The Lessons We Learn from Our Parents, Part II

In my last post, I reminisced about a few of the lessons I had learned from my mom and how those lessons have impacted my life. While I was writing that post, I kept wondering about the lessons other adults might have learned from their own parents. Would their “lessons learned” be similar to my own? How did those lessons shape the adults they became? And which lessons had more impact–those imparted through their parents’ spoken word or those displayed by their parents’ silent example?

And so I asked my family and some of my friends those very questions. Their responses were touching and lovely and perfect. I found myself nodding in agreement, sometimes laughing aloud and sometimes wiping away tears. Those responses are included below, and even though some of them are quite lengthy, I just couldn’t make myself do much editing because each of them, I think, tells a beautiful story about the people involved.

. . . . . . . . . .

I asked my husband to share his thoughts because I believed that even though we had grown up with some of the same core values, his upbringing was very different from my own in other aspects. His dad was a respected veterinarian until he died suddenly when my husband was 16, and his mom was one of the strongest women I have ever known. Did he learn some of the same lessons I did? This is what he had to say . . .


I am my parents. I got my work ethic from my dad who worked long hours to provide for the family. His dedication to his profession would make Mom mad sometimes. On a date night, a call might come in and then the sick animal came first. I also learned his sense of humor and bluntness for what he thought was right. I heard him say, “It’s always easy to remember the truth.” He was a person of small stature, but I watched him handle animals (horses or bulls) without showing fear as men twice his size wouldn’t get in the pen with them.

Mom taught me the value of money, how to save and put money away for another day. She had us set up savings accounts at a young age and would take us to the bank to deposit money in our accounts. She loaned me money to buy things and had a payment book, and I would need to pay her weekly until whatever was paid for. Mom once was going to teach us manners by paying us a dime for saying please, thank you, yes sir, no sir. And we would have to pay her a nickel if we didn’t. She stopped after a couple days. She owed me and my brother money, and my sister kept going in the hole.

I watched how she volunteered to run Cub Scout and Girl Scouts troops. She was a member of the park board and always believed in “fair” play. She was a giving person to her community, and sometimes she helped her friends or children of her friends when they were in need.

Mom also taught me how to grieve and move on with life. Years after Dad’s death she asked me if I remembered what day he died on. I can remember being uncomfortable when she asked because I couldn’t remember the date, but I would never forget the night she told me he died. She told me it was good that I couldn’t remember the day because that was part of the healing process and moving on–dwelling on it wouldn’t be healthy.

My parents allowed me to grow as a person, following my own passions and desires. I was never compared to my sister, an “A” student, or my younger brother who was good with a wrench. They were supportive of my interests, allowed me to fail and disciplined me when needed. I was allowed to explore and learn things on my own–camping and bicycle trips before I could drive and 7-day canoe trips before the age of 17. That freedom allowed me to make decisions on my own and take responsibility for myself and some friends not quite ready to make those decisions.

They also taught me not to judge people by the color of their skin and that every person is good until they prove otherwise. They taught me what friendship was all about–mountain oyster fries, chili around a bonfire, sleepovers with friends when traveling, consoling in time of loss and celebrating on special occasions. They taught by being living examples. I was blessed.

. . . . . . . . . . 

It took a little arm-twisting to get my sons to talk about some of the lessons they learned while growing up, but their responses were heart-warming and encouraging. I already knew they had grown into amazing young men, but after reading their responses I realized that maybe–just maybe–I might have played a tiny role in making that happen.


I learned from Dad how to shoot a gun at a very young age and how to track a shot deer, which then would be gutted and eventually help in making my decision to be a vegan. I learned at a young age that there is more to life than sitting in front of a television–to go outside and enjoy the fresh air. I learned from his unemployment and battle with company heads that you should always stand up for what is right even if it is the hardest thing to do. I learned that some of us may not be as gifted with book smarts as others, but through hard work and perseverance you can be just as successful. I learned there are other ways to show you care for your family than lovey dovey stuff–that long hours, extra shifts, and side jobs say just as much as words can.

