Saturday, February 7, 2009

7 February 1955 "Out, out Damn Spot!" and "After the War"

This is the Time from February 7, 1955:
There is an article entitled "Pakistan Offers Peace". It is interesting how much of our present foreign affairs had their start during this year.
India and Pakistan were both carved out of the old British India in August 1947 and the hostility between the Indians and the Pakistanis really errupt. This year (1955) the usa under Eisenhower form the Bhagdad Pact (original name was Middle East Treaty Organization or METO) and was adopted by Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. It was dissolved in 1979.
The U.S. suspension of military assistance during the 1965 Pakistan-India war generated a widespread feeling in Pakistan that the United States was not a reliable ally.
And here we are now (2009) wondering if Pakistan will fight a war for and with us against the Taliban. Our sour relations with the middle east, it seems, are not only a post 9-11 situation.
I am beginning to really understand where we are as a country by traveling back 54 years. It seems the way of life that is erroding away from us is not only the joy of family, housewifery, and economy, but the political world our country is making is leading us down a frightening path. Reall, all any of us really want, is to make nice homes for our families and to enjoy our little piece of the world. I suppose it is always the masses who are subject to the actions of its government. Sad, sad state of the world.
Now, onto the home:
Since beginning the use of daily tablecloths, something here-to-fore relegated to holidays and birthday parties, I have begun the endless siege of the stain. That unwinning battle of the housewife against that drip of greap or plop of scalloped potatos, or the oozing slip of the driplet of wine down the glass stem to the certain doom of your table linen.

I realized the full extent of this new fixation when the other morning hubby spilt some coffee.
"oh, no!" I shouted, startling him to grab his linen napkin and dab at the heinous spill, "Oh, GOD! NO!" exclaimed I, much like a herione in a dimestore novel, hand to my head and heart, "Not my darling cloth, oh GOD, ANYTHING, but my vintage linen table cloth in robins egg blue with triple hand stictching at the edges" I seemed to say.

"I am not going to live like this", was hubbys response, which startled me. He is always polite and considerate and puts up with all my hare-brained schemes.

"What was that?" I retorted.

"I don't want to feel like a guest at my own breakfast table,"

"Well," I retorted, "we do still have paper towel and sponges in the kitchen, we used those often enough BEFORE linen napkins, how hard would it be to grab one of those to clean up the mess?"

The battle was on.

We faced off, two foes. But, I had the upper hand, this was my battleground: the Home. Were we to face off over a desk strewn with papers and computers humming, then perhaps he would outrank me, but I had the upper hand.

"If," I began, sliding my sword carefully from my sheath,"you think my making things nice for us to enjoy breakfast is an inconvienance, then perhaps we can just eat cereal out of the box on the front porch, then if we spill anything we can just hose it, and ourselves, down". Ah, ha! Right through the heart, quick as a wink.

We ended up lauging at ourselves. He agreed that it was not an inconvienance to simply be more careful and I too not be so anal. Yet, here I had found myself in the midst of a discussion I had never thought I would have had. One, in fact, that I could ever have even dreamed of having. It was definitely a 1955 moment.

This was not the only time my clean table linens have obsessed me. I have also found myself in Hitchcockian moments at other mealtimes as well. I may pretend to be talking or listening, but my eyes are glued to the fork or knife of the guest, watching it carefully.
"No...wait" I shout in my head, "Place that fork back on the plate, NO...MY GOD, use the knife rest!" while the whole time I am smiling and grinning away.
Then, the inevitable slip of the fork from someones plate.
The room goes to slow motion.

The fork, larger than life, drips with its grease and laughs at me with its bits of coagulated fat and shards of food.

"NOOOOOO" screams out in my head, but it is too has hit the table.

There it lies: mocking me, in all its grease-filled glory. My tablecloth, a casuality of war, stained with the blood of my unknowing guests food. That drop of wine, spreading out into all the fibers of the cloth, stained forever!

A small tear wells up in the corner of my eye.

I have to excuse myself, run to the kitchen to see to something.

My heart is broken.

These are the moments of which I need to let go. I do not want to be focused on my linens more than my guests. I don't want to paint on a smile while my eyes flash back and forth betwixt my guests mouth, their cutlery, and its final resting place.

Enough is enough.

So, what does a good housewife do?

