click here to return to Beginning, or here to go to my Home Page; or, select one of these individual sketches: My Hospital, Birthday, and Birth Day // When I Stopped Clicking My Cup // Plow Horses // WWII: Faint Memories // First Flight // Photographic Memory // At Grandma Pratt's // Pets // They Had to Build Me a Room // Taught to Bathe // 1 Bathroom, 5 Women, 2 Men // There Were Worlds Under Bushes // I Stole from My Mother // I Saved My House from Burning Down // I Painted My White House Black // Slinky Made Me Do It // Ice Cream Memories // Observing Adults // Snow Tunnels // 1st Day at St. Columba // School Trauma // Second-grade Truth // Bee and Tongue Trauma // Appendicitis & I Love Lucy // Famous Big-Stick Ambush // The Ragman // I Loved to Climb Trees // Play War // My Glider Glided Forever // Front-Porch Marble Races // Knocked Out by a Calf, kind of // Threshing and ... // Riverbed Adventures // Take Me to the Fair // Lump // Bullies // Honeybee Invasion // Circus Watch // I Can't Sing // One-o-Cat // Coca-Cola Crime // Country Kids, City Kids // Flunk into Depression // Spring Break // About Football // Departing Child // Burden of Peace // Planner Defines His Job // Flipflops // Stolen Mayan Artifact // Comfortable Place: Hungary // Nicaragua 2000 // Prospects of Return // Good Day // Shirt-Off-My-Back // Eating Habits // Rubber-Band Boats // Stupidest Act //
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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Jerry's Arrow: Stupidest Thing I've Ever Done--though I and It Did Nothing.

This remains a difficult story to write:

I feel certain that many would say I am in denial as to what is truly the stupidest thing I have ever done. They may be right, but I am not in denial about a few minutes that took me from Van Buren Avenue near the front of my house on the south side of our block to the front of a house along Minnehaha Avenue that runs along the north side of the block. I think of how those minutes, really an instant, could have radically changed my life.

It was a summer day (probably during a rubber-band-boat summer). Jerry Weiman came by my house with something I had not seen in his hands before: a bow-and-arrow. Not a toy, the bow was small enough for a big kid to use—the kind that was probably used for recreational target shooting. I had never seen anybody shoot arrows at targets, but this bow fit images I had seen in ads and in the sports department of department stores.

Jerry had only one arrow with him. The arrowhead was a simple, metal cylinder wrapping the end of the arrow and finishing in a point. It could easily penetrate a straw bale behind a target. Without knowing, I feared it could also penetrate a person or pet.

I now know that at Agincourt France in 1415, the longbows wielded by English archers commanded by Henry V shot arrows (with arrowheads of lethal intent) that descended with devastating effect upon a numerically superior French army. The longbow and this stunning English victory radically changing the tactics and technology of warfare.

What does one do with a bow-and-arrow on a city block of small yards and no obvious targets? There was the obvious scientific and engineering question: How high and far could the arrow fly? I'd like to write that I voiced my concern for the dangers in conducting any such experiment, but I know I did not. Rather, I fully joined in Jerry's enthusiasm and scientific curiosity, though I was too skittish to vie for the opportunity to be bowman. I would observe.

Jerry tried a preliminary experiment right where we stood. Pulling the bowstring back only a small amount he shot the arrow straight up. Well, not so straight as to force us to scurry for our lives, but straight enough that we watched it ascend, stall, reverse, descend and embed itself in some lawn not distant. Wow! We wondered aloud if it could fly all the way up over the houses on this Van Buren side of the block, over the garages along the alley, over the houses on the far side and land somewhere along Minnehaha.

I know that speculation brought me this thought: I should run over to Minnehaha, make sure nobody is in harm's way, tell Jerry, then try to watch the the arrow come down. Yet, I knew distance and obstacles would make it impossible for me to communicate a shout of “all clear!” or “wait!”. We would need at least third friend to do it right. Jerry probably did the same silent calculation in his head. In any case, with little hesitation, I stood back. Jerry pulled the bowstring back as far as he could, aimed the arrow skyward and nothward, and--in a fate-testing-instant--let go the string.

Scared, excited, scientifically curious? Whichever, we raced through my backyard, across the alley, and through a side yard between houses along Minnehaha. I'd swear (despite knowing myself to be very wrong) that we went so fast and the arrow went so high that we were almost in danger of arriving at the same place and time. I do know that, as I cleared the houses so I could see left-right-and-ahead, my first feeling was profound relief: there was not a person in sight--alive nor dead. After a deep breath we could then look for the arrow.  I think, without saying so, we both had accepted that (absent killing somebody) the arrow's most likely fate was to be forever lost on the roof of a house or in the high branches of an elm tree along Minnehaha.

No. There it was, not 20 steps to our left. The arrow stood straight, embedded a few inches into the sod of the small front yard between house and sidewalk. Able now to toss off unspoken fear, we jumped and revelled at the success of our experiment and Jerry's good aim.

Jerry pulled the arrow from the ground. As we walked back through the side yard of unknowing neighbors we shared excitement and incredulity. We did not linger in the alley. Jerry went home with his bow and his arrow. We would mention the adventure to our friend Genie, but we did not spread the story far. Seldom did we speak of it. I never saw Jerry's bow-and-arrow again.

This remains a difficult story to write:
about an arrow that did nothing more than pierce a lawn;

about friends who did nothing more than a successful experiment

and nothing less than the stupidest thing they might ever do.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Friday, December 7, 2018

We Made Rubber-Band Boats, Tested Them on Como Lake, and then One Fathers' Day

One summer (perhaps two), my friends Genie Forcier, Jerry Weiman and I got fascinated with the making and launching of rubber-band boats.
Correction: In St. Paul then and perhaps now we called them “binders,” not “rubber-bands.” It wasn't until I was in downtown Chicago walking between train stations on a trip home from from college that I found that nobody outside St. Paul seemed to have a clue as to what what a “binder” or even "rubber binder" was. At a Woolworth's or some store of that ilk, they showed me all kinds of 3-ring and 2-ring binders and notebooks and folders and book covers, but I had to spot my desired binders on my own. They looked at me like I had come in from Mars. “Those are rubber bands! “  In any case, Genie, Jerry and I made “binder boats.” Here I'll call them “rubber-band boats” to ease your confusion.
We each made the boats on our own in our basement or garage. I would take the soft-but-thick-enough wood at the end of an orange or peach crate and cut out a shape that resembled a boat as seen from above. The size varied, but I suppose six by ten inches might have been typical. From the not-pointed end I would cut out a rectangular notch slightly longer and wider than my paddle—a thinner, rectangle cut from the sides of my orange or peach crate. The motor, the rubber band, needs be anchored, so we would pound in a vertical nail half way along each side of the paddle-notch—far enough from each other to accommodate the several twists that would store the motor's potential energy until launch. The paddle would, of course, slide right out of the unwound rubber band—at first. We could ignore that problem however, because after many test windings and unwindings the rubber band had enough of a memory-twist to work with the paddle's natural buoyancy to keep us from losing the paddle when the engine played out.

