Month: April 2014

Q Is For Quick Breads

“This is good,” Ella took a huge bite of applesauce, raisin bread. “It’s even better with butter,” I told her taking the butter dish from the refrigerator and placing it on the table. “Would you show me how to make this?” she slathered butter on her remaining bread and took another bite. “It’s just a quick bread,” I told her over my shoulder as I washed the dishes from my baking experiment. “There’s a section in the big cookbook,” I raised one soapy hand and pointed at the dark green cloth covered book. “Just follow the directions and once you understand the proportions, try using substitutions.” I put the last dish in the rack to drain. “The trick is never beat the batter. Just stir it until the dry ingredients are moist.” “Your dad says a good cook doesn’t need a cookbook,” she ate the last piece. I took a deep breath, I guess she doesn’t know. I flashed my Friend. He hasn’t told her. I shrugged, “I’ve got homework.”

“What’s this?” Ames poked the hard brown shape on his plate. “Bran muffins!” Ella announced brightly. Ames poked it again. “Bran bricks,” he whispered. Charles, Matthieu, and I laughed silently. The man walked into the kitchen, “Something smells good.” He looked into the saucepan on the range, “What’s for lunch?” “I made some soup and bran muffins,” Ella’s flashed him a huge smile. The man poked the hard missiles in the muffin tin. “I just remembered,” he jingled his keys in his pocket. “I have to meet a client in half an hour.” He headed for the back door. “At least take a muffin with you,” Ella called after him; he was already pulling the car out of the driveway. Two hours later he returned bearing the fragrance of french fries.

“You don’t have to eat them,” I told Ames and Matthieu. “Just put them in the refrigerator.” Ames knocked the raisin muffin against the table, “First bran bricks, now raisin rocks!” Matthieu and I laughed quietly; Ella played the piano in the small parlour. “She won’t use recipes,” I shrugged. “This would break a window,” Ames hefted the raisin-studded missile on the palm of his hand. “Don’t!” I commanded. “You’ll just cause trouble. Just put it in the dish in the refrigerator.” We quickly stowed the raisin rocks as the piano music ceased and Ella’s footsteps announced her pending entrance.

P Is For Rev. P, Rose P., and mostly Pouting At God

“You do have a lovely voice,” the choir director told me. “Do you know this?” I took the sheet music, and began to sing, “Why should I feel discouraged?” He stopped me, “Make ‘feel’ two syllables, the second a bit lower than the first.” He played the notes on the piano. “And hold the last syllable of discouraged.” I sang as instructed. “Now try raising ‘raged’ up a bit,” he played again. “Why should I fe-el discou-raged,” my voice raised at the end. “I want you to learn this. I want you to sing this!” I bounced in my seat. Rev. P. walked in, a big smile on his face, “Hello…” His forehead furrowed, “Are you practicing with the choir?” “She can sing!” the choir director’s face lit up with a huge smile. Rev. P. ushered the director to a side room. “I have to say ‘No’,” Rev. P. told me when they returned. The choir director’s face was stormy. “If I let you sing with the adult choir, I’ll have to let every child who is ten or older sing. You’ll have to wait until you’re sixteen.” My heart was down in my toes. I slowly left the choir area and went to sit in the back of the church.

“God Never Fails!” Someone had written the words on the chalkboard that hung on the wall over the last pew. I blinked moisture from my eyes, looked at the words again. My lower lip quivered, “Yes You do!” My voice was a low hiss. “You do fail! All I wanted was to sing with the good choir but You won’t let me! You do fail! I’m never speaking to You again!” The well gushed out. I wiped the tears away with the back of my hand, “I’m never speaking to You again!” My nose ran. I wiped it with the back of my hand, “I’m never speaking to You again!” Rose drove me home. As we waited for someone to open the front door, Rose held her arm about my shoulders,  “I’m sorry you can’t sing with us.” Her voice was gentle. I looked up at her, my lip quavered again. I mutely hissed, I’m never speaking to You again!

