My Daddy’s Day

Note: This post was in draft form backstage here at “Write Away the Day.” I have added some pictures of our father, Dub Taylor as well as a few memories of my own. Richard Taylor

Dub and Peggy Taylor

My daddy, E.W. Taylor Jr., served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, mostly as a radio operator for a weather squadron in Europe. He didn’t talk much about the war as his children were growing up. But there were a few stories he shared, and some things we found out later.

He was at the Bridge at Remagen, although I don’t believe he was there when it was blown.

He was near Buchenwald when the Jewish prisoners there were liberated, but he made the decision to not see for himself the carnage that mankind had wrought on itself.

When he was serving in England, the U.S. censors monitored all letters going home to keep critical information from the enemies, so many wives received letters with gaping holes in them where the censors thought the information would point out locations to the Germans.

But the censors weren’t always knowledgeable about literature, so my mother knew my father was in Sherwood Forest in England when he wrote, “I spent last night with Robin and Little John.”

As I noted above, this was just a partial post that Cissy had in draft form but I would like to add a few words and pictures. First off is this picture of Dad and his parents and siblings from circa 1935:

Front row: Edwin Wiley Taylor, Sr and Anna Remington Howard Taylor
Back Row Right to Left: Lena Elizabeth Taylor King, Fred Davis (“Zeke”) Taylor, Howard Graves Taylor, Lindsey Clay (“Bus”) Taylor, Sara Newton Taylor VanDeren, Edwin Wiley (“Dub”) Taylor, Jr

Dub Taylor helped tremendously to make me the man I am today. When I was seven years old, my mother returned to college to complete her degree and become an English teacher and a Librarian. Although Dub had only completed the ninth grade of formal education, he was fully supportive of Mom’s return to school and it was his example that allowed me to learn easily that there was no such thing as “man’s” work or “woman’s” work but that it was all work necessary for a home to run and I needed to get busy and do the chores assigned to me.

Even though he only had the ninth grade education, as Cissy noted above, he still had the literary knowledge that allowed him to tell Mom where he had been. I gained my love of Kipling from him. In the picture to the right you might be able to see the book case next to his chair. He did like to have the books handy.

There were times when Mom was in school when there wasn’t an available baby sitter so Dub would take me to work with him. I would get parked in the seat of a state highway department truck with a couple of road maps and a pencil to keep me occupied “taking trips.” Dub was active in the local VFW. My athletic skills were not real good so I wasn’t quite able to make any of the local Little League teams. Dub wound up as my coach on a “minor league” team sponsored by the VFW.

Bus Taylor, Howard Taylor, and Dub Taylor at the wedding of Howard’s granddaughter Lyna in 1972. Photo by C.Michael Taylor

I learned most of my cooking skills watching Dub in the kitchen which is why my Sunday dinner today will be fried chicken just like Dub made. I love you. R.I.P.

Cross posted to Just A Small Town Country Boy

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Getting in the spirit

On Saturday night, I used my KitchenAid stand mixer more times than I’ve used it in the past two years. Since I’ve retired, I’ve found myself with time to do things I couldn’t do before. And one of those things was to volunteer to help at a Christmas party.

And it wasn’t just any Christmas party. On Sunday, for the seventh year in a row, my friend Maureen Cronin, her friend/adopted sister/Wish buddy Kim Brady, and an army of people from every walk of life pulled together for the children, their siblings and parents who have become part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation family.

It took fellow teachers, book club buddies, Backroom waitresses, Central High School Key Club members, UNH Chi Omega sorority volunteers, Wish parents wanting to give back, Lollipop and Cheerio making balloon figures, Seacoast Career School students volunteering chair massages, Granite State Railroad folks running their collectors’ trains for the children to enjoy.

More than 700 parents, grandparents, children and siblings attended the phenomenally festive event. Hosted in the basement of the Jefferson Mill in the city’s historic millyard, the space for the party was donated by Brady-Sullivan Properties.

And in this huge space, which once echoed with the noises of turn-of-the-century textile machines often run by immigrant children who were 12 and even 10 years old, children of the same ages, and younger and older, came, had their faces painted, strung bright beads, colored Frisbees, had their pictures taken in the photo booth, and made pipe cleaner creations.

