MESSAGES TO HEAVEN

The evening breeze was cool and expected, reminding everyone the end of September would soon draw to a close. Although it was windy, the party was held outside. It was a combination of party of sorts – to commemorate achievements and sorrow in a way only this family can do.

It was a high school diploma graduation party for Cody Cronin, as well as a posthumous 21st birthday party for his elder brother Kyle, who died in a car accident at age 17. It was also a setting for the annual balloon release the Cronin family provides every year, acknowledging his memory.

When asked why he combined his graduation party with the balloon release, Cody was reverent and modest. “My mom thought of it first, and asked if I wanted to do it this way. Both my parents told me it would be ok if I wanted a party for just me, that they would respect that. I thought about it and realized I wanted to share this with my brother. So it was cool.”

Guests came from as far as Syracuse to be part of the festivities, for this party was truly a celebration of friendship and family. Jessica Cartner met Kyle when she was 14 years old, and although they didn’t see each other that often, they spoke on the phone almost every day. “He was like an older brother to me; I could tell him anything.”

She carefully placed the cake she baked especially for him among the black, green & yellow Rasta themed decorations, Kyle’s favorite colors. She bowed her head for a moment as if in prayer, then stepped back to look at the inscription. “The years may fade, but memories never die.”

Kathy & Kurt Cronin brought out a variety of brightly colored helium balloons, and pointed to magic markers spread out on the table. “Use these markers to write your messages to Heaven” she instructed, but most of the participants already knew what to do. Friends from childhood of both boys were already busy writing and when they were finished gathered to the spot in the yard where they had gathered for the last three years.

Cody wants his balloon to stand out amongst the others, so Kyle will recognize his first. It is always black.

There was no fancy speech and no prayer before hand. This was something they knew how to do without fanfare. As if on cue, all were silent and raised their eyes to the sky. The sun was beginning to set, setting the reverent tone for heartfelt memories and silent tears.

As they have done before, Kathy and Kurt stood side by side, looked at everyone for a moment, thanked them for coming, and said “Happy Birthday Kyle – we love you.”

The balloons were released, and all silently watched as they traveled westward. The colorful bunches climbed higher and higher and everyone stayed until they could no longer be seen. Some remarked the balloons came together to form a vision of a buttefly, the black balloon leading the way.

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A SACRED WALK – For my Mormon friends


Several miles from the four corners of the Four Churches in the Town of Palmyra lies the Joseph Smith Farm and the Sacred Grove. A natural old growth forest in easy walking distance from the boyhood home of Joseph Smith, Jr., it has been preserved and maintained as hallowed ground. Although the exact location where Joseph had the first visitation according to Mormon faith, entering the Sacred Grove assures the visitors they are near the very spot where Joseph had his first religious vision.

The Smith family lived on forty acres of land, working the fields, the orchards, harvesting crops and built barrels from the bark of trees and staves to be sold at market. They tapped between 1,200 and 1,500 maple trees per year, producing 1,000 pounds of sugar annually. The woods were a place of both peace and productivity for them, and they traveled in and out of the woods often.

Distraught over indecision as to which church to join, young Smith decided to “…retire to the woods to pray to God to make the attempt.” The Joseph Smith Farm is home to the birthplace of the Book of Mormon and has a walking trail through the Sacred Grove. It has been open to the public since the early 1900’s in order for others to retrace his steps and to share in his experiences, all which have been documented in several markings throughout the farm. Hill Cumorah can be seen nearby, another connection to the Book of Mormon and the Morman faith.

It is here in this place Mormon teachings state where Joseph first had a vision and witnesses the appearance of God the Father and his Son.

It was a very hot day when this reporter took the first of many walks through the Sacred Grove at the Joseph Smith Farm. The sun was high overhead and the smell of fresh cut grass wafts through the air like sweet perfume attached to the clothes of previous inhabitants. The humidity level was steadily rising and moisture in the air was palpable. Heels clicking on the small wooden bridge across a small swamp/creek, it brought to mind a simpler time, where farm work and family were intertwined. Walking through the gate and onto a well-traveled lane, foot steps taken were slow and intentional. The view is magnificent and somewhat overpowering when first facing the greenery and entrance to what the Mormons believe is the holiest of holy places.