Good morning, I silently told my Friend as I did when I awoke each day. Oh… My face was suddenly hot, I’m never speaking to You again! My reflection in the mirror was puffy, my cheeks tear-burned, my eyes red. I’m never speaking to You again! I walked to school alone. Crocuses poked their head from the earth, “Oh look…” I stopped, my face hot again. I hissed, “I’m never speaking to You again!” The well spilled over. I gave my lunch to Frankie, I’m never speaking to You again! I sat alone on a bench in the schoolyard, the well continued to leak, I’m never speaking to You again! Thursday passed. Friday passed. Saturday passed. The well leaked often. Over and over, I forgot, began speaking to my Friend. Each time, my face flushed with heat, “I’m never speaking to You again!” I’m never speaking to You again! “I’m never speaking to You again!”

In his long black robe, “The ladies usher guild will be hosting Sunday dinner before the evening Communion service next week,” Rev. P. announced. I sat, doubled over, looking at my face in the black patent Mary Janes, “I’m never speaking to You again!” Rev. P. cleared his voice with a clicking cough, “I have one last announcement today.” Another clicking cough, “It’s come to my attention we need another choir.” My back straightened. My eyes were glued to Rev. P.’s face. “We have enough nine to fifteen year olds to begin a youth choir.” Another clicking cough. A bright warmth soared from my toes into my heart. “The adult choir practice will be moved back half an hour to seven-thirty. The youth choir will begin practice at six-thirty.” My face was a huge smile. It filled my eyes, filled my heart, filled my toes, You didn’t fail me! The words sang withing me. I wanted to shout aloud, You didn’t fail me! In my heart, I pranced around the aisles, a young colt: You didn’t fail me! Rose met me on the church porch, “I’ll see you on Wednesday. You’ll have to come early for dinner.” I nodded my head eagerly. Bright light shone within me; the tingle of my Friend’s arms suffused me.

O Is For Mrs. Orman

The phone rang as we opened gifts. Fourteen year-old Dawn, ripping a paper wrapping, shouted, “That’s probably my mother! I want to talk to her!” She opened the large box, “A coat! My uncle sent me a coat!” She held up the long chocolate garment, “Isn’t it beautiful?” Claire and I oohed and awwed. Five year-old Felicia alternately sucked her thumb and one of the peppermint twists I had placed in the stockings while hugging the large doll the uncle had sent her. The man’s voice cut through our Christmas morning chatter, “What? You don’t say?” Pause. “Yes! I’ll tell them. And don’t worry. They’ll be fine here.”

“I told her!” the man crowed coming into the living room through the small parlour, his arms thrown above his head as if he was one of the “thank you Jesus” women at church. Eight heads flew up; eight pairs of eyes stared at his broad smile, his laughing face. “I told her!” he looked at Dawn. “You kids heard me.” His chest expanded for a deep breath. “I told her, ‘If you don’t stop drinking, you’ll be dead before the sun rises on Christmas morning!’ Your mother died this morning.” Dawn froze, a bit of paper in her hand. “Our mother?” Felicia’s voice was a tiny whisper. The man nodded, laughing. A silent rushing, roar overwhelmed the man’s voice. My body was suffused with an electric tingle. I looked over at Dawn. Felicia huddled in her lap. Slowly, I got up and climbed the steps to the room I shared. I dressed in the outfit Mrs. P. had bought for me and walked out the back door.

The cast iron balcony railing was rough under my fingers. My feet tried to move through the waist-high bars. I watched my foot lift, watched my arms push my body upwards, watched my leg begin to swing over the top of the railing. “Merry Christmas,” a voice greeted me gently. “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Orman,” the words came of their own accord. “I’m so glad you’re here,” Mrs. Orman moved so that she looked into my eyes. “I’d love your help with Christmas dinner.” “Help?” I shook my head. “Yes,” she continued to hold my gaze. “If you could just sit with me in the kitchen while I cook. The kids are with their father and I don’t know where my daughter has gone.” I swallowed. “Okay,” my voice came from far away. Mrs. Orman placed one hand on my upper arm and gently guided me into her kitchen. “Tell me about your Christmas morning,” she placed a glass of water near my hands that lay palms down, fingers splayed on her table. My forehead wrinkled, “Mrs. Parn,” I swallowed again. “Our housekeeper,” I swallowed again. “Died this morning.” My head floated far above my body, too far for me to reach and pull it down.

