My grandmother’s early life in her words

11 05 2010

Note:  This was written by my father as my grandmother talked. My grandmother spoke with a distinct Appalachian dialect and much of that is left when he typed it out. The Appalachian dialect is primarily a spoken one though there are some grammatical and vocabulary differences.  

The Early Life of Gwendolyn

I can’t remember much about when we lived at the intersection of Routes 16 and 33. Only what has been told to me. The road was only a wagon road. Our house use to be a store. It had a high store front. Later Dad decided to move it across Millstone Creek on a high flat. I think this was to get it out of the high water. He did this with oxen. He had two yoke of oxen. I can only remember the lead oxen. They were named “Clyde” and “Colonel”. One of the other oxen was blind. I remember that he got into the West Fork. I was only six years old. I thought he was going to drown. But he waded out and got out safely.

My Dad tried several things to make a little money. Before our home was moved he had a planning mill under the house. When we moved over on the bank he still had those two yoke of oxen. He would do what ever he could with them to make some money. I don’t know what he ever did with those oxen. He owned a broom machine and made brooms. People would raise their own broom cane and bring it into the shop. He would make brooms for them. He would make so many brooms for them and he would keep one or they could keep them all and just pay him for making them. I was with him a lot then but the only thing he would let me do was to put the labels on the brooms. These were fancy labels. Some had pictures of horses on them. Some had birds. They were all fancy. I do not remember that any of them had our name on them. So I guess he didn’t advertize much. He would order these labels from a company. He also ordered the strings, wires and handles from this same company. Some people would bring the old handles back for him to reuse. Broom making was a very tedious job but everybody seem to like the brooms that Dad made.

Dad also drilled water wells . He would often be away a week at a time. Mom was afraid to be by herself at night. She would often take us three children in bed with her.  Mom didn’t sleep very much. When she went to milk she would sit us by the window on a dinning room chair. She would come out of the barn ever few minutes to check on us. They had lost their first baby. She was always afraid that something would happen to us.

We moved to Spring Run in March 1917. Dad and Worthy Poling traded farms. We moved by wagon. There wasn’t any bridge across the West Fork. You had to ford the creek and then you came up Spring Run quite a ways in the water. When we got up there we had a log house. It had two small rooms and a loft which wasn’t usable. We had a double fire place. The kitchen and dinning room was there. It had been added on to the log house. We had two beds in the front room and two beds in the back room. The beds were high beds with headboards and footboards. The walls had a heavy paper on it. We called it ceiling paper. You had to put it up with tacks. We had straw ticks on every bed. Sometimes the opening to the bed ticks would open and the straw would gouge you a little bit. But you could get up and straighten your straw out and then sleep pretty good all night. Mom would fill these straw ticks about every spring and fall. We usually had our own straw because we raised wheat and oats. We had a lot of fruit around the house and on the hill. We didn’t have much bottom land it was mainly hillside.

I was the oldest. I started harnessing the horses when I was too small to shove the harness over their backs. Tress was next to me and we were very close to each other. We had a few fights but nothing kept us from taking each others part. I was big for my age and she was skinny. I would try to take the heavy jobs but she wouldn’t stand for that. She always came up with her part of the job.

We would get up early. All of us would eat breakfast together. Mom would always have breakfast – a real good breakfast. We ate like grubbers. About the time we got through eating Dad would say “Boys we have got to do this today.”So we didn’t put up any argument at all. If the corn field hadn’t been hoed out the day before we knew that we had to go back to that cornfield and hoe it out if it wasn’t raining. We had to stay with that job until it was all completed. The corn had to be worked over three times. Some of this corn we could plow. But there was a lot of it you couldn’t plow so it was dig, dig, dig.

In May after we moved to Spring Run, Buzz was born. Her name was Harriet. I don’t know why we nicknamed her Buzz. Dad had all of us nick named except me and Tress. There was Buzz, Jack, Toots, Buster and Juke. Now take that for nicknaming your kids – now if that isn’t a good bunch of names.

