Friday, 31 October 2014

Maternal Memories

By kenju of Just Ask Judy

While writing a short post on Facebook today, I found myself deep in memories of my maternal grandmother. I know I have written about her before but maybe you won't remember it.

Mammaw,+Buckey,+Tillie,+etcIn the photo at left, my grandmother is front row, middle and Bucky is back row, left. Tillie is on the front row, right and I do not know the others. Mammaw looks stern in this photo, but she always had a smile on her face and a ready laugh.

She ran a boarding house on Dunbar Street in Charleston, West Virginia, for young, single working women during the 1930s and 40s. As a divorcee in the 1920s charged with making her own way while raising five children, life wasn't easy. She knew all about cooking, cleaning, making beds and keeping house so she started a rooming house.

She had strict rules: ladies could not entertain gentlemen in their rooms and had to confine their visits to the parlor with my grandmother looking in from time to time to make sure nothing untoward was happening. It was a large room with flowered wallpaper, flowered couches, flowered chairs and a flowered rug.

Some of my fondest memories are of her standing at her stove stirring a pot of something that smelled so good my mouth would water, while singing a hymn at the top of her lungs.

Her specialty was chicken and dumplings but beef stew and fried chicken ran close behind as everyone's favorites. She always cooked enough for 20. Having been a farm wife, she had to cook for the whole family and all the farm hands.

At every meal there were two meats, four or five vegetables, hot biscuits and rolls and apple pie or spice cake for dessert. Those varied, of course but they were my choices.

She often sang, "I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses" and other hymns. She wasn't a good singer but she was loud and she always put her own twist to the song, changing its tempo or tune.

The ice box gave way to a new refrigerator when I was about five and I remember her excitement at having the new appliance. I recall it had a big round contraption on top (either a motor or fan, I don't know).

I loved sitting on her porch swing. On a string trellis growing up the side of the porch there were morning glories of such a piercing blue they took your breath away to see them. Hollyhocks lined the side of the house and the driveway, and they have always reminded me of my grandmother.

I love seeing them but that doesn't happen much lately as they seem to have fallen out of favor with gardeners.

Sometime before I was born in 1940 to her youngest daughter, Mammaw married a Charleston judge whom we called Bucky. As a very young child, I was confused about who he was.

I knew he was married to my grandmother, but he was not my grandfather. Eventually I learned who my real grandfather was (a farmer and school teacher/principal) in Wyoming County. West Virginia. But the reason for their divorce was not told to me until after she passed away in 1971. That's a whole 'nother story, as they say.

Bucky's mother (or sister, I'm not sure now), Lizbeth Rand Burlew, lived on Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston, the wide street paralleling the river. The house on Dunbar Street was behind it, around the corner.

They had a large garden of both foods and flowers and I was always allowed to visit it and pick violets and tulips in the spring. I loved walking through the flower stalks, many of which were much taller than I at the time. I'm sure my love of flowers stems from that time.

Bucky's family owned the Burlew Opera House which was long a staple of entertainment in that area. I inherited Lizzie's silver hand mirror adorned with her initials, LRB. It was one thing of my grandmother's that I had always coveted, along with some antiques, which I now proudly own.

The young women who roomed at my grandmother's house were special friends of mine. I was born nearby and most of those girls knew me from birth until they married and left Mammaw's home to start their own married lives. We remained friends with a few of them, however, and visited each other until I was out of college and moved away.

One funny story about Tillie: she was nearly 40 (maybe older) and didn't date much. I considered her my best friend. She was only 4' 10" tall and wore size 4 shoes.

When I was eight or nine, I could fit into her clothing and shoes very well and I loved to play dress up in her closet. She allowed that to happen whenever I was visiting and once, when she was entertaining her beau (as she called him), I went down to the parlor dressed in her skirt, her heels and her bra (with no top) and proceeded to prance around the room singing "I dreamt I went dancing in my Maidenform Bra" which was a popular radio and magazine commercial of the day.

