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Irene McFee Berg - Notable Women Ancestors
Irene McFee Berg

© 1998, Sam Behling

Before she died in February, 1996, Elma Irene McFee Berg, daughter of my great, great aunt (or my first cousin twice removed, for those of you who are picky), wrote the following autobiography for her children and grandchildren.

Irene McFee Berg

An Autobiographical Sketch


Because I thought my children and/or grandchildren might be interested in my Christian life as well as some of my early history, I decided to write it out in more detail for them.

My parents grew up in the vicinity of Perry and Minburn, Iowa. My father's people, the Dugans and McFee's came from Ireland and Scotland, respectively, I was told. My father was red headed and quick of temper so they said, but I never saw that side of him. A tender, compassionate man, he had the respect of the community and was very civic minded. He was a country school teacher in the vicinity of Perry. Later, in 1888, when he and Mother moved to Oregon, he became a member of the School Board and helped to organize the church and Sunday School in a little unpainted schoolhouse in the woods near Dallas, Oregon. His father, Reverend James Monroe Mc Fee was a Methodist circuit rider and also maintained a small farm near Perry.

My father's mother, Eliza Dugan passed away in her early forties of a disease then known as Consumption, later as Tuberculosis. My aunt Olive, who nursed her, also contracted the disease and died within a month after her mother's death. It was then that my father decided to move to Oregon, taking his bride of a year and Grandfather McFee. Together Father and Grandfather erected a small house on 20 acres of land which they had bought. The farmstead was located about five miles northwest of Dallas in the foothills of the coastal range of mountains.

The house I will describe for you: A long room across the front served as two bedrooms, being partitioned off with curtains. There was also a loft. A porch across the side of the house opened into a living-dining room. A door on the opposite side opened into a lean-to kitchen. A door on the other side of the kitchen opened toward the barnyard, where the horses, Bonnie, Bawly and Bessie lived and also Bossie the cow. Beyond the barn were the goat sheds. The goats furnished us with meat and soft rugs which my mother would cure and dye and spread on the scrubbed pine floors. The turkeys and chickens didn't have a house of their own, but roosted in the trees, hid their nests in the woods and found shelter where they could. A flock of Guinea fowl would warn the mother hen that hawks were near whenever she would come out of the woods, leading her little flock of white, black, yellow and brown chickens.

My mother was one of ten children of John and Chloe Bryant, who lived on a small farm near Minburn, Iowa. The farm wasn't especially productive, being mostly timberland, but Grandfather taught his boys how to handle a gun and how to fish and trap when they were very small. The woods yielded plenty of meat and fish, berries, plums and wild grapes In the fall, Grandfather would take the wagon and go to Adel, where he would stock up on such items as flour, sugar, salt and usually a barrel of apples. Grandmother cooked delicious meals from kettles hung over the fireplace. When the family outgrew the log cabin a two story house was built.

Soon after this little Etta, six years old, became very ill. "Where do little girls go when they die?" she asked Grandfather Bryant. Never inclined toward religion, her father was at a loss. However, Grandmother explained it to Etta's satisfaction and she smilingly went to Jesus.

This was the first sadness the family had known. Most of the family were quite indifferent to church attendance or Bible reading, but were honest and respected. Grandmother Chloe, nevertheless, clung to her Bible. It was her constant companion. Her Bible and her pipe, for she was an inveterate smoker, and to the children the job fell to keep her pipe filled. At different times both her mother and mother-in-law lived with them and helped to teach the girls to knit mittens and stockings for the family as well as to spin.

So many times as I have grown older, I have wished that I had learned more about my forbears while my mother was yet alive, but what I do know I would like to record in the event that some of my children or grandchildren might be interested. I have observed this, that as people do grow older they become more and more interested in the yesterdays.

I will start on my father's side of the house. He was the oldest of four children born to Rev. James Monroe McFee and his wife, Eliza Dugan. My grandfather had a farm south of Perry, but he was not a successful farmer, being, I have been told, more of a dreamer, not just exactly a mystic but a student of philosophy and religion. When corn was to be planted he would more likely be on his horse to conduct a preaching service in some neglected area.