They and their families feasted on hot dogs, mac and cheese and more. There were sodas and water and eggnog. A chocolate fountain with lots of fresh fruit. There were dozens and dozens and dozens of cookies, mini-whoopie pies, cupcakes, brownies and more. (That’s where my KitchenAid came into play: I made three dozen gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and two dozen gluten-free brownies, to the pleasure of several who cannot eat gluten-ladened foods.)

The Grinch (Make-A-Wish board member and volunteer extraordinaire Frank Tansey) welcomed everyone to the party. (He is pictured above with Kim Brady (l) and Maureen Cronin (r).)

Santa sat to have his picture taken with the kids, as did Miss New Hampshire. There was a DJ who kept the Christmas music coming, interspersed with a little rocking reggae. And the magician who showed us all it was possible to turn two live doves into a live rabbit, and use excited, grateful children as his assistants.

The line grew extremely long over the four-hour party as child after child spun the gift wheel…big prizes, small prizes, but prizes for every one of those wonderful children, those suffering debilitating conditions, and their siblings.

And this party was put on without one cent from the Make-A-Wish Foundation and at absolutely no cost to the families being hosted. All the money donated to the foundation is used for making wishes come true. This event was put on by private donations and volunteers. Even the youngest amongst us, Smyth Road Elementary school students, created all the beautiful decorations of peppermints and giant three dimensional snowflakes that hovered over the expansive space, suggesting a winter snowstorm.

Maureen and Kim would never say this, but I don’t hesitate. If you and your company want to be part of something spectacular, this would be a wonderful place to start. These selfless ladies could certainly use a corporate sponsor.

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Other worlds beckon

On Friday night, I walked the dog just after six and watched the international space station travel overhead from northwest to southeast, a bright light, looking like a star, moving across the sky. For many born in the last couple of decades, that is common viewing, if they are even paying attention. But for me, and many of my long-time friends, it’s a reminder of the wonders of our time.

I’ve been around long enough to remember President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech about the United States’ need to put a man on the moon. We had already put 40 satellites into orbit and sent an unmanned rocket to Saturn to gather information.

Those early efforts led to a number of science fiction television shows and movies: Star Trek, Star Wars. Star Trek offered us, over many years and incarnations, a window into intolerance, offense and acceptance toward those who are different from us.

A lot of science fiction has shown us how alike we might be from those different from us: The Last Starfighter, a movie in which a young man who is very talented on a video game is recruited as the Last Starfighter, transported to another galaxy and is partnered with an English-speaking life-size lizard, who has a wife and photos of his hundreds of children, to save the galaxy. They have the same goal.

The idea that there might be other, intelligent worlds in this universe and beyond is the stuff daydreams are made of. Maybe there is a world where there is no conflict because the violent war gene has not developed in their brains. What if the cure for all cancers lay in the soil on Mars or Saturn? The possibilities are endless.

In all the days since JFK announced we needed to send a man to the moon, we have done so. And dozens of shuttle crews have skyrocketed into orbit, some not so successfully, but the challenge to explore beyond our atmosphere remains strong in us all, I believe.

I was fortunate, two years ago, to see, up close, a launch of the shuttle Atlantis. My cousin, Buddy Levitt, was working at the Kennedy Space Center and got me and my friends, Colin and Marg Stutesman, into a private viewing area. Watching the launch, pictured above, will remain one of the highlights of my life.

Seeing a shuttle launch, watching the international space station track across my night sky, feeling the awe of watching the Leonid meteor shower last month: It’s our sky at its finest, and our daydreams at their best.

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Eight years out

Eight years ago tonight, I was fasting and nervously wondering if I would sleep at all. The next morning, on Oct. 10, 2003, I awoke at 5 o’clock, a little foggy and a little hungry. Not that I could have eaten anything if I wanted. My stomach was in knots. An hour later, I walked into the pre-surgery area of the Elliot Hospital.