Poor Tillie was mortified, my grandmother was hopping mad and Alfred, the beau, was bemused and could hardly hold his laughter. They later married and I was so jealous knowing I wouldn't get to see Tillie as often after she married and moved away to Belle, which wasn't far but seemed so to me.

Mammaw lived until 1971, dying shortly after her 92nd birthday. She had suffered a stroke nine months earlier. I went to visit her and she said my name - the first word she had spoken since the stroke six months before.

In college I wrote an essay about her titled, The Most Interesting Person I Know, and after all these years, she remains that for me.


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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Fuzzy Math

By Maureen Browning

As I walked to school one very cold February morning in 1951, I couldn't stop thinking about my mother. She had been tired lately and was usually lying on the sofa when I got home from school. She was expecting a baby soon.

After the pledge of allegiance to the flag, our morning of spelling and reading classes passed quickly and soon it was lunch time.

After lunch, we lined up to get our snow pants, coats, hats, neck scarves, mittens and boots from the cloakroom. We dressed beside our desks and lined up out in the hallway to go outside for a short recess.

It was windy and much colder than I had expected. A few of my friends and I huddled together around a corner out of the wind next to the brick wall of the schoolhouse. We shuffled our feet around on the snowy ground trying to stay warm.

When the bell rang for us to line up at the entrance to file back into the school, I stepped away from the building, slipped on some ice that had built up next to the foundation and brutally smacked the left side of my head on the corner of the brick wall.

Stunned, I lay there for a few seconds before I slowly got back up onto my feet, then hurried to get to the line forming to go back inside. Nothing hurt much then but by the time I entered my classroom, the left side of my head throbbed.

The next thing I remember was sitting at my desk trying to concentrate on our fourth grade arithmetic lesson. The teacher was demonstrating borrowing in the subtraction process involving hundreds and I couldn't follow along. I was only three desks back from the chalkboard but the white numbers on the board looked fuzzy – so fuzzy I couldn't read them.

Dizziness set in, followed by a pulsing headache and then the nausea.

I remembered the time when my friend, Harriet, threw up on the floor in class before telling the teacher that she felt sick. I wasn't going to do that so I raised my hand and told the teacher I had a terrible headache and felt very sick. She knew I lived just two blocks from school and that my mother was there, so she sent me home.

I made it inside our back door but not up the three steps into the kitchen. I yelled out for my mother and then collapsed onto the steps.

I woke up in a dark room in the hospital with a very cold rubbery ice bag wedged between a pillow and the left side of my head and I could hear voices repeatedly calling my name and asking me to open my eyes. The voices echoed and sounded far away.

A few days later, I was able to stay awake for longer periods of time and the sleepiness, headache and nausea gradually went away. When I was able to stand and walk without feeling dizzy, I was discharged from the hospital.

X-rays had shown that I had a skull fracture – the temporal bone on the left side of my head. I had to stay home from school for several more weeks, sitting quietly in a chair or lying down to let the bone in my head heal.

Finally I was back in school and on April 3rd my sister, Candyce Josephine – Candy Jo – was born. When she came home from the hospital, I held her every chance I was given. I adored her and loved her more than anything imaginable.

When I entered junior high school two-and-a-half years later, I struggled terribly with algebra and geometry. I received special help and the teachers could never figure out why I had so much trouble.

The same difficulty followed me into high school. My math teacher there provided me with extra tutoring after school and still, I earned nothing above a grade of D.

It wasn't until college when I took a psychology class that touched on brain injuries that I wondered if that slip on the ice in fourth grade may have resulted in some permanent left frontal lobe damage.

Years later, my research convinced me that the brain swelling I experienced from that fracture very likely contributed to my inability to process the mechanics of algebra and geometry, which I now believe led to my fuzzy math dilemma.


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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

This Old Man

By Marc Leavitt of Marc Leavitt's Blog

I’ve reached my time for being old,
I learned my role, I’ve got it cold.
In short, here’s how I self-define;
I’m old, just like a classic wine.

Don’t call me “senior citizen”;
I earned the title of old man.
That dumb slogan, “The golden years,”
Was coined to quell young people’s fears.

