The tradition I carry on is… | American Portrait

Mountain Lake PBS has partnered with the Adirondack Center for Writing, a local organization dedicated to bringing people and words together, to share PBS American Portrait prompts and collect unique stories from ACW members in our community! Continue below to read some of these featured submissions, each adding to the great mosaic of the American Portrait, and our collective understanding of the experiences and perspectives in and around the Adirondacks.

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[accordion-item title=”An Ordinary Life: The Family by Eilene Susan Wenner” state=closed]
The tradition I carry on is cooking and eating Pork and Sauerkraut every January 1st. I can go an entire year without eating this dinner, but I make sure I have a package of pork and either a jar, or pouch, of sauerkraut on hand by December 31st. Only one person in my family makes intentional calls to me in order to document that I, indeed, kept this tradition; that would be my sister. Year, after year, I assure her I ate sauerkraut and pork on this new day of the new year. She has her reasons, I have mine.

My reason for keeping this tradition is that “if I failed to eat pork, and sauerkraut” on January 1st, anything that happens to the family that year would be completely my fault, according to my sister. So to keep from being harass throughout the year about my disregard of keeping our family “safe and happy,” I eat pork and sauerkraut on January 1st, every year. Believe me when I say that my sister would blame me for the 2020-2021 pandemic and the death toll on my negligence to “tradition.”

I, usually, take it a step further by cooking the pork and sauerkraut on December 31st so I can begin eating it, little by little, as soon as the news announces Australia had completed their New Year’s countdown in Sydney. My reasoning being, when my sister calls inquiring if I followed through with this tradition, I’m covered if she was watching Sydney’s celebration, and forgot we still had HOURS before our location got to 12:00am, January 1st. I’m pitiful for caving into this tradition each year.

I actually like Sauerkraut. What’s not to like? Cabbage fermented in salt (LOTS OF SALT) and vinegar. Personally, I like cabbage in any form it comes in, cooked or raw. Cole slaw, pickle slaw, fried cabbage, cabbage soup, cooked cabbage in the crockpot, oven-baked, sauerkraut, you name it, YUM! But I found out early in my life, just having “sauerkraut” on January 1st, doesn’t give you the full bubble of protection, according to my sister.

At one time, up through childhood and my twenties, I was a vegetarian. I believe that was where my sister’s obsession about calling me every January 1st to double began, just to check up on me. I would dutifully hunt down any package of “pork” so I could at least eat one small piece of “pork.” Finding a package of pork was not an easy task in the community I lived in at the time. Every December was like the Easter-egg-scavanger-hunt of the Christmas season. I lived in a town with a large Jewish community, which grocery stores honored the restriction of “pork” cannot come in contact with “ANYTHING.” So to keep peace within my life, I traveled “far and wide” to hunt down “pork, any pork.”

I’m now in my elder years, and I still have no clue what kind of “pork” to buy. Some years the “pork” is juicy and tender, other years shoe leather would have tasted infinitely more satisfying. But my philosophy around this tradition is “one chew on December 31st and another chew on January 1st” of pork satisfies the requirement for my sister’s call. Which leaves the entire bit of sauerkraut for the rest of each day. I do like to add mash potatoes as the side dish, but am willing to add all sorts of things to my meals, as long as I get my two pieces of “pork” into me for the new year.

If you want to know if having “pork and sauerkraut” actually wards off evil and devastation in a person’s or a family’s life, I will admit I haven’t seen any scientific statistics on that. I will tell you that in my personal life has had many unforeseen and sorrowful events happened, and I know I followed “The Tradition” faithfully. The only thing I know it prevents is hearing my sister reminding me, and blaming me, for everything that happens throughout the year, either in our family life, or the world events, because I failed to follow through with the tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut on January 1st.. I figure the peace that comes from eating “pork and sauerkraut” is worth the two mouthfuls of “TRADITION.”


[accordion-item title=”Family Fudge by Linda Freedland” state=closed]
My family was big on traditions, but not the “Fiddler on the Roof” kind of tradition, but the “we’ve always done it this way” kind. For example, every Christmas my aunts made maple mousse. Truthfully, I was not especially fond of this, but it was “tradition” and one that was never broken until my aunts were too old to make it. Of course, there was always the requisite platter of Christmas cookies, baked only during the holidays. And every New Year’s Eve my mother made oyster casserole. That too was our tradition.

