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March's Book
Creeker: A Woman’s Journey
by Linda Scott DeRosier

Bill:
This month we are reading Creeker: A Woman’s Journey by Two Mile Creek, Kentucky native Linda Scott DeRosier. Her memoir is a highly personal and refreshingly honest account of her growing up in Eastern Kentucky that resonates with the folkways of a rural South that is rapidly receding into the past. bookclub@ket starts now.

Bill:
Well, let me just begin by saying to all of you: “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar. Send those creekers back up the hollow.”

[Everyone laughs]

Bill:
Paintsville High, 1950s—we don’t know the exact date. And that’s the first time we hear the word or see the term written out: “Creeker.”

Jonathan:
Creeker: someone who lives in a creek or a holler, yeah. It’s a good title. It’s immediate and direct, and it gets to the heart of what she is talking about, which is her experiences growing up as a young girl in a small holler near Paintsville, Kentucky. And its subtitle is A Woman’s Journey. Is that your sense of what it’s about, Wilma? A woman’s journey?

Wilma:
It may be. One thing that I thought about the book is—and this is both a criticism and a good thing about the book—is that somehow she thinks that her journey is very specific and personal. It is a very personal memoir, for instance, and yet it’s in many ways typical of any woman’s journey at that time. I’m three years younger than she is, and there are many things that she went through that I’m going, well, that’s just exactly what happened in my life and exactly what I was thinking at the time. I did grow up in Kentucky—not in rural Kentucky, but in a small town. I think it’s more a woman’s journey, almost more than a creeker’s journey in my thinking, because it does have a great deal to do with what an intelligent girl was supposed to do with her life when it wasn’t conducive to getting a job at that time. And a great deal of her journey had to do with, here she is, an intelligent girl who wanted an education, and really there wasn’t a place for that in the United States at that point.

Jonathan:
Yeah.

Dava:
I really ... I enjoyed this book because you get to see how much of her life is just based on just pure luck. You talk about how she was a very intelligent woman, very intelligent child even, but she really didn’t take advantage of this intelligence to her full capacity. It just so happened that she got the chance to. So I think just everything that happened to her, almost, is just like, wow, that’s kind of strange to think this happened. I mean, like her first marriage.

Jonathan:
Hmmm.

Dava:
You just got to think of little things like that.

Jonathan:
Well, she was a lucky person, you are saying in a way—although the first marriage is not really a lucky thing. It ended up in divorce. But I see what you are saying. She had opportunities presented to her. But I think she wouldn’t have had those opportunities had she not been such a determined person to begin with.

Dava:
Well ...

Jonathan:
You know, she was determined to go to college, and she was determined to go to graduate school, and she did both of these things in the face of opposition from those around her to some extent.

Dava:
Well, she ...

Jonathan:
And ...

Dava:
Yeah, she did become determined. Very much so.

Jonathan:
Yeah, she certainly was a very determined and very single-minded person. And I think that partly is the story of Creeker. It’s a story about her determination. I think it reveals a lot about her character overall, and I think she is a very determined person. But you are right; she also had some opportunities that perhaps were the result of luck. I mean, I’m not disagreeing with you, but I think there were two sides to it. There was luck, but then there was determination, and her willingness to get educated at a time when not every white woman in Appalachia was doing so.

Gabrielle:
I think she brings up the point, though, and [it’s] kind of the premise of the book Creeker, that the background, or your culture that you are brought up in, many times puts your own boundaries on yourself. So in the area that she was brought up in, in the Appalachian mountains, it wasn’t expected that you did these types of things. So a lot, I think, was her discovery within herself that yes, I was brought up in this background or this type of culture, but it took her to push beyond those cultural limitations.

Dava:
She very well could have been a victim of these limitations, because she said she really did not want to go to college. She wanted Billy Daniel or whoever he was.

Bill:
She wanted a degree in MRS.

Dava:
Yeah, she wanted to get married; she wanted to have her kids. She wanted Tim, Kim, Buddy and Kay—

Wilma:
Yeah.

Dava:
whatever the kids’ names were.

Jonathan:
That’s right.