Old fashioned and weather worn wooden fencing on either side guides you to your destination as you walk down the dirt lane to face the entrance into the Sacred Grove. Upon walking through the wall of trees, the first thing you notice is how many varieties of trees exist. Like a giant wall of waves, they greet you tall and proud and it is only then you realize there is a danger in getting lost amongst them had there not been the marked trails. To call these trees a “grove” may give one the wrong impression. These are essentially deciduous trees; oak, maple, elm, sumac. It is a well stocked forest of many visual and sensory delights, with newly grown saplings a sweet surprise, folded in between those hundreds of years old.

The sunlight beamed down through spaces in the trees, but the density of them created a cool canopy of shade, a respite from the previously stifling heat of the morning. Well established trails have direction markers and wooden exit arrows, but do not interfere with the reverence of the environment. The deeper one travels into the Sacred Grove, the more one is able to feel contemplative, a sense of peacefulness and quietness. The sounds of the world are left behind at the entryway and do not follow you into the confines of this woodsy cathedral. In fact, the only sounds you will hear are that of the insects buzzing, birds chirping, and the sound of fallen, ancient tree limbs snapping and crackling under your feet as you tread softly through the pathways.

There are wooden benches placed every hundred feet or so along the walkways, encouraging those who visit here to sit and contemplate their surroundings before they journey forward. One can sit there as long as they choose, for there are no tour guides or docents, as the Sacred Grove is accessible at any hour of the day or night. It is an opportunity to sit among nature and natural wildlife, a moment’s pause in an otherwise busy existence.

Time passes much too quickly while you sit among the quiet of the Sacred Grove, and the reasons you decide to visit there are yours alone. Even if you are not of the Mormon faith, you will appreciate the beauty and the wonder of such a simple, yet reverent place.

You may offer a prayer of your own or simply drink in the spiritual ambiance which engulfs your senses and invites introspective thoughts. You may want to return again and again, as this reporter did, to close your eyes and imagine what those who believe happened upon this hallowed ground. Your spiritual choices are of your own choosing, but the Sacred Grove will blend seamlessly with whatever you believe.

Visiting the spiritual cocoon of the Sacred Grove is indeed a peaceful, rejuvenating experience, and you will leave it with a sense of sense of calm and wonderment.

There is no doubt the Smith Family and the many Mormons who staff the area welcomes each and every visitor with open arms, to visit their Sacred Grove and to enjoy the gift that was theirs to share with the world.

APPLESAUCE

627665159_c3ed029236[1]The air was cool and crisp as we sat on the flatbed, covered with hay and pulled by the farmer’s tractor.

Four of them, filled to the brim with people of all sizes, all sat huddled together on this cold and windy Sunday afternoon. Covered with blankets and sleeping bags pulled up to our necks, it was a yearly event held by the church. Grandmas and kids, young lovers and not so newly weds, we all looked forward to joining this small caravan, the smell of Fall in the air, the sound of the waves of the lake crashing off in the distance. An occasion to mingle and converse, the traditional barbeque chicken dinner with all the fixins’s waited for us back at the hall, salt potatoes simmering in butter and stacks of brownies calling to us from the table near the coffee and cider.

As a former city girl, this was particularly exciting. Sitting on the edge of the flatbed, my legs dangled off the side as we plowed slowly down the main road away from town and into the farmland. A local apple grower who was also a parishioner and generously donated the time and vicinity for just a simple step back in time this autumn afternoon. Bundled in long underwear (a prerequisite piece of clothing necessary for warmth from now til April) a heavy sweater, wool hat and gloves, I welcomed the wind against my cheek as I sat shoulder to shoulder with my neighbors and my beloved.

The view is different from that of one traveled by car, where the fruit trees go zipping past as you drive unawares to your destination. Making a slow drive such as this one forces you to see the apples on the branches, clumped together like large red grapes. I never knew they grew that way.

I realized we had forgotten the camera, views I had wanted to capture as we traveled down the rows and rows of blossoming bounty lost for the moment. I would have to picture them in my mind to share them later.

Another turn off the beaten path through the apple orchard brought us face to face with rows and rows of bright yellow Crispins, Golden Delicious and Granny Smiths. A local growers wife was on the flat bed with us and gave us a small dissertation on the different varieties of fruits and the best time for picking. She was a school teacher during the week, but this was secretly her favorite part of the year, the time of harvesting.