But what I remember was my father making his fudge. Every Christmas he would make it, served along with the cookies. One of my favorite memories was of me, standing next to Dad, peering over the boiling pot of molten chocolate goodness, secretly dipping a spoon into the boiling confection when Dad’s back was turned. And Dad and I were the lucky ones who got to scrape out what was left in the pot after the fudge had been poured into the pan. A definite perk. When I was old enough to understand what he did to create this melt-in-your-mouth confection, he began to teach me his secrets.

The pot had to be very large and heavy, ideally a soup pot. The ingredients didn’t vary. Evaporated milk, sugar, butter, two squares of unsweetened chocolate and a pinch of salt. Pretty basic. But the chocolate had to be good. Dad used the best chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate that was available locally. Vanilla, corn syrup and marshmallow fluff completed the list. These were always pre-measured and in bowls ready to be added.

Although true candy makers always use a candy thermometer to get the desired soft-ball consistency, Dad never bothered. We didn’t have a thermometer and he didn’t see any reason to buy one. Instead, he watched the size of the boils. When they got to be a certain “look,” he would drop a spoonful of the fudge mixture into a small dish of ice-cold water. He’d wait a few seconds, then reach in and try to form it into a soft ball. If it fell apart, it needed more boiling. Sometimes it took two or three tries before he was satisfied. He would turn off the heat and dump in the fluff, the chips, the vanilla and the syrup and beat like crazy until everything was melted. This took a strong arm because it had to be done quickly before the fudge hardened in the pan.

It was a rare occurrence when the fudge refused to harden as it should. In that case, my mother would add cream to the mixture and heat it up again. Instead of fudge. their friends received a jar of Dad’s delicious fudge sauce. Not much went to waste in our house.

After I graduated from college and had my own apartment, I decided to try my hand at fudge making. I quickly learned that it wasn’t as easy as I had thought. But I persevered and eventually got to the point where my fudge was as good as Dad’s, or at least close. I didn’t experiment very much either. Other than sometimes using dark chocolate instead of semi-sweet. Occasionally, my fudge ended up as fudge sauce. After all, how could one let a pot of chocolate, butter and sugar go to waste?

For a number of years now, I’ve carried on a few family traditions and made some of our own. Foregoing the dreaded maple mousse, I make a cheesecake. And cookies. I make oyster casserole every New Year’s Eve. It’s primarily for me as my son and husband are not fond of it, but it’s always on the table. And I make fudge. It is the tradition I carry on. I make it because it is so delicious and because it’s part of my family. It is my father’s fudge. I make two batches because friends practically demand it as a gift. I don’t remember a holiday season when I haven’t continued this tradition. I made fudge two months after giving birth to our son, after a bout of double pneumonia, and a few weeks after my hip replacement. I missed the year when we were in the midst of moving and my kitchen was in boxes. With the exception of that small blip, the fudge was made. Because it is to me, as Tevye sang, “tradition.”


[accordion-item title=”Furlong Ago Traditionally by Edward Pontacoloni” state=closed]
The tradition I carry on is down south of here, about twenty or so, where the salt springs are, and Broadway too, where there’s a canoe afloat smack dab in the infield. And, a bandstand with honky tonk…doo-da doo-da…and fried dough and lobster rolls. You can picnic, or just bring a chair, or there’s a backstretch tent that you can rent with family and friends.

Thoroughbreds opened there in 1863. James Bond was there in Fleming’s Diamonds Are Forever in 1956. You might say that he’s still there, the days when he’s up from his Stillwater stable. Look for him at the Oklahoma Training Track. He ran Will’s Way in the ‘96 Travers, flat out in a flat race.

There’s plenty to see there. Maidens with stockings. Whitney fans in flowered hats. Riders in bright, motley silks. Acaro rode mounts in stable colors, his stirrups acey-deucey. Fillies that’ll foal someday, maybe, or maybe be mares. Studs to be. Secretariat was a chestnut, the Big Red. So was Alydar, thrice beat by Affirmed.

Furlongs: six to a sprint, eight to a mile, ten for the Travers. Dirt flats, fast or muddy. Inner turf firm or yielding. Claimers, Allowances, Graded Stakes I, II and III. You can bet a quinella, exacta, trifecta, or across the board; but, you can’t wager a wheel in a walkover.