When I regained consciousness in my room that Friday night, I had lost one breast and had a new one put in its’ place. Groggy, but aware of my surroundings, I was surrounded by girlfriends who had stood at my side from the beginning, holding me up, drying my tears, calming my fears with as much hope as anyone can give a friend who has learned she has cancer.

So many of us have been sucker-punched by those five words: You have a malignant tumor. Our minds don’t stop working: Where? How? How big? What will happen to me? Will I die?

I don’t have children, but I know dozens of others who do, and they have asked the obvious question, “Who will care for my sons and daughters if I die?”

I could selfishly just be worried about me, but after all was said and done, I found I wanted to help my friends get through this as much as they wanted to help me.

A diagnosis of cancer creates a life of chaos, decision after decision, choose a surgeon, will I have immediate reconstruction using flesh from my own body or wait and have an artificial breast implanted. I opted to stay with what I know, my own flesh. That meant finding a breast surgeon and a reconstruction surgeon. They then had to pick a day on the surgical schedule at the hospital when a room would be available for a minimum of six hours. It took almost two months from that tell-tale mammogram and ultrasound until they lifted me onto that table and took a scapel to my chest.

Everything about cancer treatment is question and wait. Answers are never quickly forthcoming. There are tests and more tests. What kind of breast cancer? Mine was triple negative. Not estrogen or progesterone driven; not HER2 positive. I didn’t have the BRAC gene. Triple negative. Six months of chemotherapy. Lost my hair. Freaked out a little when I pulled out the last of my eyebrows. My fingernails turned orange and then purple. I was constantly fatigued. Often, if I hadn’t made dinner by 5 p.m., I ate popcorn for the meal. The doctors said that was okay.

I could barely concentrate and for two years, did not read one book. I couldn’t remember one day what I had read the day before. I gave up. Although it saved me a fortune in magazine costs. I’d read the same ones over and over and still be upset when someone (read: me) had torn out a recipe that I wanted to try.

All of that is behind me now. My health is great. I would like a job. A year ago, I was riding the crest of a wave when suddenly and inexplicably the tide ebbed and it hasn’t returned. But neither has the cancer.

I awake everyday, thankful for the very opportunity to be here, to feel the warm sun on my skin, break bread and share wine with my friends, old and new, to walk with my dog, cuddle with my cat. I am thankful to be sitting on my deck close to sunset on the perfect Indian summer October Sunday in New Hampshire.

Although I am dreading the dark hounds of winter, I can always look forward to spring.

Here’s to life!

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Children and their imaginations: The envy of summer

On this beautiful summer evening, as the sun drops down behind the white pines around 5 o’clock, the two youngest kids on one side of my condo are in the backyard, sliding across one of those water-fed, flat sliders (you know what I’m talking about, Chris and Nicole Nash!). This one sprays water intermittenly into the air about three feet high across the maybe 12-foot mat.

It’s a simple toy, but one with which children, with an imagination, can expand its uses. Today, Emma, the older of the two, sits at the end of the strip, while Ben, sans the Mohawk he had when they moved here this spring, slides onto the wet plastic. The object is for Ben, who’s going into first grade this year, to get to Emma before her hand, on a seemingly count-by-seconds, reaches the plastic from the top of the fountain of water.

I am envious of children, particularly younger children, in their ability to live truly in the moment, honestly mindful living. It is only when they grow older, they become self-conscious, aware of what they may perceive as their place in life, in the world. Some become self-centered; some become withdrawn. Almost all of them lose their childhood joy at some time.

But before that happens, children such as my neighbors on the other side, Mitchell and Sofia, play in the mud and with rocks and pretend the elements of the earth are the makings of food, which in fact, many elements of the earth are, although not generally dirt and rocks. Water does qualify as sustenance, of course.

But with their imaginations running rampant, mud and rocks become soup and bowls, and even campfires.

Once, maybe 20 or so years ago, I was attending a Pinkerton Academy sports event. I don’t remember what it was. It most probably was a lacrosse game. The younger sister of one of the players, the daughter of one of my dearest friends, was, I believe, in elementary school and slightly bored with whatever game was going on. That is not to say she had no interest in sports. She went to Bates College in Maine later on a track scholarship.

