Looking for answers to life's questions

What’s Missing

My first thought when I read this prompt was the old phrase “of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” ~ Mark Twain

I looked at my daughter and asked if I was missing anything in my life. Her reply took seconds. I miss my original language.

Missing something implies possible regret. Missed opportunities. I think my life unfolded exactly as it should. I have had a world of experiences and two children that grew into honest, honorable and kind adults. What more could I ask for?

It seems I’ve been talking about fully learning the language of my birth more than I realized. I have even started looking at YouTube classes to refresh my memory. Was it even worth the bother at my age? What are the chances I’ll ever get back there?

Still living in Germany Age 4

I left Germany at 4 ½ years of age, starting kindergarten in Kansas City. We moved twice the next year, then went back to Germany for three more years. I attended a base school that included a class on German language to help the kids that had never been there. My playmates were mostly the German neighbors. They didn’t taunt me even though my German was not up to standards even to them.

Kindergarten photo. The top knot brought lots of taunts.

While we originally lived in Germany, my dad, with the US army, spoke to me in English and I answered in German. We understood each other. Once we landed in the US my mother ‘earned’ her citizenship with study and testing. She stated to me that this was where we lived now, this is where our money came from and this was the only language we would speak. I was only to hear words in German if she did not know I was in range. They were usually muttered to herself, never outside our home. At that time in history, we were not well received here.

I traveled to Germany twice with my mother after their retirement. The first time was on a group tour with other military couples when my dad’ decided it was too much for him. Mom needed company. We were with Americans and that was primarily what was spoken on that trip.

Me and mom’s online friends. They spoke NO English.

The second time we went alone on her last trip, to all the places she had been with my dad and to visit some new online friends. Mom was struggling with pulmonary fibrosis and the trip was grueling. We rented a car and I did all the driving trying to understand road signs and rules. Mom had forgotten most of her German but I seem to find mine out of sheer need. Each occasion requiring information brought up words from the deep dark reaches of my mind. Mom would look at me and ask how I knew those words. I could only shrug and marvel at their appearance with gratitude.

In the city of my birth, mom found old friends that remembered her.

 

The building where my grandparents last lived. Arm swollen from lack of oxygen.

I think that brought on the desire to relearn what I had lost and build on it. I used to think in German and translate to English. Now I think in English and work very hard to translate to German. I’m not certain I’ll get the level of mastery where I can converse fluently but it would be so nice to go there, immerse myself for a few months and then once again, dream in my first language.

Do you feel there is anything still missing in your life? How would you go about finding it?

From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

 

Comments on: "What’s Missing" (60)

  1. Once again, all I can say is wow! This was such an interesting story and I keep learning more and more about you. It is so interesting to realize the depths of people. At least for me, I seem to get to know people in the here-and-now…. except for the old friends of childhood. Sadly, we oftentimes don’t get to know much of their true history. I am enjoying your journey and look forward to the next chapter you write.

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    • I think we all keep so much close to the vest because we don’t know who we can trust with our true self. It takes time to open up and see how much truth other’s will accept from us. This could be an interesting journey.

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  2. These are important things to write down. Experiences and how you felt about them. The history of who you are today. To have a second language is a real gift, Marlene and it is surprising how much is retained there in the mind, when we absolutely need it.
    I envy your early European experiences although it would not have been easy for you adapting to new schools?
    I wonder why your Mum forgot her language. Was German not her native language?

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    • I went to 13 schools in the 12 years of education and always felt like the new kid on the block even though we were all wanderers. My mother forgot her language because she tried to block all memory of her life in Germany and the war. It was horrific for them. And she had lost a lot of cognitive function due to oxygen deprivation. She should have been on oxygen the whole 3 week trip. Her arm was huge and we didn’t know why until just before we left for home. The army base doctors helped us with that.

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      • I can well understand the inability to process language. It is sad to hear that she had suppressed memories. It sounds a little like a sort of PTSD?

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      • Without question it was PTSD! She had a lot of trauma in her life. Uncovering it help me to be less angry with how we were treated.