Be warned, it’s the “graveyard of champions.” Upset upset Man o’ War there in 1919. It was there in 1930 that Jim Dandy, off at odds of 100-1, beat the Triple Crown winner, Gallant Fox. Rachel Alexandra, Horse of the Year, lost there in 2009 to the aptly named, late charging Persistently. In 2015, unbeaten Triple Crown Winner, American Pharoah, the 1-5 favorite, lost to 12-1 Keen Ice there, right before my very eyes.

Winners and losers, handicappers, betting the ponies amongst themselves, parier mutuel. Jostled crowds cheering and cursing from the apron in a confetti of torn ticket litter. The Exotics. “There goes my daily double, lost in a dead heat.” “Yeah, but I doubled my perfecta. What are the odds?”

“I was gonna bet the six, but I changed my mind at the window.” “Have to stick with your gut.” “What’s the next race? Any scratches?” “The ninth and the three, a false favorite.” “Who do you like?” “Let me see the program.” “Pencil?” “Maiden sprint? Box the two five for twenty.” The Exotics.

“The horses are at the post. Waiting for the seven horse. And…they’re off! Going Farrah takes the lead on the rail. Hi Five is back a length, with Tonight’s the Night third on the outside. Daily Tripper is bringing up the rear. The rest are bunched in the middle, jockeying for position.

And…it’s Going Farrah, Hi Five and Tonight’s the Night maintaining their leads around the far turn. Daily Tripper is making her move, spreading the pack. Time at the half-pole was a brisk 45.5. They’re coming to the top of the stretch, and Going Farrah is extending her lead by two lengths as Hi Five drifts back into the also rans with a sulk .

Tonight’s the Night is still running strong on the outside to make her challenge. And…here comes Daily Tripper, pulling a Silky Sullivan! It’s Going Farrah and Daily Tripper leaving the crowd with Tonight’s the Night third, three lengths back. It’s Going Farrah and Daily Tripper neck and neck down the stretch.

And…it’s Daily Tripper by a nose at the wire!! Going Farrah is second and Tonight’s the Night is third five back. What a run. That New York filly came driving all the way from the back of the field to break her maiden first time out. Her relations are waiting for her in the winner’s circle wide-eyed.”

The two five exacta paid big bucks.

Now, I’m not making this up. I’m no Damon Runyan. It’s a tradition. You can ask such of the folks as you may find there with their rolled-up Pink Sheets, and they’ll tell you themselves. An August Tradition, Saratoga.


[accordion-item title=”I Have Learned.. by Duane L. Herrmann” state=closed]
The tradition I carry on is an interest in family history. Both sides of my family carried stories of our past. On one side I had a great-something grandfather who, as a young man, was drafted into war by Napoleon. He was an ambulance driver and had to pick up the wounded after battles. The carnage sickened him and caused him to decide to leave Europe to save his children. On the other side, after selling property in the East, the family came west with the proceeds – in gold! As the family camped one night, some men stopped by. The next morning those men went on to raid and burn the town of Lawrence, killing all the man and boys they could find! One grandmother told me about farming in the early years of the 20th century, the other told of watching Native Americans walking by from the door of the dugout where she was born and lived.

As I got older, I learned about another great-something grandfather who enlisted in the Virginia Continental Army. He was part of the replacement troops after the hard winter at Valley Forge. He was in the first mandatory inoculation. This was against smallpox. He became ill and couldn’t get out of bed for three months. I have a copy of his muster roll. Because he could not “muster up” for those months – he wasn’t not paid for that time! He did not re-enlist. He did take something home from the experience, though, that was a word from the French soldiers. He used that word for his son’s name. I am a descendant of his son, Mignon.

I learned that Mignon was in the war of 1812. His orders were to “hold the fort.” Fortunately, his fort was never attacked. After his discharge, Mignon went west to Indiana Territory. The government was bankrupt and could not pay the soldiers, but issued IOUs. I have a copy of the one Mignon used to redeem his pay. He could not read or write, so had to sign with an X, which I learned was a legal division of space on the paper. In the top and bottom spaces created by the X, the one who signed on his behalf wrote, “his” “mark.” Then to the left and right, he wrote Mignon’s first and last names. The one who signed was a notary.

