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On Sale: October 08, 2002
Pages: 144 | ISBN: 978-0-7679-1217-4
Published by : Broadway Books Crown/Archetype
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A poignant, powerful debut that combines the deep emotion of The House on Mango Street with uniquely creative storytelling.

Unfolding in a series of tiny vignettes, A Little Piece of Sky introduces an endearing new novelist and a truly unforgettable main character. In the first few chapters we meet a little girl named Song Byrd, who keenly reports on the world around her. She is African American (in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood), unwanted (conceived during an adulterous affair), and poor in the material sense but extraordinarily rich in spirit.

In piercingly insightful prose, Nicole Bailey-Williams takes readers on Song’s journey through life as she struggles against outsider status and intense guilt over her mother’s murder. Behind it all, places of pure joy, “dreaming the hurt away,” and glorious little pieces of sky shine through. Song’s tales--and Bailey-Williams’s narrative gift--are truly words to treasure.



My mother was always running away. I suppose it’s only natural because she came from a long line of runners. Her grandmother ran away from Virginia to Connecticut, where she worked as a cleaning woman in a hotel. Her mother, my grandmother, ran away from Connecticut to Philadelphia, where she settled on the southwest side, long before the airport was built. My mother ran away, but not as far as her foremothers had run, for she had too much baggage to carry, and this was no easy task for a solitary woman. She simply got on the trolley one day, and when she looked out the window, she saw a kite the color of water dancing in the sky. She gathered up her things and bustled off the trolley, trying to follow the kite that was free. She walked and she walked and she walked, struggling with her load, chasing the liberated kite, which she never could catch. Eventually, she got tired and sat on a step to catch her breath. That was where she planted herself. There in the section of North Philly teeming with golden, tan, cream, and bronze people. She heard the cadence of their tongue and decided that she loved them, for they, too, were travelers. They, too, felt that they didn’t belong in one place, so they packed up their things and ventured to a new place. My mother never could understand why they would leave the place that God had kissed with sun long before the conquistadors came, but she respected their bravery, so there she stayed, waiting for the kite the color of water to remember her and come back.

My Inner Self

My eyes are like burnt coal. They are so black that they match the night sky, the same one that the slaves must have seen through the cracks from the belly of the drifting beast. They say that the eyes reveal the soul, but nobody ever bothered to look into my eyes, so they never saw me or my inner self.

My inner self is beautiful. My inner self dances like Dagoberta. It sings like Sylvia. It leaps like Lydia. It moves like Maria. It somersaults like Selena. My inner self is so beautiful that I go there to stay when no one else wants me. I feel like the glorious beauty of my inner self should radiate outwards so that the world can see. But it doesn’t, so they don’t.

My Outer Self

The skin I’m in is dark brown like a coffee bean. My face is so shiny that I’m ashamed because I unwittingly defy conventions of beauty. I’m really not that bad-looking, but people don’t see that. They simply look at this shiny-faced black girl, and they wish they don’t see me. But sometimes they do.

They see my crinkly, kinky, unruly hair. The hair that laughs at neat ribbons and tidy barrettes. They see my long, skinny legs, interrupted only by a knobby, ashy knee, not unlike a giraffe, on each leg.

I remember sitting on the steps one day after Zelda had just called me an ugly, black spider. I remember everybody laughing and pointing at my ever-growing legs. I wouldn’t let them see me cry, but my soul was paining me. I looked down at my legs and dreamed of all the places they would carry me some day. I dreamed and I dreamed until I dreamed the hurt away.

Miss Olga’s Kitchen

Wisdom sits at the tables of Black women. It also occupies a seat at the tables of Latinas as well. Miss Olga, who battles her own demons, watched from the window as Zelda and the others took aim at me again.

“Venga aquí,” she said to me as she started down her from steps. “Go inside,” she ordered, pointing at her door.

Before I reached the door, I heard Zelda yelp in pain. When I turned to look, I saw Miss Olga dragging her down the street by the ear. The sight of loudmouthed Zelda being humbled by someone she had written off set me off in gales of laughter.