The boat was now functionally complete. We would sometimes add a little paint, but usually no.
I don't remember how, but by some prearrangement Genie, Jerry and I would meet in the alley to walk the mile-plus to the little peninsula on the east side of Como Lake at Como Park.
On most trips we each had a brand-new boat, certain to work better than those taken on previous trips--or at least to look better in failure. The exception was Jerry's big boat. He made it from a scrap of plywood rather. About three times larger than our boats made from box-wood, with its rubber band cut from a bicycle inner-tube, it so outperformed our other boats that Jerry resisted taking a step backward in performance. He took that craft at least three times to Como.
We would walk onto the peninsula to launch-test our boats back toward the main shore. One of us would wind up his paddle, place his boat in the water, then release it. In typical cooperative-competitive way of friends we would cheer each other's success while quietly relishing every hint of our own boat's victory.
We did not relish the idea of walking into the lake to retrieve a boat dead in the water after its paddle stopped spinning, though I'm sure we risked it a few times. Como was not a swimming lake. Popular wisdom among all ages was that it was not “clean” and had “bloodsuckers” just waiting to feast on us. To avoid that fate, somewhere along the shore we could find a stick we hoped would be long enough to bring the errant boat to our feet.
Then, one day in early June of 1952, one month beyond my ninth birthday, as we prepared to leave Como Lake and walk back to our neighborhood, we and our fathers made it into history. Two clean-dressed adult men, intercepted us by the shore. One carried a writing pad, the other a camera. 

This clipping from the St. Paul Pioneer Press--Fathers' Day, June 21, 1953--tells all:

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Saturday, December 1, 2018

My Hospital, My First Birthday, My Birth

I have always said
(and I think this is true)
if I had an older brother
he would have no younger brother.

So it was
on May 4, 1943
as two of my sisters waited in my home-to-be,
(on Van Buren, six blocks away)
and two in my school-to-be
(Saint Columba, seven blocks away)
I arrived
at the Northern Pacific Benefit Association Hospital
on Charles Avenue,
Saint Paul,
the hospital I would visit again, again and again
with broken fingers,
evil appendix,
Osgood Slaughter,
gashed wrist,
and the like.

It is the place to which I ran from my front-porch steps
after I saw a terrible lightning bolt strike,
heard its boom.
The hospital chimney!
I ran at my top speed to see this brick giant.
Yes,it had a jagged, open rip from top to bottom.

It is hard to believe this memory,
but I see myself there standing alone,
as if I were first on scene,
mouth open to this destructive miracle by nature.

It is harder to believe another memory,
but I remember standing nearby,
a few years earlier--
propped by my dad's hand on the hood of his car.
My mother was in the hospital,
a patient
waving from a second-floor window.
She had to see her son on his first birthday.

I remember watching my dad disappear
around the front of the hospital.

I remember waiting, waiting
until he came back
to take me out of the car,
stand me on the hood,
and tell me to wave,

wave to that vague figure 
(behind a screen at a second-floor window ).
Dad assured me that was Mom.

:: :: ::

It always seemed normal
(and I know this to be untrue)
that my father’s railroad should put our hospital
where I could run to it,
walk to it,
whenever I needed it.
Once I went with a policeman in his car.
But that must be another story
so that this story can conclude:
I was born.

– – – – – – –

The “She had to see her son on his first birthday” line is, of course, not in the original memory. I was told this years later when I mentioned my memory to Mom. It is she who told me it was my first birthday. (Perhaps this got recorded in one of the Dad-Mom story-telling sessions of which I have audio recordings.) She said something like, “I told Pete I wanted to see my son on his first birthday.” It is easy for me to believe it was a birthday even though I don't remember that. I do wonder, however, if Mom had the number right. It's easier to believe that I would remember a fragment from my second birthday than my first. But, then I ask: if it were a later year, wouldn't she, in quoting herself, have called me “Bobby” rather than “my son.” If I had been two, wouldn't she have been relieved to have a few days away from me if I were in my “terrible-two stage? We shall never know. I know it was not my third birthday, for of that I have a memory that I long thought was my earliest. I burst into the kitchen from the back yard and asked Mom what she was doing. Her response, "I'm making your birthday cake." That is all I remember of that day, but I remember remembering it often.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Monday, November 19, 2018