Mom usually had a midwife since the children were born at home. With me she had Dr. Stalnaker. She named me after Dr. Staknaker’s wife, Hettie, and then they added Gwendolyn to it. Mom would work out in the field as soon as she could after the babies came. She would fix a pallet on the ground and the younger children would look after the baby. She would stop when the baby need fed. We were all breast fed. We were all healthy. There wasn’t much sickness in our family. Mom and I had the flu in 1918. This was a real hardship on Dad. He didn’t get the flu. Buzz was a baby. He had never diapered the babies. He would pin a diaper on Buzz, set her down and down the diaper would fall. He would try again and again until he got it to stay on. Since he didn’t cook about all we ate were corn flakes. Homer McKee lived up above us. He would come and get the wood in on the porch for us, milk the cows and bring the milk in so that Dad could take care of it.

While we had the flu we lived on corn flakes and milk. We were sick and didn’t feel like eating anything else. During the time of the flu people didn’t come in. It was during the war and Dad offered Mae Cogar $18.00 a week if she would come and stay with us. But she was afraid of the flu. It was killing a lot of people. We couldn’t find anybody to come in.

I started to school as soon as we moved up on Spring Run. Gilbert Keith was my first teacher. Dad had borrowed a primer a few years back. He taught us to read and to count so when we went to school that first morning and the teacher got the primer class up for recitation, Tress and I got started on this primer. We had it all memorized. The teacher had a time getting us stopped. We wanted to tell it all.

Kenny and Wilbert  were young men who attended school. They wanted to learn more so that they could pass their teacher’s exam. This was given down at Arnoldsburg at the school house which use to stand in the upper end of town. I think Wilbert was the only one who ever made a teacher.

We had some good teachers and then we had some not so good. Some would let you get by with anything and others would make you study. I went one term to Mr. Clem H,  later my father-in-law. He always had scripture reading and a song before school started. He couldn’t carry a tune at all. But he would try.

Our school was a one room building with a cloak room and a water bucket. We all drank from the same bucket, using the same dipper. Some of the kids had their own drinking cup – it was a folding cup. I remember one time Dad went to Parkersburg (that didn’t happen very often, there wasn’t anyway to get there except by train.) He brought us back one of those little folding drinking cups.

Most kids brought their lunch in a four pound lard bucket. One or two of them had a regular dinner pale. I remember Elzie Wallbrown, he was a rather big boy, and had a regular dinner pail, one of those aluminum kind. There was also Rex Hall. He was a six footer who kind of run over the children. They left school that evening. He had been pestering Elzie. They parted just above our house where one fork of Spring Run went one direction and the other went another way.
Elzie got tired of Rex pestering him so he hit him over the head with this dinner pail. It cut a gash in Rex’s head. The next day the teacher said. “Elzie, why did you hit Rex.” Elzie said. “I just took enough of his pestering.” The teacher then said. “Let’s not let this happen again.” Usually you would get the switch. They would send one of the scholars out to get the switch. It always had to be a pretty good one. I was lucky, I never got the switch. I had to stand in the corner.

I participated in everything. I participated in the high jumps and anything the boys would do. I was a regular tom-boy. Mom was always cautioning me to be more lady- like. But that never was my thing. I liked the outdoors.

We would play base and tag at school. We played ball. Our balls were made out of worn-out socks. We would ravel the socks out. It would probably take two to make one ball. We sew it and sew it. When that ball got wet it was heavy as lead, almost. I could throw pretty good. Glennie said I hit him one time with a ball and almost doubled him up. We had three bases. We called it Long Town.
As you stopped at the middle base as you were running the bases, you couldn’t stop there as you were coming back t into home plate. You had to make it all the way. I don’t remember the distance between bases, somebody stepped it off making each base the same length.

I would get head lice if there were any around. This was something that Mom always kept a secret. It was a disgrace to get head lice. She would get us down and look us over. If I had them she would pick the nits off. She was afraid that somebody would see the nits. I don’t know if they ever put anything on my head to kill the lice. She would just catch them off.

Mom was very clean and she was particular about her house. At this time we didn’t have any bedspreads so she would embroidery sheets to put on beds in the front room. These were put on each Sunday morning. This would make everything looking good for Sunday. We usually got up and went to Fairview Church to Sunday school and preaching. Sometimes we would go at night but not until we were older.

Our meals were very good. I guess that now they would say that you were on the starvation list. But we didn’t think we were. We raised our own hogs and had our own meat. I’ll tell you it was very good to have that big slice of ham for breakfast and some sop gravy.