Dava:
And she said simply because she wasn’t that attractive and no man wanted her, she went to college. There it was her goal to get a man. And so she would be demure, and then she married Brett Dorse Scott, and she says that then she expected that she was going to go work for the bank, and she wasn’t going back to school. He made her go back to school. She wouldn’t have even finished undergraduate ...

Jonathan:
Yeah, you are right.

Dava:
... to begin with.

Wilma:
But one thing ...

Jonathan:
So, in fact, she was accepting of the parental expectation that she would just stay at home and look after the husband and so on.

Wilma:
But one ...

Jonathan:
But I’m thinking of later on, when she really gets her teeth into it and she really does become rather ambitious, actually. But you are right. At the beginning she is a divided person. She is willing to go, but on the other hand she really wants to stay and look after the kids.

Wilma:
But one thing I want to make clear is, it’s not just the people in the hollows of Eastern Kentucky. It was almost all women at the time. I mean, it was the particular time of the woman, as well as ... I’m sure there were other restrictions [because of] having come from a rural part of Kentucky. But it was also pretty pervasive that women did get married; that their identity was with the husband, the family. If you wanted an education, it was pretty much to be a teacher. And that worked in well, you see—and I’m being sarcastic here—because you could be at home with the children in the summer, so that was acceptable. But part of it was the times that all women had restrictions on them. So I see this as part of that “woman’s journey” here.

Bill:
I think you are right. My wife said the same thing. She enjoyed the book, but she also said, “You know, a lot of these things aren’t that unusual.”

Wilma:
Exactly.

Bill:
And maybe I’m sitting here thinking and hearing for the first time, because of the discussion, that it’s a generational thing. Maybe we understand that, or my wife does ...

Wilma:
Right.

Bill:
... and you understood that a little bit more.

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Bill:
Gabrielle and Dava are younger ...

Wilma:
Had more opportunity.

Bill:
... reading about some things. Sure. I mean, it’s sort of expected now that you are going to go to school and get a degree and go out and work and then meet the right guy—

Gabrielle:
Right.

Bill:
all of those things. But anyway ...

Wilma:
I mean, I was very much ... I like to think of myself as an intelligent person and someone who wanted to be educated, but certainly my first priority was to get married. There is no question about that, because that was the times I was brought up in. And then somehow I had to work out in my life also, do I also want some kind of career, you know, along with this? I think for most of us at that time, we were expected somehow to get married, and to get married fairly young, too.

Bill:
She said she sometimes failed to get what she wanted. She grew to appreciate what she got. And I think it’s what you are saying, Dava. She didn’t realize those things until later in life.

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Bill:
She really didn’t realize her potential and what she wanted to do and what she wanted to accomplish until a little bit later in life.

[Everyone agrees]

Dava:
Well, one thing about this book: It can be generalized into just a woman’s journey at the time. But I think it is unique, and it does have this creeker flavor to it, because there are just some aspects of what became her persona that are from this little holler. She talks about how she doesn’t even to this day understand the concept of reciprocity in your personal relationships, as in, if I go to lunch at your house, well, then it’s expected that I’m going to write you a thank-you note and invite you back over to my house. No, because when she grew up, it was everybody was just one big family. She says that you didn’t even knock on someone’s door. I come from Inez, which is mentioned in this book ...

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Bill:
Sure. In fact, Two Mile Creek is between Paintsville and Inez—is that right? Have you ever been there or close to there?

Dava:
I have been through it, yes.

Bill:
Really?

Dava:
Yeah.

Bill:
Which is now called Boons ...

Dava:
Boons Camp.

Bill:
Boons Camp, yeah.

Dava:
Boons Camp, yes. But like, even in Inez, which is still the same population today as it was then ...

[Everyone laughs]

Dava:
... we do that thing, too. And I know, speaking for myself, that I feel the same way she does. I don’t understand this whole, why can’t I just take your stuff? Why can’t I just take my roommate’s stuff? What’s wrong with that?

[Everyone laughs]

Dava:
You just share and share alike. And it’s the little things like that that make it a bit different from just any woman growing up in any old where.

Bill:
So I think what you are saying, if I’m hearing the discussion correctly, is that there is more of—not necessarily a sense of family, but maybe a sense of what family does for one another or can do. Wilma, in Southcentral Kentucky and in Western Kentucky, do you have that same sense of family, or is that just unique to Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia?