But this particular day, she wanted to divert her interest. So I suggested, “Let’s make a clover chain.”

“What is a clover chain?” she asked. I was a little taken aback, but slowly I realized if you have grown up in a fairly urban environment,  you may never have made a clover chain, or collected fireflies in a jar with holes punched in the lid, or laid on your back outside at night trying to count the stars in the Milky Way.

So, we sat in the grass, in the clover field, and I showed her how to clip a white or purple flower that grows from three- and four-leaf clovers, close to the dirt with her fingers, and then tie it to another with one small knot, adding on and on until she had a long chain of clover flowers.

When I was growing up, we used to put the chain across the rural road we lived on and watch for a car or truck or hay wagon to drive over it and crush it. Talk about a practice in futility. But those clover chains kept some of us busy and happy for hours on end. Outside, in the grass, close to the dirt, the earth, and yeah, much like Mitchell and Sofia, probably close to the rocks, too.

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A letter to Mary Beth MacDonald O’Leary

Dearest Mac,

This weekend, your family, your extended family, and a new family came together to celebrate the wedding of your second-born son, Kevin Thomas. His bride, Meaghan Elizabeth Bryan, is a beautiful woman with a bundle of energy that you would be proud of and would deeply appreciate.

You were there with all of us. The wife of your brother-in-law John, Cindy O’Leary, said she looked up at the center skylight at St. Anselm Abbey Church during the ceremony and felt there was a shadow that looked like a dove. She believed it was you, watching down over the ceremony.

Your memory was invoked more than once, during the ceremony and the reception, as was that of Meaghan’s father, who also left her family early on.

In February 1997, at 45, you left us all, but especially your husband, Richard, and your sons, Brian, Kevin and Michael, way too soon.

Richard and I had developed a deep and abiding friendship when I was the crime reporter for the local newspaper and he was then a Manchester police sergeant running the Special Investigations Unit, narcotics and gambling. As he progressed in his career, we didn’t always agree on what I should be reporting but we continued to respect each others’ work.

As you well know, he was one of the good guys. He treated the drug dealers and addicts with a great amount of respect, understanding that their crimes were not always easily come by. In fact, when you left us, at least one of the addict/dealers he had helped send to a federal penitentiary wrote him about how sorry she was that you had died. He has always honored the good in all people.

The Christmas before you were gone, you gave Kevin a cookbook. It was about how to handle a kitchen if your mother is not around. It was almost as though you were prescience that your son would need this help soon.

The evening after your funeral mass, a member of the Manchester Policeman’s Wives said to me, “Please tell Richard we will set a schedule and make dinner for the family every night for the next month.”

Richard’s response to me was: “Don’t cook for my boys. Teach my boys to cook.”

So, Detective Peter Waligura took on Brian, and I worked with Kevin. Mikey, your 12-year-old, was already making Sunday breakfast, so he had a head start.

“Mr. Kev” was, I think, a sophomore at Trinity. And he has always been known as a hugger. He still is and we all love him for it.

And all of your boys had learned to grocery shop by helping you, which was a great start.

So, Mr. Kev and I worked on roasted chicken parts, potatoes and vegetables. (Although, I have to say, the whole vegetable and salad thing was sometimes a struggle. Not so much with Kevin, but Brian {and you know I love you}, was known to say, “We don’t eat vegetables.”) He does now.

So, thanks to you and Richard, your boys learned to cook. I know you have watched over them all these years and sent them your love over and over.

I know you were there watching over Brian and Margaret Brennan’s wedding four years ago, and before that, Richard and MaryAnne’s, as your sons embraced an entirely new family.

This weekend, at Kevin and Meaghan’s wedding, your siblings and their families joined with the O’Learys, the Bryans, the Dubois and Laliberte families and all their other friends to welcome this lovely young woman to the collective family.

You know Kevin has become a teacher, as you were, and he has a passion for his students. Meaghan is a nurse with a passion for her patients. I firmly believe you had a hand in bringing these women to your men. I know their happiness was always your greatest wish. And I like to think you were instrumental, along with their father, in bringing the great men to the Laliberte women, and working hard to find the right woman for Stephen.