I learned there will always be people out there less fortunate than you, and you should support them whenever you can. When I was 14 I may not have understood why he would sell the car he told me I could have for a measly low payment to someone he knew from work, but I later understood that the man just needed it more than we or I did. This and other examples eventually led to my participation in charitable organizations.

And I learned from him to respect nature and its creatures. I learned how to ski, to swim, to climb, to drive, to build, to run, to work, to never give up, to beat people down with that Eubank look of disapproval, and to always stand up for what is right (even if that interpretation of right may be wrong to someone else) because it’s better to stand for something than nothing at all.

I learned from you and your ever continuing quest for knowledge that you don’t have to be in school to learn. Though I may not have soaked in knowledge the way you had wished while I was in school, I now spend almost everyday soaking in as much information as I can. I learned from watching you hold your tongue that sometimes it is best to keep your mouth shut and your opinion to yourself, though I often forget this lesson. I learned that being a woman does not make someone any less capable or intelligent. I learned from you that it is harder to forgive people, but it’s the right thing to do. I learned not to believe everything that you hear and to think logically. I learned that people are different, but that does not mean they are any less important than ourselves.

I learned to think, to ask questions, to seek the truth, to fight for equality, to respect women, to respect in general, to read, to write, to be creative, to be curious of the world around us, to roll my eyes when I think something is stupid, and to try and enjoy even the smallest luxuries in life.

From both of you I learned that stress and anger when left unchecked can be dangerous to your health. I am glad to say over the years I have watched you both find escapes from stress and enjoy life more than I can remember (three kids being out of the house may have something to do with that). I learned that solitude does not equal loneliness–that being content is not necessarily a bad thing, though I often fight with that one. When you grow up in a small town, your view of the world comes from your parents, and I am glad to say through your teachings (the good and the bad) I learned a lot about the world and have always felt I could handle whatever it had to throw at me.


One lesson that was taught and repeated to us several times was to “treat people the way you want to be treated.” More often than naught, it leads to great outcomes. Even though I feel I’m hardly ever a serious person, I treat people the way I would want to be treated and have found that I gain people’s respect from that.

We were also taught to do our own thing. I feel extremely lucky that I was allowed to live my life the way I want and not under you guys’ instruction but instead your guidance. I was able to choose what I wanted to go to school for rather than forced into something you might have wanted me to do instead. We were taught to follow our hearts, even when our heads and everyone else were telling us we were being irrational. I have found I’m normally more happy than those other people because of this.

We were also inadvertently taught to laugh at the problems life handed us rather than cry and to cry only when something really special happens because tears of joy mean so much more than tears of sorrow. We were taught that nothing is more valuable than the people in our lives and that any sacrifice is worth keeping those people. We were brought up around many people and were ushered to be very social. Through that, we learned that everyone has a story to tell and while we very much enjoy telling our own, we were taught to listen and appreciate the stories of others.


I grew up in an area that breeds racism and intolerance, but I was still able to learn from both of you to respect everyone for their actions rather than their appearance or beliefs. I was always confused by the way Dad would interact with people. Lots of times someone would say something to him, and he wouldn’t say anything back. It took me a long time to realize that he was just listening and processing what the other person was saying–which I find to be really valuable. Dad would listen to you and know what you were saying rather than waiting for his turn to talk, which is how the majority of conversations work.

I remember after we got a new TV for the living room, I was really excited, and I said I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends at school that we got a new, big TV. I think I was in kindergarten or first grade. Dad said I shouldn’t brag. It wasn’t important for my friends to know I had a new TV, and if they were the type of kids to like me better for the things I had, then they shouldn’t be my friends anyway.

And I think I got a pretty good work ethic from both of you. Dad told me I could do anything no matter how small I was and told me to go outside and shoot baskets or play catch. He made me mow the yard and pick up rocks. You guys made me get a job when I was old enough and made me save half of my money. You always made me do my homework. It was easy for me to want to work hard later on because I had seen the correlation between past work ethic and success.

I learned from both of you to value silence. On a summer day I could come inside where the TV and lights would be off–you would be reading a book, and dad would be asleep in his recliner. Now I prefer silence, and I find I get much more work and thought done when things are quiet and calm.