Wilma:
I grew up in central Kentucky, and I was in a small town, Cynthiana. And my grandparents, both sets of grandparents, lived in the country, and I was out there a great deal. I had the same feeling that she was giving, uh, from the Eastern Kentucky part of rural Kentucky. I thought it was the same in the central part of rural Kentucky. They certainly did not have running water, and many of the things she said, you know, brought home to me the times that I spent the night at my grandparents’ houses and how difficult it was: taking the slop bucket out the next morning [laughs] and that type of thing. I think some of it has to do with being rural, as well as being eastern.

[Everyone agrees]

Wilma:
That’s the way I felt.

Dava:
It’s not just rural. It’s also being close to your kin.

Wilma:
Yeah.

Dava:
You can live in a small town, but it’s very different if you live with all your family.

Bill:
That’s a very good point.

Wilma:
We loved being with our cousins. I mean we had cousins all of the time. They were extended family. And we had our grandparents. So there was a feeling, certainly, of this larger family and being connected.

Bill:
Were there city cousins and country cousins?

Wilma:
We had city cousins ...

Bill:
You had that, you did?

Wilma:
... and country cousins. That’s right.

Bill:
And certainly Cynthiana was about the size of Glasgow, where I grew up.

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Bill:
But I mean, they’re certainly not giant metropolises.

Wilma:
No.

Bill:
And we probably had no right at all to think of ...

Wilma:
Yeah, that we were ...

Bill:
... and we didn’t at that time.

Wilma:
... we were a great deal more sophisticated.

Bill:
Yeah.

Wilma:
At that time.

Bill:
City cousins and country cousins.

[Everyone laughs]

Bill:
But ... So really an underlying theme to this, Gabrielle, is family and the sense of family that she goes back and recaptures ...

Gabrielle:
Right.

Bill:
... and talks about.

Gabrielle:
You see as she journeys through her life ... After her parents passed away towards the end of the book, that’s something that she and her sister want to do. They want to preserve that family and the family traditions, because they are saying, all of our elders before us have passed away. They feel very much responsible for carrying on the traditions they grew up with.

Bill:
One of the things that I want to ask her when I do the interview for our web site, which is going to come up in the next few days and will be on our bookclub@ket web site soon, is, how in the world did she remember the details that she did? I want to ask her if she kept a diary, as many people did at that time.

Jonathan:
Well, if I could interrupt, she says in the preface ...

Wilma:
Right.

Jonathan:
That’s what you were going to say. She says in the preface that she remembered a lot ...

Wilma:
Yes.

Jonathan:
... but she was dependent upon all her friends and relations to, to remember stories. I think she says that, “There is so much that I didn’t remember.”

Bill:
Well.

Jonathan:
“I interviewed all my old friends and relations ...

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
... and they told me stories that I had forgotten.”

Wilma:
Some people also go through life picking up details as they go. I have almost total recall of my childhood.

Bill:
Oh.

Wilma:
Not because I was trying to at the time, but because somehow my mind just collected those details in a way that ... I maybe just as soon wouldn’t have all the details of my life in my mind.

Bill:
Yeah.

Wilma:
I think some people collect without meaning to. The details just come to them and stick in their minds.

Gabrielle:
And remember, too, in the book she talks about how well she did on taking academic tests ...

Bill:
Uh huh.

Gabrielle:
... because she had great recall.

Wilma:
Memory.

Gabrielle:
She had a great recall.

Wilma:
That’s right.

Bill:
Well, I think I certainly believed all of that—and that’s the way the publisher and Linda Scott DeRosier want us to believe—that this is all true. But I think it was one point, when she was going back and choosing a sweater for—was it Daniel, a boyfriend or someone like that?—and did she say the very day that she went in and bought a yellow cardigan?

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Bill:
And I’m thinking, ...

Wilma:
Sure.

Bill:
... wow, ...

Jonathan:
She kept the receipt.

Bill:
... that is ...

[Everyone laughs]

Jonathan:
She must have!

Wilma:
And then the house burned, and she lost that.

Bill:
Yeah. So ...