N Is For Nurse’s Club

Maybe something happened, I suggested to my Friend as I trailed my hand across the frames of the huge cork boards. Why else would the nurse want me? I’m not sick… Am I? “Have a seat,” the school nurse pointed to the only empty chair in her office. “Now,” she smiled. “We’re all here.” I glanced at the two girls seated to my left and Charlotte, who had also skipped from fifth to seventh year, who sat on my right. “I want to invite you four to a join my club.” Club? I asked my Friend. “You four have all been moved ahead one or two grades. Until this year, you’ve had recess but now, there’s only lunch and you have little time to spend with other girls your age. So I thought we’d have a club, just for you. We’ll have lunch each week and do some things together.” Ours eyes widened. Our faces reflected each others smiles. “It’s important you have friends of your own age,” she handed each of us a sheet of paper. “This will explain the club to your parents. Have them sign it; we want to be able to take short field trips.” My heart fell into my stomach as we stood to leave. They won’t sign it, I told my Friend. The nurse placed her hand on my shoulder. Once the other girls had left, she gave me a little smile, “I’ve already spoken with your mother. She said she would sign your permission slip.”

My kite soared in the sky, a white diamond with an abstract red and blue collage spreading out from the center. “This reminds me of a painting at the museum,” I had told the nurse as I pasted ripped chunks of coloured tissue paper on a large white sheet. “It’s very interesting,” she smiled down at me. “You do have a lot going on in your head, don’t you?” I raised one shoulder, lifted one corner of my mouth. “A lot!” I mutely told my Friend. “They’re all flying,” I called out to the nurse as the five diamonds danced in the wind. Charlotte let out a loud, “Whoop!”

M Is For Memory (and Marmar)

I stood in the open barn doorway. An old man sat on a stool near the back end of a brown cow. The cow was munching hay; something made my nose itch. There we are, the old man’s voice was a quiet lilt. You’re a good cow Sassy, he patted the side of the cow’s rump and went to lift the pail from under the cow’s body. Oh, the old man spied me. You must be the little miss who’s visiting us. I moved so that the barn wall hid most of my body but not so far that I could not see the cow. It’s okay, the old man’s voice was a quieter lilt. Old McPhearson won’t hurt you. I remained partially hidden. Would you like to see Sassy?

He sat on the stool, placed the pail under the cow again. I’ll bet you never milked a cow. His soft lilt invited me, Would you like me to show you? Moving, almost against my will,  through the fog that filled my inner ears, filled my heart, I slowly approached the cow. That’s right, the old man coaxed. I won’t hurt you. Now, I was next to him. He took my hand. My eyes shut. I felt something firm and furry against the skin of my fingers. That’s Sassy, the old man lilted. Take a look, I opened my eyes. My hand stroked the short fur on the cow’s underside. Would you like to try milking her? the old man’s blue eyes looked into my dark brown ones. He took my hand and placed it on one of the soft furry teats. Now squeeze, his lilt instructed. I contracted my hand. Nothing happened. I looked at the old man’s leathery face which, lit with a smile, had crumpled into deep ridges and valleys. Your hand’s too small, he chuckled. I returned my eyes to my hand. I’ll just have to help you. The old man placed his hard, leathery hand over mine, Now, we squeeze and pull. A stream of milk squirted into the pail. I jumped. It’s okay, the old man’s face crumpled into more ridges and valleys. You’ve just milked you first cow!

Lysse, Marmar’s voice called. Off to your mother, the old man lilted. We’ll milk some more tomorrow. Slowly I walked away from the cow, the fog a little less dense. At the door, I turned and looked back at the cow. The crumples in the old man’s face had relaxed into many deep lines.

Cow, I held up the book for Papa to see. Cow. Marmar stood beside him, her face a puzzled smile, It’s just books. Marmar lay a hand on Papa’s arm, She’s fine. I sat on the pile of books, some of them open face down, that had come crashing down when I stood on a lower shelf to reach the one I wanted. A picture of me, my arms wound around Papa’s arm as he turned the pages of the book had flashed across my mind. The cow, standing in a field munching clover, was etched in the midst of that flash. Cow, I showed Marmar as she bent over to lift me and the book into her arms. Papa began replacing the pile on which I had sat. What are we going to do with her? he asked Marmar sighing. Cow, I pointed to the page for Marmar would see. Love her, Marmar, her voice a gentle definitive, kissed my cheek.