Which we all did once the truck stopped in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t hear the waves of the lake anymore, as we were far entrenched into the orchard. Had I been by myself, I would never have found my way out! But lucky for me, I was surrounded by pros.

Once the okay was given to Let’s go! we all jumped off the truck at once. Screaming with the reckless abandon of children being dismissed for summer school, we all tore off in different directions towards the great trees and their bounties. Those who had done this before came prepared. Out of nowhere came canvas bags and paper sacks, all used as receptacles for the bounty open to everyone.

Gently picking me up and setting my feet on the ground, my beloved and I smiled at each other as we looked around at the controlled melee that followed. How did we ever end up here? our eyes said to each other and we reached up to grab a gift from above, one of many extended to us this past year.

The pictures are in my mind forever, no camera needed.

THE BUTTER LEAVES OF LETCHWORTH


October. The leaves on the great Maple trees were so yellow, they looked like sticks of butter. Yellow and bright, they were everywhere I looked, behind me and before me, for miles and miles and miles, interspersed between the Birch and Pine trees.

I was standing at the bottom of the gorge with Riley’s Dad, a much-traveled trail of many before us, and most likely many to follow. Boundless untamed waterfalls behind us and the sun shining brightly above us, it was an October Indian Summer the likes of which we had never seen before, and would be very blessed indeed should we ever seen them again. My face would be sunburned before the day was over.

In the spring the Maple leaves were green like all the others, blending in with the landscape and not very special looking at first glance, wallflowers at the dance of the more popular Ash and Black Walnut. Come the end of summer, however, they began their transformation from plain green to brilliant red. You could tell this was the beginning of something special, as if the other trees themselves stood back to watch the emergence of pure beauty, somewhat envious and intimidated at the same time.

Perhaps the greatest surprise to them all, though, was the ultimate blast of pigmentation, the final burst of yellow. The ugly duckling was truly the belle of the ball.

The trails we walked were winding and turning, up and down, over many miles of buried tree roots and smooth rock formations. The moss was overgrown on the north side of the boulders, and the rock slates beckoned for us to sit and visit for a while, to chat some more and learn the innermost secrets of our souls.

I had many prayers of thanks that day. Thankful to live in a country where the park was a gift of love donation from a wealthy man, a present to the community after his death. Thankful to be able to walk the many slate steps down to the gorge under my own power unassisted. To be able to breathe deep the smells of the wildflowers, see the colorful foliage surrounding me everywhere. Most of all, to be holding the hand of the one who brought me here, to share in his joy as if he too, saw all of this for the very first time. My heart was full, and my eyes glistened at the sheer joy of being where I was at that very moment. He felt it too, and he held me close as someone took our picture.

A perfect day and in was only 10am in the morning. How I wished my children could have shared in the moment with me, but mindful that this sight was meant for just he and I.

I will hold in my soul always the surprise vision greeting me that morning as I turned to face my smiling companion to ask him why his face with so bright and peaceful.

They will forever be the Butter Leaves of Letchworth, the announcement of Autumn, a wonderful reminder of the fullness of life, the reward for surviving a Winter bleak and dark, and holding fast to the promise of beauty yet to come. My faith was rewarded and I was alive to receive a blessing. I will never again take anything for granted, for each day is a gift, each person a present from above.

HALLOWED GROUND – A GEORGE & BOB STORY

From the second book “Holy Cow!” of the George & Bob Stories -Life Lessons From Little Brother series

georgeAndBobBook[1]This is the story of George and Bob who were brothers.

One was older than the other.  But I forget which one.

 

It was their favorite time of year, except for Christmas, of course.

 

Halloween.

 

A time of haunted hayrides, trick or treating and pumpkin carving.  The brothers George & Bob, younger sister Francine and oldest brother Frank began thinking about costumes as soon as school began.

 

Every year their mother would pull out the sewing machine and put to cloth the imaginings of her children. They never had a store bought costume, as she had convinced them this was much more fun.

 

 

She had almost convinced herself as well.