Wilma:
I think there are some criticisms I have of the book. One thing that Dava was bringing up a minute ago had to do with an exact passage that I wanted to point out as a criticism. Dava was talking about the rural idea of, you didn’t knock, you didn’t announce that you were going to come to visit. You know, you just went to somebody’s house, and you opened up the door and said, here I am—called out, you know, anybody here, anybody home? That was the expected thing to do. And she says—and this is on page 213:

“To have made a more formal entry would have been considered pretentious because it would have been seen as calling unnecessary attention to one’s self as somehow special.”

And actually I think that’s what she’s doing in the book. If I have a criticism of the book, it’s that this is very personal. It’s very much calling attention to herself. It’s almost to the point of embarrassment sometimes. So it’s almost as if she hardly learned anything from her early part: Don’t bring unnecessary attention to yourself. This entire book is bringing some kind of unnecessary attention to herself, I think.

Dava:
I don’t know.... Maybe it’s just where I have a similar background or not, but I really liked this book. I really do, because it makes me think of so many things about when I was younger. There is a difference of—what, over 40 years. But it also makes me think of my mother, and I have so many memories of her, things she would talk about [that] she did when she was younger, and so many of the vocabulary words. She presents things my mom would say, or something like it. So really, I guess, I had a good old time reading it. And I think she had a really good time writing it. I don’t know if it’s her goal to make everybody ...

Bill:
No.

Jonathan:
I agree. You said it’s not great literature.

Dava:
No.

Jonathan:
You know, there are great authors ...

Wilma:
It doesn’t have to be great literature.

Jonathan:
Well, there are great authors, great novelists and poets, who have written their autobiography, and it is often great literature because they are great writers.

Wilma:
Yes, that’s right.

Jonathan:
But when you get somebody who is ordinary—and part of her point is that she is ordinary, although she has got unique qualities—then it doesn’t rise to great literary ambitions. But I think ... This is [from] University Press of Kentucky. It’s a series called Women in Southern Culture.

Wilma:
Right.

Jonathan:
So they are interested in publishing books like this which tell the story about what it’s like to be a woman in the South at a particular stage, and I think that this is very good at that. It’s very good at telling you how she felt as a woman in a very male-dominated society in the 1940s, as she is growing up, and the 1950s. It tells you about what it’s like to go to college, and yet deep in her heart she wants to get married and have kids. It tells you what it feels like to be married to a man who wants to play golf all the time, and what it’s like to, to have all the ladies sitting in the country club at the 18th hole waiting for their husbands to come home. And I think that’s a marvelous slice of life. I thought that was fascinating. I mean, it was quite interesting.

In a sense, it’s a kind of history book. There is a lot of history in here. You know, an autobiography can tell you a lot about the individual psychology of the author, but, on the other hand, it can also tell you a lot about the world that she’s describing. And I think it tells you a lot about the world she’s describing. Somebody once said that history is the sum of innumerable biographies. That is to say, you know history is just lots of individuals working and living together. And I think that by looking at this particular autobiography, it tells you a lot about the world in which she lived. I think it’s fascinating. It’s very good reading for somebody interested in Appalachia and what life was like there at this time. And I think you enjoyed it so much because it reminds you to some extent of where you grew up, and I think it has a certain accuracy to it. And I think also, Wilma, that the fact she goes into so many details sometimes can sound a bit personal. But, on the other hand, that’s what makes it seem authentic.

Wilma:
I know what you’re saying.

Bill:
Period.

Wilma:
I hope I’m not agreeing with you!

[Everyone laughs]

Bill:
No, go ahead, make your point.

Wilma:
I think certainly the detail, and I like detail in a book ...

Jonathan:
Yeah.

Wilma:
But that doesn’t mean you have to put in every detail about your life. Sometimes it was like, OK, get on with it; that’s too personal. Sometimes some of the passages were almost embarrassing.

Jonathan:
I know what you mean.

Wilma:
I mean, did you feel that at all?

Jonathan:
It’s the risk you run if you are determined to describe as much as possible ...

Bill:
Where is the line that you draw?

Jonathan:
... of what you went through.

Bill:
Uh huh.