We had molasses by the five gallon jugs. We always raised molasses cane. The molasses makers would always come to your house if you had enough cane. That was always a happy time. We would gather around the molasses pan in the evening and eat skimmin’s. Somebody would always get in the skimmin’ hole. This was a hole that they always put the green scum that formed in the pan when the molasses started to boil. They used a dipper of some type to skim this off and pour it in the skimmin’ hole. Someone would always step in the skimmin’ hole. That was always a joke. Everyone tried to escape stepping in the skimmin’hole.

Mom would sometimes have a cake baked for us when we came in from work. As far I know she didn’t have no receipt. She would put things together and then beat some egg whites, put some red cinnamon drops if she had any. We thought we were having a treat. This didn’t happen too often because we didn’t have the sugar and shortening.

Mom depended on eggs to buy all of the staple food. Sometimes we would have to sell a few hens to supply these things. By this time the family had grown to five children. Buster was the only boy. He was spoiled rotten. He could get around Mom and get anything he wanted. If she didn’t have money, she would ask Dad.
Buster always got it.

That’s something I didn’t have, money. In the later years Dad would pay us $3.50 a week. We would work everyday except Saturday afternoon and Sunday. They had a lot of entertainment down at the ball diamond. Sometimes we would have Ringling Brothers Circus to come to Arnoldsburg. We would save our $3.50 and spend about $1.50 to go to the show. We wasn’t allowed to go into the side shows.

This was after Dad got into road building. He did road work in Calhoun and Richie Counties. He was away a lot building road. That left Tress and I to do the farm work. We always had a corn field or two along with hay to put up. I never stacked any hay. I would haul the shocks in. You had one horse and a chain. You would put the chain around the shock and hook it. You would pull it to the stack and unhook it, the horse would pull the chain away. Dad would hire some men to help with cutting the hay. We didn’t do any house work when haying time came. Mom apparently thought that we had enough to do when the field work needed to be done. She felt that working all day in the field was enough to do.

Mom was very particular. We could never do anything that would suit Mom. She would redo every thing we did. I could remember when she went to Grandma’s for the day and came home. She would pick up the broom from the back porch. She would come through the house sweeping. Dad would look at us and grin a little bit but he didn’t say anything. I have heard her say later on that when me and Tress got big enough to do work it took a lot of work off of her.

We did the milking and worked in the garden, picked the berries, brought the fruit in and picked the beans. We would take a horse and sled and go back on top of the hill to pick beans. We would bring in the beans in the coffee sacks. The beans vines growed on the corn. They would leave the beans at the bottom of the corn stock . They would let them dry and we would have to shell them out in the fall. I hated picking dry beans. I hated picking any kind of beans, you would get corn tassels down your neck. It would itch you to death. We didn’t wear pants then. We wore dresses. It would have been more convenient if we had worn pants but women didn’t wear pants back then.

Before we plowed in the spring the barn had to be cleaned out. We would put the manure on the sled and then spread it on the garden and the potato patch. This was mine and Tress’ job. We would hook the horses up to the sled and load it on and then unload it. We would then lay clean hay down in the stalls.
Our job was to go in the morning and feed the horses. We would also water them.

Later on Dad got a young horse. We called him Rowdy. He hadn’t been ridden very much. Grandpa had given us an old horse. He was a big horse and his name was Barney. As many as could get on Barney, he would carry them. But Rowdy was a little bit different. On Sunday we would go up in the hollow. We would slip the bridle out and we would make another one out of paw-paw bark for Barney.
We would put the good bridle on Rowdy. We would take turns riding Rowdy. Dad didn’t know anything about this. We really had a good time.

Dad bought a farm up in the right fork of Spring Run. Later he bought a farm over the hill, called the Ad Starcher place. We farmed both places. At the Ad Starcher place Tress and I would stay in until about 10:00 A.M. Mom would have our dinners packed. We would take that dinner and cross the hill. We would get there about 11:30 or 12:00. This was a job that we just despised.

When we farmed in the head of Spring Run Dad was away at work. He had the corn planted. It was just new ground. It hadn’t been farmed before. So Tress and I would take on horse and ride it to work. I would plow with a root cutter plow until noon. Tress would hoe while I plowed. We would ride the horse in for lunch. Then we would go back in the afternoon. It would take us all afternoon to hoe out what I had plowed that morning. The next day it was the same thing until we got the whole field plowed and hoed.