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      • It may justify somewhat her behaviour and parenting style, but at the end of the day, she had to accept responsibility for individual choice. I think in forgiving my parents for their lack of parenting – or abusive parenting, I just reached a point where I accepted that they did the best they could do, even though that was pretty crap. They could have done better if they had wanted to, but that was not their interest. I am pretty settled with that now. Years ago, I wasn’t but aging bring wisdom about accepting peoples’ failings, and one tends to see the bigger picture. Your Mum had to accept the consequences of her actions – in terms of the relationship between you two, however that was or wasn’t. She may not have been to blame, but she still has to take the consequences and fallout. As my parents do and still are doing. I am glad you were able to come to terms with it. I think it makes one a more conscientious parent when one’s own parent fails in their job.

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      • You are correct in all assessments. My aim was always to do a better job than they did. I think I was mostly successful.

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      • I have no doubt at all. Your children are the proof.

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    • Forestwood I am in awe that you forgave your parents for their failings. Mine were terrible parents, each in their own ways, and I remain angry about it. I wish I could let go, but their parenting caused so much unnecessary pain for me, trying to learn how to be a good human without a role model or any support. It must have been the same for you. Maybe with more time I can.

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  3. I think you’ll find it easier than you expect. Children lay down language pathways at a very early stage, and even with lack of practice and use, something about the patterns of your birth language will have stayed with you. Your second trip is an example of this. I think you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of small gains and modest progress, especially if you can find someone to practice and converse with. It’s a worthy ambition, keeping your brain supple and lively. Go for it!

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    • I agree with you, Kate the neural pathways are so strong that 50 years later I found words I wasn’t aware I knew. I have endeavored to find German speakers that were willing to work with me but so far no luck. I’ll keep working with YouTube for awhile. 😉 I made a third trip 6 years later with my sister and since she had no concept of the German language, I did ALL the talking to get us around. At least she did some of the driving. That helped a LOT. 🙂 Thanks for the visit.

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  4. I can only say, if anyone can learn a language later in life that someone would be you, Marlene. I have no doubt with the help of the internet, you’ll do well. I say, go for it. Thank you for sharing this story and your lovely photos. I really enjoy seeing you as a young girl. I love that your documenting your past. Your children will appreciate it. This year, I’ve been reevaluating things and setting new goals. Your words have inspired me to keep pressing on. xo

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    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Jill. I hope things move forward for you. I’m doing a lot of this writing for my kids but I filter a lot out on the blog. I have been working in different venues to educate myself but immersion is so much faster. I’m hoping soon to make the trip one more time.

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  5. I think it’s missing, perhaps, that things come full circle.
    You were born there, from Germany came some of your roots. I hope you can go back – I believe it would do your soul good.
    Post-war Germany lived troubled times, this perhaps motivated your Mother to renounce her language? In a post-Nazi world, it might have had shady connotations to her new country and neighbours. It must have been really hard for her to do so. I imagine it’s tearing one apart.
    Please give yourself the present of joy – speak your word again, let your roots float from the depth of your unconscious being.
    PS If you were to travel to Germany, please do let me know. Perhaps we could meet, I would be honoured to.
    Alles liebe und dicke umarmung

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    • Vielen Dank für Ihre freundlichen Worte und dicken Umarmungen. We had planned to sell the house and go last summer. Hoping there is still time for my daughter to take me and spend some time there. You are correct. My soul wants to to back again at least for awhile. I’m going to keep trying to find ways to wake up my language again. My mother lived through the horrors of it all and wanted nothing more than to distance herself from it. When my dad had orders to go back to Germany in my senior year she forced him into retirement. It was sad because he felt more at home there than here. We took dads ashes back there. Life is funny that way.

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  6. PS2 schoene bilder ❤

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  7. Wonderful story Marlene, and clearly your experiences when younger are still strong within you. There is no reason not to pursue language that evokes a special time in your life. It is about the enjoyment and memories over being perfectly fluent.

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    • It feels like yesterday, Deb. I’ve been trying to learn so many different ways but think immersion learning will be the best. After 3 weeks back in Germany, Many didn’t realize I wasn’t a native. I pull off a good scam. 😉 Definitely still have an ear for it. Maybe this year we can make the trip. If covid lets up.