He chose rather strange names for his children, I think: Plato (my father), Vanilla, Lanada, and Olive. My father and Aunt Vanilla, evidently tutored mostly by my grandfather, became school teachers. Aunt Vanilla later went to Oregon, passed her State Board examinations and taught until retirement. Uncle Lanada was a "ne'er do well," or so he was described to me, living mostly in a houseboat off the Oregon coast, and fathering a large family, one of whom was named for my father. Olive passed away in her youth of Tuberculosis, or Consumption as it was called at the time. Grandfather Mc Fee lived most of his retired years with us, and it was from him that I learned to love the old Methodist hymns. Grandmother Mc Fee and Aunt Olive passed away within a month of each other, and are buried at Perry. Father and Mother were married in 1887, and a year later the West beckoned. They settled on a ranch about five miles northwest of Dallas, Oregon, near my mother's aunt, who had preceded them a few years by wagon train.

My mother was one of ten children born to John Bryant and Chloe Leaming near Minburn. Of Grandfather Bryant there isn't much to be said, because he said very little. A silent, rather stern man, yet kindly underneath, he was the soul of honesty and industry. Grandmother, on the contrary, was warm and loving and very religious. For religion Grandfather had no time, yet he was to take his orphaned grandchildren in and provide for them for a year after my father's death.

Mother was the only one of her family to receive more than a formal education. After finishing the Minburn schools she attended what was then known as the Adel Normal School. Following graduation she taught in country schools, for a salary of $25 a month and board. For recreation in those days, young people went to singing school and spelling bees, sleigh rides and taffy pulls in the winter. In the summer it was the square dance for some, but for my father that was out of bounds, as were the card parties. Church was the main gathering place. Those who did not attend were not very popular. Father and Mother met at a spelling bee one winter and were married the following April Father was tall and slender and red headed. Mother was of medium height, rather plump and dark haired. They settled on a piece of land in Oregon which was pretty much uncleared and not very well settled. But soon after, Father and Grandfather (who had followed them to Oregon) had cleared enough land to plant oats, wheat and a potato patch.

Father had worked in Dallas to obtain enough money to buy lumber for the house and barn. The house had a bedroom which was curtained in the middle to make two bedrooms, when the school teacher came to board and room with us. There was also a living room and a lean-to kitchen. There was a loft where my Grandfather slept, and later my brother. Horses and a plow had to be bought and a wagon that could be converted into a hay loader or with the addition of some seats, a means of transportation.

With the purchase of these necessary things and some goats to help clear the underbrush, an old hen and chickens, and necessary house furnishings, the money was disappearing fast. What were they to do? You will remember my dears that this was Cleveland's time, which was a time of hardship comparable to our Depression. Added to this Mother was expecting her first child and shortly before the baby was to come she contracted German measles, which resulted in the death of the little boy. Neighbor ladies, who acted as midwives, made clothes for him. My father lined a wooden box. I never did hear where they buried him. After this Mother was prone to crying spells. Oregon was a lonesome place for her and she wanted to go back to Iowa. My father, naturally of a cheerful disposition, believed there would be better days. Neighbors began to move into the area. He was able to get some work shearing sheep and goats, and became quite an expert, so that ranchers from other districts would send for him to shear their sheep. This was a springtime job, but in the fall there were the hop yards, about which I will write more later.

A year went by and another little boy was born. From the beginning he held a special place in Mother's heart. She named him Ivyl Bryant. An intelligent and thoughtful child, he was much like mother in his reserve. Things were a bit better, a school house had been built, which also served as a church on Sunday afternoons, and the crops were producing enough to feed the animals. There was a hog to butcher, which would be a change from goat meat. The goats were furnishing nice soft rugs for the floor in the living room, which was otherwise bare, but always scrubbed clean. Father thought they could by scrimping save enough by the time Ivyl was a year old, so that Mother could take him and visit her folks in Iowa, and maybe that would cure her homesickness. It didn't help, and then four years later I came along. I am told the neighbor lady who attended the event combed my long black hair and remarked, "Now she is ready to meet her Beau." Mother didn't think so. I was a cross, fretful child who demanded a lot of attention and got it, for Mother was very conscientious. Elma Irene, they called me, but it didn't stick, because I had other ideas about the Elma, which was usually Elmie.