 

Mommy, whose real name was Madeline, liked Halloween too. She always decorated the house as soon at October 1st rolled around. As they held their breath, the imaginary calendar in their minds quickly pulled each square numbered day off the sheet, ending with the most special numbered. Beginning with October 1st, the anticipation very nearly drove them crazy with excitement, the countdown to the day a reward in patience. As each evening progressed closer and closer to October 31st, a new plastic goblin or Styrofoam witch would appear on the mantle in the living room. Day by day a ceramic dish filled with candy corn would appear on the kitchen table, or a bowl filled with gourds and small pumpkins would find itself on the coffee table in the den. Cotton stuffed black cats sat on chairs and rested atop bed pillows, all fun reminders of the days to follow.

 

Picking the pumpkins to be used as jack-o-lanterns for the front step was a yearly treat as well, and all the kids at Samuel Jackson Elementary School looked forward to the Friday before Halloween. Ever year a nearby farmer donated a truck load of pumpkins in which all the children could pick one to carve in the classroom.

 

Desks covered with newspaper, one by the kids could carve their concoctions into the soft flesh of the orange globes. Misshapen smiles with missing teeth or crooked eyes were the norm. Some ambitious students would even make wigs of yarn, long black curly locks or thick braided clumps pasted to either side of the scary faces looking back at them from atop their desks.

 

Bob, of course, always made his pumpkin a masterpiece. He first drew a picture with magic marker, making sure the face was centered and not at all sloppy looking. Bob took great pride in his pumpkin skills.

 

George liked to name his pumpkins. No one could remember when he first started doing it, but it seemed like the right thing to do. After all, it was like having a member of the family for a while, as all the pumpkins carved at school were carefully transported home to the steps in front of their house on Maple Street.

 

George & Bob carried their precious cargo in paper bags with handles, courtesy of the local grocery store. They were much too intent on the mission at hand to notice how bright the sun was that day, how crisp and cool the air was. It was something they pretty much took for granted, as most children do, and wouldn’t realize the significance of the afternoon until they were much older.

 

As they turned the corner to head towards home, they began to trot as they got closer to their, breaking into a full run once they had gotten close enough to spy the ghosts tied to the posts of the house front porch. Mommy had tied old white bed sheets together and made a family to greet them.

 

“Holy cow! Do you see that, Stanley?” George said out loud to his pumpkin.

 

He was lifting the newest member of the family out of the brown bag with all the pride of a new father.

 

 He positioned Stanley on the third step from the top, midway between the 5th and the bottom wooden slats of the wooden gateway.

 

Bob smiled sheepishly as he lifted his masterpiece and put it beside Stanley. Although he did not name his creations, it didn’t stop him from talking to them.

 

“You’ll be very happy here” he said softly to the gourd, as he placed it gently on the step next to his brother’s.

 

Mommy looked out the kitchen window and watched as the two brothers stood back to examine their proud creative endeavors.

 

Later that evening, Mommy put the finishing touches on the last jack-o-lantern to sit on the steps outside the door of their house on Maple Street. The inside had been gutted and flattened enough to stick a tea candle inside, illuminating the smiling face of the pumpkin. It looked quite at home amongst the other works of art her children had created in preparation for one of their most favorite times of the year.

 

They had been asleep for several hours, dreaming of bags of chocolate and candy corn filling their sacks as they screamed Trick or Treat! to their neighbors and the siblings of their friends. Slumbering in the knowledge that all was right with the world, they snuggled up against their blankets and pillows, safe and secure in anticipation of the festivities to come later in the month.

 

Mommy blew out the tea light, a small poof of smoke billowing above the wick, a scent of sulfur and wax filling her nostrils. She sat down on the steps besides the small gourd village and pulled her sweater closer around her, breathing in the cool night air. Summer had finally let go of its stronghold, the last gasp of heat vanquished as the Autumn breezes shuffled them out the door.

 

She sat that way for a while, knees pulled up to her chin and huddled under her sweater. Trying to sort her thoughts, she wondered how she was going to tell them the things she had kept to herself for so long. Suddenly there was a creak behind her and the screen door opened, revealing the figure of her oldest son, Frank. He was getting more grown up every day, a fact becoming more and more difficult to ignore. She was a short woman, barely 5 feet tall, and her tweener son was just about eye level.

 

“You okay, Mommy?” he asked with a sleepy voice. She smiled at the recognition that he still called her Mommy, even though most of his friends called their mothers Ma or Mom or Momma. She was grateful he wanted to hang on to the moniker for just a little while longer.