I have something for you, Marmar opened a big white shopping bag. From a swathe of tissue paper, she lifted something brown. Cow! I hugged the stuffed leather beast, nearly a quarter my size, to my chest. Yes, Marmar nodded her head. A cow.

L Is For Leave

You’re old enough to learn to do your own hair, the woman tugged the comb through my wet hair. Sssshhh! I winced through my teeth and pulled away. Don’t be such a big baby! That didn’t hurt you! she tugged again. Your hair snarls so easily. It doesn’t snarl when you braid it, I struggled to keep my voice level as she encountered an especially tangled area near my scalp. Huh, she finally pronounced. No more snarls. I’ll set it but you’ll have to stay in this afternoon. Why can’t I cut it? mutely, I queried my Friend as, inside, I heard all the voices that shouted, Comb your hair! each Sunday when the tight French plaits were released and my hair allowed to flow freely. If I can’t cut it, then why can’t I wear braids? I silently asked Him. They stick out like Pippi Longstocking’s! And they stay neat all week! The image of tucking and smoothing wisps of hair flashed across the screen of my mind.

I sat in the window seat in the room I shared longing to loosen the tight curlers but kept my hands clasped firmly on Little Women instead. The sound of bike riding, jump roping, running and shouting children called to me through the open window. The mild weather beckoned. I want to play too, I told my Friend. May I go out? I made my face as sad as I could hoping the woman would ease her restriction. Little ladies do not go out with curlers in their hair, she responded. I slowly and heavily walked back to the steps. Whose making all that noise! the man was watching a baseball game. Me! I squeaked. Why aren’t you out playing? I’m not allowed to go out with curlers in my hair. All I can do is watch television… Tchah, the man scoffed. Or read a book, I continued. The man clicked the remote to a golf match. You can go out if you put on a scarf, without looking around. Don’t leave the garden!

What are you doing outside?! the woman called from the back porch as I rode the blue bicycle around the paved area in the back garden. Come in here! All of you girls! Come in at once! I told you, she wagged her forefinger at me, Little ladies do not leave the house with curlers in their hair! But he said I could, if I wore a scarf and didn’t leave the garden, my voice was an indignant squeak. The pink colour drained from the woman’s face. Her mouth was a straight line. She walked quickly from the kitchen.

Why did you tell her she could go outside?! the woman’s voice demanded with a steeliness I had never heard before. Claire, Alex, and I crept into the dining room and sat in silence around the table. Why do you always countermand me?! Can’t you see I’m trying to watch a game! We knew the man had not looked away from the television. Stop bothering me! The game is about to start again! I will not stop bothering you! the woman retorted sharply. I told Eve she must stay home and help me get the children ready for church. You gave her permission to go over to Veronica’s! She took a loud breath, her voice raised and octave, I asked the boys to rake the lawn! You told them to play ball in the park! They were making too much noise! the man interjected. Can’t you just let me watch my game?! Claire, Alex and I stared at each other in silence. And now! the woman’s voice crescendoed, you tell her she can go out with curlers in her hair! The sound of the baseball game came from the living room. The woman’s tread sounded on the stairs.

The woman’s room smelled of the lavender soap she kept inside her suitcases and bureau drawers. She folded clothing into an open case, her mouth compressed into a tight, straight line. I’m sorry, I told her from the foot of her bed, as she pressed her brown pumps along the side of the case. I promise, I’ll never leave the house with curlers again. I’m not leaving because of you, she said, her mouth still a tight, straight line. I’m leaving because daddy never supports me. I wiped at a tear making it’s way down my cheek. She looked into my face, Little soldiers don’t cry. You want to be a little soldier for Jesus, don’t you? Yes, my voice was a small, breathless squeak. Then you mustn’t cry. She folded the dress she always wore to vote, placed it in the case and closed the lid. A yellow cab arrived. The woman got drove away in it.