Irene & Lydia McFeeMy first nearly ten years of life were very happy ones. There were special days like Fourth of July, when we would go to Rickreal for the celebration. A dishpan was packed with such goodies as Lydia's famous pie, chocolate cake, Fried' chicken and covered neatly with a white linen cloth. (Those were the days before Saran Wrap). After the picnic dinner which was spread on white table cloths on the ground, everybody gathered for the program. Everyone joined in the patriotic sing-song, after which someone gifted in oratory recited the Declaration of Independence and someone else gave a long, drawn out lecture.

When the haze hung over Mt. Hood it was time to think about hop-picking. Mother would make denim gloves for everyone, pack bedding and cooking utensils, and into the hack again for a couple ofweeks, camping at the hop yards. The first thing we did on arrival was to stuff the empty denim ticks with hop leaves, for the beds. The cabins contained two frame beds, a cook stove and table made of saplings. Father and Mother and Ivyl would each get a hamper and try to fill it before dark. $1.25 a hamper was considered good pay. What did I do? I waded in the stream, picked berries, pretended to help each of them, with their hampers by throwing in a few handfuls.

The next special day would be Christmas. In 1905 there was quite a heavy snow a few days before Christmas. My brother made some rabbit traps, father fashioned a sled out of two long saplings and boards and fastened a single tree to them so the horses could pull the sled to the Christmas program at the schoolhouse. The tree decorated with popcorn, tallow candles and presents tied on its branches, with moquito bar candy sacks of red and green, shone in all its glory. A candy sack for each child and my first Orange and a paper doll in the shape of a book and a little sandwich tray. I was supremely happy until I saw other girls getting real dolls. I hadn't lived long enough, or else it wasn't in me to know that real happiness comes from giving of one's self, and so my joy was dulled because of being self-centered.

For what seemed a long time that winter, there was no butter or milk. I was tired of brown bread and watered gravy. The chickens weren't laying because of the snow and Bossy wouldn't have her calf because she was too stubborn, I thought. Goat meat and prunes were varied by an occasional squirrel or rabbit, or perhaps a raccoon. "You can eat anything if you are hungry," Mother would say, in answer to complaints. Then one morning Father was stomping the snow from his feet on the kitchen doorstep, and in he came with a pail full ofmilk. "This is 'beaslings,' " he said. (A name describing the first milk after a calf is born). "You can't drink it yet, this will be for the pigs and chickens." But soon there was butter again and the snow melted and the hens laid, and the daffodils started peaking through the ground. Could it be that Arbutus would be blooming in the woods? Before the snows had scarcely melted they would appear in the deep shadows of the forest back ofthe house. The house would soon be decorated by their purple beauty "Would you like to go to the forest with me to chop wood?" my grandfather asked. Of course I would, for then I could go farther into the woods and pick more flowers. Chopping away at a small pine, he didn't realize that I was just in the path of it as it fell, striking me on the head. Always present in Grandfather's pocket was a bottle of camphor, which he rubbed on the growing lump, and that also ended my excursions into the woods with Grandpa.

Winter evenings were the nicest times of all. Some evenings Father would read aloud books that would interest Ivyl especially, like David Copperfield, Booker T. Washington and for me Alice In Wonderland. Black Beauty and Uncle Tom's Cabin. It was then that I became acquainted with Dickens, Longfellow, Whittier, Bryant and secretly cherished the hope of being able to write poetry too. This was rather squelched when someone discovered my attempts and remarked that I must get getting "queer" like my Aunt Olive, who was always taking someone else's poetry and changing it a bit and calling it hers. There was no great talent lost to the world. nor to me either, for the poetry was still there, and gave me pleasure in sunsets and sunrises, in music and flowers. Father had a Jew's Harp and Grandfather was a good singer. Sometimes it would be "O darling Nellie Gray." "Sewanee River," "My Old Kentucky Home." and then my Grandpa's favorite, 'How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours, When no longer Jesus I see." The sadness of this song was always dispelled on the last verse which says, "When I am happy in Him, December's as pleasant as May."