Snow Tunnels and Kitchen Chairs: Fantasy of Youth, Practicality of Adulthood

for hours
and days
I would tunnel in snow,
carve out a frozen world
of passage way,
and igloo.
I would shovel snow into a large pile in the back yard, or make use of a pile my father had made as he shoveled out the alley behind our garage. I had friends, but this was my time to play alone. Seldom would those I did invite show necessary enthusiasm and endurance.
for lunch,
stiff wool mittens or jersey gloves
to the radiator
where melting balls of snow
turn today's mittens
to limp and wet
and yesterday's
to warm and dry
to wear back out
after bowl of soup
for afternoon tunneling.
A coal shovel was the tool no bigger than I, but big enough to make my work productive. I would do finer work with bare hand or coffee can, but my work was never fine enough.
I never made the perfect tunnel,
nor perfect igloo,
nor finished castle.
for so long
as cold and snow and mittens held,
I went out most days to try.
Some days I overworked my quota of dry clothes and mittens. Some days there was too little snow, or the Minnesota cold was too bitter. I did not object when my mother bade me stay in.
Perfection came imagined
during inside days
on bed or living-room rug.
I could play with toy figures
across snowfields visible only to me.
I could make believe my way
to architectural perfection:
snow walls carved thin
to let sun in
to glimmer
like cathedral window.
Outside imagination is different from inside imagination. Snow and cold are quite real. They were my immediate environment for a few months each year. My clumsy skills at tunneling were real but improving. I only need imagine that the world outside my snow tunnel was free of back doors leading to warm kitchens, hot bowls of soup and motherly protection.
During outside daydream time,
alone in a snow tunnel,
I would imagine my life
if real life included the tunnel.
How fun it would be
to be an expert
among people who live in snow.
When I grew big enough to be in fourth grade I found out about children who actually lived in the snow. They were Netsook and Klaya of Baffin Island, north of Canada and west of Greenland. I read about them in Visits In Other Lands, my 4th grade geography book at Saint Columba School. Yes, I had always remembered them, but, yes, I had forgotten the name of their book until my sister found a copy in an antique store during a visit to our home in Colorado. It had been her introduction to the world also, but she gave the book to me, sensing that I would treasure it and even read it again. This time around, I read the Foreword To The Teacher and discovered that these were imaginary children. The brother and sister in each chapter were created by the authors to give us an idea of different environments that challenge peoples of the earth and shape their cultures. In fourth grade I did not know these lofty goals, I only wished I could learn and use what these children knew to do.
I lived among people who look out
to snow, rain, fog, and darkness
from warm, bright kitchens.
In the world of my people, I often became bored with my figures and their perfect snow structures, or found myself satisfied with plans for tomorrow's tunnel. During such days I would spend hours under kitchen furniture.
Inside our kitchen
I became an expert in chairs.
Four wooden, high-back chairs
became cockpit, wings and fuselage.
I would build airplanes
and fly the sky.
My mother seemed content to work around my obstruction. Now, I realize that as long as I was under foot in my airplane she need not worry about what trouble I was making. Back then, I just knew she was patient and kind. Mostly, I did not notice her.
Kitchens require concentrated imagination.
Chairs look nothing like airplanes.
Linoleum floor is neither cloud nor sky.
Nor should there be radio,
hissing pots,
telephone rings,
nor sky-walking,
loud talking
visitor giants.
I am sure I spent more time in my kitchen airplane than in my backyard snow tunnels. The airplane was as good for a rainy day in summer as for a winter day that was too mild or too bitter.
I know I loved my kitchen-chair airplane.
I know I gave piloting more time than tunneling,
yet, I remember snow tunneling better
and miss it more.
When my daughters were four and six years old we lived in a house with a picnic table out back. This was an unusually snowy winter for the island of Martha's Vineyard. As the table became a mound of snow I saw an opportunity. My daughters could experience some of what I had experienced. I wanted to play again.
For my children,
I shoveled snow
on top of snow
on top of table,
a marvelous mound
for a marvelous igloo.
I tunneled part way in
before putting them and friends to tunneling.
I was out of scale
and a damper to fun.
From inside the house,
at a window,
I could watch,
catch a glimpse now and then
of their tunneling and their play.
It was my day for joy and envy.
That day came before our move west, and before rediscovery of Netsook and Klaya. In Colorado I discovered the joy of summer in the back country. For a long while I thought I would also enjoy snow camping. It would be fulfillment of my childhood fantasy. Away from back doors and warm kitchens, I could live for a few days each winter in and around a snow cave a snow tunnel I would make out of necessity in a real world of snow. I held to that fantasy of winter perfection until a friend reminded me that the winter night is fifteen hours of darkness. For Netsook and Klaya a winter day would be all night. Would they if they had a choice choose to spend even fifteen hours, night after night, in their igloo? That is not for me to know, but question alone was enough to make up my mind. I would learn how to make a snow cave for a real emergency, not fulfillment of fantasy.
a winter day,
among fantasy of youth
and practicality of adulthood,
I look out into cold and snow
wishing dining room chairs to be large enough
to be
for me
a good airplane.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 

Monday, February 12, 2018

My First Day of School at Saint Columba

The basement of Saint Columba School became the site of parish church services in 1948-49 while the old church was torn down and the new one built. My older sisters took me with them to the youth mass in the gymnasium while adults and their youngest children attended their mass in the auditorium. I presume Sunday mass took me into the building before my my first day of school which came at the end of summer in 1948, but of this gymnasium time I have only the vaguest of memories. The school was built around 1922seven years after the first parish church. I remember people speaking of how the parish built the school in two phases, with the original facing Blair and the addition facing Hamline. Yet, to me it was always one complete school building. I saw nothing obvious to distinguish the newer from the older. Even today, from the outside the facades give no clue to identify the addition. Only as an adult with some training in architecture did it become obvious to me that this two-phase construction created my strongest memory of my first day of school: the short-dark canyon of a passage through which I had to walk to make my passage from little-kid to school-kid.

For all the lifetime I could remember I had watched my sisters leave home and walk to Saint Columba School, three blocks away. From my front porch I had also watched high-school students walk by on their way to Wilson High School, a block away. “School” was an exotic place in the unknown. It seemed like forever till I would go. Then came the day.

I was as scared as I was excited when my sister, Mary, offered to walk me to school the morning of my first day. She was the obvious person to do so because of her close relationship with the kindergarten teacher. In the four years since her kindergarten year Mary had been using free time to assist Sister Agnes. Most days Mary went to school early and helped with tasks to prepare the kindergarten for the day. This first day, too, we left a little earlier than necessary. Mary walked me to school, lead me through the front door into this exotic place, took me by the hand, and lead me toward kindergarten and Sister Agnes.

 The ceilings were high, the hallways wide--wider still in the entry area. I believe Mary gave me a brief introduction to what I was seeing. She might have told me that on the left near the entrance was a fourth-grade classroom. She had been in fourth grade the year before. On the right was  the principal's office and a wide stairway to the second floor where the firth, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders had their classrooms. 

I don't know if it was that moment of entry or in the hours after that I had two ominous thoughts. I realized I had entered a place, Saint Columba, which would require almost two more of my lifetimes before allowing me to leave and go on to high school. I took no consolation in the other thought: it would take only one more lifetime to climb that stairway to fifth grade. 

It must have been an exciting morning for Mary as well. I see now that after she took me to Sister Agnes, Mary would begin her daily climbs to the second floor. She entered fifth grade. I'm sure I was too self-absorbed that day to appreciate the excitement of her passage up to the big-kid-world on the second floor.