[Everyone agrees]

Jonathan:
The risk you run is that you are going to reveal details that, that will sound as if you are boasting. It’ll sound as if you’re showing off, and it may sound unseemly, or there may be things you put in that you should have left out for the sake of good taste. I think that is the risk she runs. Maybe an editor could have helped ...

Wilma:
Yeah. And maybe ...

Jonathan:
... cut some of those things out.

Wilma:
Maybe an editor did. I mean, maybe there are a great deal other things ...

Jonathan:
It could be; it could.

Wilma:
... here, and the editor did cut some things out that did not go along with the total aspect. And there is some total aspect to this. One thing that bothered me about her life personally and her decisions is when she sent her son to private school. Not that she shouldn’t have, but she said they lived in Frankfort, and she used the term “a 60-mile radius,” which would have taken in all of Fayette County, all of Jefferson County, and most of Northern Kentucky. She may have meant a 60-mile circumference. [But] she said they could not find a suitable ...

Jonathan:
Suitable public school.

Wilma:
... school for him. Well, that’s saying a great deal there!

Jonathan:
Yeah.

Wilma:
That’s taking in a great deal of Kentucky.

Jonathan:
Yeah, I thought that.

Wilma:
And very fine schools, too.

Jonathan:
That was an ...

Bill:
Well, that was in the ...

Jonathan:
... example of what she is like now, you see.

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
I mean, she is somebody who came from this place—is extremely loyal ...

Wilma:
Yes.

Jonathan:
... to it—and yet she also got educated, and she has moved elsewhere.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
A part of her wants to be an international ...

Bill:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
... jet-setter. She is very fond of her frequent-flyer miles.

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
She is very proud of them.

[Everyone agrees]

Jonathan:
On the one hand, she has this contrast that she makes repeatedly between “hillbilly” and “normal.”

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
And I thought that was a bit ...

Wilma:
Yeah.

Jonathan:
... insulting to certain people.

Wilma:
It is.

Jonathan:
But I think she’s proud of this past, but she also partly wants to get rid of it.

Bill:
But at the same time.

Jonathan:
I think she is a little divided.

Wilma:
I think ...

Jonathan:
And sending her son to prep school in Massachusetts is a very good example of that.

Wilma:
It bothered me.

Bill:
An example of how maybe she—and she mentions this—got above her raising, as Ricky Skaggs might say. I’m sure that’s a term that he picked up when he lived in Eastern Kentucky. But the thing that I think she also tries to go back, maybe, in the epilogue, and underline is that she is proud of where—of her roots. Did someone say to her, one of her university friends, you’re the most intelligent person I’ve ever heard talk like that?

Gabrielle:
Right.

Bill:
And she has kept that dialect and that sort of thing. She really hasn’t tried to change that. I think that for me it sort of jarred my memory of—and I don’t want to make it a generational thing—but Baptist churches, separatists in the pews. The women not eating until the men ate and that sort of thing. I mean, those are the kinds of things ... And like you said, maybe the editor, the publisher, wanted those things captured on paper for all time.

Jonathan:
Well, that is interesting [that] you said that, [that] you chose that example, because remember there was a documentary film being made in their hometown ...

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
... in Two Mile. And the mother complained that they wanted to film the men all eating at the table together.

Bill:
Isn’t that ironic?

Jonathan:
She was embarrassed because that wouldn’t look good. But the filmmaker wanted historic accuracy. And in a sense that’s what she’s trying: to bring some historic accuracy in here. It’s not a totally idealized picture of her childhood. She goes into great detail about the alcoholism of some of her relations. I mean, she doesn’t try to whitewash that, you know.

Bill:
Well, you know, at times, though, quite honestly I thought that was glossed over in a way. It was almost celebrated rather than it was a tragedy.

Jonathan:
Well, she ... Yeah, it wasn’t how somebody in Alcoholics Anonymous would write about it.

Bill:
No.

Jonathan:
But, on the other hand, it was mentioned, as opposed to ...

Bill:
Leaving it out altogether.

Jonathan:
... leaving it out altogether.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
But I see what you mean. It was not something she wanted in the foreground.

Dava:
Well, I think to her, it was ... She said somewhere that, you know, if someone went on a drunk and—or the time her Uncle Burns, I think, went on a drunk—came up to the porch and passed out or something, everybody laughed. It’s like, what are you going to do?