Mary Beth MacDonald O’Leary: You are in everyone’s heart. Please continue to watch over all of your loved ones.

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Pets in our lives

My new rescued cat, Baby Girl, purred early one morning for me for the first time since I brought her home from the shelter late in June. That’s how I knew she believed she had arrived at her (forgive me), fur-ever home.

My rescued greyhound, BeBe, was sitting up and attentive as Baby Girl, after she purred, whipped around the house, stoned on the catnip from the scratching post.

She’s a dark grey and black tiger-stripe one-year-old loving not-so-little 9.25 pound girl who is co-existing with the dog, so there are no battles, no hissing. And I suspect, by winter’s time, when Baby Girl realizes BeBe has fleece blankets on both his beds, she’ll end up sleeping next to him.

I have had many pets over the years and most were rescues. Except for one out-of-control kitten, they have always been the loves of my life.

Indiana Jones, Rebel, Mac and Meyer, the cat that ate popcorn and watched movies with me….even Nippy, my cat in the rural town of Berry, Ky.,  when I was in the second grade,  and the kitty whose name I can’t remember who rode with me on my tricycle, when I was three years old.

In my married days, brief as they were, we had two black labs, Jason, who had been severely abused before he came to us, and the little, lovely Felicia (oh, it was all about Jason and the Golden Fleece), who also came to us, but not abused.

As a couple, we already had a cat, Pywacket, and a rabbit named Napolean. And then one day, completely unrelated, we took in two beagles. One, an older female, wandered into our front yard. No collar, no tag. And she looked hungry and thirsty, so I put water and food out for her.

My husband came home that afternoon with a young male beagle who had wandered into his job site. No collar, no tag. We called all of the area dog officers and no one had reported these dogs missing.

So, they stayed with us, Benny and Bernice, we called them. And not realizing they hadn’t been neutered, pretty soon we had a litter of five beagle pups, all most likely purebreds but with no papers for the parents, we happily gave each away.

There is something so special about pets, whether, like me, you live alone or not. They love you unconditionally. They are happy when you come home, they rarely scold you for being late, they are grateful you feed them and walk them and scratch behind their ears.

My current two, BeBe and Baby Girl, are gentle, loving, great with children. Sofia and Mitchell from next door, 8 and 10 respectively, come to visit Baby Girl every afternoon or evening since the day after she arrived. Then they ask if they can give BeBe a treat.

Pets can make a family, and can make a family better.

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I will try to lift you up

I know I said, at first, I wasn’t going to write about the terrible events that I covered as the crime reporter, but sometimes there are stories about real people that need to be told.

Back in the ’80s, someone killed a couple of crack-head hookers. Those women took a special place in my heart. When the body of the first one was found, frozen in a plot of woods in Auburn, N.H., naked, the night crew at the paper handled the original, breaking story. She had tattoos which, because the newspaper published them, identified her.

I was working days, and got her identity: Rose Miller. I tracked down her brother, who talked with me on the phone about her hard life.

When she was about 12 years old and living in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, someone came to their front yard and shot and killed their father. Rose saw this happen and never really recovered from the trauma.

And, according to the brother, the shooter was not convicted of killing their father. I wasn’t able to track information that far back, but I had little reason to doubt what the brother was saying.

Just after I got off the phone with the brother, my colleague who had worked the nightside of the original story walked into the newsroom.

“Hey, just another dead hooker,” he said.

I grabbed his shirt at the throat and said:

“No one goes to eighth grade career night and says, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a crack-head and a hooker.’ ”

We don’t have any idea where circumstances will lead us.

So, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for those who became, for whatever reason, the short-shrifted, marginal folks in society. It has not always been your fault. There are those of us who back you.

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Memorial/Decoration Day

It’s Memorial Day weekend. My dear friend, Susan, traveled with some of her family today to a bridal shower in Maine, stopping along the way at several southern Maine cemeteries to visit family graves, places she hadn’t been to in a couple of years.

With them were another daughter and one of Susan’s granddaughters. The idea to visit came from Susan’s youngest daughter, which means she has passed that importance on to her children.