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  8. Marlene, I agree – get back to re-learning your birth language – and I’m sure you will find someone to converse with once you get started. I can imagine why your Mother decided it was to be American English only – I know of other parents who have taken their family to new places, because there was better opportunities if they spoke the local language.

    I’m not missing anything of my early childhood – it was extremely difficult my parents when I was born were in their 50s and my siblings were either already at senior school or out in the workforce. (yes I’m one of those unexpected special babies). But my parents had lost the art of bringing up a child, especially one with disabilities and what I missed (but didn’t know until my 60s) was proper schooling… Both died when I was in my early 20s and all my siblings were already married with families of their own. I did marry but now I’m single for nearly on 30years…

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    • My language is ALL that I miss of my childhood. I know what you are talking about with older parents. My son is a month older than his uncle. But both boys were fortunate to have survived their beginning but without major disabilities. My mother-in-law abdicated too. I’m beginning to think proper schooling is overrated. Mine was a patchwork of 13 schools in different countries and states in 12 years. It’s why I read and have so many books in my house. I was married right out of high school and had to figure it out mostly on my own from there. Life is often very unfair. I’m glad you are making the best of it. Thanks so much for stopping by.

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  9. Hi Marlene. a continual process of learning is not only fun, but keeps our minds young and accepting of new things. It’s great that you’ve embarked on this particular path!

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  10. Your story sounds like my father’s. When he was little, Swedish was spoken in the home, but he was told “this is an English-speaking country” and only English was to be spoken outside the house. I always thought it was kind of unfortunate that he and his brothers didn’t retain the Swedish. I would love to be bilingual.

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    • I wish we had been encouraged to at least speak the language inside our home. I’m the only one of 4 children with even basic German. I consider myself very lucky. When I’m in another country, I try very hard to use as much of their language as possible and keep mine for in our room. It’s almost rude to babble in English and leave them out of our conversation. Thanks for joining the conversation.

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  11. Is this another of the writing prompts from the course you’re taking? It’s very well done, and I really like the pictures you shared. Was the one of you in your little coat taken on Easter Sunday? I have one that is very similar.

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    • Yes Liz, it is the next prompt. Thank you for your kind words. Doing my best here. The photos I have no idea of when they were taken. My mother remembered nothing. I had a very unusual upbringing. 😉 Easter was the only time of the year my mother took us to a church she didn’t believe in all dressed up. Strange.

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      • You’re welcome, Marlene. My dad was an Episcopal priest, so my family tended to look askance at those who only attended church on Christmas and Easter. I look forward to your next prompt.

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      • I was the only one in our family that went to church and caused quite the stir in our house. I was 7 when I started that and just couldn’t explain it. I hated that she dressed us up just for the Easter she wanted no part of. I agree with your dad there.

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  12. I hope you’re adding this response to the prompt to the life history you’re compiling for your family. It is filled with important details about yourself – perseverance, curiosity, kindness, forgiveness – in this remembrance that show so much. You weren’t just missing your language, you were missing connection to your original culture and country – a huge loss. My children are adopted from China and one of them, who was 9 months old when she joined our family and is now 23, is actively teaching herself Mandarin through workbooks (for the script), on-line for the sound and pronunciation, and a tutor. Clearly she is missing that original connection, like you. Good luck, Marlene. Keep on!

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    • You are absolutely right, Susanne. I am missing the culture of my youth. My last trip was 2006 and I really want to take my children to see the village of my birth. I hope we can make it happen. It’s wonderful that your daughter is exploring her culture as well. Mandarin is not an easy language because inflections in voice tone give words different meaning. I found this out when we were stationed in Taiwan for 2 years. They didn’t even want us to learn the language for fear we would insult someone and start an international incident. 🙂 I tried anyway with enough of the language to get where I needed to go and shop on the markets. Maybe, when the world is sane again, she can go for a short visit. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

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  13. Your nostalgia is lovely, Marlene. I think you will find it easier than you realize. You already remembered words your mother had forgotten on your last trip. Have you thought about renting some movies in German?