From the entry, with only a small adjustment to our path, Mary and I were lined up to enter the long hallway leading to the kindergarten which was appended off the far end. That hallway has classrooms only on its western side. Huge windows on the east side of the hallway allow morning sun to stream in. Inviting? Yes! Yet, I suddenly I found myself holding Mary's hand tightly; we had entered an intimidating, dark, canyon of a passage. We had to pass through this to enter the light beyond. The fear part of my morning's emotions swelled up. I felt even smaller than I was; had no words to describe my feelings. I waited until Mary's 80th birthday to tell her this story.

I now know that that dark, narrow passage existed because the school's planners wanted to connect the addition to the original by robbing the connecting hallway from only one classroom rather than two. After all, it was only a short distance. I'm sure the hallway was wide enough to satisfy the fire department and the lighting was adequate in the evening. However, in the morning, because it lead from a broad, bright entry to a corridor bathed in morning light, the windowless passage seemed too long, too narrow, and too dark. It took Mary only a few seconds to lead me through the passage to my new life beyond. Now, those few, anxious seconds are a pleasant memory that calls for humility. 

Had it not been for the dark passage, I might not remember the next moment when I stood hand-in-hand with my big sister as she introduced me to my teacher. I remember the smile in Mary's voice and the smile on Sister Agnes' face. I felt special because of my sister's special relationship with my teacher.  

That relationship got me into another space in the school—not an intimidating space, but rather a place of wonder. I don't know how closely this opportunity ties to my first morning of school. It could have been hours, days, or weeks later. Mary had a task to do for Sister Agnes that required her to work in the supply room; she took me along. The supply room was off limits to most students. It was the northern half of what remained of the classroom that had to be narrowed to create the dark hallway. This room had shelves, books, supplies, phonograph, movie projector, work table, counter, and more. It fascinated me. I believe Mary's task included having to cut up some paper. I know it is the first first time in my life I saw a paper cutter--a marvelous tool made exciting by the obvious risks one takes when using it. 

Being too young to be of much help, I looked around at things I had never seen before. What I most remember is the globe sitting on a table. I remember this because of my embarrassment months (I hope not years) later when I realized how stupid was my interpretation of what I was seeing. Mary told me it was the earth where we live. I couldn't figure it out and was too proud to say so. I fully understood it was just a model of the real thing, but I assumed we lived inside such a globe, not on it. After all, our blue sky does look like the kind of dome I could image if I were inside such a globe.

In short, my education began with safe passage through a dark hallway, a warm introduction to my first teacher, and a privileged entry into the supply room from which education must spring—all of this in the safe hold of my sister's hand.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Childhood Pets

There was Nickle, the cat with a hole in his neck.

Nickle lives among my earliest memories. I have less memory of Cookie Roe, the kitten who joined the household after Nickle was gone. I do not know if Nickle arrived to the family before or after I arrived. Nor do I remember him without a gaping hole in his neck. My parents told me a rat had likely bitten Nickle during one of his many tom-cat outings through the night, but nobody knew for sure. For me, Nickle was simply a cat with a hole in his neck. I've asked older sisters, and they remember him more vaguely than I. Perhaps that is because none of them witnessed Nickle's traumatic departure. Only Mom and I were there. It was so traumatic that Mom vowed to never again call the 'pound', or 'humane society', or 'dog catcher', or 'animal rescue', or 'animal control', or MSPCA or whatever we called it at the time in Saint Paul. The only other pet my parents had reluctantly to 'put down' would die quickly by a bullet administered humanely by one of my uncles—and we did not have to witness that. I do not remember which pet that was.

Mom and Dad concluded that Nickle was never going to heal and the humane thing to do was to have him 'put to sleep'. Mom called the animal control people and asked them to pick up Nickle. A scruffy man drove up in a small panel-truck—the kind then used for deliveries of groceries and other small goods. When Mom gently handed Nickle to him at the front door, the man grabbed him roughly by the back of his injured neck and carried the terrified, screaming cat to the truck. The man struggled for several seconds to stuff our fighting, frightened cat into a gunny sack. The man won. He tied a knot (with Nickle now screaming and clawing at the sack from the inside), opened the back door of his panel-truck, threw Nickle in, and drove off down Van Buren Street. That's all I remember, but how can I forget. 

There was Buster, the dog who bit someone. 

We didn't have him long. He came from the farm, I believe, as a tiny pup. We said he was a Collie-Shepherd. Still more pup than dog, he apparently bit one of the Nelson boys who lived on the corner. I remember sitting on the curb with one of my older sisters as we pondered the fate of a dog who had bitten someone. Apparently he and we survived that test, but, not long after, Buster was gone from the household. He died. I believe he was hit by a car

There was Rusty the cat and his goldfish. 

We had goldfish off and on over the years. The ones I remember best, however, were the ones we had when we had a cat named Rusty. Rusty was one of those orange tabbies with some tiger-like markings. He and I spent a lot of time lying on the carpet near and under the table in the dining room. I loved to get my head of hair next to him as he was grooming. Almost always I could get him to give me his raspy-tounge treatment. It was not pleasant because the tongue was so rough, but I loved this bonding experience with Rusty nonetheless. What most endeared Rusty to the family, however, is his sitting up tall for long periods on top of the sewing machine cabinet where our two goldfish had their bowl. Occasionally, Rusty would raise his paw—poised as a statue sculpted in readiness to extract a fish. He never did extract a goldfish nor splash water around in an attempt to do so. We gradually relaxed and decided Rusty was not a competent fisherman. He and his goldfish became a source of fascination and entertainment. 

There was Rusty the dog and another cat.  

We had a fine cat—whose name I do not remember—when Rusty the dog came into our lives. First, A stray, golden cocker-spaniel-type dog showed up and adopted us for several days. Dad was adamantly opposed to our having a dog. (I later learned during the running of errands together around town that Dad had a fear the of dogs.) Also, we all knew the dog might have a real home. So, we got the him to abandon us. Likely we went off for a long weekend to Wisconsin. Problem solved.

A few days later, however, an ad for “found dog” appeared in our newspaper posted by near-neighbors about five blocks away. We got Dad to soften enough for us to go check out the dog. Was he the same dog? We were not 100 percent sure, but those neighbors urged us (the 3 or 4 kids who were our family's investigation committee) to take him home. We did, and Dad finally gave in on the condition there would be no feeding of the dog from the table while we ate. We named him Rusty.