And you taught me to be skeptical and to question my own actions. I remember telling you stuff about my day in the car on the way home from school, and you almost always played devil’s advocate and made me wonder if what I was doing was the right course of action.

. . . . . . . . . .

And these are the responses from some of my friends who were kind enough and brave enough to share their thoughts on the subject. Beautiful people, one and all.


I’m my father’s child. His most influential lesson was punctuality–if I was even a minute late, I was in trouble. My friends never understood what the big deal was. Today I’m always on time. He also taught me never to give up and to go for what I want. I am now a woman in a man’s world, and I rock! I intimidate men everyday, and I have one of the best jobs ever–all because I never gave up. I also always stand up for myself and the truth! My dad told me to argue to the death, but you better be right. He was the best teacher ever.–


I was taught that if you act like you can already do something, success will follow.


My mother inspired my whole life. The fact that she took me in as a child in a blink of an eye, not knowing how long she would have me, inspires me everyday. When I think about how my life would have been so different if she and her family had not taken care of me, I am very thankful.


The older I get, the more I realize I’m definitely following in my mother’s footsteps. I have learned from her that if you put time into a teenager’s life, amazing things can happen. My mom never had money to give to kids that weren’t hers. But she did have a home, love, and time. Now, I can definitely see the difference that she made in their lives.


Daddy always said, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right, and it is not finished until everything is cleaned up and put away.” And he sure lived by that.


My mother always said (in reference to the workplace and that no one place is perfect), “There’s crap everywhere. Find crap you can live with.”


My parents were kind to others, even strangers. It made no difference the color of their skin; they were friendly. They also taught us to stop and smell the flowers along the way and find pleasure in the little things. Good humor makes all things bearable.


From my dad, I learned to give someone a smile and they will give you one back. Never, ever put on “airs,” and never, ever think you are better than anyone else. I could make a long list, but those are on top. I miss him.


My folks divorced when I was 6, and my mother was self employed until I graduated from high school so she could be there for me at every turn. She never missed a track or cross country meet in four years of high school! She volunteers (still) with our church and the Kiwanis, she did a lot of work with the YMCA, she serves lunch at a homeless shelter, and we took toys every year to the orphanage at Christmas. She set the example of what a “full” life looks like through those things. Also, sage words of wisdom, “If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything.” This has helped me avoid saying the wrong thing in several instances. She had her priorities, and by putting me and the community above other things, she taught me a lot about family and giving back.


My uncle who raised me and I cut wood for 6-8 families. He had marked out a rick of wood on the truck. I would be loading to the mark only to have him come through adding several sticks of wood, rounding well over the marks. He would inevitably say while completing his task, “I’m not cheating any man over a few sticks of wood.” Many times in both my personal and professional life I have reflected on that memory.


There are two lessons I’ve found most helpful in navigating my adult life. Top of the list: I’m proud my parents were actually parents and chose, at times, the rough road for my brothers and me. We experienced obstacles and failures. We were allowed to feel hurt and disappointment. They didn’t always fight our battles for us, giving us the tools we would need to battle back from life’s setbacks. The world isn’t covered in bubble-wrap! “Toughen up.” A Close Second: MANNERS! We were taught to be polite and treat people with respect. “It’s not all about you”—there are other people in the world who have things to share. We were taught to listen. Oftentimes, it seems there’s far too much talking and not nearly enough listening.


Free food has no calories. Thrift shop purchases do not count in the clothes budget. Life is too short to have to eat beets. Good books are more satisfying than men and they last longer. You never regret being surrounded by beauty. Cheap shoes hurt your feet. God invented Mercedes for a reason.


Education is valuable, work hard and do a good job, and be a person of integrity.


My mom faced so any struggles in life, but through them all she would always say, “All things happen for a reason.” I can remember thinking throughout my life, “Why?” and always going back to her advice, and sure enough her words have proven to be true. In saying that, it isn’t always something we immediately figure out–patience is the key! I loved her so much. After losing her to cancer at 42, years later I have figured it out!