Inside Miss Olga’s, I examined the pictures that lined the fake fireplace. I recognized a few as a young Miss Olga. In one black-and-white shot, she stood next to a white man who gazed lovingly at her while she held a large rose to her nose. In another shot, she sat with her back to his chest. Her hands were folded over her protruding belly, and his hands were over hers. With each photo, I traced Miss Olga’s life with her husband, right up until his funeral. As I stared at a picture of Miss Olga standing in front of a closed casket, I thought of the saying that I had heard, about it being bad luck to take a picture with a dead person because it doesn’t allow their spirit to rest. When Miss Olga entered the house behind me, I was wondering if that applies if the casket is closed.

“Stop being nosy and come in the kitchen,” she ordered.

I sat in the chair that Miss Olga pulled next to the stove while she rummaged through a drawer. The flame on the stove danced blue and flared up when Miss Olga slammed a straightening comb down on the eye. Wordlessly, she parted my hair and rubbed grease into my scalp. The searing heat of the comb nearing my scalp unnerved me, but I sat still for fear of being burned. Once she finished straightening, she began curling, her long, agile fingers moving the handles so that the barrels clicked.

When she finished, Miss Olga stood in front of me with a mirror. I couldn’t believe how my hair looked. Where small, tight curls once reigned, straight hair with delightfully curled ends now resided. I didn’t think my hair could ever look like this. I never took the time to try it, and certainly no one else ever did.

I looked at Miss Olga through a watery haze. Silently I stood and walked to the door. From the step I quietly said thank you to the first person to ever do an unconditional deed for me.

A Little Piece of Sky

I never have the heart to look up when I’m outside, but when I’m locked in the bathroom, that’s what I do. Above the roaches, above the water spots, above the peeling paint, I can see a little piece of sky.

One evening while I was looking up, I heard it all unfold downstairs beneath my feet. My mother rushed in and scurried across the floor. She didn’t close the door behind her, but rushed into the dining room and opened the breakfront. I could hear her jangling the dishes. I heard her curse and mumble, and then I realized that she was looking for the gun that she had kept hidden away in the soup tureen. But it wasn’t there. I knew because I had taken it to my room to examine it one afternoon while my mother was sleeping. Then Caramia had come, looking for something to take to the altar. I didn’t want her to wake my mother and upset her, so I had given the gun to her so that she could sell it. So that she could ease her pain.

Now, downstairs I heard a second voice. It shouted, “Didn’t I warn you to keep your black ass away from him? You couldn’t stay away. Now you will.”

Then I heard a pop. Then a thud. Then feet calmly walking away.

I stood in the bathroom, screaming up at the sky. The sky that had betrayed me and my mother by giving us a false sense of hope. I screamed even after I heard the sirens outside, even after I heard the voices downstairs, even after Miss Olga shushed me from the other side of the door, until she kicked it in.

She looked at me with sadness in her eyes before reaching out to me. I resisted her arms because I needed confirmation. I needed to hear it.

With eyes as melancholy as a drooping African violet, she told me. She said, “Esta muerta, niña. Esta muerta.”

And on that day, I vowed never to look up at the sky again because I do not deserve hope. I killed my mother.



It’s the color of the deepest part of the ocean. The part where dreams sink and huddle together like skeletons from the Middle Passage.


It’s the color of Billie’s voice. She had no choice. It just filled her body like a deadly gas.


It’s the color of a winter day when it’s too cold to grow anything but stems of sadness, which are perennials.


It’s the color of the gumball that stains your tongue. It stains it so dark that people laugh, and you don’t know why they are laughing at you. Then you think of the gumball and remember its deep shade.


It’s the color of poor Maria’s lips as they pulled her from the pool where she dove in search of her father.


It’s the color of the vein that Caramia searches for.


It’s the color of loneliness.


It’s color of the bruise on your back when you thought that you were too dark for the beating to cause a mark.


My Greek Ancestor

In school I read the story of Oedipus. Had I been Greek, he might have been one of my ancestors. Those deformed feet carried him far, but not far enough to be free. Just like my mother, and come to think of it, just like Sojourn.

