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Scene, Sunday, August 19, 2007

My 19-year-old niece, Katy, is leaving today after spending most of the summer in our home. She’s heading back to North Carolina for her sophomore year at Duke.

The Blue Devils, archenemies of my beloved North Carolina Tar Heels, will never hold a warm place in my heart. But I’m not going to be able to pull against them quite so vigorously now.

It has been so much fun having another human female (no offense to Glory intended) around to talk to this summer. Katy has been here by my side to point out the boys’ gross habits the moment they occur and loudly declare, “That’s disgusting!”

I can only hope that hearing reprimands from a teenage girl will make Jimmy and Tommy think twice before burping, etc., in public. Ronnie is still young enough to believe his cuteness lets him get away with anything.

It will be up to my big sis, Katy’s mom, to let me know if any Zich traits rubbed off on my niece during her stay. I can attest that plenty of Katyness has invaded our daily routine.

For example, there is skim milk in our fridge and granola on the kitchen counter. Getting the family switched over to skim milk is as simple as saving an empty carton of one percent milk and refilling it with skim. Nobody notices the difference.

But trying to get granola into the tummies of Jimmy, Tommy, Ronnie and Ron is a task beyond the skills of this writer. It would take a master of cookery such as my own mom to hide the lumpy, crunchy health food in a warm, moist pound cake or batch of muffins.

At least Katy has gotten me into the habit of buying healthier foods. If I continue to buy more fresh fruit and vegetables and fewer foods shaped like Shrek, the boys will have to eat healthier eventually, won’t they?

It would be a small price for them to pay after being allowed to stay up with their night owl of a cousin over the summer.

Ron and I were usually asleep before Katy’s little sports car had time to cool off in the driveway. The boys, however, were always wide awake and waiting for her return.

Most nights, all three boys fell asleep in front of the T.V. in a mass of pillows, blankets and stuffed animals. It looks a bit decadent now that I put it in writing, especially when I think back to the mornings I found half-empty soda cans and candy wrappers lying around.

But the party is going to end too soon, when Katy drives away today and leaves a big empty space in our home and hearts. The late nights and camping out in front of the T.V. aren’t over for the summer, but they won’t be the same.

I predict that by the time school starts in September, all three boys will have returned to sleeping in their beds.

They are going to miss the cousin who for a few months became almost like a big sister to them, right down to the petty arguments and trying to get the middle orange roll in the morning.

I won’t even try to say how much I’m going to miss sharing our home with my niece. As a military spouse, I’ve watched my nieces and nephews grow up in bits and pieces over time.

To spend an entire summer vacation with my niece here has been an unexpected and precious gift. I don’t want to give her back. Especially to Dook!

A mother of three boys, Pam Zich has moved eight times in 16 years of marriage to her Marine Corps husband. They have been stationed in various locations, including Okinawa, California, Texas and their current home in Springfield, Va. E-mail her at homefront@stripes.osd.mil or find the Zichs online at www.lifeonthehomefront.com.

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