The Gates Of Hell

Nahash. He’s first encountered in Genesis as the serpent. In Job, Nahash is translated as Leviathan. He’s the ancient enemy, the foe. In 1 Samuel, he’s the king of the Ammonites and Israel fears him so much, they demand Samuel and God give them a king who will protect them. We quaver whenever Nahash appears on the scene.

A friend once told me, We think the gates of hell are attacking but gates don’t attack. They remain shut. It’s the job of the Church to attack and Christ promised us, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Recently, my spiritual director reminded me, The lie of hell is that it will prevail against the Church. But it won’t.

We needn’t quaver when Nahash, the ancient serpent, looms over us with mighty, sealed gates. We needn’t listen to Nahash’s lies and plead to be like everyone else, protected by an earthly king. We have the King who gives us the power to knock down the gates of hell, who frees us from every hell others cast us into, every hell we create for ourselves.

K Is For Keepsake

Sometimes, I miss my mother so much, I stared at my reflection in the mirror above the booth, my eyes rimmed with red, my face pinched, lips sere. I think what hurts the most is I don’t even have a picture of her. Her face feels so clear, sometimes. If only I had something to touch, the well spilled a few tears. Alethea handed me a tissue, How old were you when she died? Not quite five, my voice was a tiny whisper. I don’t even have the cross she gave me so I’d never be lost again. I’m so glad I have all my mother’s photos and keepsakes, Alethea stared off into space. Elizabeth spoke up, I’ve got my mother’s things but I never look at them. It’s hard to be reminded of the way she treated me. Alethea and I reached out and rested our hands on Elizabeth’s shoulder. Ah well, my sigh broke the silence after a long moment. Maybe we should talk about piety, study and action. Alethea smiled, It’s about that time.

Alethea, Elizabeth and I met each week for Ultreya, small weekly Cursillo community meetings. Amid secrecy and rules, that led up to the long weekend, I had made my Cursillo a year before them. On Thursday night, I sat in a confession/counseling session with a priest who told me, You’ve certainly been crucified in your life. He smiled as I solemnly nodded my head. But that doesn’t mean you should continue to crucify yourself, he told me gently. But how do I stop? Perhaps you’ll discover something this weekend that will help. By the procession on Sunday, I had tangible experience of the risen Lord through the love of the those who served on the Cursillo team and through strangers I’d probably never meet. I longed to immediately begin living the Fourth Day.

Elizabeth and Alethea had made their Cursillos together, I sponsoring Elizabeth. Both had had experiences similar to mine. And now, we met each week for coffee or dinner and discussed the ways in which we each lived out piety, study, and action in our day-to-day lives. You know what I’d like? I asked as we waited for the server to bring our cheque. I’d like to go on retreat, just the three of us. We could each give a meditation. It would be a lovely way to end the year.

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, page 832)

I find it so difficult to trust that. I always want to do things, to control them, to ensure all is going well. I paused to gather my thoughts. Alethea and Elizabeth, eyes staring into unseen depths, nodded in agreement. But the harder I try to save myself, the more I fail. I have no idea what God is doing with me. But I know, He knows what He is doing. For this year, I’d like to replace abject terror with confidence. At least, sometimes.

Let’s open presents, Elizabeth smiled cheerily, bouncing up from her chair to retrieve the small pile of gifts we had placed near the guesthouse Christmas tree. We oohed and awed over the books and simple jewelry we had chosen for one another. Perusing Julian Of Norwich’s, Showings, I didn’t notice Elizabeth standing before me, a small package in hand. This is for you, she told me, a big smile lit up her face. Oh! For me? But I’ll get an extra gift, I mutely told D’Abby. Thank you, I opened the box. An oval chunk of silver on a fine chain lay atop the cotton packing. Etched into the oval as if it were a smallsection of bas relief, the Blessed Virgin held the infant Jesus closely. Read the note, Elizabeth demanded. I lifted the small card and read softly, This medal is to remind you of your mother… my voice cracked, a few drops sloshed out of the well. …and the Eternal Mother… many drops fell on the cotton. As you gaze on it’s loveliness, remember that your mother loved you and did the very best she could for you. I crumpled, my head on my knees, the well flowed as I rocked myself. Alethea and Vera’s arms held me enhancing the warm tingling enclosure of D’Abby’s everlasting embrace.