It angers me and makes me weary,
If strangers call me “hon,” or “dearie.”
No older man should just accept
Belittling words from the inept.

I memorized the words to say,
I know the part that I portray.
I don’t require a cosmic plan;
Act three’s my time to play old man.


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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Naughty Meter

By Timm Holt who blogs at Home Town Tales

We were out of school for Thanksgiving and before I could have leftover turkey dressing, Mom said I had to write Santa.

Why write this early? I told her Santa was magical. He had gazillion elves and didn’t need much time.

She said, “If you get your wishes to Santa early, you have a better chance of getting your wish.”

Chance! Santa wasn’t about chance. It was about being good. I know how the song goes. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. Any kid knows that song. I got nowhere with Mom. I had to write the letter, now.

I wished for a horse like Roy Rogers’ Trigger, a saddle and a western outfit with chaps. I saw myself ridding Trigger through the pasture chasing cattle. When we weren’t doing ranch work, I’d ride to Grandma’s house. As I tied him up at the porch rail, Grandma would hear my spurs rattle and tell me to take off my boots. She’d give me a hot biscuit, grape jelly and an apple for Trigger.

Mom frowned when I gave her the letter. She wasn’t happy, or I’d done something wrong. Maybe she knew about me eating the fudge icing off her chocolate cake.

Mom told me, “That’s a lot. A horse, in Santa’s sled?” He wouldn’t put it in his sled; he’d hitch him up with the reindeer.

Mom told me, “Santa has flying reindeer, not horses.” I told Mom she needed to believe. Santa can make anything happen.

Waiting for Christmas morning was torture. I dreamed of my horse every night. I drew pictures and put them on the fridge. I went to the barn to check his stall. I was showing that I could be responsible and do the things necessary for a horse.

Finally, Christmas Eve, I made Dad put a bale of hay outside my bedroom window so Trigger wouldn’t get hungry before I got up. Dad complained. “This is a lot to carry,” but he did it.

I dreamed of Trigger pulling Santa’s sleigh - up front, taking Rudolph’s spot. Christmas morning I looked out my window and on the bale of hay was a western outfit with chaps and a gun belt but there was no Trigger. I ran into my parent’s bedroom yelling. “Dad, Trigger’s gotten loose. Get the truck. We’ve got to find her.”

Dad knew there was no Trigger but he drove me anyway. He told me Santa needed Trigger that year to finish deliveries. I didn’t believe it. Maybe I wasn’t good enough or maybe Santa couldn’t bring it that year.

Older and with enough money, I built a barn. I had a golden Trigger Palomino and three other horses. No kid should have to wait that long for their dream, so I’ve invented the naughty meter. It solves any confusion a kid might have about naughty or nice.

It looks like a ring, small and easy for a kid to carry around next to his pocketknife. Girls can put it in their purse or wear it around their neck like a charm.

You should never tell parents the color it flashes; though it might be a good idea to let your parents use it every now and then.

Each night, at bedtime, say your prayers and then put your finger in the ring. If it flashes green, you’ve been good. Say an extra prayer and have pleasant dreams.

If it flashes yellow, you’re in danger of being naughty. Think about what you’ve done or said. Apologize to Santa and your parents. Say I won’t do it again 10 times.

If it flashes red, you’re in trouble. You’ve been naughty. You probably know what it is. Say I won’t do it again 20 times. Ask Santa for forgiveness.

If you’re sincere, the next night it will flash yellow; if not, it will stay red. Be careful. You only have three chances to make it right. If you are truly sorry, it will eventually turn green.

I’m sure this invention will eliminate needless frustration and sleepless nights for kids. It will make parents happy they have well behaved kids. It will stop this nonsense of not believing in Santa Claus.

Oh, and one more thing, I almost forgot. The device flashes in all three colors if your Christmas wish is something Santa cannot fill regardless of how good you are.

With this secure knowledge, may sugarplum fairies dance in your head tonight.


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Monday, 27 October 2014

Baseball's Zen Cathedral in a Field of Corn

By Dan Gogerty who blogs at Cast

During this era of NFL-mania, baseball has faded - at times the sport seems to walk into an Iowa cornfield and disappear among the tall, mysterious stalks.