Although I have not been “home” in Kentucky for Memorial Day in years, I do still honor the family passed with a visitwhen I am in town. I travel to Battle Grove Cemetery, stop first at the parents’ site just past the mausoleum, who are buried alongside Daddy’s parents, and just downhill from three of his brother, Howard’s, wives. Uncle Howard outlived them all and was buried with his fourth wife elsewhere.

In the next family plot to the right are the Kings, cousins of my father’s, including the Methodist minister, Frank King, who performed my wedding ceremony.

Then, I drive up the hill to my mother’s family’s burial plot: my grandmother, my great-aunt, my Aunt Pat, my great-grandparents, a great-uncle I never knew, my grandmother’s sister who died in as an infant.

Next, I journey around to the backside, where my father’s brother, Bus and his wife Dal, and their eldest son, Lindsey, are buried. Lindsey, a lifetime ago one of my best friends, died days short of his 2oth birthday in an auto accident. His parents (and two younger brothers) survived him. His death left a hole in everyone’s heart.

Across the road from Lindsey and his parents are the Jennens, Bush and Sara Frances, parents of more dear friends. I walk over there because I can, because I know where their gravesites are.

Sometimes, I visit other graves: the Carrolls, Aunt Sara Newton, Richard Slade (a funny, handsome, loveable classmate who died in a tractor accident when we were in our 40s). He had just come to the class reunion that summer, as I recall. Then, just like that, he was gone.

It’s my personal observation of Memorial Day, once called Decoration Day. It was so named to honor Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the War Between the States. It ultimately became Memorial Day, not just in memory of all the soldiers and others who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms. It now honors all of those who went before us, who helped show us the way, teach us to love and cherish, teach us patience and faith.

And because I find so much solace in music, I offer you this from John Lee Hooker on this Memorial Day weekend: <a href=";

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One summer in Leeslick

I spent a week one summer with my Aunt Sara Newton, one of my father’s sisters; her husband, Uncle Buck, and their five daughters, all older than me. I don’t recall if all five were still living at home. I’m pretty sure that B.T., Helen and Wiley were there, and maybe Peggy.

I suspect Yancy had already left Leeslick, the small rural village where they lived in a two-story brick house.

It was probably in July, in the mid-1950s. I was still in elementary school, maybe second or third grade. My family lived in northern Harrison County, in the village of Berry. The Van Derens lived in southern Harrison County. When Aunt Sara Newton married Edward Van Deren, her parents also lived north of Cynthiana. When she told her father they were going to set up house in Leeslick, his response, according to her, was, “I was hoping you’d at least stay in the county.” Well, she did, but it was a distance in those days.

Let me tell you about Aunt Sara Newton. In the 1930s, she graduated from college with a degree in mathmatics and taught high school math for years, something unheard of in those days, a woman teaching math. She was smart as a whip and could cook up a Sunday dinner or New Year’s Day dinner with the best of them. To the amazement of all of us, she would stand over a cast iron skillet filled with frying chicken, with a cigarette hanging in her mouth, ashes curling downward and never once did I see them fall into the skillet. It was always a miracle.

The summer I was visiting, I attended vacation bible school at the Leesburg Christian Church. That was when I first met Barry Carroll, who would eventually become one of my best nearly lifelong friends. That summer we were just two little kids who hung out together at church. Barry and his folks lived on a farm across the road from Aunt Sara Newton’s and up on a hill. It’s the Conner place now.

I was, quite frankly, thrilled to be in the Van Deren household. As the only girl in my family – the rose between the thorns – I often wished for a sister. These cousins became the closest I would get as family to a sister.

That was the only summer I visited. My older brother, Win, I recall, spent time during a couple of summers so Aunt Sara Newton could help him with his math.

My own experience with mathematics was tortuous at best, but I never got the tutoring Win received.

It’s okay. Years later, after both my parents had died, Aunt Sara Newton insisted I stay with her whenever I visited my hometown.

One night, sitting in the log cabin she had moved into after her husband died and her daughters all left home, she said to me, “You know, I always liked you, but I already had girls.”

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