I remember one day we came in for dinner and Horace was there. We had been writing to each other. I was around 14 then. I had on a man’s shirt and a pair of Dad’s old bib overalls and men’s shoes. I was so embarrassed. Mom had dinner about ready when we got there. He was in the living room sitting. I went out back and washed my face and hands. There wasn’t any clothes out there so I just had to just come into the house before him. I know my face was red and I was speechless. I guess he didn’t mind that too much. We were married three years later on my 17th birthday. We lived together 53 years.

I don’t remember much about my Grandma H. She was a very kind person. She would help all of the poor around whenever she got a chance. They lived in a large house with a store building on the side. You could go from the living room into the store building but usually that door was locked. She kept teamsters and drummers (salesmen that Grandpa bought different things from). Grandma always kept her table set. She would have pickles and stewed prunes, raisins and jelly. She had a large pantry and a dough crock and bread board. These always set out. She cooked on a wood cook stove. She had a lot of people coming in and often didn’t have enough bread. She could quickly make biscuits if she needed them. Grandma Hoskins didn’t live to be very old.

Grandpa H was a very contrary man. Nothing ever suited him. He would get drunk every once in a while and stay drunk for two or three days. When he got drunk he had this little back storeroom. He would go in there and stay until he sobered up. While he was drunk Grandma ran the store. She would cut us dress lengths off of the bolts of cloth. My mom was a good seamstress. She could make us dresses and always kept us looking nice. Grandma was good to everybody. There was a real poor family who lived in Arnoldsburg . So when Grandpa was drunk Grandma would give them a half side of meat, bacon, and other food.

We would go to Grandpa’s when we needed a new pair of shoes. He would set us down one pair which I guess he thought was the right pair for us. If we didn’t take the pair he set down, he did show us anymore. He would just say “I guess you don’t want no shoes.” Then he would put them behind the counter. I don’t remember him giving us kids anything.

I remember Grandpa W very well. Grandpa died in 1925 and Grandma died in 1939. Grandma was always good to us. She would set on the porch and read the Bible and sing. Everybody that went by she would holler at them to come in, come in and eat or come in a set awhile. I’ve never knew of her doing any work. I have seen her hunker down and weed the lettuce.

But my Grandpa he worked hard. He never owned a house. He was always a tenant on Hay’s property. He was high tempered, a very wicked man. He had fox and coon hounds. They would often go hunting at night. If he caught a coon, they ate it. They had seven girls and three boys. Aunt Leone, Pearl and Uncle John never married. Aunt Leone and Aunt Pearl took turns getting up to fix breakfast. They were both very tidy about themselves and about the house. I never saw Aunt Pearl with a soiled dress on. But Aunt Leone worked outside more. Grandpa was always calling for her to help him. She always went a running. She was just a slave to him. We didn’t visit them very often because they seldom lived in a very big house.

Grandma W and the girls, and my Mom too were always bad about having favorites in the family. Jim was the favorite one in my family. Dorcas was Mom’s pick in my family. They made it hard for the other three children because no one paid any attention to them.

*My Dad did road construction work in Calhoun and Richie Counties. They did all of this work with slip scrapers and horses, dynamite, picks and shovels. He would often be away for a week or more. When he was away with this work that was when he paid us $3.50 a week for working

There was a family of McKowns that moved to Spring Run about 1920. They had eight boys and one girl. We would often get together after work. We would play ball or base. We would go to their house and listen to music. About all of them played a string instrument. They never turned anyone away and always had extra people there. They fed everyone who came by. Holly was a story teller. He was a real comic. He had a story. It was a continued one about going out west on a flying mule. I doubt if Holly was ever too far away from home. I think he worked on Williams River for a while. He got Dad interested in his flying mule story. They would sit up and listen until late like even when you had to get up early to work.

We were not allowed to play cards. But after I got married we would come home and play set-back. Mom always warned us to be very nice, to grow up and be well thought of. She cautioned us about this and that. She said don’t sit in the back of the church because that is where trashy people sat. Mom was also very superstitious. She didn’t allow you to rock a rocker with no one in it. You couldn’t raise an umbrella in the house. You could sing at the table. We would pop corn and make taffy at night. Dad roasted potatoes and parched corn. We would save the nice ears of eight-row corn for parching. You would put a little bacon grease to the skillet and salt. You would add the corn and keep stirring until all of the corn was brown. All of this was done on the fire place.