She checks her source. Her bible, the "America's Housekeeping Book".

When I opened my Housekeeping book to Chapter 25 : "Spots and Stains", the first paragraph pulls me in. This book understands:

"Cranberry sauce on the best white damask, a spreading grease spot on a brand new dress, lipstick lefy by a careless guest on a fine linene towel, ice cream dribbled on little Martha Ann's party dress-common tragedies, to be sure, but real tragedies none the less if you don't know what to do about them."

This book understands my situation, "and no," I tell the book, "I DO NOT know what to do about them, help me...teach me oh great book of the household!"

I see, already, that I have doomed some of my linens to stained purgatory for ever, as the next paragraph foretells a sad omen:

"Your chances for removing a spot or stain successfully are much greater if you act quickly. Time is against you, because a stain may actually change in compostion as it dries" (Oh, God, help me! Time...always Time and a race with it, is housekeeping!)

I feel a great explorer. An Indiana Jones, if you will. I raise my sparking torch to the wall of the discovered lost tomb of stains and before me, as I decipher the hieroglyphs on the wall, read the words that shoot terror through me:

"An unsuitable reagent may 'set' the stain or destroy the fabric, so beware!"

NO! I reel back, hand to my eyes, it isn't true!

But, alas, it is true.

So, for any of you as foolish as I have been, here are some images and instructions from the book to help you out with stains.

Here, you must be set up like a mad scientist. This list I will try to fill. I find my cabinets and pantry quickly becoming stocked, much like an army preparing for battle. Glass Rod and Carbontetrachloride (whatever the heck that is!) at the ready! I shall march forward into battle.

Here is the list of methosd for removing spots and stains. This chapter is very thorough and I have only given you a sample. There are three pages listing the offending spot and how to deal with it rather it is on washable or non-washable fabric.
What I can see and appreciate here is this, in 1955 things were costly and you cared for them and wanted to have and keep nice things. These are what you must do to accomplish that goal. Today (2009) we are concerned about the environment and the level of throw-away things we have. A linen napkin saves trees, money and waste. Now, however, we have to keep them nice. We don't just toss them out. Serving food at home in 1955 means doing so on a nice table and setting. In 2009 serving dinner at home is becoming more a necessity than eating out due to our failing economic climate, so it should follow suit that we would want to do it with some semblence of grace. So, not only time-travellors such as myself, may soon find themselves wondering "How do I get rid of these stains?" Interesting parallels, don't you think?

This image shows the 'scientist' at work against those horrid spots. Where does one buy a glass rod? I might have to order some things from a laboratory stocking site online. I suppose in 1955 I would hop down to the Rexall drugs, pick up some carbon tetrachloride some glass rods, get a malted, chat up my neighbors and head home. I wonder how long before these items do become a normal part of a 'drug store'?
Do any of you 'neighbors' have any good stain fighting and stain preventing tips? Come on, give up the knowledge.
On the food front, todays breakfast was this recipe for Cheese Strata. It was SO yummy. I, of course, altered the recipe a bit. I first, using my vintage pyrex caserole, baked some bacon (surprise, right?) in it. Then, removing the bacon I left the lovely 'drippings' in the pan as I placed in the bread and cheese alternately and laced the layers with the bacon strips. It cooked up a treat! And was so light and not greasy at all. There is some left for hubby's lunch (he is home weekends) and frees me up from making lunch so I can mess about with my books and magazines.
It is going to be 41 degrees today and tommorrow 49! So, I need to do something in the yard, even if it is just decide where I am going to put in that patio this summer. I hope whever you are it is a nice day to go outside. I hope for my Australian readers, your heat wave is subsiding.
Well, everyone have a lovely day.


  1. Oh my goodness, what a difference in the way we treat stains from then to now. Now you just need to scrub a little stain stick on it and you're good to go.

    Your breakfast sounds so good. By the way, I made the Pineapple Bacon Muffins from your last post for our breakfast this morning. They sounded so crazy that I had to try them, and then actually turned out pretty good. Which, when you think about it, is not too surprising since the flavors of the individual ingredients go good together.

  2. Believe it or not, you should be able to find the glass rods in the bar and cocktail housewares section of your local department store. They're used for mixing drinks, just as a chemist would use them for mixing solutions. If you can't find them there, I am certain you can find them on eBay.