Something had to be done about church. Many of the hill people would not go down the valley to church in Dallas. but would attend if there was one in the area. Father, who was on the School Board. suggested that the schoolhouse could double as a church. Other members agreed providing a preacher could be obtained. Grandfather could fill in but an apparent stroke had enfeebled him. After conferring with Methodist officials (our denomination), Rev. Daniel Poling and other young ministerial students were assigned to conduct services every other Sunday. An elderly man was assigned to conduct services the day I was baptized (sprinkled).It was a great day but it didn't get through to me very much. I was listening to the outdoor noises, the wind in the trees, the drowsy buzzing of bees, and while they were singing, "Is not this the land of Beulah, blessed, blessed land of light, where the flowers bloom forever, and the son is always bright," I was wondering if heaven wasn't a lot like Oregon. Then too, I had on a new white dress with lots of ruffles. and pink ribbons in my long black hair which had been wound into corkscrew curls. But I did come to reality when I heard the preacher say as he dropped water on my head, 'This child will never live for the Devil." I saw my father nod his approval, and somehow I suddenly felt I had a destiny. (I found this some years later when as a young married woman, in a quiet place, I met the Master, face to face.') Yes, I met him, not literally, but in my heart and He started working with me to make me into a vessel that He could use.

Though, as I have said, there was much happiness in those days, it was not unalloyed. There was Clyde Robbins, the neighborhood bully, who took special delight in beating up on my brother, Ivyl who wasn't strong enough to defend himself, and so my school days were marred by fear of what he would do to Ivyl. Then there was the Devil, whom I feared would get me if I did something wrong. One night I remembered that I had left the soap in a pan full of water, and fearing that he would get me, got up in the dark and groped around until I found the soap and put it where it belonged. I feared I would walk in my sleep again, (I had once) and I was afraid I would wander out in the woods and no one would find me, so secretly I would tie a string to my wrist and one to the bedpost. Those fears passed with the childhood years, yet others came to take their place until like David. "I sought the Lord and he heard me and delivered from all my fears." There are still giants of fear which always lurk around the Christian, but there is a slingshot called Faith which takes care of them.

Though this memoir is written in the first person, I can hardly do otherwise and keep it accurate. I would like to make these characters live for you as they do for me in my vivid memories. There was George Shelby, a bachelor, and the only neighbor within a half mile He had the only phone. and it was there my brother ran to phone for the doctor, one night when Mother nearly bled to death. I had been cutting out pictures From a catalog and dropped the scissors on the splint bottomed chair. Mother had sat on them and was severely cut.

Down the hill about a mile and a half lived the Harringtons. They were always having babies. (so I thought) and calling Mother out in the night to assist. She wouldn't let me go along. Beyond them were the two Humphrey families. A mother and two bearded sons lived in one house. and a married son and family in another. One night the two bearded men murdered kindly Mr. Shelby, and later killed their own mother. North of us and toward the schoolhouse lived Cy Richmond. an elderly man who loved children and spent his time making pretty things for them. He made me a lovely pin of an abalone shell. Then there were the Woodwards "Ida Woodward feels her oats," was my mother's remark. She ruled her household with an iron hand and poor little Newt even had to use twine for shoe strings because she spent so much on herself. The Dumoshoskys were foreigners and not very friendly and no one was friendly to them. I should say that Father was an exception to this. The lovely, frail Mrs. Robbins passed away of T. B. and in a short time husband John married a fat German woman who didn't care to neighbor, but I think she gave Clyde his comeuppance. Lester, the older brother, was my hero, for he shot the mountain lion who used to stalk us on our way home From school. It wasn't until he drug a goat across the road that the hunters were able to track him. There were others, but I must tell you a little about our relatives.

There was a great stir at our house. Mother was on Cloud 9 because word had come that Grandpa and Grandma Bryant and Aunt Carrie were coming from Iowa to visit us. I didn't know whether I liked it or not, I was used to gentle Grandpa Mc Fee and Grandpa Bryant looked so stern in his pictures behind his beetling black brows and beard. However, he brought me my fist doll, and Grandmother had lovely clothes and hats for mother and me, the nicest we had ever seen. Aunt Carrie was beautiful in sweeping Ostrich plumes and black velvet. They were entertained also in Dallas, where my great Aunt Lydia lived with her husband, William, their three children and their families. The Butz family made their living from a prune dryer and also had a large Cherry and Prune orchard. where we were allowed to go and pick free. The Hollmans ran a dairy and Willie Miller was a mailman. William Miller Sr. harvested honey and ran a truck farm. These were all kindly people and we visited them frequently. especially on Sundays when we attended church. I used to hope that when we drove down to Dallas, we would ford the creek that flows just outside the town. My father often did this as he said it limbered up the buggy wheels and it was lots more fun that going over the bridge.