But as this season closes with the final crack of the bat, anyone with a baseball soul can pause long enough to enjoy “America’s pastime” and remember that for many, it is more a frame of mind than a final score.

Baseball, fieldofdreamsfarm

One unlikely spot where the spirit of baseball has not died is on a farm east of Dyersville, Iowa. Twenty-five years ago a film crew put the wraps on a Hollywood venture that included an obsessed farmer, his hipster wife and a group of benign walking dead baseball players.

James Earl Jones gave his “people will come, Ray, people will most definitely come” speech - and they have. As many as 75,000 fans a year visit the Field of Dreams and this video report from Market to Market gives insights about its appeal.

I grew up in Iowa and my cousin lives two miles from the actual Field of Dreams, but I first heard of the movie while living in Tokyo. News reports started floating in about a Kevin Costner baseball movie and a few American friends at the school where I worked ribbed me about a corny film from Iowa.

I’d read W.P. Kinsella’s wonderful Shoeless Joe novel, so when someone passed along a VHS version of the movie, I cued it up.

As I watched the beauty of my home state in the background, I thought about the pace of life, the traditions of the past and the relationships we foster - or don’t. I let the film flow over me like a well-played baseball game - some hits, some errors and plenty of time to think things through.

Baseball field of dreams desmoinesregister

Moonlight Graham walks away from something he loves – baseball - to work on something he loves more - healing the sick. Shoeless Joe makes an unwitting mistake that costs him dearly. Ty Cobb is such a jerk the others tell him to get lost - even after he is dead.

And Ray Kinsella is haunted by his estrangement from his dead father who makes a weird but touching appearance at the end.

I was away from the United States for several years but I’d kept some baseball connections - even if they then included unified “gambate chants,” sushi at the concession stands and team names that included the Yokohama Whales and the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Those two names have since changed but Japan’s love of baseball hasn’t and 25 years ago that sentiment made Field of Dreams a huge hit there.

I’m not sure what most Japanese filmgoers thought of a school board meeting in Our Town, Iowa, but the idea of ancestor worship hit a home run. When Ray calls out to his father and asks him to “have a catch,” nothing is lost in translation.

Our family stopped at the field several times when our kids were young - and yes, we “had a catch.” Sometimes we’d walk onto the field with only a few others around, the classic farm house sitting up the lane, the wind blowing gently through the iconic corn.

At other times, a tour bus might pull in from Chicago - chances were that Japanese tourists would file off with gloves, cameras and a desire to connect with some zen mixture of sport, nostalgia and heritage.

Like baseball, the actual Field of Dreams has been the center of controversy, fame, good times and bad. But when the sun is shining and family members are playing ball, the place truly is heaven.


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Friday, 24 October 2014

Nirvana, As We Define It

By Wendl Kornfeld

Today on public radio, people were asked, “Where were you when you heard Kurt Cobain had died?”

Funny they should ask.

For a very long period of time, I considered myself pretty cool. I usually knew what people were talking about, could contribute usefully and with some sophistication to the conversation.

I knew in my heart I would never become like some of those “fossils” who somehow failed to keep up with a changing world, didn’t dig modern jargon or weren’t hip to current cultural references.

Until April 5, 1994.

I was at the copier machine at work when a fellow employee, Carol, rushed up to me, her face white with shock, very near tears. I was about 45 years old at the time, Carol maybe 20 years my junior. But we got on well and laughed a lot.

(With mock humility she would often claim her lowly “slacker” status and defer to my wisdom and experience.)

“Oh my god, Kurt Cobain is dead,” Carol said softly, tragically. I searched my brain. The name didn’t register.

“Who’s Kurt Cobain?” I finally asked. Carol looked at me with disbelief and possibly a little disdain.

“Nirvana?” she prompted me.

Now, the only Nirvana I knew was an expensive and elegant Indian restaurant on Central Park South and one of my favorite places for special occasions. Good food, great views of Central Park.