    If I'm not mistaken, carbon tetrachloride has been banned from use in household products due to its high toxicity, so I doubt you'll be able to find any. I wouldn't recommend using it even if you could! I didn't see it on the illustrations you posted here, so what exactly was the manual suggesting you use the carbon tetrachloride for?

  3. Oh, there is a myriad of stains and things it suggests you use carbon tetrachloride on. It does state that, as well as other solutions in the book, are poisinous and need to be locked up. Well, I am afraid I will have to try what I can from the book, as there are no stain sticks in 1955, although the household book is from 47 and by 55 there may be more products you can buy to use. More research!
    I am glad you tried those muffins, I am going to do them this week. Really pineapple on ham is lovely so it does follow these would be good, doesn't it?
    And thanks for the tip on getting glass rods, I didnt even think of drink stirrers and I know I already have glass drink stirrers in our bar.

  4. I bought four lovely vintage everyday tablecloths the other day and luckily only one has a tiny stain, well and truly set.
    My mum, a fifties housewife through and through, treats all stains quickly with soap and either warm or cold water depending on stain. She seems to have pretty good results. Anything stubborn she soaks in laundry detergent and more soap rubbed into it.
    I have never heard of stain sticks here in Australia.

  5. Jenny-thank you for the advice, I am not sure if they are called 'stain sticks' but they are put out I think by Tide and they are little pens/markers with concentrated detergent in them, so if you are out and u spill on yourself, you wip this out (one of my friends always seems to be weilding one) and rub it on the spot and it is suppose to either remove it then or allow it to not 'set' until it can be laundered. It is interesting the different products we have here compared to you over there. I was surprised to hear that in the 1950s australians did not have dishwashers.

  6. Although my first memories are 10 years after your 1955 adventure, I don't remember using tablecloths for breakfast and lunch. We had one of those chrome tables with the Formica tops on them (My grandparent's table was from Sears, ours was built by my grandfather to fit into our breakfast nook).

    As for my vintage linens? They have stains and I don't worry about them any more. But, for every day use, I cheat and have a clear plastic covering over my table to protect my linens. This way, I don't have to change them every day and My Honey feels much more comfortable.

    As for fresh stains, I have a bar of laundry soap always at the ready which handles most stains.

  7. I wonder if said plastic cover existed in 1955?
    In my kitchen redo (which won't happen until mid spring) there is going to be a built in breakfast nook and I will most likely use a metal topped table for that, but I would think I would still have cloth placemats, wouldn't I?
    Thanks for the advice so far. It is nice haveing such good 'neighbors'
    Don't you wish we could create a real neighborhood were all we likeminded nutcases, I mean people, could really live next door to one another?

  8. Yes, carbon tet has been banned from most commercial use. The only time I have EVER seen it was in my organic chemistry lab and you had to cover it with a watch glass to transport it to the fume hood. Even if you can find it, don't use it!

    I suggest using patterned linens which will hide stains better :)

  9. I remember going to a friend's house in the early 70s and seeing her mother's dishwasher. I never seen one before. My mother didn't get an automatic washing machine until the late 70s although they were of course available much earlier. She just used the semi automatic one she got in the 50s until it died.

  10. Hi! You have a great blog, I read it every day. I live in Europe and here everybody I know uses a table cloth for meals, or at least a table runner with place mats. I use wooden plates to protect my table cloths from spills, though it doesn't always help:) Still it's better than nothing. I'm not sure if it was done in the 1950s. Also you can use sun to remove spots and bleach things. My neighbour gave me a crocheted table cloth which had nasty spots on it which wouldn't go away, so I hang it out in the sun for a couple of days and they practically disappeared.


  11. Well, I know oilcloth existed in the 50's because I have read a lot of crafting instructions that say to "cover the table with oilcloth to protect it."

    And there were plastic tablecloths, too. Not the flimsy stuff that is sold today but real heavy-duty flannel-backed stuff. Do a Google search for "plastic tablecloths and 1950's" and a couple of examples pop right up in eBay.

  12. wow thanks and I never thought of oilcloth. I will look on ebay. I wonder, did plastic tablecloths have a stigma or anything back then, I mean would it seem cheating or cheap of me to have them?

  13. I found this article about oilcloth:

    I just might try this process! Of course, I have an artist-husband who can help me (if I ask politely...)