Bill:
Yeah.

Dava:
Are you going to laugh or cry? And so I think she feels that way about it. But something I think about this book is she can look back on her past, and she really does appreciate the things it did to create the person she is, but also she does realize there is a lot of negativity that can go with it, and there are things that she would change, maybe, if she could. And so maybe she just kept that in her mind the whole time she was raising her son. That’s why she sent him to Massachusetts. I don’t know. There is just a lot of good that can come from growing up in that sort of setting—in maybe going to the schools she did, things like that.

Jonathan:
Yeah.

Dava:
There’s maybe a lot of things she would have changed.

Gabrielle:
I think there is a lesson learned ...

Jonathan:
That’s right.

Gabrielle:
... with diversity and recognizing that everyone is different and finding ways to include rather than exclude, and I get that sense when she started teaching at Kentucky State. She thought she was going to be at a disadvantage because she was going to an all-black college, and then she found that [with] her similarities, she could relate with the students, and so she started appreciating where she came from.

Jonathan:
Yeah.

Wilma:
Yeah, but it bothered me when she said “black folks.” She kept saying “black folks.” You know, she wanted to point out how well she was getting along at Kentucky State University....

Gabrielle:
Right.

Wilma:
Then she would say “black folks,” and that bothered me a little bit. She was still setting herself apart. And she also said something—I mean, I am paraphrasing wildly here—but she said something like, I showed them what the real white person could be, that type of thing, and I thought that was a little ...

Bill:
Uh huh.

Wilma:
... too much. Did you think so, or not?

Gabrielle:
She felt like she had to represent the entire white race.

Wilma:
White man, right, yeah.

Jonathan:
Well, I have a question. It’s kind of a success story, isn’t it? I mean it’s a story about, about all her successes.

Wilma:
She means for it to be, certainly.

Jonathan:
Yeah, but in fact, it’s also a story about loss. I mean, she lost this place. You know she will no longer live there again. Her children will no longer live there again. It reminded me a bit of the book we looked at last year, Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker ...

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
... where leaving home and becoming a survivor away from home is, is a success in a sense. I mean, it’s the American story, moving, and yet on the other hand she has lost all this. So in a sense it’s a kind of elegy for a place that she’s no longer in contact with.

Bill:
But Jonathan, let me use this ...

Jonathan:
So in a sense it’s a success, but it’s also the opposite of a success because maybe a true success would be to stay there and to continue and to be successful within Appalachia rather than ...

Bill:
But, but she said ...

Jonathan:
... to leave.

Bill:
This is the quote: “I am not only from Appalachia; I am of Appalachia.” And even though she may not go back there to live—I mean, who’s to say that she won’t ...

Wilma:
She won’t.

Bill:
She still retains a lot of that, still visits here in Kentucky, comes back quite frequently. And in that way, it lives on, and maybe not through her children, because they will never go back to Two Mile and live, but I think she does ... I guess maybe it’s the sort of the coming-of-age much later in life that she looks back and realizes what she had and what she wants to hold onto. And either she did that on her own or somebody approached her and said, put this on paper, and we will use this as a history book.

Wilma:
And she and her sister toyed with the idea in the book (her sister, I understand, lives in Frankfort) of going back and buying the family land back and just preserving it as a place where their children could go. Maybe they would build a cabin there or something. So they had that kind of idealized idea of, well, we could get the land back if we wanted to. But you get the idea that neither one of them is really going to do that.

Bill:
I like the way they concluded.

Wilma:
Yeah.

Bill:
After a while, they figured that it would just grow up in weeds ...

Wilma:
Yeah.

Gabrielle:
Right.

Dava:
Right

Bill:
... be unkempt, and it would just be something else to do. It really wasn’t worth that much hard work.

Wilma:
I’m not sure this is true of everybody, but many of us, when we reach a certain age—and usually I think it’s around 40—we want to go back and get our roots back.

Narrator:
bookclub@ket is always online at ket.org. Listen to interviews with the authors and learn more from in-depth articles about this book and every bookclub selection. You can join the club anytime. The address is ket.org.

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