“Was he,” I asked slowly and tentatively, “the chef?” Carol now looked at me with increasing disbelief.

“What?” she gasped.

“I love Nirvana, the food is fabulous. Was Kurt Cobain, like, the chef? If he’s dead, wow, I wonder what will happen?” I was babbling.

Now Carol was really upset but this time with me. “What are you talking about?” she cried.

“What are YOU talking about?” I retorted, floundering. A creeping dread was coming upon me. Somewhere, distantly, a bell tolled for my cool status. Maybe even my youth.

And so I learned that there was a hugely popular - nay, iconic - Seattle-based musical group called Nirvana, the existence of which had somehow escaped me entirely. Its lead singer and songwriter, Kurt Cobain, had just been found dead at age 27.

As young people around the world went into instant shock and profound mourning and the media relentlessly tracked his last moments on earth, I just felt relieved that I could continue to dine well at Nirvana, overlooking Central Park.


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Thursday, 23 October 2014

When the Time Comes

By Bettijane Eisenpreis

There is no better way for someone my age to cause a panic than to start a sentence with, “When I die.”

Whether I am talking to my son, a friend or a total stranger doesn’t matter. The face goes pale, the movements get agitated and the voice becomes strained. “Couldn’t we talk about something else?” my hearer pleads.

No, we can’t. It doesn’t seem to occur to my friends and relatives, as well as the general public, that no one lives forever. Even Methusaleh of Biblical fame lived 900 years - and who knows how they counted “years” in those days?

When I was a child in Wilkes-Barre, P, ennsylvania, I don’t remember hearing about anyone we knew who died alone and was not discovered for days and days. If such a case occurred, it was probably written up in the local newspaper because foul play was suspected.

Ordinary people lived among friends and relatives and were quickly missed. If Maggie didn’t appear at church on Sunday, someone called or stopped by that day. If Sam didn’t show up for work, ditto.

Those whom we now call the frail elderly either lived with their children or had a friend or neighbor who checked on them regularly.

But today, you would be surprised how easy it is to sink into oblivion unnoticed. I am lucky: my son calls me every morning at 6:15. If my phone is out of order, I call him on my cell phone. Should he not reach me, I am sure he would call the doorman and ask him to check on me.

But I am more the exception than the rule. Twice in the last few years, men I knew well have died alone in their apartments and not been discovered for at least one day.

One of them had knocked the phone off the hook. Had he succeeded in contacting someone, maybe he could have been saved.

In both cases, it was I who blew the whistle. And it wasn’t easy. I had to contact a relative and that relative had to call someone in authority – the building superintendent in one case, the police in another. And once you call the police, the apartment has to be sealed pending an investigation of the cause of death.

Several years ago, I went out to dinner and a concert with an older friend. She was full of energy and plans, looking forward to a European trip. In the intermission, we went to the ladies’ room but on the way out, she collapsed and fell to the ground. She never regained consciousness, dying the next day.

It was a sad and scary experience for me but I learned something invaluable. In my friend’s purse was a card with every name I needed to contact: her doctor, her lawyer, her daughters, who lived out of town and her grandson who lived in town. I came home and made myself a similar card. I don’t leave home without it.

So do talk about it even when your kids are making alarmed faces and asking you if you feel all right. Make a plan – if your child lives nearby and has a key, maybe he can just stop by and check. If not, work out a system with a friend or neighbor.

I recently asked the young woman in the next apartment to zip up my dress before a party. Not only did she oblige but she volunteered her phone number and told me to contact her if I needed anything. I said I would and I will!

If a person in New York is found dead, the apartment is sealed up, pending an investigation. Food rots, calls go unanswered, bills go unpaid and the persons responsible for the estate are left not only with a loss but with a major headache.

So, when your child says tearfully that she cannot bear to think of you dying (which you will do someday, whether she thinks about it or not), ask her to think instead of the milk you will be in the process of getting out of the fridge, spilling on the floor and rotting in a big smelly mess. Lovely, sentimental picture, no?

The end is going to come sometime. May as well face it.