My family history has been traced back different lengths of time depending on the records found. One trail ends in Mignon’s life time. His son, from whom I am descended, married a half Native American. This may have caused a problem in the family because Mignon, a preacher, did not marry them though he married others of his children and they all lived close by. Her history was so buried that my grandfather, her grandson, did not even know which tribe was hers/ours. On her last census, in 1880, she claimed to be “white” and a “widow,” neither of which was true. Her husband lived in the next state over, with his sister! The discovery of their separation did not surprise me. He had tried, at age 60, to homestead in the semi-arid plains of central Nebraska Territory – and lost everything! She could not have been happy with that!!

On the other side, my great grandfather came over from Germany when he was 17. He said he left to avoid being drafted into the army. When I visited family there, they told a very different story. He had fled the police! He was the oldest son and, to help feed the family, had killed a small animal in the forest. This was illegal and the police of the Bishop were after him. He had an older sister in Amerika, so he fled here. The police were under the authority of the Bishop because the Pope owned and ruled that part of what is now Germany. The region is called “Franken” because it had been the eastern most territory of Charlemagne centuries before. The Pope owned the forest and all the creatures in it and decided that no one could hunt there – so my great grandfather was a criminal and fled!

When the great-something grandfather who had been in Napoleon’s war was finally able to come to the US, he had several children and his wife was pregnant with another. The children knew that the baby, being born in America, would be an American, while they were not. They knew Americans spoke English. They could not. They wondered: how would they be able to talk to this baby???


[accordion-item title=”Snow Fever by Heather Haag” state=closed]
The tradition I carry on is Snow Fever. It’s more of an affliction than a tradition but many people refuse to admit it’s a problem. Whether through genetics or learned behavior, I prefer swirls of powdery potential death, racing in lively gusts over the boredom of barely frosted vegetation. This conflicted love I carry on includes delicate, fleeting flakes, violent thundersnow, or anything in between. Snow delivers the hope of life returning after the offseason, tourist dollars, and play. What other natural substance allows humans to glide, bounce and fly? The price of snow may include lost toes or treacherous roads but Snow Fever persists.

No, I’m not a masochist. I hate shoveling, too. That’s why Snow Fever can be a real burden from the first hint of snow in October to the last melancholy squall in April (or May, or June). Despite the pain of shoveling, I can’t help but share my pining for this particular combination of hydrogen and oxygen responsible for joy, sadness, rage, and nostalgia. The pull is obvious when contemplating memories of fluffy powder on mittens and creating laughter fueled snow angels. These memories help you forget the long, frigid nights in January.

Do you suspect you have Snow Fever? Signs and symptoms of Snow Fever may include:

*impatience for the first flake to arrive
*awe at snowflakes glittering under streetlights
*longing for the rush of visitors, fun, celebrations, and traditions associated with frozen precipitation
*wistful thinking about snow while in tropical climates
(This symptom is the most embarrassing and causes potential episodes of extreme rage in loved ones stuck at home.)

You may be saying, “No, that couldn’t be me”. Take a moment to reflect on instances when loved ones wanted to murder you or questioned your sanity. Did you share your sadness at the last dirty, little snow pile evaporating on a warm, sunny day? Did you wake on a cold morning openly hoping for a white blanket on the yard and gracefully bowed trees? Did you hint at your tolerance, even joy, at Old Man Winter’s cantankerous, violent bouts for the gift of yet another foot of fresh powder?

“That’s definitely not me!”, you laugh while hopping on a plane to the tropics, convinced you’re not coming back until summer. Don’t lie to yourself, this affliction is real. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Snow Fever, just accept this particular genetic condition, passed in the guise of Adirondack tradition, and make peace with shoveling.