  14. I laughed until I cried reading your post today --- and can completely understand your plight. I have a darling early '40s tablecloth that I love seeing on my table, but my heart skips a beat every time I see that drop of grapefruit juice or orange juice landing on it. I wipe off the bottom of each dish before I put it on the cloth and won't even lean my arms on it (forces me to sit up like a lady!). The only thing I've used to treat the citrus juice stains so far is cool water, and that seems to do the trick, thank goodness.

    I can't imagine how horrifying it would be to watch other people eat off of it! At least I can control where I put my silverware down!!!

    You may want to pick up some modern placemats that coordinate with your robin's egg blue. There are certainly placemat-tablecloth combos shown in vintage ads. That way you can reduce the number of stains on your vintage cloth and not feel too awful if you have to part with one of your placemats in the event of something irremovable.

  15. What a fabulous post! I loved it. I think we domestic goddesses are entitiled to our 50s' moments, don't you?

    To answer your question, the heat broke yesterday in southern Australia. Unfortunately, bushfires are raging in many places and there has been a fire death toll of at least 35, and rising. Our nation is in mourning.


  16. Oh yes, you can't leave out Fels Naptha soap! I have never used it (love my stain stick), although I'm tempted to give it a try, but I have heard nothing but wonderful things about that soap and it's stain fighting abilities, and it's been around for 100 years, so many 1950s housewives probably used it. Here's a page where you can buy it.

  17. Thanks for the options, and I have heard of fels naptha and didn't know where to get it, so thank you so much.

  18. I must be lucky. I buy my Fels Naptha at my Target. It's right next to the other laundry stuff. Usually on either the bottom or top shelf.

    I love that I can shave off a bit of it and add it to my wash to wash my "niceties."

  19. The heat wave has not gone, it has become worse and my state is heating up. Part of Queensland is flooded while the rest is in drought.

    Have you tried using Bi Carb Soda mixed with a bit of water to make a paste, then rub it on a stain. Bi carb soda is a natural abrasive and is easy to get out after you have used it. It is also great for cleaning bathrooms and toilets.

  20. 50sgal,
    If you can't find Fels Naptha in your local stores, you can buy it online. One place that carries it is Soaps gone buy. I haven't ordered from them but, I plan to in the near future.

    I understand the slow motion NOOOOO! :)
    The plastic rack in my refrigerator door came loose, and everything in the door tumbled out onto the floor. Only one thing broke, a half-full bottle of red wine!

    My rug I keep in front of the sink got the worst of it. I've lightened the stain but, it's still there. I haven't given up on it yet!

  21. There is a medical report here: of a case of a woman in 1947 getting contact dermititis from a plastic tablecloth, so I think it's safe to say that they would have had them in the 1950s - after all, plastic was fantastic back then! :)

    Carbon tetrachloride, according to some research that was done last year (2008), has been found in very high concentrations in many well known household cleaners, due to a mixture of soap or surfactants with sodium hypochlorite. It does sound like nasty stuff - check on Wikipedia for more info. :)

    Gemma x x

  22. thought you might like this website it is a collection of 50's kitchen photos thought it might be handy as a decorating refernce.{803021c3-31be-4bf4-a080-12a87e570526}

  23. Love your blog! I usually use Fels Naptha and sunshine! I have a different problem -guests who don't want to use my cloth napkins (even everyday ones) because they don't want to "get them dirty and make work for me!" It is no extra work as they are all I use and have while raising 3 boys! What is a polite response? Sometimes people are quite insistent.

  24. Anonymous-I would first explain it is all I have and if they need more explanation, I find that the current (2009) concept of being green will often suffice for a reason to do something. If you explain it is easier to wash something and use it again for both your pocketbook and the evironment, they would probably feel a fool refusing. And, really, if they prefer their shirtsleeves, there is little one can do about the manners of others except through example. When u are gently dabbing at your mouth with our clean linen napkin before taking a drink while they are sitting in food smeared cuffs and greasy lipped glasses, maybe they will realize their mistake!

  25. I am in hysterics!! I'm reading aloud to Hubbs the conversation at the dinner table and even he is smiling.

    I long for the days when you could walk down to the corner drug store and not only get your malt and other neccessities, but there was a little bar where you could order a sandwhich, drink a cup of coffee, and enjoy a nice soda pop. ::sigh:: Perhaps there's a town out there somewhere who is untouched and untainted by the modern world...