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    • I have rented movies in German but they speak too fast and muffled so I’m using YouTube and I have Duolingo on my phone. I keep working at it but immersion is just the best way to get so much more if it’s possible. I listen to German music in my sewing room. I’m going to get it somehow. 😉 Thanks for your sweet words, Jennie.

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  14. Marlene, you’re a wealth of inspiration and insight. For me, I’ve felt like I was missing parts of my childhood. Several years back we took a trip to Lakeport, California, my birthplace. I was flooded with memories. Since then, we’ve returned and learned to enjoy the place. Between my mom and a second cousin, they’ve filled in some blanks and history. Thanks for sharing and asking the question. Have a great week!

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    • I am so glad this resonated for you too. I’m not particularly nostalgic but somehow those roots pull at us. I understand about the blanks in history. Mine are huge because my family didn’t talk about anything. Hope you have a great week too.

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  15. Thank you Marlene, for sharing those early years and going back to Germany.
    It’s a good question to ask, simply to see what comes up! For me, right now I miss the smell and taste of the Scottish sea air. I wasn’t able to go back last year, but I hope to return as soon as international travel is COVID free.

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    • I hope you get to go soon, Val. I fully understand and you have even deeper roots than I. I’d love to visit Scotland as well if I get across that big pond. I think I’d be quite at home there too. Thanks for the visit.

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  16. Guten Tag, Marlene! Ich spreche Deutsch, aber nicht so gut.

    And we won’t go further than that, because I’m sure my grammar is atrocious, LOL! I love the pictures of you from your childhood, and I think it is really neat that you are relearning your native language!

    What is missing from my life? A strong sense of self and an ability to find peace within, regardless of what is going on externally. But I’m working on it! 😉

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    • Thanks for the visit, Bethany. You will gain what’s missing with time. It took me too many years to get here. I still let outside affect me to a degree. My German grammar is non-existent. Now I understand more than I speak. But the sense of self and internal peace are much more important. Keep at it.

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  17. A three week trip back to Germany sounds like an excellent plan to regain your first language- it’s hiding in there somewhere. I am hopeless at languages and only learned french and failed my exams, but when the time came when I really needed something on a french campsite for my children, and none of the other campers would even attempt French (including my husband who had pretty good French), from out of nowhere I found the words to get the lights fixed in the washroom. You go for it, and please let us know how you feel afterwards. Without doubt what I am missing is my home town of Pickering, our recent move was so sensible but I do miss my hometown.

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    • Oh Cathy, I do understand about missing your home town. We naturally crave the familiar. You make my point about the language hidden in the recesses of our brain so well. I’m glad you gave it a try. We will go as soon as travel is an option again. Thanks for stopping by.

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  18. First – and I think it’s so cute and funny – my mum had the same kind of hairstyle when she was a kid!! Will see if I can find pictures of it.
    Second – I’m not at all surprised that you remembered these words after so many years. The brain is a curious and fascinating thing and informations that were important at a time and then forgotten can be remembered out of the blue when need be.
    I’m so sorry that your mum decided to only speak English when you were around as a kid but I totally understand why she did it. It must have been tough to live abroad as a German so short after the war. Nowadays of course people try to teach their children all languages possible at an early age and with good reason.
    I’m also sad that my father (Egyptian) didn’t take the time to speak Arabic with me when I was a kid and my parents were still married. Not that I feel very drawn to the culture (which I don’t but that’s another subject) but it would surely have been useful and come in handy. But he was too busy working and learning German himself at that time.
    I don’t think I’m going to learn the language one day, it’s really complicated!

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    • You are correct in guessing why my mother refused to speak German while we lived in the states. When we went back to Germany and I had my Oma and Opa and aunts speaking German and playmates, I learned a bit more. It won me no prizes in school. A lot of jealousy. I would think Arabic would be much like the Asian languages with inflection making a difference in word meaning. I learned enough to get around but you had to really be good at languages to be fluent with time I didn’t have.