The truth, or suspected truth as was the case, was too much for Oedipus to face. So he consulted the oracle for answers, just as my mother consulted the Ninth Street fortune-teller and Sojourn asked some chick on the psychic phone line. None of them got satisfactory answers, but the prediction made for Oedipus was even more
tragic. He was told that he would marry his mother after killing his father. Boy, I sure hope that it’s not fated for me to marry my father. I’ve already fulfilled the first part of the prophecy. Maybe I should start running, too. But what would be the point? The story of Oedipus tells us that we can never escape who we are. We can never outrun our fate. Does that mean that we never try?

These Feet Attached to Skinny Legs

These feet attached to skinny legs have slapped barefooted on a dirty wooden floor. They have stepped over used syringes. They have scampered into the house away from would-be bullies. They have scurried away from bad places that threatened to suck me in.

They have stumbled up marble stairs in my father’s house. They have soared over hurdles on the track. They have skidded through the sand at the end of the long jump. They have strutted down the aisle at my high school graduation. They have sauntered across the stage to accept my diploma as the first Byrd woman to graduate.

Now these feet attached to skinny legs will stride through the halls of Spelman College. They will be shaped by the steps of those sisters who came before me. They will set me on the path to a promising tomorrow.
Nicole Bailey Williams

About Nicole Bailey Williams

Nicole Bailey Williams - A Little Piece of Sky

Photo © Milton Perry

NICOLE BAILEY-WILLIAMS, author of A Little Piece of Sky and Floating, teaches high-school English. Bailey-Williams is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and Jack & Jill of America, Inc. She lives near Philadelphia.

Praise | Awards


"Searingly beautiful. Mrs. Bailey-Williams' impressive debut is nuanced, stark, and astonishing."
-Diane McKinney-Whetstone, author of Blues Dancing

"Crisp, clean, and clear narration. Nicole Bailey-Williams has got what it takes, and you've got to read it."
-Omar Tyree, author of For the Love of Money

"In a word, captivating. I found myself instantly drawn into Song's world, a place filled with emotion, struggle, and eventual triumph. We can only hope to see more page-turning works by this vibrant new voice on the literary scene." -Patricia Haley, author of Nobody's Perfect

"A powerful voice that moves smoothly between narrative and poignant drama. Her clear and fresh voice reads like poetry." -William July II, author of Understanding the Tin Man


WINNER New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
Reader's Guide|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Teachers Guide

About the Book

A Little Piece of Sky Reading Group Guide

In deceptively quiet prose, Song Byrd examines some of humanity’s most powerful facets: anguish and hope, identity and self-esteem. Her story stirs an urge for dialogue about memories, society, and visions for a wiser future. The questions that follow are designed to enhance your reading group’s discussion of A Little Piece of Sky and to spotlight particularly insightful passages. We also hope to enrich your personal exploration of this poignant novel.

About the Author

Nicole Bailey-Williams is a high school English teacher and has written reviews for BLACK ISSUES BOOK REVIEW, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, and THE QUARTERLY BLACK REVIEW. She is the co-host of "The Literary Review," a radio book review show that airs on WDAS in Philadelphia and its surrounding areas. A graduate of Hampton University, she received a Master's degree from Temple University. She lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with her husband.

Discussion Guides

1. In the first chapter, what does the kite represent to Song’s mother? Has its meaning changed when it reappears near the end of the book, in the chapter called “In My Dream”? Why is the kite the color of water?

2. Song spends most of her life believing that she was responsible for her mother’s death. As painful as that belief is, does it also help Song cope in some way? Why is it so difficult for her to let go of the notion that she caused her mother’s shooting? Why is it significant that Song gave her sister the gun in an attempt to be helpful (thereby gaining Caramia’s love)?

3. In “A Happy Day,” Song and her neighbor, Miss Olga, delight in simple pleasures such as going to the mercado and planting seeds. Was there a Miss Olga in your childhood–a special adult who served as confidante and comforter? Do you fill that role for any young people?

4. Discuss Philadelphia as an ironic choice of residence for Song’s mother. Why did she stop running there? Do the novel’s characters find liberty or brotherly love in their part of the city?

5. At the height of her career achievements, Song is still haunted by the emotional injuries of her past. How does this trauma play out in her life? What does it take for her to become more accepting of herself?

6. Like many women in her situation, Song feels ashamed of the very therapy that will help her feel less shameful. She won’t even allow any insurance claims to be filed, for fear that someone will find out she’s seeking help. Why does therapy still carry a stigma for some?