Rusty was a vainglorious, cowardly, blowhard. When he saw our cat perched on the folded-up steps of our kitchen step-stool, he charged and barked angrily until the cat's claw sent him away with a muffled whimper. Rusty was not about to admit that the cat was going to win this contest of primacy in our household, so he would pretend to harass the cat—from a safe distance.

After that cat-dog contest mellowed, there came the question of food from the table. It took six of us several suppers to figure out why Rusty was always begging for food near Dad. The two bluffers had found each other. Dad would slip Rusty some tidbits under the table “while nobody was looking.”

We had Rusty longer than any other pet. His personality did not change. I was a teenager. There was no longer a cat in the family. One summer day, Rusty went out from our back door as a neighbor's cat paraded through our back yard. Rusty roared out at full chase. The cat ran even faster for safety to the top of our 3-foot, wire fence. I presumed the cat was headed for the security of the neighbor's yard. Rusty presumed the same, because he unnecessarily continued charging toward the fence--apparently to flaunt his victory . The cat, however, stopped at the top of the fence and turned around to face Rusty who skidded to a halt as best he good. Then, Rusty apparently wanted to convince me and himself that he had gone blind. With the cat on the fence just a few feet in front of him, he started looking up, down, and around for the cat. Eventually, with the cat still clearly visible sitting on the fence, Rusty turned and walked away seemingly telling himself and me that he had shown that cat, wherever he was, who was boss. After a few more moments, the cat seemed to be bored and crawled down the far side of the fence—in no hurry. 

There was Peepers the parakeet.  

Another pet who always got the best of Rusty was Peepers, the parakeet. He was often free from his cage and would fly from a mirror in the front hall to his cage in the dining room or to my mother's glasses when she was sitting on the couch in the living room. His flight trajectory always took him down to a level where Rusty could jump and try to grab him out of the air with his mouth. We swore that sometimes Peepers actually flew through that mouth. It always ended the same way, Rusty landed unceremoniously on his side or backside on the floor, and Peepers wound up peeping from his next perch.

           I remember Rusty the dog and his Peepers
                as I do
           Rusty the cat and his goldfish
               for their

Among us kids, Judy was most attached to Peepers. She was with Mom and Dad and me as we drove east across Canada to deliver me to my first year of College at Dartmouth in New Hampshire. From a motel along the way we called home and found out the Peepers had died quietly in his cage. Perhaps because of the timing, I remember well that feeling of loss.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Relatives Found in Hungary

Instructions To A Stranger

November 1

At the train station, leaving the city,
buy two long-stem roses.
Get to the graveyard about noon.
Look first for the grave of your grandfather's family.
You found it last year,
when you arrived,
found two graves,
and left —speaking to nobody.
Search for 15 minutes
(watched by curious eyes).
Search, but fail to find.
Then walk to the grave that you know you can find,
the grave of your grandmother's family.
In a crack next to the headstone
leave one rose.
Write a message on your business card;
attach it to the rose.

“ Messe élün. Közel érzünk.”

(We live afar; we feel close.)
From the headstone write down
names, dates of birth, dates of death.
Write them in the notebook
where you carefully copied someone else's research:
your connections
to the residents of both graves,
your possible connections
to unknown, unnamed people
who might reside in town today.
(So many had gone to America.)
Your notebook has what you have copied
but cannot remember.
Hold the notebook and second rose in your left hand
as you walk again to find the other grave.
By now you are much noticed in the graveyard.
It is alive with people tending to graves
—praying over them.
You cannot help but stand out.
Your walking in lost circles
adds to whatever else makes you different.
First one man, then another, tries to help you.
They do not know the grave.
Two women ask if they can help.
After some discussion
(patient with your poor speech)
they cannot.
Walk on.
Walk around.
Now, stop.
Look down
to your left hand.
It holds the rose
—only the rose.
Not only have you lost the grave,
but you have lost your notebook,
and, with it,
all the facts
that connect you to this graveyard
—to this town.
Feel the weight of your heart.
Yet, pause.
Left with no ulterior motive,
look up;
accept, for a moment,
the aesthetic and emotional beauty
of this scene that surrounds you.
You must walk again past those who tried to help.
Feel as incompetent as you are conspicuous.
Confess your loss to them
in words they may or may not understand.
Stop, alone,
to gather your thought.
Feel a tug at your sleeve.
Look down
to your left.
A woman stands there.
She says,

           “ You are looking for the Péterné grave? I can help you. Follow me.”
She walks to where the grave should have been.
How did you miss it?
At the Péterné grave
the woman excuses herself.
She goes to work on one of her family graves.
Make polite introductions to three other women
working at the grave just to the north.
Kneel down
to find the ground freshly tilled,
new flowers planted,
votive candles interspersed.
Stick the rose into the earth
—again, with your card
—again with your message.
The women at the grave to the north speak to you.
They say they know your family.
Go to number 24
on the road to the north.
Talk to Anna.
At least, you think that is what they said.
Why not go?
You have no other plans.

Stop briefly at the town church.
(Your grandparents must have been baptized here.)
As you cross the Ikva River bridge
and turn to walk the road to the north,
notice the house numbers.
They go up one side and down the other
—as if to say,

“ Town will grow no further in this direction!”
Ring the bell at number 24.
The house has no front door.
Through a slot in the iron gate
see a solid woman step onto the side porch
—fifteen feet beyond.
Hear her solid voice ask what you want.
Try to say,

“ I am from America, people in the graveyard say we may be relatives.”
She opens the gate and invites you in.
Sit at her kitchen table to talk.
Without your notebook
you cannot figure out how you might be family,
but you both feel that you must be.
She knows things that you had forgotten
about your grandfather and great uncles in America.
Anna is probably of your father's generation.
Talk, as she bakes cookies and other sweet things.
You understand little of what she says.
Strain to connect bits and pieces
to keep up the pretense of conversation.
She says you should talk with Zoli,
but you are not sure why.
He comes from Budapest tomorrow.
When László appears,
(Anna's husband)
snap a picture.
After ninety minutes,
leave pleased and exhausted.
Leave with their smiles and well-wishes
—a stranger leaving a welcoming home.