[accordion-item title=”The Tradition I Carry On Is… by Candice Wagener” state=closed]
The tradition I carry on is making sure my kids understand the value and importance of good, wholesome food and where it comes from. I grew up in a household where entertainment and events were focused around food. My mom, a full-time stay-at-home mom, spent about 75% of her time in the kitchen, preparing meals, perusing one of her many cookbooks or cooking magazines or the Chicago Tribune Food section, planning for the next big event she was to host (which could be anything from dinner for our family of five to having a large contingent of our family over for the holidays). She was patient with me as she taught me the basics, and let me make my own mistakes when I branched out on my own and attempted to host my own special dinner parties before I knew how to properly boil noodles or roll out a pie crust. Dinnertime was the only time my family would convene as one; its importance and value was silently understood. I have so many good memories around food and togetherness and for that I am so grateful. This is a tradition that I am carrying on with my own family of four, although admittedly I’ve had some missteps. I wasn’t always patient with my kids when they were younger and got into everything in the kitchen. We certainly didn’t have the opportunity to sit down together for dinner every night before March 2020, when our schedules were so busy somebody was always coming while somebody else was going. But this past year has given me some time to reflect on the value of family dinners and family time in the kitchen. There may have been some broken space in my carrying on of the tradition but, from here on out, I intend to move the timeline forward without lapses.


[accordion-item title=”The Tradition of Home by Joni Youse” state=closed]
The tradition I carry on is the desire to go home. I’m the odd ball. The first born child. My father was fresh out of the Air Force, his Associates Degree in Electronic Technology completed. My mother was a farm girl and all about her family. Jobs in Pennsylvania were hard to come by. They packed up their wedding gifts, a few dollars and moved north.

North was IBM in New York. It was a good job, and would pay more than my dad ever thought possible. He worked hard and took up golf. Dad’s happiness was mom’s hell. She wanted to go home to her family, she had a baby on the way. My baby book shows that I was born almost two months early, thwarting her plans to make me a Pennsylvania baby. I was born with no eyebrows and no fingernails, and a resident of the state of New York. Mom will admit that things improved for a few months, then, dad got laid off. They returned home, my dad embarrassed that he could not support his wife and child. My mom, thrilled they were home.

Her happiness was short lived. My dad took a temporary position that landed our small family in Maryland. He spent weeks at a time on Wallops Island working for NASA, while mom and I spent our days waiting. I learned to read, I learned to write and I learned that mom wanted to go home. I remember seeing her in tears after calling her mother. I was young, but overheard mom and dad arguing about the job, dad positive that it would eventually lead to a full time government position, the golden goose he was longing for.

My siblings were born in Maryland. I am in Maryland. Mom is in Maryland. She still lives in the same house they purchased after Dad landed the government job, and still pines away for Pennsylvania. I’ve had the chance to go back to New York, home for me, but at this moment it’s more important that I’m still by her side. It’s the tradition I’m really upholding, taking care of my family.

The bags are packed now
My upstate home is waiting
Tradition upheld


[accordion-item title=”Thanksgiving A Time Of Thankfulness! by Mary Perrin Scott”]
Thankfulness always surrounded
Thanksgiving celebrations
The table set; the food prepared
We gathered young and old
Our tradition evolved around
The fact we had no family near
We gathered those alone
New families in the neighborhood
Widows, widowers, divorcees
The invitation sent out
Quick replies rolled in
What to bring? What time to gather?
All sorted out, replies sent
Thanksgiving Day arrived
With much joy and laughter
Each one added their favorite
Cuisine to the holiday table
We cooked the turkey and gravy
Too many to sit at table
Scattered about the house were we
Every room overflowing with laughter
And the joy of being together
Yummy food followed by games
Scrabble the most popular
A walk around the block by
Those enticed outside
Followed by dessert of pies and cookies
Our celebration ended with thankfulness
Everyone parting ways
Fully fed with sustenance and love
Forty-two years of tradition
Warms my heart with memory!

How to keep a tradition
When no one is allowed in your home?
We cooked the turkey and gravy
Everyone handed their offering
In through the garage. We filled
containers to go and delivered
To those waiting in the garage
And down the driveway
Masks on and social distance of course
Glasses of wine in plastic cups
Placed with lots of space between
Let all have a socially safe time before
Heading home to eat.
A different year for sure
But satisfying to all!


[accordion-item title=”Kinehora by Ellen Rocco”]
This is the word I say whenever I think things are going well. It’s a basic Jewish tradition to avoid tempting fate.

If I hear myself saying, “no one I know has died this year,” I immediately say kinehora or I know–I mean I KNOW–I’ll get a call from a cousin or friend about a funeral. I use it most often when I hear myself even mildly boasting. Not smart. You know, G_d will get you. (That’s another tradition, by the way–never writing or saying G_d’s name in full.)