7. Miss Olga’s Ocho Orders say a lot about her unique life experiences. Drawing on your past, what pearls of wisdom would you add to the list?

8. How does Linda’s story affect Song? What kept Song from falling into a deadly relationship as well?

9. In “Healing IV,” Song says, “I just struggle with the straddle,” referring to the clash between her poverty-stricken past and the affluent circles she encounters as a fund raiser. In “Return to the Judge’s House,” she says that the party made her feel “as if I had just walked into the vortex of a vanilla cyclone.” What do these uncomfortable roles say about the definition of “success”? What effect do they have on Song’s self-confidence? Where does Song not feel alienated?

10. Exploring imagery and tone, what transformation do you see from morning to noon, and from noon to night?

11. In spite of her early attempts to change her physical appearance (through hair relaxers that aren’t very relaxing, for example), Song manages to maintain a perception of her inner self as beautiful. What keeps that tiny part of herself from succumbing to the sadness around her? Why do you suppose Nicole Bailey-Williams chose curvature of the spine as one of Song’s burdens?

12. In “Mi Padre,” Song’s father quotes her mother: “I ain’t got nothin’ left to give. I gave my love. I have my heart. All I got left is my song.” How does this affect your perception of Song’s mother at that point? How does that scene compare to the chapter entitled “My Birth”?

13. The structure of A Little Piece of Sky is unusual; brief chapters, all conveyed in first person, alternating between past tense and present. How do these devices affect the storytelling? At any point did you forget that the book is a work of fiction?

14. In “My Inner Self,” Song refers to the night sky seen by her ancestors through cracks in the ship that heaved them across the ocean. She too kept her eye on the sky during the terrifying hours she spent locked in the bathroom. In what other ways does Song’s life story mirror African American history?

Teacher's Guide


A Little Piece of Sky, while written in simplistic vignettes, is filled with power. Narrated by Song Byrd, the book is divided into three parts which trace the Morning, Noon, and Evening of the protagonist's life.

In Morning, readers meet a young Song, an African American girl roughly ten years old, growing up in a poor Latino section of North Philadelphia. She is the youngest of four children, and her voice is often silenced by her mother, who believes that as long as her basic needs are met, she has no reason to complain. Tormented by her peers and shunned by a mother who sometimes has explosive outbursts, Song finds solace with Miss Olga, a lonely neighborhood woman who accepts Song with open arms after the death of her own daughter.

In Noon, readers find Song living with her father and step-mother after her own mother's murder. Song finds herself in the center of elite African American society, and this new environment, with its opulence, sharply contrasts the impoverished community in which she was reared. Unaccustomed to the social customs of that sector of society, Song often finds herself on edge, feeling like she has a foot in both worlds. Upon returning to her old neighborhood, she finds that she doesn't fit in, nor does she mesh completely with her new neighborhood.

In Evening, a more confident Song is revealed. A graduate of Spelman College, Song finds that she is a player in the upwardly-mobile set of African American society. She experiences survivor's guilt, as she is the only member of her family to survive whole. Song still struggles with the guilt that has engulfed her since her mother's murder, but eventually, she relinquishes those feelings with the help of a therapist and the support of a good friend. Song allows herself to live fully and love fully, granting herself permission to see the full potential of who she can be. She exhales and opens her eyes to see not a little piece of sky, but the vast expanse of sky.

A Little Piece of Sky is a book about reinvention. While Song's beginnings are humble, through self-examination and diligence, she decides what kind of future she wants. The struggle she faces of not wanting to belong to poverty and low expectations is reminiscent of the struggle faced by the protagonist of The House on Mango Street. The world Song chooses is the world described in Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class.

Because the protagonist is an African American girl, A Little Piece of Sky will engage African American students. Because of the infusion of Spanish throughout the text, the story will appeal to Latinos, as well. Its broader appeal arises from the notion of never feeling "good enough." Youth is a time characterized by constant comparison (i.e. thinner than I am, prettier than I am, richer than I am). Song learns that for her, self-acceptance is supreme. She truly does not have to be accepted by anyone but herself. A Little Piece of Sky invites empathy, then empowerment not only for Song but for readers as well. This message is universal.