From Anna's home
walk back across the Ikva,
past the church,
back to the graveyard.
Try again;
fail again to find your notebook.
Revisit your family graves.
pause on a walled embankment.
Pause for twenty minutes of reverent silence.
Appreciate the scene before you.
Lighted candles,
they subordinate in beauty to the flowers
as dusk begins;
they dominate the beauty
as night descends.
People become shadows,
walking among graves.
How did you earn the privilege to be here?
What fortune
that life leads you to this place
for these moments!
Your loss of a notebook,
your loss of facts
seems fair trade
for silent participation in this evening.

You are sleepy,
sure that you walked ten miles today
by the time you get back to your room
in the pensión of the neighboring village.
You neglected to buy food.
After a glass of wine in the bar below the pensión,
go to bed early—
satisfied that you have spent well
the best day you may ever spend
in the town of your grandparents. 

November 2

Morning is cool and overcast
—a good day for a walk.

Walk north.
Trucks come by in the opposite direction
taking sugar beets to the plant near the pensión.
A farmer drives his team into a field,
two beautiful horses,
a load of manure.
After three miles of farm land
see new houses,
the old village,
and finally the Eszterházy palace.
Follow the palace's curved wall to the top of the curve.
See the main gate
and, beyond,
the oval entry yard and grand stairway.
A group of people head into a door near the stairway.
This has to be a tour group,
so hurry forward to join it.
Notice, as you pay for your ticket;
this is a group of very senior citizens.
Some have difficulty walking.
One young woman is along to manage the group.
Tie cloth slippers over your shoes
and shuffle off with your group when a guide appears.
The guide cracks little jokes that make them laugh,
but you do not understand.
A sheet of English-language notes
helps you understand what you see:
old furniture,
ceramic stoves,
Franz Joseph Haydn did much of his work here.
Think that you hear the guide tell a story
about the Nazis who took away a fortune of gold
by removing gilding from walls and ornament.

After the tour,
near the gate,
the young woman stands outside the restrooms
weighted down by purses given to her safekeeping.
Trade smiles with her.
Almost stop to attempt a chat,
but go on.

Turn west out of the palace
—away from whence you came.
Then turn south
on the road to your grandparent's town.
When you get to the railroad line,
do not continue past Anna's house;
walk west to the depot
—one stop away from your pensión.
You arrived here last year
and want to walk again from the depot into town.
Last year that walk took you into the heart of a festival
—into the crowd at the mass behind the chapel.
Today at the chapel,
see just one woman raking leaves.
A new pensión-restaurant has opened across the street.
Go in to ask about the prices.
It is almost noon.
Tired and hungry,
be tempted to stay and eat,
but go on.

Want to eat at the little cafe up the road.
You ate a warm sandwich there last year.
Walk in.
It is open, but empty
—no customer, no attendant.
Want to sit down and wait,
but go on.

Walk past the chapel and new pensión
toward the center of town.
Cross the Ikva
toward the church and the turn to the graveyard.
But, notice a house along the way.
See the coffee and pastry shop in its basement.
Remember that you have walked by before
—this year and last.
Amico is the name on the sign.
Go slowly on by
—along the railing to the stairway down.
Feel a little sorry for yourself
after this morning's long walk.
Say to yourself,

“ I should eat some good food,
but, after this much exercise,
coffee and sweets won't hurt me.”
The window to the Amico has curtains.
You cannot see
to tell if it is open, or full, or empty,
or what the people inside are like.
You seldom go down into such places;
there is no graceful way to exit
when you find yourself where you do not want to be.
Walk some steps back.
Go down the stairs.
Open the door.
There are only two tables,
each with a young man drinking coffee.
The place looks pleasant.
Pleasant smiles come from women behind the counter
—mother and daughter.
Out loud, remark,

“ There is no free table!”
But go on in.

You are committed
—also tired and hungry.
Order a dobos torta (layered cake) and a coffee.
The two men have moved now to one table.
Thank them kindly and sit at the other.
The older woman leaves into the back room.
The younger woman quickly serves the torta and coffee.
Start to enjoy your treat
when a man appears behind the counter.
He asks,

           “ Do you have something to ask me?”
Quite puzzled, say,
“ No, I am just here to enjoy a torta and coffee.”
He then says,
           “ Well, I have something to ask you. Is this yours?”
He holds up your lost notebook. 

Sit dumbfounded.
He asks if someone sent you to them
and is surprised when you manage to say, no.
At a loss for words and ideas, just say,

“ I don't believe this! I am so fortunate.”
He says,
           “ It is a small world.”
“ I don't believe this! I am so fortunate.”
           “ It is a small world.”
“ I don't believe this! I am so fortunate.”

They found the notebook
while you were still in the graveyard.
They debated;
should they approach you as likely owner?
Now they joke;
the women had been right.
His eighty-year-old widowed mother-in-law appears.
She sits down,
tries to help,
but does not remember your family.
Meanwhile, the man,
his name is Pál,
has called an acquaintance, Gyula.

           “ He expects you in twenty minutes. You must go see him.”
Finish your cake and coffee.

Still dumbfounded,
set off to Gyula's house.
Notice immediately
that you took a picture of this house
last year when you walked by.
Over another cup of coffee
meet two lively people,
now friends,
but, as best you can tell,
He has your last name.
Like you, his father is Péter.
Perhaps his great grandfather is Jozsef or Andras,
son of your ancestors, Péter and Agnes,
but, perhaps more likely, no.
What a pleasant hour!

Things are going so well,
feel strangely at home as you leave Gyula's.
Why not go look for old maps at the town hall?
It sits across from the church.
You won't find any maps,
but find there, by chance,
someone to open an office
to sell you the recently published town history.
He is patient with your stumbling language
and with your vague requests,
though he was obviously in a hurry
when he stopped to help you in the hallway.
Say goodbye,
but feel indebted.
Turn back to ask his name.
He takes your new book and points.
Of course,
today you should expect it;
he is the author.

Completely satisfied with your day,
head toward the store across the Ikva.
This evening you want some food and drink.
Passing the library,
feeling ever more at home,
stop for a haltingly pleasant chat with the librarian.
She happens to be reading her copy of the town history,
impressed that you just spoke with the author.

At the ABC store, buy:
      Villanyi merlot,
      kolbász sausage,
     and crackers.