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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Last Hummingbird

By Vicki E. Jones

It is October and nights are much colder
And soon we will have a frost
Few flowers are still blooming
Leaves are falling and trodden and tossed

A chubby young hummer is just outside
Sipping the sugar water
At our feeder -- getting ready to leave
And go south far beyond our borders

We think it is a very young male
No ruby on its ruby-throat yet
And with pollen and insects and nectar more scarce
It will take whatever it can get

He could be here from Michigan
Or from Canada passing through
Flying south and eating all the way
Which is what little hummers must do

Soon our last little hummer will head down south
On a two thousand mile journey they take
All the way to Costa Rica
Where warmer air and food await

And here I stand with a broken heart
Knowing it is time for him to leave
And we won’t see another hummer around
Until spring of next year, I believe

And so little hummer please stay for awhile
Sip all the sugar water you can hold
And have a long, safe journey
And return here after the cold

We don’t know if we’ll see you in our yard again
You could end up elsewhere next year
And hummingbirds only live four years
So we never know what will appear

You are the end of our summer
And you are the start of our fall
And our long, cold winter is yet to come
When we have no hummers at all

So I will stand here for awhile and stare
As you perch and drink your fill
Then you stop and sit and rest awhile
And drink more at your will

Then I’ll say farewell and hope you know
When it is time for you to move on
South on your journey to flowers and warmth
Where in winter you belong

And I’ll hope for an early spring
When it is no longer freezing at night
And fresh sugar water will be waiting for you
At the end of your long spring flight


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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

I Am From (take two)

By Karen Zaun Kennedy who blogs at Sweetwater Lane

I am from hand me downs,
wallpapered ceilings, and gallon jars of mice.
I am from secret passages, spiral staircases and bogeymen in the closets.
Invisible, silent, bitter fear.
I am from hydrangeas,
and the majestic maple whose long-gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from grilled cheese sandwiches and popcorn on Sunday nights,
and tenacity.
From Jean Phyllis and William Knighton.
I am from stony silences, arguments,
and family birthdays.

I am from Stop running in the house! and Say you’re sorry!
and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, his name is my name, too.
Whenever I go out, the people always shout, "There goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!"
na na na na na na!

I am from Thanksgivings at Aunt Norma’s, Brightlook Hospital and Germany,
from baked beans and brown bread.
From a grandmother who called all Chinese Chinks before the need for politically correct,
and never said a bad word about anyone.

In my grandmother’s closet were dresses from another time,
lacy, light and soft,
faded with age and remembrance
to dress in and to dream.
I am from hand me downs from the hands of time.


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Monday, 20 October 2014

Love by Gefilte Fish

By Trudi Kappel

Gefilte fish and matzo balls are the quintessential Jewish ceremonial foods. I’ve met few people who actually crave them but a Passover seder would be incomplete without them.

Making gefilte fish is a time consuming endeavor and I don’t know anyone who still makes her (always “her”) own.

It involves filleting three different kinds of fish, chopping them finely, chopping onions and carrots, forming patties, wrapping the patties in fish skin and then simmering for hours in a fish broth.

It is easier to buy from Manischewitz. Unfortunately, the commercial product is bland, almost tasteless unlike those made by my grandmother.

My grandmother, Scheina, grew up in a small village in Poland. Since secondary education for Jewish girls was not available in her shtetl, she boarded with relatives in a larger town where it was. Her assigned household chore was to make gefilte fish each week for the Sabbath meal.

After completing high school, she traveled to Berne, Switzerland for additional education. While it was unusual at the turn of the 20th century, her parents provided advanced education not only for their son but also for their four daughters.

Scheina enrolled in medical school at the University of Berne. My charismatic grandfather, Zander, was a student leader and always an event organizer. He was born near Minsk in Belorussia and was enrolled as a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Berne.

One spring, he organized a seder for Jewish students. Scheina volunteered to make gefilte fish for the feast.

Zander was enchanted with the cute medical student who knew how to make this traditional food. She was smart and she could cook!

Love blossomed. They eloped. Only then did Zander learn that gefilte fish was the only thing that his bride knew how to cook.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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