I. Preparing to read
The following questions are designed to assess comprehension, to provoke thought, and to arouse class discussion. Students should be encouraged to journal as they read A Little Piece of Sky. Recording their responses and questions will aid in comprehension. In addition, journaling can provide wonderful opportunity for self-reflection, as the students think about their own lives, their own families, their own conflicts, and their own reactions to conflicts.

II. Language: image and metaphor
1. Throughout the book, the author uses metaphor to describe skin color (i.e. [My Outer Self] "the skin I'm in is dark brown like a coffee bean," [My Tired Mother] "rings set in smooth skin the color of Georgia earth," [My Friend] "pulling honey-colored Sloane to him in an embrace," and [Return to the Judge's House] "I had been dropped into the vortex of a vanilla cyclone.") What is she saying about skin color and acceptability in society?

2. In "My Inner Self," Song describes her eyes as being "like burnt coal" and like "the same [night sky] that the slaves must have seen through the cracks from the belly of the drifting beast." What are the connotations of these similes and what do they tell us about Song?

3. The author makes several allusions to the sky (i.e. [When My Mother Goes] "From where I stand in the center of the bathroom, directly under the skylight, I can only see a little piece of sky. Even though it's small, I stare up and up, and I forget about the roaches and the lights and the water.). What does the sky represent for Song? Where else do readers see the sky holding the same meaning for her?

4. Using your knowledge of the symbol of the color blue (i.e. Blues music and language [I'm feeling blue.]), describe how Song reshapes the color blue for herself throughout the book.

5. In "Saturday," the author likens getting a hair relaxer to the quashing of a revolution. Describe the "war" that Song fights with her hair.

6. In "Miss Olga's Friend," readers learn the story of Linda. Her husband's substitution of angel hair with meat sauce for beans and rice marks a turning point for her. Metaphorically speaking, what did she want?

7. In "Mi Familia," readers are introduced to Song's family. In "Mi Padre," readers learn more about their lineage. The author uses naming as symbolism. How do the names reflect the personalities of Song and her siblings? How is the symbolic naming employed again in "Epilogue"?

III. Theme
1. Bailey-Williams incorporates Sophocles' play Oedipus throughout the book. She tells of Song's foremothers' running away in search of better lives, Song's mother's running away from her problems, and Sojourn's never staying in one place. Why is it important for Song to re-invent the story for her own children?

2. In "Two Worlds," Song contrasts life in her former setting with life in her current setting. How does she feel about the two environments? Does she experience comfort in both worlds?

3. How would Song's story be different if she were lighter?

4. What do Miss Olga's Ocho Orders tell readers about Song's self-esteem?

5. Song has a fear of being successful, as indicated in "Miss Olga's Advice." Why might she feel as if she is forfeiting something if she pursues success and happiness?