 

“Fine, son” she answered as she craned her neck backwards to face him. “Fine.”

 

She smiled reassuringly towards him before turning back around to face the street.

 

The road they lived on was quiet, a few lights peppering the houses surrounding theirs. Off in the distance a dog barked, and they could smell the remnants of a fire lit earlier to burn the remains of brush and branches from spent apple trees of the orchard several miles away. It was the comfort of the sounds and smells that prevented her from telling the young man the true feelings churning inside her at that moment.

 

“What do you want to be for Halloween?” she asked him gaily, wanting to lighten the mood within herself.

 

“I don’t know …he said rubbing his eyes while turning to step back inside.

 

I’ll have to sleep on it” and he closed the screen door behind him. He stopped before walking from the entryway.

 

“Maybe Spiderman or something like that?” yawning and stretching his arms upward, as if reaching for heaven.

 

Mommy stood up to join him on the other side of the door. Opening the screen she looked up at the moon shining brightly on the street she loved so much, the only neighborhood her children had ever known.

 

“Mommy?” he said as he headed for the staircase.  Then he stopped, one foot on the first step.

 

Mommy’s heart began to pound slightly faster beneath her sweater.  He was always the most perceptive of all her children.  She didn’t want to have to tell him now. 

 

“What?” she asked cautiously.

 

Please! she prayed frantically. Not like this….

 

“I don’t know” he said matter of fact.  “You sure seem to be sleeping a lot…”

 

Mommy’s eyes began to well up and she was thankful the hallway was dark.

 

“Must be the change of season she said simply and then closed the front door tightly, locking it. It was a vain attempt at keeping the world outside of their little nest for just a few moments longer.

 

To be continued.

NINETY THREE YEARS BOLD

0018-0308-2013-3346_TN[1]It was a warm rainy morning, the dampness of autumn not yet chilling the air with its long cool fingers wrapped around the moisture of the day in a rich embrace.

I had opened the shop at 10:00 a.m as usual, but did not hold out much hope that I would be seeing a soul all day. School had started the week before, so the mothers who would normally stop in during the week, preschoolers in tow, were now tending to other business. It was going to be a long day and I closed my eyes to write a mental grocery list.

Moments later, it was a pleasant surprise to hear the gravel crunch of car tires, and the laughter following the sound of four slamming car doors.

They entered one by one, a smile wider than the next. Four women out shopping together, I was to quickly learn they were sisters. Their annual get together, they came from different parts of the country to visit and shop like this every year.

The youngest one was 70 years old.

With quaint old time names like Mildred and Margaret and Sally, they scattered to separate corners of the little shop. “Ooohs” and “aahhs” were heard through out, with a side of “come here, look at this!” mixed in. It was clear the sisters loved each other dearly, and missed each other immensely. Giggling like school kids themselves, they had all been school teachers, long since retired.

I smiled to myself as I sat on my stool behind the counter, my assigned position by the shop owner.

“Talk to them…” she had first lectured me ”…but don’t be a pest. Say hello and make small talk, but not so much that it is distracting.”

I nodded my head in understanding. It was the easy going smile and polite welcome she had used on me when I first stopped there, three summers earlier.

“They like to know someone is there, but out of the way” she had continued, and she was right. I was soon to learn that there were two kinds of shoppers – those who bought outright and those who looked. The ones who looked invariably came back another time, for they were the particular sort who wanted to view every square inch of the place to make sure they had seen everything, before they plunked down their hard earned cash.

These women were of the first – they were out to shop and buy things for each other. Holding up tables clothes or linens above their heads, one would yell to the other “whatta ya think?” while someone else would answer “Too yellow!”

Every now and then each of them would make eye contact with me and smile as if to say “Oh, don’t mind her, she’s the loud one!” then sheepishly look away, back to the task at hand.

They all had the same hair coloring; a silvery gray with just a tinge of fiery red, as they no doubt once had been. The youngest of the group wore a vibrant cherry colored lipstick, the accompaniment to her wide eyes lined with black eyeliner pencil. She had been the loudest of the crowd, and I thought it just a little odd that she was given such authority over them all. It was she to whom they would defer if they both happened to pick up the same item.

