Didn’t I tell you enough already? (laughter)

    Interviewer: It was lovely and we enjoyed, very much, listening to your story. Thank you!

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  • Click on the link below to go to Mary McMahon’s Interview:

    Mary Gethings McMahon
    Effernogue, Ferns,
    County Wexford, Ireland

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  • Click on the link below to go to Vincent McMahon’s Interview:

    Date of Birth – January 22, 1938
    Leagard South, Miltown Malbay,
    County Clare, Ireland

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  • Click on the link below to go to James Mayne’s Interview:

  • Date of Birth – June 13th, 1939
    Sailor Town, County Down, Belfast,
    Ulster, Ireland

    Attendees: Marie Lawless, John Lawless, Bernard Keilty, Sheila Johnson, Nancy Smith, Maureen Richitelli and Amy Lacey

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