Back across the Ikva,
past the Amico, the church, and graveyard,
your good-day's walk,
(far longer than yesterday's)
ends at the pensión.
The woman at the desk hands you a message.
Anna has called.
The people from Budapest have arrived.
Feel tired, ready to call it a day.
But it would be discourteous to not call back.
the woman at the desk shoves the phone at you.
As best you can (coached by the desk clerk),
explain your good day to Anna.
Tell her that you are too tired.
You cannot walk back to her house.

“ But, thanks very much for everything.”
She offers Zoli's phone number.
Hand the phone and your journal to the desk clerk
when she sees you struggle to understand.
When you get the phone back,
begin a final goodbye
—looking at the new name in your journal.
Little bells tingle in your head;
this name is quite different from your own,
yet seems familiar.
Feel neither
the energy to change your mind,
nor the will to open your notebook.

“ Goodbye.”

In your room,
take off your shoes,
open the wine and crackers,
cut the sausage,
sit back to enjoy the end of a good day.
Open your new book.
See what you can understand of the town history
—too lazy to open your dictionary.
Feel pleased with the little you understand
and the more you can guess.
Drink half the bottle of merlot.
Eat most of the salty sausage
and most of the salty crackers.
Take a nap.
It is 4:45.

A little before 6:00,
still sleepy,
open your eyes.
Wake to a strong thirst
and to a feeling that you must peek at your notebook.
Drink three glasses of water
and call Anna.
Say that after a short nap you feel more energetic. 

“ Could I come over now?”
           “ Certainly.”

After a fast walk through the darkness
along now-familiar roads,
by 6:35 be back at Anna's gate.
She takes you to her kitchen
where they are eating cold-cuts
and the goodies that Anna baked yesterday.
Anna introduces you to Zoli.
As you shake hands, you must ask,

“ Were you born October 24, 1923?”
          “ Yes,” he replies.

Respond as quickly as you smile:

“ I am very pleased to meet you. You are my father's cousin.”

They pore over your notebook,
understanding little more than names and dates.
Zoli remembers a visit by your aunt
twenty years ago.
Anna brings her diagram of her own family.
She knows she and Zoli must be related
but is not sure how.
Find the connection
—between her diagram and your notebook.
All the while,
drink glass after glass of water.
Ask one question that you forgot to ask yesterday.
Who takes such good care of the family grave?
It is Anna.
Zoli and his wife make this trip every year
around All Saints Day,
spend a few days with Anna,
and help decorate the grave.
They praise Anna.
She did not know how she is related,
yet she tends your family grave.
Wish also to give praise,
but say only,

“ Thank you!”
More than ever,
your minimal skill in their language
seems a dull pebble
in a river of emotion and experience.
Anna sends you off with a package of her cookies.
Zoli drives you to the pensión.
After a firm hand-to-hand, hand-to-shoulder handshake
your day is over.

November 3

As you wait in a cool morning's sun for the 7:10 train,
write instructions to a stranger,
a stranger who must come on the first of November,
who must, after a two-day walk, go on.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Peace Corps, Nicaragua, September-December 2000

by Marney and Bob Komives

Mid September, 2000 

We adjust to the stifling heat, thuge, powerful thunderstorms, findi ur way around the city. We enjoy the 4-day holiday weekend. Thursday was celebration of Battle of San Jacinto and Friday was Independence Day.

After studying up all the materials on Disaster Preparedness from the previous Crisis Corps volunteer on Wednesday and Thursday, we took off on a Microbus toward Granada, the lovely colonial city south of Managua that sits on the huge Lake Nicaragua. We stayed at a hospedaje (A Little Peace of Heaven) run by a former Peace Corps volunteer who just liked it and stayed here after her service. We walked miles around the town and along the lake through a nice park filled with restaurants and Nicaragua families enjoying the day by the lake. The smells, sights, and sounds (people singing, horse carts clopping thru town, music coming out of houses, street vendors hawking wares, buses are familiar to our other Central America experiences.

The most amazing coincidence occurred on Saturday night in front of the TV where we were staying. While catching Amy Van Dyken in her relay on the Olympics-- during the ads we were flipping the channels and came to the Discovery channel in Spanish and saw footage of the Fort Collins flood on a program about desastres. Couldn't believe far from home yet so near. Also over the weekend we kept running into PC volunteers --145 now in Nicaragua-- and had ample opportunity to hear about their experiences and frustrations and to explore their interest in disaster preparedness training for their communities. It has been a productive weekend in figuring out how things work here. We are loving gallo pinto --rice and beans-- cold showers to cool us off, bouganvilla in bloom, and the warmth of the volunteers and Peace Corps staff. It feels as if the 33 years since our last Peace Corps experience has collapsed. The more it has changed, the more it remains the same. --off to a medical meeting and then out to our site to find a place to live and to meet the defensa civil folks.

Late September

We sweat our way around the pacific coast; we see and experience worse conditions than we had in Guatemala and Costa Rica. Yet, the people have been good, both the Nicaraguans and the Peace Corps.

We discovered yesterday that the job we were sent here to do is being done better than we could do it by Save The Children, an organization using funds from USAID to help communities with disaster preparedness. We look to find a role. In this region it may be to get the few volunteers in the area involved with the Save The Children effort if the individual volunteers wish to. We could support them in various ways. In another region, in the mountains of the North where we hope to visit next week, there are many volunteers and we are not sure of the status of programs in other agencies. Perhaps there is more need/opportunity for us to mount workshops there --while training interested volunteers.

Before we had evaluated the need here we had contracted for a primitive two room apartment at a nice little house in El Viejo, down the road from Chinandega. We move in today. We do not know how much we will be here, but it will feel good to be out of our luggage and into a space we can call our own. Our commitment to the space is a month. the woman, Veronica, who rented it to us is very nice. There are talkative parrots, and we are on the last block of the street that is paved with cement pavers. 

For the past three nights we have stayed with a new Peace Corps volunteer in his more spacious place on around the corner on an unpaved street. We have managed to sleep in hammocks, a new experience for us. Greg, the volunteer, is from the Los Angeles area and will work on small business projects. He's been a good host. Marney has cooked the food each night which he has enjoyed. 

Early to mid-October

All over El Viejo clothes hang on lines (including ours). Over the rainy weekend we were in Esteli, and on Monday went north to visit Juanita, one of the volunteers in a very rural community that had the feel of El Rosario, our Peace Corps site. She has already begun with her community to do disaster preparedness and share experiences with us. This will be invaluable as we head out.