My father gave me a love for fun, adventure and learning through books. He read to us from the classics, recited poems, and strummed on his mandolin as he sang old miner songs he’d learned while working on the Pike’s Peak road. His repertoire was vast and varied as he sang about “Abdul Abulbul Amir,” played opera records, and recited from Edgar Allen Poe’s, “The Raven.” When his five children entered school he bought an old typewriter, placed it conveniently in the living room, and started a story–a story that seemed to go on forever as we five children took turns during idle time to add another paragraph. So long ago, now, I’ve forgotten the story, but retained the love for words. So many lessons learned from that special man, and so many wonderful books.


In the fourth grade, I already knew, from my father’s stories of family military history, that the navy or military would be my life. It was duty, respect and responsiblility to famliy and country that would drive my life. In 1988 my mother was not ready for that change but knew that it was my destiny. Again in 2005 when I returned to the military, the feeling was the same, and each time I have deployed (4 tours in Korea, 2 in iraq and several tours between 1989 and 1993) it hurt them to see me go. Everything I was taught as a young boy or young man impacted me as I matured and brought me to who and what I am today.


I’m not sure if I’m weighing in on this topic because my mom is sick or if it’s because I’m a new parent myself (again). The number one lesson is love God. Secondly, when you live the delicate and humbling transition of becoming your parent’s care taker, you see how small and mighty life’s plan is. Someone who has always fed you and held you now needs those things from you–it’s a strange paradigm. It makes me realize that my boys could have to do that for me one day, and I hope I will raise them in a way that they will WANT to care for me. Like my parents raised me and my brothers.


My grandmother was mentally ill throughout my mom’s life. I once asked how she and her brother turned out so normal. She said although grandma was ill, she loved them very much; she also said their small town was the village that helped raise them. So from mom I learned the value of community and that love does conquer nearly all. I loved my grandma and knew she loved me. She worked every day as a waitress on feet deformed by, I’m guessing, wearing too small shoes as a child. From my grandmother I learned to suspend judgment for those whose moccasins we’ve not walked around in. From my dad, who I loved and respected, I learned that bigotry/prejudice is wrong. He had a lot of prejudices, and he was raised by bigoted parents–and I loved my grandparents very much for many other reasons. My love for books comes from Mom who is always reading and questioning. When I was a child she subscribed to the Dr. Seuss book club and what I’ll call the “paperback classics of the month” club. I loved getting all those books from the mailman. I still have a book smell fetish!


“You are as good as anyone but no better than anyone” is something my mom always told me. I also am amazed everyday at the compassion and patience she has as a caretaker. I hope I can be half the caretaker she is. Most importantly, she taught me to be kind!


My dad was a man who taught by example (as I believe the best teachers are), and one of the most important lessons I learned from him was the simple act of enjoying serving others. He was in retail, and my sister and I knew that if we entered his store and he had a customer that we were to politely wait for him to quit “serving” them. He treated each customer as if they were going to buy out the whole store. He told us it was his honor to do the best he could for those who ultimately provided for his family. I still look for good service today and in turn look for ways to serve. Thanks Dad!


From my mother: If you wish you had what someone else has, then wish they had something better. From my father: Treat others the way you want to be treated. And from my granny, the most important piece of advice: Never leave home with holey underwear! (You never know what kind of day it might be.)


I guess if I could say one thing I’ve learned from my parents, it would be to treat everyone how you would want to be treated. I know there were kids in school who didn’t have as much, weren’t as smart, or whatever, but I always tried to be nice to everyone. I don’t think I was ever deliberately hateful to someone because I thought I was better than them. I have always told MY girls, “You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you do have to be polite.” I had a major disagreement with a second grade teacher about this because she was insistent that ALL the little girls be “friends” in her classroom. She has probably figured out by now that ain’t gonna happen!


My parents taught me that no one is perfect and we will all make mistakes in life. When you do, then stand up and take responsibity for your actions and learn from it. They also always told us they would do anything in the world for us kids, but they would never lie for us. I don’t think we ever really and truly realize what our parents mean to us until they are no longer here to guide us and love us!