Kinehora roughly translates to “no evil eye”–and the wisdom to protect against the evil eye is found in most cultures. Maybe you say “knock on wood” or toss a bit of salt over your left shoulder if you spill salt (but also if you tempt fate). An old Italian lady I knew spit every time she told someone about how well her grandchildren were doing.

You may think of this as superstition, but I think of it as a simple antidote to hubris, to taking anything for granted, and to thinking that a mere mortal really has any power over the force of nature or any other higher power.


[accordion-item title=”Lifeguard by Diane Kendall Stevens”]
For three summers I’d throw shorts and a t-shirt on over my tank suit, slide on sunglasses, and walk down to the YMCA in my Ohio small town. I’d pass the neighborhood homes, the high school, the football stadium where I once played in the high school band, the Y tennis courts, and the refreshment stand where my friends worked. Already hot from the Ohio sun, I’d chat with staff at the desk, sign my time sheet in the back room, and head out to the lifeguard chair. I’d climb the ladder on the white chair, throw my towel beneath the seat, smear on suntan lotion, and sit watching.

Being a lifeguard felt like an assumption in my life, and possibly genetic expression. My mother had been a lifeguard, a camp waterfront director, and an Olympic training camp hopeful. Her sister had been a lifeguard, and her two daughters were swim team stars and lifeguards. My sister was a guard at the Y, and her daughters also became swim team stars and guards years later. Plugged ears, wet towels, and bleached out hair were our destiny.

The outdoor job had bonuses. Fresh air and a dip in the cool pool once an hour was heaven. I ended the summer tan and toned. But as a summer job, guarding meant nonexistent wages. Pay was less than a two dollars an hour. On a hot day, I could drink most of that away at the snack bar. If a rainy spell hung over mid-Ohio, I’d lose work. I’d spend hours watching little boys sneak a quick dunk of their friend and wonder if I were crazy not to waitress or work at the bank. I could always use new jeans or a coat for college. But for three years I’d end up back in the chair, watching for any hint of an accident to happen, like the other females sharing my DNA did.

One summer that accident happened, but not in my watch area. Each hour we rotated to another white chair, and this day I rotated out of the diving area into the mid-pool. The day was Ohio hot, temperatures in the mid 90s and the sun burning anyone without sunscreen. Noisy kids, moms, and retired folks filled the pool. I kept my eye on boys showing off to a group of giggling girls. A shrill whistle blew three short alarms to my left. The guard stood at her chair, gestured for help, and jumped in. Seconds later she pulled a lifeless figure to the side and began the life-saving measures we had practiced. His body, white and pasty without breath in his lungs, slowly returned to normal color. Another child had innocently jumped off the board onto him and he had gone unnoticed near the bottom for precious minutes. A few more and the Y would have had its first tragedy. The incident shook me.

No longer was lifeguarding a simple summer college job. We were protecting lives, including the lives of playful, vulnerable children. The summer weeks at the pool became my bildungsroman, my time of coming of age, written in chlorine and wet bathing suits. My boyfriend broke up with me and the Y tennis courts where we played became a tearful reminder of his faithlessness. I had my first professional scolding when my boss reprimanded me for appearing distracted at my seat (it was probably true, that sun was a dehydrating killer). Worse yet, lifeguards were targets for male attention. One man asked me out while his wife was in the hospital giving birth. A boss asked me for a date, drank too much, and took me back to the medical room (I held my own). A high school football player in a thoughtless, impulsive moment, climbed up my ladder and grasped and jiggled my breasts. He was summarily kicked off the football team for his senior year when I reported the incident.

Still, the summers at the Y were a crucible for learning about life as a lifeguard and a woman. I watched one mother with her little boy splashing in the toddler area and knew that motherhood needed to be in my life ahead. I learned that men, included bosses, should be well vetted. I discovered sunscreen is a necessary precaution and friends make any job and life itself survivable. One Y friend became a life-long friend, spanning decades of college, marriage, kids, and now grandkids.

Most of all, I learned what it meant to follow in the tradition of the women in my family. The women swimmers and lifeguards in my family are strong in body, endurance, commitment, and patience. I think those skills were honed in the lifeguard chairs.



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