J Is For Justice

The big cookie jar was on the counter, open. The cupboard above was locked. She forgot! a big smile filled my face as I whispered the words to my Friend. I pulled the kitchen stool over, climbed up, grabbed a handful of cookies, and stuffed them in the pocket of the light jacket I wore. Shooey ate one. I gobbled down the rest. His bulk and the shadows of rose bushes concealed me from the woman who sat reading near the playhouse, and from the other children as they biked and ran. My mouth was parched. I returned to the kitchen for a glass of water. The cookie jar still sat open on the counter. I grabbed another handful, carefully replaced the stool, took the cookies to the room I shared and ate them as I read Johanna Spyri’s, Heidi. Later, I walked back through the kitchen. Still, the cookie jar remained on the counter. I pocketed another handful and shared them with Shooey under the porch. Twice more, I repeated my careful promenade through the kitchen. Then, the jar was then empty.

Who ate all the cookies?! the woman demanded, her face red. Twelve children sat around the dining table or on the chairs pushed against either long wall of the room. The woman waved her arms excitedly, I can’t believe this! I go in to make dinner and all the cookies are gone. Whomever ate the cookies, confess right now! I remained silent. If no one confesses, I’ll punish all of you. I remained silent. Eve! Follow me, she led Eve into the little parlour and closed the door. The sound of her hand smacking Eve’s body resonated through the small glass panes of the door. Eve cried out, I didn’t do it, Mommy! I didn’t do it! The woman’s voice sounded, Send Gerard in. Eve came back through the parlour door. Gerard, she sniffed and pointed to the partly open parlour door. Gerrard disappeared behind the closed door. Whoever ate those cookies had better confess! she demanded, her face red and wet. It’s not fair that I should be punished! I didn’t eat them! I remained silent. Each child disappeared in turn behind the parlour door, returned crying, and loudly demanded the culprit confess. I remained silent. My stomach sank down to my toes. I sat sideways on the chair hiding my face in the hard upholstered back. I don’t want a spanking, I mutely told my friend. The youngest child in the house at the time, I was called in last. A lump filled the back of my throat; I closed the parlour door behind me.

I know you didn’t take them, the woman spoke softly. I’ll spank the piano bench and you cry. She spanked the upholstered surface and I howled. You’d better run upstairs or they’ll know you’re not really crying, she told me. I covered my face with my hands and ran up the steps howling. Gerard cried out, Whoever took the cookies had better confess. They deserved it, I told my Friend, as I sat on the window seat and hugged the eyeless bear: They hit me. And pinch me. And hurt me. And call me names cause I don’t look them or sound like them; cause I’m little. I took a deep snuffly breath, You know the horrible things the boys do to me? The warm, gentle tingle of my Friend’s hug filled me. Even Eve does those things to me! I hate them! They deserve to be punished! The well within me gushed over, She won’t give me anything to eat! Neither will he! She always gives them them things they can eat! I hate being hungry! The tingle surged to powerful, electric surge.

I Is For Isaiah

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. …Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.” Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? Surely, thus says the LORD: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued, for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children. I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine. Then all flesh shall know that I am the LORD your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (from Isaiah 49:14-26)

A series of silent sobs poured from my depths and gradually birthed sound, Huh! Huh! Huh! Huh! I took in a deep snuffly breath, Huh! Huh! Huh! Huh! The pitch rose, Hnhh! Hnhh! Hnhh! Hnhh!

Is it true? words finally came to mind, found their way out my lips. Are they really dead? Hnhh! Hnhh! Hnhh! Hnhh! sobs clicked in the back of my throat. All this time they’ve been dead? I crumpled the papers in my hand. I saw myself ripping them to shreds. I might need this, some voice of reason whispered in my head and stayed my actions. And how will You make it right now? How will You set me free? What good has it been?! My thoughts reached a shrieking crescendo, Waiting and hoping! Another snuffly breath, Hnhh! Hnhh! Hnhh! All this time?!

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