Any time we would be away from home for any reason and the risk of poor judgment could occur, my dad always would tell us, “Keep your powder dry.” In the event he was needing to help in decision-making he would say (and still does), “I would like to suggest something,” and that always meant his suggestion was probably the best answer.


My dad always said you need to feel right about everything you do. Also, something I still remember to this day, everytime I would go out with friends or something, he would always look at me and say, “YOU BETTER ACT LIKE A LADY!”


I never really thought about the lessons; I just did what I was raised to do. I was taught to work hard, honor what Daddy and Momma said, show respect to my elders and to others who respected me, speak the truth no matter the consequences, not live above my means, and most importantly, to “Honor thy God.” Now, I am human and don’t always follow these simple rules, but I always learn quickly their values when I am forced to confront or defend my actions.

I have the best parents in the world. I never had to worry about where I was going to live, if there was going to be food on the table or clothes to wear. If we struggled, us kids never knew it. We did not have the finest of things, and if it couldn’t be bought with cash, then it wasn’t necessary until the cash was available. (Of course, this did not pertain to the major ticket items.) Both my parents grew up with very little. My momma was the first born of triplets, and kid #4 out of 6. My grandmother didn’t work, and the family relied heavily on the little wage my grandpa was able to bring home. Momma definitely knew what living “dirt poor” meant. And this she instilled in us kids: You can be poor, but there is no reason for being mean or unclean–money has nothing to do with either of those.

My thoughts always go back to the day I got the call from my Momma that Daddy had died. That day will always haunt me, and that week while getting his services arranged, that’s when I really learned my Dad was probably the smartest man I ever knew, and his ability to read people was amazing. Throughout his life, he didn’t often speak of death, or at least not directly. My daddy ended up telling each one of us kids everything we needed to know about the estate, financial affairs and his wishes of how things should be after his passing. He knew each one of our strengths and told us how to handle his affairs by our strengths. During that week when we all finally made it home to Mom, we were frazzled and having issues locating certain items to take care of business. It wasn’t until we were all together that we realized Daddy had told each one of us everything we all needed to know to handle the farm, his passing, Momma, etc., but it would take all of us being together to put it all together. If one of us wasn’t there, then not all the details could be figured out. I learned a lot about my family that week. True parenting as I see it is not having your children realize they are learning life’s lessons until they experience it themselves and then have that AHA moment. Mom and Dad did know best!

. . . . . . . . . .

So, how about you, dear reader? What lessons did you learn from your parents? I would love to hear from you!

About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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15 Responses to The Lessons We Learn from Our Parents, Part II

  1. RayEtta says:

    What a wonderful entry. There was at least one thing in everyone of these entries that rang a bell with me. Respect older people, even if you have reason to dislike someone, treat them mannerly and just stay away. You won’t like every one and not every one will like you. I ended up making friends with some kids all through the years because I treated them OK from the get go. To be clean, soap is cheap. That more expensive it not always the only good thing there is. If invited to a fancy ball at the White House, wear your homemade formal with pride. To be honest and care about others, not just myself. To sometimes keep quiet. To have pride in myself and make decisions that allow me to have to pride. If you absolutely have to, to fight like hell. Learning is the key to all things, very important in fact. I went from kindergarten through the 6th grade without missing a day in school. I learned many things from many people though, my parents, my stepfather, some teachers. A teacher who had been my 2nd grade teacher was also a next door neighbor. After I was in her class come summer time I would have tea with her and she would show me slides of places her and her husband had visited, like India. The lady next to her taught me a few simple songs on the piano and we sang together and she taught me to crochet when I was 8. My granny taught me to cover the ground I stood on, she was tiny and gritty and wise in some ways. It really took a village for me. I always acted like a young lady when I was supposed to and then I played football in the street and things like that too. I am thankful for all the things I learned from people.

    • RayEtta, it sounds like you had a full, wonderful childhood! And you’re right–most of us can credit many adults for teaching us what we needed to know on our journey toward adulthood. I had a grandfather who meant the world to me and several teachers who inspired and encouraged and guided me, and the lessons they taught were sometimes very different from those taught by my parents but every bit as valuable.