Comprehension Questions for in class discussions
1. Trace the path that led Song's family to Philadelphia.(page 3)
2. How does Song's mother arrive in North Philadelphia? (page 4)
3. What were the circumstances of Song's birth? (page 6)
4. What does Song look like? (page 7)
5. How does her appearance contrast with the appearance of her peers? (pages 7&9)
6. Who are the members of her family? (page 10)
7. Do they all live with her? (page 10)
8. How does Song's mother begin her day? (page 12)
9. What's different about Song's back? (page 14)
10. How does Caramia try to cope with her problems? (page 18)
11. Who is Miss Olga? (page 19)
12. Where is Miss Olga's family? (page 20)
13. What does Ms. Byrd do to Song when she goes out? (page 22)
14. While Song is there, what gives her hope? (page 23)
15. How old is Song in Morning? (page 25)
16. List the six reasons why Song is angry. (page 24)
17. How does Song feel about her back? (page 27)
18. What does Miss Olga do for Song that makes her feel better? (pages 29 & 30)
19. What does Song hear the first time when her mother rushes hurriedly into the house? (page 32)
20. In "A Happy Day," Song expresses a hint of happiness about her skin. On what is this happiness based? (page 36)
21. Why don't Ms. Byrd and her brother speak any more? (page 38)
22. List some of the ways that Caramia supports her habit.(pages 40 & 41)
23. How many place settings does Miss Olga have? Why? (page 42)
24. Why does Song feel like she kills her mother? (page 45)
25. Who actually kills Ms. Byrd? (page 45)
26. What does "Azul" reveal about the way Ms. Byrd treated Song? (page 48)
27. In "Azul," who is Billie? (page 48)
28. How are things different at Song's father's house? (page 51)
29. What physical characteristic does Song have in common with her father?(page 54)
30. How does Song feel about her new school? (page 55)
31. Why doesn't Song explain her feelings to Miss Turner? (page 57)
32. Why does the man in "My Friend" treat Song and Sloane differently? (page 60)
33. How does Song feel returning to Miss Olga's house? (page 62)
34. How is Song different from Freeman? (page 63)
35. Based on "I Thought," describe how Song is reconfiguring her view of her mother. (page 65)
36. Why is Song upset that Romy wants to go to North Philadelphia? (page 69)
37. How does Miss Olga regard baby Maria's coming to live with her? (page 73)
38. Who sentences Freeman? (page 75)
39. Based on "Mi Padre," how does Song again re-think her opinion of her mother? (page 80)
40. How did Song's parents meet? (page 79)
41. Why does Song feel like she is related to Oedipus? (pages 81 & 82)
42. What does "Azul II" reveal about Song's changing view of her life? (page 86)
43. How does "Saturday" reveal the beginnings of change in Song's attitude about her hair? (pages 89 & 94)
44. How does Song fulfill her silent promise to Miss Olga? (page 90)
45. For what had Song been hoping from her meeting with Freeman? (page 95)
46. In "The Barber Shop," how does Song find resolution with her hair? (page 98)
47. Why is Song reluctant to let anyone know that she wants to see a therapist? (page 100)
48. Does Maria initially know who Caramia is? (page 100)
49. Why does Caramia come to Miss Olga's house? (page 103)
50. Why does Maria's lecture to Caramia surprise Song and Miss Olga? (page 103)
51. Why does Song feel uncomfortable at the ball?(page 108)
52. At the end of "The Ball," why does she almost look up? (page 111)
53. Why does Miss Olga dislike her friend Linda's husband? (page 115)
54. Why was Song tempted to run over the Judge? (page 121)
55. Why does Song feel like she's lived in two different worlds? (page 126)
56. Why is Song ashamed to see Freeman? (pages 131 & 132)
57. Why does Song feel uncomfortable at Tyler Marsh's soiree? (pages 139 & 140)
58. What does Ms. Byrd try to give Song in her dream? (page 147)
59. Why does Song re-create the story of Oedipus for her children? (pages 152 & 153)
60. What does "Azul III" tell about Song's outlook on life? (page 155)


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
The Plays of Sophocles


This guide was written by the author, Nicole Bailey-Williams. She is a high school English teacher with the Ewing Township Board of Education, where she has taught for eight years. Prior to that, she taught English and French at the Woodlynde School in Strafford, PA. She has served as a lecturer at Pennsylvania State University and she has participated in panels on writing fiction at the University of Pennsylvania, Spelman College, Paige College, and Cheyney University.

Mrs. Bailey-Williams received her BA in English in 1993 from Hampton University, where she authored a cun laude thesis entitled "The Grotesque in Toni Morrison's Beloved and The Bluest Eye." She earned her Master of Education degree from Temple University in 1995. She has participated in and conducted numerous professional development workshops, and she was selected to participate in Princeton University's seminar in African American Studies, where she studied under Arthur Ashe and Langston Hughes biographer Arnold Rampersad. Her work in education has been noted by many organizations and institutions including Princeton University and the National Association of University Women.

In addition to her educational pursuits, she is the co-host of "The Literary Review," a book review show which airs on WDAS (1480 AM) in the Philadelphia area. She is also a freelance writer who has penned articles for Black Issues Book Review, Publishers Weekly, and QBR (Quarterly Black Review). In addition, she was a contributing writer for Notable Black American Men (Gale), Gumbo: A Celebration of African American Writing (Harlem Moon), and Proverbs for the People. Mrs. Bailey-Williams was born in Philadelphia and raised in the neighboring suburb of Elkins Park. She currently resides in Mercer County with her husband Gregory.

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