  26. Thanks, Yummy Mummy for the link!

    You know what I noticed? The "real" photos from the time period show a remarkably uncluttered kitchen. The countertops weren't filled with all sorts of appliances and cutesy things.

    The "retro" kitchen photo--taken in 1990--is FILLED with stuff that is supposed to make it seem retro.

    Less is more!

    PS: Thanks, 50's Gal for the comment on my skirt suit on the Sew Retro blog!

  27. Hairball,

    Can you teach me how to make links in your post like you did? The "link" I posted is for the same site you mentioned, but when an address link is long, I make a tinyurl out of it so that the link isn't broken, but it doesn't seem to matter if I don't know how to make the link work in a blog post. Just in case any of you are interested, for long address links, you can go to and they will shorten the link address for you; it's a great tool.

  28. what I find cool is that so many of the old vintage stain removal hints actually work. for me I found that rubbing marker pen marks off furniture works, soaking clothing in water that has blood on them many

  29. Would a housewife of the 50s really have gotten away with 'having words' with her husband?

  30. yes, the heat has subsided somewhat... but the terrible bushfires still rage...

    i use placemats... and the tablecloth when we have guests

  31. I am just home after a long full day and I feel guilty not having blogged. You know anonymous, I do believe a 50's housewife would have had 'words' with her husband. I think the only wife who would keep her mouth shut then is the same kind now-poor self esteem most likely or just a bad marriage-and it all the sitcoms I watch, the father/husband is often the brunt of the jokes and often finds himself 'listening to his wife and doing what she wants in the end'. This concept that woman were stepford wives is highly a myth, I belive, and I think alot of what a woman would than do or give up FOR her husband was merely her way of contributing to the whole of the family and they all took turns, even kids, not always getting their way. I think alot of modern people (including myself) just grew up thinking ME ME ME and the I is the most important, but I think our current economy and world view shows , you know what sometimes you do have to think of others and give up your viewpoint or ur side of an argument. IN my own personal marriange, my husband and I talk about all things together, but we often make decisions separately on certain occasions and then share it and discuss it. That is just the dynamic of our life. There are some great ideas in these comments, thanks all.

  32. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog.
    I find yours very interesting. I'll be back to read up more later!
    Ciao for Niao!

  33. I love the history lessons with each post! <3 Üdo

  34. My grandmother is unusually calm when people spill things on her table cloth. She tends to sprinkle salt on a liquid stain (to soak it up) or rubs it with water to keep it wet. Another trick is to make your own table cloth (therefore not worrying about damaging something vintage) in a dark color, like wine or brown. You can also do the same with the napkins. I've made my own out of a pattern cloth with mainly dark colors. The combination of pattern and dark hue camouflages any stains I am unable to clean. I hope this helps!

  35. My hometown had a drugstore with a soda fountain/lunch counter as recently as the 80's. My eye doctor happened to have his office on the same block as the drugstore. My mother would always try to arrange my appointments for late morning or early afternoon so we could have lunch at the drugstore! :)

    Blogger doesn't understand that I making bad links on purpose to show how to do it. It either corrects my "mistakes" so that my links work, or refuses to post my comment because my links are invalid. LOL

    I found a page that shows how to do it click Here. Scroll down a bit to Creating A Hypertext Link and that should help you or anybody else that is curious about how to do links.

  36. I thought of you this morning as a drop of syrup released itself from the knife My Honey had laid across the edge of the plate (without realizing the consequence of the way it was laid) made a slow motion descent toward the table. By the end of breakfast, there were multiple syrup drips on the plastic protecting my vintage tablecloth. And My Honey wiped them all up himself after we cleared the table (and he commented on smart I am to use the plastic because he is obviously a slob!). He isn't a slob...he just grew up in a household of men and doesn't always notice such things as where food crumbs and drips might be landing :)

  37. Dear Anonymous

    Wives quite often had words with there husbands when neccessary both of my grandparents had there kid in the late 40's and into the 50's and my whole life I have always known them to rule the coop the second the man sets foot inside the home.