Wash day meant navy beans and not much else, because it was a time consuming job in those days. Water had to be drawn From the well by means of the "Old Oaken Bucket." It was heated on the stove and washing was rubbed out on the Board and dried in the house on rainy days, and so there wasn't much time for mother to cook anything but...beans. Saturday was bath day. This also involved the wash tub and lots of heating of water. I was usually first in line and then to bed, so the male members of the household could come in to the warm living room for their ablutions.

It was 1905 and a few days before Thanksgiving. Father had said I could go with him to take a load of turkeys down to Dallas to sell. After we had sold the turkeys we went to the grocery store, which was quite different from our modern Supervalues. Small barrels or kegs stood in line, some with olives or crackers. Cheese was in a big round on the counter, covered with cheesecloth. A big cleaver lay beside it so you told the grocer how much you wanted and he sliced it off and maybe a little sliver for you to taste. Bananas hung in bunches in the windows and away from the pot bellied stove. Oranges were in crates, and on the shelves were yard goods, etc. Benches and spittoons were around the stove and they were usually full.

After purchasing the few necessities, we went to the barber shop, where the big statue of the Indian stood out in front on one side and a barber pole, red and white striped on the other. This was a great day for me because father had his beard cut off. It was such an event that I had to sit down the next day and write my Grandmother back in Iowa, the news.

It had been a dark heavy day, but as we started home a gentle rain started falling, which soon turned into a downpour. The road from Dallas to the Pioneer District where we lived ascended gradually, first we went past Howe's Hop yard, and some Peach and Cherry orchards, and beyond that the forest closed in on each side of the road. We had stayed later than we had planned in Dallas, and darkness comes on early and quick in Oregon. We could see nothing at all, but the horses sloshed along in the mud, never losing their sense of direction. It seemed we would never get anywhere when suddenly we saw a light, a welcome sight, for we were cold and wet and hungry. Mother, knowing we were out there in the dark had sat the lamp in the window. Dry clothes and warm food and my favorite cake, yellow with drawn butter sauce. I have since many times thought of that night and likened it to Jesus who said, 'He who followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life " There is love and warmth and welcome for every traveler in the darkness, "A light in the window of heaven."

Plato, Lydia & IvylIt was a warm evening in April. The Dogwood was beginning to bloom in the woods. There was the smell of freshly plowed ground, as it was planting time, but Father had taken his gun down from the rack over the door, and the powder horn, which was a cow's horn hollowed out, and the dog Colonel, and told Mother he wasn't feeling so good and perhaps he could shoot a grey squirrel and she could make him some broth. This was about 1 o'clock, but he still hadn't come home when we arrived home from school. Six o'clock came and Mother had prepared supper and I had set the table. I remember that evening she had put a boiled egg on each plate. Finally she said, "Elmie, you come with me and we will do the chores, as she picked up the milk bucket, and Ivyl, you go and find your Father and tell him supper is waiting. The next thing I remember is Ivyl running and crying. "Father is dead!" "No, he isn't." I kept yelling, "Say he isn't." "But he is. He is dead in the woods and the dog and the horse are still there with him."

Mother, after the first shock, got us calmed down and sent Ivyl to Shelbys to phone the relatives in Dallas and the doctor. The gun which was a relic of the Revolution, had exploded and one piece had lodged in Father's throat, severing the jugular. The next two weeks were a jumble of aching grief and partings. Parting from Friends and relatives and all the familiar things, the horses and dog and I even cried when they hauled the chickens away. Mother did not cry, nor did she cry five years later when my brother passed away at 19 "Lydia, you will feel better if you will let yourself cry," kindly Aunt Lydia advised.

In May, 1906 we arrived at the little town of Minburn, Iowa where we lived with my Grandparents for a year, after which we finished the 8th. grade at the country school. I decided I didn't want to "waste" time in high school, for I knew what I wanted to do. I had always wanted to be a secretary, and I could complete that in a year at the Jones Normal Coilege where I studied Shorthand, Typing, Business Arithmetic, English and a smattering of Bookkeeping and Penmanship. When the school was transferred to Boone, I went along and worked for a few months for my room and board. When I had finished the business course in 1914, the president of the school asked if I would like to work at the Fist National Bank. I had taken temporary assignments at a few business offices up to that time, but I thought the bank was just what I wanted.