Finally they stood at the counter, lined up one by one. I rang up their purchases slowly and deliberately, taking time to wrap the more fragile items and delicate tapestry with care. Their eyes were shining bright at the thought of continuing on to yet another old country shop, but first they were going to be stopping for a bite to eat.

As I began ringing up the youngest and final shopper, the others sat on the bench by the doorway chattering lightly, waiting patiently. She had bought the most and was watching me with as I wrung up every item on the cash register, her eyes clear and looking three times their size behind the glasses worn for reading. She took them off briefly to clean them with the rolled tissue she had kept up her sleeve, a pink sweater that had the look of a well love stuffed animal.

She turned to face the waiting sisters and asked matter of fact… “Well, what do you girls wanna do for lunch?” They asked if I knew of a good Italian restaurant, and I offered the names of several in the area. Some were more expensive than others, and I alerted them to that as well.

“That’s all right” one of them chided from the bench. “Mother’s paying for lunch today!” They all laughed heartily and leaning in close together, either one of each end giving the other a high five.

“Don’t remind me!” the woman who still faced me laughed, and whose eye lined eyes didn’t blink when I told her the total was $278.65.

The one who I had assumed was the youngest of four sisters was actually the mother of three. There was something vaguely familiar about her, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

“Ninety Three years bold, next week” she said sweetly as she gathered up her packages, amidst the laughter of her daughters and seeing my eyes pop, my mouth wide open.

“She gets that a lot” one then said over her shoulder as they all gathered around, encircling her in their arms, as they gaily walked out the door.

As I gently closed the door behind them, the shop once again was quiet except for the sound of the light rain tapping against the windows. I said a small prayer of thanks for the gift I had just been given. I hoped that I would age as gracefully.

“Excuse me, ma’am?” I hear a voice from behind me, startling me to sit straight up, lift my head off the counter, and look into the eyes of a teenage girl, somewhat impatient, but smiling nonetheless.

“Be careful…” she giggled. “Don’t want the boss to catch you napping!” she whispered conspiratorially, and running her manicured nails through her long blonde hair with a flick, she was gone.

EYES OPEN

With the parade of celebrities and public figures passing away this year, seemingly one after the other, it makes me wonder why I felt their death so strongly. Although I will agree Michael Jackson certainly had issues, I loved his music and enjoyed witnessing the passion with which he sang. Actress Natasha Richardson’s fatal skiing accident and actor dancer Patrick Swayze succumbing to pancreatic cancer also filled me with such sadness. I cried for all of them as if they were my closest friends.

But when all is said and done, I didn’t really ‘know’ these people. They weren’t my friends and I had no contact with ‘them’ other than tweeting or Facebook entries. So why does their death affect me, make me sad?

A tragedy in my own backyard happened this week with the passing of a lovely woman and neighbor. We weren’t close friends, but I did know her; waving as we passed each other as we went about our lives, trading recipes at neighborhood parties. Her family’s loss is palpable. My heart aches for them and her husband and again I have cried for the loss of another life, gone way too soon.

Our lives touch each other, both celebrity and neighbor, in ways we don’t anticipate. I was the ticket taker for one of my beloved’s comedy shows, smiling and taking the cash from the patrons as they filed into the club.

It was after the show that an audience member wrapped his arms around me and gave me a big hug. “It’s me!” he said with excitement in his eyes. “Do you remember me? I remembered you in an instant!”

I looked into the face of someone I hadn’t seen in close to 30 years. He was a boy who used to courier legal documents between the courthouse and the attorney I worked for, and we would talk briefly on a daily basis. Age had grayed his hair and lined his face in not so particular fashion. Suddenly the spark clicked in my brain, the fact he had recognized me, especially since I look very differently from what I did back then.

“I had long black hair and was 30 pounds lighter!” I laughed. “How in the world did you remember me?”

“Your eyes” he said simply. “I remembered the smile in your eyes.”

So perhaps that is why we connect with strangers we don’t really know, but end up caring about deeply. Our eyes really are the windows to our souls, allowing others to see past the pain or the confusion. We let them in without even knowing it, charging no entry fee or collect a ticket stub. What is viewed goes straight to our hearts, pure love locked away for safekeeping until we need to remember the feelings in times of sadness.

May your eyes always be open, bidding entry into your soul. You never know what effect you will have on them, and they, on you. We have but one life, and it’s easier if we go through it all together. Even with those we don’t really know.