In the winter time we did some sleigh riding. We had to make our sleds. I got pretty good at making the runners. I would take the ax and whittle one end of the board off until it looked like a sled runner. Then we would nail three boards across the top. Sometimes it collapsed on us because there was no bracing in the middle. Some of the kids rode on tin but we weren’t allowed to because they said it was too dangerous of getting cut.

At Easter time we started about three weeks before when we went to gather the eggs in the evening we would never bring all of them to the house. We would pick out one or two and hide them some place. We would then have eggs for Easter. I remember one Easter there was a great bunch of us and we had hid out eggs. I had a couple of cousins who lived up the road from us, the McKown boys and me, Tress and Jack came. Horace came he was home for Easter. We met just down below our house at a big rock. We built us up a fire where we roasted and fried eggs. He brought me a big box of candy. I think it was five pounds. It had the biggest card in it with a nice verse – real lovie, dovie stuff. It made me so happy to read it and to think he was thinking something of me. I think I still have it. Now when I read it, it makes me real sad. All along we had a good time. We lived 53 years together and raised four wonderful children. Right now we just got 12 grandchildren. That’s all we will have.

My parents lived in the same house all of their life on Spring Run. In 1922 Dad decided to build us a new house. We built the new house but we used the old fire place that was there because it was a double fire place. He built a two story house, two rooms up and two down. He left the kitchen and dinning room that was there and connected to the new house. This made us six rooms which made plenty of room. We lived in the Spring Run School while our house was being built. Willie “Chip” Crawford did the carpenter work.

Our house was the first one in the area to have sheet rock on the walls and ceiling. Mom usually painted every spring. The paint was mixed with water. To buy it she would save “due bills.” This was when you went to the store you took your eggs. If you didn’t use all of your eggs , they gave you a due bill on what was left. She would save these and get new curtains for the living room.

She always managed to get us new shoes and a hat for summer. I remember one that I got. I thought it was so pretty. It had a bunch of cherries on the side – I don’t remember the color of it but it was just real pretty. These were ordered from the National Bellus Hess Company. I think that it is now Alden’s. When that catalog came in we looked and looked at it. When the new edition came the old one was taken to the outside toilet.

Our water came from a spring. We had a well in the front yard but the surface water came in so we didn’t use it. Later it was filled and the water from the spring was piped into the kitchen. Our wood cook stove had a reservoir on the side. We would have hot water for the dishes.

We always fed a lot of people on Sunday. Mom would kill a chicken and fix dumplings. She would make a whole stack of pies, usually dried apple pies. She would make them with biscuit dough. They were stacked 6 to 8 high. When you went to cut them you just cut all the way through them. We thought it was a tough life but considering today I guess we were very fortunate. We didn’t have dope and all that stuff. We didn’t know what a radio was. I was a pretty good size girl before I saw an airplane go over. We would all run outside and watch it until it went out of sight.

On Saturday, 7 August 1926 seventeen year old Gwendolyn married Horacet at the  family home on Spring Run. Horace was 24. A year later Gwen gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Burdeal.
She would give birth to three other children: Dorcas, James and Horace Leonard, Jr. Gwen and Horace have 12 grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren.

Gwen’s father died in 1954 at the age of 80. Her mother lived to be 92. She died in 1979. Her husband, Horace also died in 1979. He was 77 years old. Gwen lived to be 93. She saw the new century come in before she died in 2003.

A new day and a todo list

21 03 2008

It’s a new day and I want to start working on my discovery last night.  I am too often putting myself at the bottom of my priority list.

  • Ride bike for 15 minutes.
  • laundry
  • get twins dressed
  • get out of the house for a few minutes (it’s windy and cold here though)
  • talk to heating guy
  • play
  • clean off kitchen mantle

I lost me

21 03 2008

When I was in my early twenties and a single working woman I used to joke that you couldn’t lose yourself.  I mean, aren’t you right there? Couldn’t you just reach down and easily grab your own ass with both hands? It seemed like an excuse to be selfish – to throw away everything and everyone that was counting on you. “I have to find myself” what a crock!  Boy, was I arrogant. It’s almost embarrassing now.