I worked at the bank for almost three years and could then afford to live at the YWCA instead of working for room and board. I was quite a frivolous young woman and so for the most part there was a steady stream of young gentlemen knocking at the YWCA. One knocked a little louder and more persistently and became my husband and your father and grandfather. We were more fortunate than some young married couples in that we had $3,000 to start out with I had inherited $4,000 from my uncle Frank Dugan. $1,000 went to the attorney who had to fight my case against some greedy relatives who had contested the will. $1,000 went to buy the finest car we could get, an Overland. $2,000 bought a practically new home at 204 W. 7th Street.

In April of 1918 I quit work in order to be with my husband as much as possible for the short time before he would be called into the service. On August 7th., he left via the Milwaukee (then located a block east of the old Midway Tabernacle) for Waco, Texas, where he trained for several weeks and then to France. There were many narrow escapes for him, but since this is my story I shall tell you briefly what I did while he was gone. In October, I started working in the loan department of the bank for which I had worked previously, and worked until the late spring of 1919, when my nerves began to wind up like a spring, and harassed me until a few years later when I came to know the Savior in a real way and He whispered such promises as "My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

And then with the arrival of our little boy who needed me. I couldn't spend much time with dark forebodings, and then another little boy, so weak and helpless and then with the arrival of our daughter in close succession, I knew that much depended on me to be my very best for your sakes. I was so ambitious that each would have the very best life possible. As I look back on it now I know I was not always wise, but today I am proud of all of you, and thank the Lord each day for you and my lovely grandchildren who have added so much to me in so many ways. During a serious bout with pneumonia I had prayed, "Lord, just let me live until my children are able to care for themselves and then let me enjoy my grandchildren too.

I hope you will enjoy reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

A Letter From Irene's Brother, Ivyl McFee
Regarding the Death of Their Father

Ivyl Bryant McFeeDallas, Oreg. Apr 24 1906. Addressed to Lanada & Ermina McFee

Dear Aunt and Uncle, It was between 2 and 3 o'clock last Tuesday that the awful accident happened. Papa was going to Harringtons and he let the dog loose to go along. The dog went ahead and treed a squirrel. Then Papa came back and got the gun. A little while after mamma heard the noise and thought he had killed the squirrel; she thought that she heard him hallow but only thought that he was hallowing at the dog. He didn't come back but mamma thought nothing of that because he had started to Harringtons. Then after Alma and I came home and we had had our suppers mamma began to wonder why that papa was not home.

Then after I had got the cows up mamma told me to go down towards Harringtons and see if papa could be hurt but at the same time she thought that I would meet him comming home. I went down and as soon as I got over the hill I saw our horse (Bally) feeding around. Then I began to think that there was something the matter and I hallowed and I heard the dog bark but could not tell where. Then I hallowed again and again and then I heard the dog bark again and I ran to where he was and saw my poor papa lying there dead.

I then went and told mamma and she told me go and tell Mr. Selby and have him to tell Mr. Walter. She then had me to go to Harrington's and have them to telephone to Cobbs and to Uncle William Miller. They telephoned to every body around. But it was for about 2 hours before they could get central to telephone to Cobbs and Miller's. The neighbors came in from all around but they said that the law wouldn't allow them to touch him. And that they couldn't take him in unless to coroner was there so they tried to get the coroner but he wasn't in town.

Dr. Cary came out and found that the gun had exploded and a piece of the iron had struck him in the neck and cut the juglar vain and he had bleed to death. Cary was not the coroner so they let papa stay out all night but the men stayed with him. Mrs. Humphrey, Mrs. Blodgett and the school teacher Miss Higgins came and Mrs. Humphrey cooked Biscuit for the men who had to stay out in the woods.

Next morning when Mr. Cobb came up he made the men bring him up anyhow wheather the coroner was here or not. The coroner didn't come untill about 10 o'clock. We got a half a lot in the odd fellows cemetery where papa is laid to rest.


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