    They still have always treated them with the upmost respect and did everything they could to make them happy but the home was there workplace and there domain so they made the rules inside the home and regarding the children (always with the males input of course) I saw both my grandfathers put in there place many a time in my childhood years.

  38. Hairball,

    Thanks for the help.

  39. Women were not, and still are not, called to be doormats. There seems to be a huge misunderstanding that “submissiveness” means being a doormat. “Submission” in a good, healthy marriage means that each person respects the other and “submits” to the good judgment of the other when the other person is right. I think the focus has been more on women in this regards over the years because women are known to be more emotional (in general) than men and can easily have their emotions rise higher than their logic and reason, at which point the husband tends to step in with a voice of reason to balance out the emotions. 50sgal’s dialogue is a perfect example of what I’m trying to say. Her emotions were higher than her logic in that moment and her husband’s voice of reason helped her to see, in the midst of her emotions, that people are more important than linens, even vintage ones. She “submitted”, because he was right – people are more important than things, to his reasoning and realized that what he was saying was true and then she was able to take a more relaxed, logical approach to her linen dilemma. If her husband is wrong in a situation, they need to continue talking; she should not roll over and play dead once he has spoken. And, in his turn, he would need to “submit” to her when she is right. It’s all about having respect for the other person and not being too proud to admit when the other person is right, or their stance more logic than yours even if you are not “wrong” per se. I don’t know if that made any sense, but I think the word submission has gotten a negative connotation over the years because of women who were doormats, which is wrong.

  40. PL- BRAVA! Well said. I do think that today the idea of hearing another's opinion and being wrong sometimes seems to be such an alien concept. The 'No u Didn't" fingerwave approach seems to be all about, whatever I say is true (rather or not is actually is) and I won't hear any other opninion or way of thinking. Maybe the fact that we, as people in communities, have become more removed from one another we find it harder to deal or associate with others. We are isolated with our own desires and wants and therefore think anything in the way of that is bad and needs to 'step off'. I think mutual respect is needed not only in marriage but in any relation INCLUDING foreign relations from country to country. There have been many times that I or my husband has backed down to the others request, idea, opinion, as we often (even when tempers flare)honestly think of the others viewpoint. I think because we honestly respect each other as well as ourselves, we know that we cannot always be right and we need to wear the others shoes for a moment to see what is going on.
    It is so interesting the concepts I am beginning to see that occured in 1955 in comparrison to 2009. I am not saying that everyone respected everyone then, that is not the case, but I do think we do not have the same level of ability to hear anothers opinion and understand one another by the sheer fact that we have become, as a society, more isolated. But, here we now have the blogosphere, which might help to alleviate it somewhat, but we still need to practice it on a face to face basis. Very interesting comments this time around! I love it!

  41. Oh and pl thanks for the hyperlink lesson. I think I should learn it, though I don't know if it is cheating, but if it makes the blog easier to follow, why not?!

  42. I love your honesty! :) It is so funny to read, but I know the feeling.How about buying some new plain white table cloths for daily use, then you don't have to feel so sorry about the spots? You can then use the vintage ones for dinner parties.

  43. People in the 50's put plastic over everything -- over their wall-to-wall carpet, over their upholstery, over their car upholstery, over their lamp shades, everything. People today make jokes about it. Thrift, remember -- didn't want to replace that expensive stuff.

  44. I realize that I am leaving a comment 2 years after this post has been created but this is just too hilarious! I have stumbled upon your blog and I have sat here for several hours devouring it!! (I have never read a blog from the beginning before but I just can't seem to stop reading yours!) I just laughed out loud at your tablecloth agony I have felt and can completely relate to! I now own several dark brown tablecloths that hide every stain so I don't need to panic every time there is a spill. With two children I have no hope of owning a vintage tablecloth until many years from now! Enjoying every minute of this blog!! Thanks for keeping up with it!! Can't wait to continue!

    1. I just discovered this blog, too, and am really enjoying it. I'm glad I'm not the only one in the room now. :D

  45. This is ages old, but I thought I'd just mention that you might give oxygen bleach a try. Oxygen bleach is a hydrogen peroxide bleach, and is much less toxic the chlorine bleach. It works best on organic stains (food) and is colour safe so it might be just the ticket! I'm not duress about a brand name, but I do know that hydrogen peroxidebwas sold as a bleaching agent pre1930's


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