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      • I guessed as much. Must have been really tough. There’s still lot of resentment against Germans in the world. 😦
        Anyway, I think with Arabic it’s more about differences between countries. In Egypt they speak Egyptian, which is special form of Arabic. Every Muslim learns some Arabic through their studies of the Quran I think, so there’s the possibility to converse on a basic level I think. What prevents me most from learning it are the letters though! So very different and no vocals but only consonants! I think I’ll stay with European languages – those I can at least read even if I don’t know what it means. 😉

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  19. Interessting story Marlene! Hope you learn some

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  20. I’ll bet it would come back easier than you think, Marlene. And what a fun way to engage your mind and bring back memories. I would love to learn a language, learn to play the piano, take a painting class. I think life long learning keeps us young! Have fun.

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    • You are so right, Diana. Learning is fun. Painting classes are great for getting us past the need to be perfect. I love music but have no ability in that area so I stick to teaching myself quilting, sewing and writing. I hope you get a chance to take some of your classes. It shakes the cobwebs loose. It’s funny what triggers a memory. Thanks for joining the conversation.

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  21. Marlene, I had no idea you were born in Germany. I don’t know how I missed that. I guess that was a pun (missing). What a fascinating post. I actually took German through a correspondence course years ago so it was all reading and writing. I did pretty well at it and then forgot every single thing within six months LOL. All I remember is how hard German is and how many syllables the words have. So the value of the course lies in the empathy it gave me for someone working on their German. My fathers parents were German speakers as children. I never met my grandfather, but my grandmother did not have an accent when I knew her. She came of age at a time when she took some abuse for being German because of World War I. I imagine it was similar after World War II.

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    • My mother and I were both unwelcome here for so long. Most people didn’t catch my mother’s accent either. She had worked very hard to sound American but could never understand a joke or nuance. Languages have to be used to stay fresh in the mind. German is a tough language to learn but then, so was English. 😉 It’s interesting to go back to your roots sometimes. Hope you are doing well. Thanks for stopping by, Luanne.

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  22. This post is so fascinating, Marlene. Sad in some ways – your mom had to hide a lot about herself, her outside self to others, and sounds like her inside self to herself. The trauma one goes through as a child seeps into a person’s whole being, their whole life. And those they live with suffer then also. How amazing of you to take you mom on her last trip to Germany. I’m not surprised you were able to understand the German language. Your mind is so sharp, and as you say, “out of necessity.” Thanks for sharing this part of your own history. xo

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed this, Pam. It took many years to understand why my mother was like she was and to finally become almost friends. She needed that last trip so much that I was grateful not to be talked out of it. I’d like to go back again but time may not be on my side if we don’t manage covid soon. My daughter wants to go with me and I’ll have to call on my language skills again. I’m not so sharp anymore. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

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      • However, you might find the words on the tip of your tongue once there… that “necessity” thing. I know, we who are over the age of …. something …. are biting our nails over losing time to travel and explore before our time is up. ❤

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  23. My mother spoke Spanish to me when I was 5, and she told me I was fluent at the time. As an adult I thought I remembered nothing. On my first trip to Mexico I was traveling alone, and somehow pulled Spanish words out of thin air when I really needed them. I think my brain, as yours, had been holding those words all along.

    Funny how that topknot is cute as heck for someone else, looking at a photo of you, from years back. But I’ll bet getting teased was not fun at all. I still think it’s cute as heck though. I love how I can see your familiar face in childhood photos. Not so much from the middle of your life, but you look now so much like you did when you were a kid. I wonder if that means you’re getting younger somehow? 🙂

    I hope you and H can make it to Deutschland. I’ve never been there and always wanted to go, and I would love to find a way to join you both, if the world ever opens up and again and you want to try it. I may have mentioned this in the past, and I definitely mean it. I told Pauline about it and she told me to make sure I let you have control where you want it and not to surprise you with anything, and only go along for the ride and to help when asked. Just know she is honoring you even now, through me. ❤

    What am I missing? Oh, lots of stuff. I'm always fretting about where I put that thing. But really what am I missing? Self love. I can use some more of it. I still get so unrealistically insecure when I'm not confident in my surroundings. I'll either allow my boundaries to be knocked over, or I'll get overly defensive when it's not warranted.

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