I did lose myself.  After another endless argument with my husband about how no one thinks about what Mama needs and having my husband tell me that he would like it if I could be more than Mama now – I realized that I am not even on my to do list.

Over the last year we have been under a lot of stress. Selling a house, buying a house, moving with kids, having our older house stay on the market and lose value, my husbands work becoming more stressful, the twins start both school and specialized therapy to deal with speech delays in one and low muscle tone in the other. Most of this stress came to me to deal with. My husband’s work stress meant that he did less at home and wanted to do even less than he was.  

In response, I did as my mother did before me. I sacrificed the things I was doing for me. I stopped going to the gym. I gave up my pottery class, I stopped writing here and gave up my regular Mom’s day out.  My whole life became about taking care of others when I wasn’t caring for me.

This all came to a head last night when I realized this. I was furious and resentful. I felt taken advantage of. I was hurt that no one was acting on my feelings.  And that’s when it hit me. I wasn’t either.

A List to get through the day

11 02 2008

PhotobucketIt’s list day but it’s for an extra reason today. I need to get a lot done just like usual but I also need to focus outside myself. It’s a tough day and I need to focus on the kids and getting things done instead of get caught in the turmoil inside of me.

  • Laundry – 2 loads to fold and put away and probably another 2-3 to do.
  • Speech  for Tman.
  • Work on homework with the girls
  • start valentines with the twins.
  • Unpack 3 boxes
  • clean livingroom
  • clean kitchen
  • clean masterbathroom
  • clean bathrooms
  • clean twins room
  • dinner – quiche, salad and bread

uh oh, I only have about 30 more minutes before the girls come home and that usually heralds the end of my time to clean anything.

My music today need to reflect the mood I am working for – serene instead of the one I feel troubled.

Never Again

28 01 2008

Will I sell a house.  Well at least not simply to buy another. If my husband would get moved in his job, it’s an obvious thing but it’s also one where his company would help us with the sale.

Of course we chose to sell in a horrible deflating housing market – euphamistically called a Buyers market.  My lawyer says that no one likes a buyers market because the buyers think they are getting ripped off if they don’t get the moon for a nickel and the sellers are watching their home talked down and aren’t getting what they think it’s worth. It also sits on the market a long time typically meaning endless showings and chances to get your hopes up that this person will want it.

Accepting the offer can be a whole other slice of hell. Our buyer came in with an offer at the same time another offer appeared. He could close quickly so we went with him eventhough he was already showing himself more difficult to deal with. He starts by dragging his feet on the inspection. Then he wants everything to be perfect when the house is selling at a bargain. And then he drags his feet on contacting his lawyer and signing the purchase and sale.

But it’s over Thursday and I can’t wait. I am hoping he and our neighbors get along famously. Famously as in  the Hatfields and McCoys. I hope he loves the barking bull mastiff. The families who argue over leaves, the neighbor who never does his share of cleaning the shared hilly drive. I hope he finds out one cold morning that the oil delivery truck won’t come until he widens the cleared portion of the drive.

In the mean time I am in my new home with it’s share of nasty little surprises and still happy I am here. Maybe that’s the point of it though, some of this is just what selling and buying is all about. It’s just even nastier in a buyers market.  

It’s going to take a lot of lists

28 01 2008

to get all of this done…

We have finallysold our old house and moved into our new  house.  Now for putting stuff away and figuring out where that “away” is. So it’s back to List days for me.

  • unpack 3 boxes. I unpacked 4
  • laundry – for a month laundry was still over at the old house – a nightmare for a family of 6. (washer broke :()
  • clean bathrooms
  • figure out dinner – probably something asian
  • help girls with homework
  • hang some pictures
  • Take Tman to speech

And it wouldn’t be list day with some music to set my mood.

List day

26 09 2007

I need to get a lot done today. I have plans now to be away from the home tomorrow and we often get showings toward the end of the week.

  • Laundry – always makes a strong showing on my todo lists. I have 2 to fold already and probably 5 to wash/dry and fold.
  • Clean bathrooms
  • Clean bedrooms
  • Clean Living room
  • Figure WTF is for dinner tonight
  • Make a couple appointments for the kids
  • Call about house insurance quotes
  • cable repairman – upgrading service plan
  • exercise
  • stretch
  • enter foods into food log
  • Take Tman to speech

And a little music to start my day


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