  2. neonspndx says:

    Fabulous post. Having lost my mom at a young age, I think all the time about what she taught me. One of my favorite books is Barbara Corcoran’s, If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons On Your Pigtails – Corcoran’s retelling of all the lessons her mom taught her and the way in which they helped her become so successful. My mom’s voice pops into my head these days reminding me of all she taught me.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • And thank you for sharing as well. I hear my mother’s voice almost every day (and I secretly hope my sons hear my voice, too). Our mothers certainly help shape the people we become, and I wonder how many of us truly express our gratitude to them before we no longer have the opportunity. I have not read this book of Corcoran’s, but the title alone puts it on my “must read” list.

  3. SUE says:

    Just having your loved ones jump in and expose their hearts & minds in public on your blog speaks volumes about you – as a person, a parent, a wife & a friend. All good reasons to enjoy your life everyday. Thank you once again for such thought provoking words.

  4. Pingback: Why do you expect to receive? Let me tell you my biggest gift | delveinoneself

  5. jjaneswift says:

    “Remember, you’re a lady,” said Mother. But, she also said that being a lady meant genuine compassion rather than heartless manners — she told the story of a society lady who followed the etiquette faux pas of her house guest rather than let other high society neighbors laugh at the first guest.
    “The trim of a man’s hair means less than the chip on a man’s shoulder,” said Dad. In his travels and jobs, he’d worked all manner of men.
    From both, I saw the willingness to suspend judgment until a person’s character called out relevant discernment.

    • Thank you, Jane, for sharing such poignant memories; your parents must have been very wise. I loved the story of the “etiquette faux pas.”

      • jjaneswift says:

        My mother’s story describing a true lady has guided me many times, as have my dad’s words. Don’t we all hear our parents’ voices as we go through our lives? Your post brought those voices up once again, and made them, both long gone, feel close. For that, I thank you.

      • You’re very welcome, Jane. However small its part, I’m glad my post helped those voices to re-surface.

  6. bronxboy55 says:

    It’s so easy to become cynical and to believe the values we were taught don’t matter anymore. This post is filled with basic wisdom and inspiration, and an attitude that helps restore my faith in humanity. Yes, it’s corny and not terribly exciting, but the lessons you’ve all presented here are what makes it possible for so many people to live together in relative peace. Thank you, Karen. As Sue said, you’re surrounded by incredible family and friends, and that’s a reflection of the kind of person you are.

    • Thank you, Charles. And you’re right–when we are daily bombarded with stories of “man’s inhumanity to man,” it is easy to forget how many kind, generous, truly beautiful people still share our world. Those people are often who they are because of the teachings of their parents and the other significant adults from their childhoods–and that should serve as a reminder to us all that young ones are always watching and learning from our example. And I have no doubts that you also are surrounded by incredible family and friends–and deservedly so.

  7. liliofthefield27 says:

    Karen, what a wondrous and precious gift you and your husband received from your three sons. Their maturity and intelligence shines through their words. Not every parent is fortunate enough to hear from their offspring what they truly mean to them. It is more than evident you and your husband were, and are fantastic parents. One of my deepest regrets is that I myself never sat down with my mother and father and told them what they truly meant to me, and, many years after their taking their leave of this world, I have composed a heartfelt epistle of praise and thanks and love that I recite to them both on a near daily basis. I know in my heart that they can hear me from where they both now dwell. I miss them both much more than the respective days that each crossed over.

    Your blog is a virtual antioxidant within an internet filled to the rafters with anger, rage, hatred, disinformation, and ignorance. I derive great solace and peace of mind when I peruse your site. In short, your blog is the wild blueberry of the net! Keep it up, girl!

    • Thank you, Lillian, for your kind words–I am especially fond of your description, “the wild blueberry of the net!” 🙂

      My sons are 28, 24, and 20, and their wisdom, insight, and kindness amazes even me; I have been truly blessed. And I, too, regret, all the feelings I never shared with my parents, and I did not realize until too late how much those shared feelings would have meant to them. I have no doubts that your parents can hear your love recitals, and even though I have not composed my own recitals, I still want to believe that my parents knew–and still know–what is in my heart.

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