We decided to move to the North, to Ocotal, to have better access to volunteers who are interested in pursuing disaster preparedness. We hope to form a team that can continue the training after this project ends. It was a hard decision, but with time so short the commuting is impractical and time consuming and the weather would not make it better. So off we go again on Monday. It has been hard to tell people in El Viejo that we are leaving so soon, but there are so few volunteers on the coast that it really does not seem to be time effective to work there.

We were sad to leave our new friends, on the coast, but they understood our situation. The last weekend, Veronica and Eric, the people we were renting from, took us to the coast for the day--black volcanic beaches...beautiful, but lots of evidence of hurricane damage to beach and buildings close by

You think that elections are complicated in the states. this week we read in the local paper that in order to get 16,966 packets of electoral materials around Nicaragua for the Nov. 5 alcalde elections this is what is needed: 4.325 horses or mules,180 motorboats, 938 large trucks, 773 pickups, 437 buses, 22 motorcycles, 2 helicopters, 22 tractors to open roads, and 2 oxcarts with their teams.

So think of those tractors opening roads as you go to vote. Democracy at work in Nicaragua!

We are now in a cooler clime in Ocotal, not far from the Honduras border. We are renting a nice room in a great house of a woman who has cake-baking business. She and her employees produce 50 cakes a day plus ones for special occasions. The room is comfortable, has kitchen use, place to wash clothes by hand of course, lovely patio with beautiful plants, and a desk for us to work.

We already have a couple of workshops scheduled. This area was heavily affected by Mitch so there seems to be lots of interest in Disaster Preparedness Training. We have our first course ready to go. Bob has designed a carrying case with some plastic pipe for our visual aides. We have purchased rubber boots for trekking up the muddy paths to small communities. So we are ready for our first course on Wednesday. We will probably have to refine it based on what goes over well and what flops. should be fun.We are excited to finally have a clear vision of our work. The PC volunteers are wonderful, committed young people and it is great to be around them. Makes us old folks feel even very young again. A great group.

October 21 

Another Saturday in Esteli at Cyber Place, surrounded by other volunteers here to send and receive mail. With the Peace Corps discount, cost is 35 Cordobas per hour —about three dollars. 

Our first course was Wenesday afternoon. in Quebrada Arriba. It is a small community of about 300 people. We hiked in about 45 minutes, straight up the steep path that the same community came down in the rains of Hurrican Mitch when they, on their own, in the middle of the night, evacuated everyone. They were proud to tell us that no one died in their community. We were accompanied by the PCV, John Rethans, who works with this community and 5 other volunteers who came along to observe to decide if they wanted to have us come to their sites. With such an audience we were, of course, rather anxious. But this worry evaporated when we began and saw how eager and responsive the commmunity is. They kept saying over and over how honored they felt that we had come into their community to share this information. 


The dinamica we had designed about getting the chicken, the fox, and the corn across a bad bridge to help an isolated community was a big hit. The community members played roles and really got into it. The point of this interactive exercise is to illustrate the importance of planning for emergencies. We return to the same community on Tuesday to assist them in making a community map which will graphically illustrate the danger areas and the community resources that now exist. Then again on Wednesday we return to do the final two hours on how to organize their emergency committee and choose tasks to start work. We were very impressed with the thought they have already given to their precarious situation living at the head of a steep watershed. We will build on what they have started.

We were so happy to finally be off the drawing board and out in the campo again to make it a reality. We got rave reviews from our audience of volunteers and now have plenty of courses scheduled to fill up all our time.

So time is moving quickly by and we finally feel productive and useful. Had a great Sunday at the small coffee farm owned by our landlady and the family that we lived with in El Viejo. They had left at 5 in the morning and drove 4-plus hours to come see us in our new place. So we all went up to the finca together. It is located about 4 km from the Honduras border. We barbecued chicken and had a great feed. The hurricane damage in that area is very visible and that whole section of road is being replaced. Riding in the back of a pickup with all the dust is a messy experience.

November 2

We completed our training at Quebrada Arriba. It ended as well as it started. We hope this community of special people in a difficult place in land and history. We hope this is not already the highlight of our experience. They will be hard to top. As we left the third meeting with them they were organizing their committee--something they could have put off till another meeting.

Our mapping session with them was especially fun. The school was closed so we walked up higher on a precarious trail to an adobe pre-school they built this past year. We were trailed by twenty kids. Our session which was to be with four or five of the community had at times twenty people watching as five or six moved stones around on a piece of paper to locate every house and feature of the community. The stones came to mind on the way up the trail and proved to be an excellent way to get reluctant people into a mapping process and to keep the ink off the paper until most features were in place. The final product is no art winner, but we were all proud. The final step is to map the hazards. They could not find a place within their steep confines that is not hazardous, so the map is covered with arrows and markings in irridecent yellow highlighter showing the directions of danger. 

Rio Abajo

We have since done the first class in two larger-but-still small communities. The volunteers, worried about a small turnout were overwhelmed by the 80 or more that showed up at each. The second, in Ducuale Grande, had room in a double classroom. The first, in Rio Abajo, had as many people outside as in. We encouraged them as gently as we could to select 25 or so to come to the final meeting, and dour or five to the mapping meetings. Both will happen next week. 

We will go to one. John Rethans, the volunteer from Quebrada Arriba will help the volunteer at Rio Abajo. We are trying to gradually delicate work to those who will be left when we leave.

We are in Managua yesterday and today, All Saints and All Souls day because they are not days to schedule meetings in the field. Work is intense from here. By the time we are done we hope to have trained 8 communities, held 22 sessions in communities, 1 session for existing Peace Corps Volunteers, 1 for those in training, and three days of training for our team of volunteers that will take over. We will see how it goes.

Probably the most exciting time we have had is the day of our last meeting in Quebrada Arriba. We got to the volunteers house as Bob realized he had left the backpack with all our materials on the bus. Thanks to a heroic woman truck driver, a cooperative taxi driver, and honest bus personnel Bob was back with bag in about 40 minutes, in plenty of time to head up to the meeting. The bus had gotten to the final destination. The truck driver let him off at the station to inquire. She took off. Bob hopped in a taxi. By the time we found the bus they told me the truck driver had taken the bag backto the station for me. She's awfully cute. Bob told John, (who has developed a crush on her from seeing her often during his hitchiking but never ridden with her) to give her some flowers and chocolates --at his expense.

Rain is tapering off as we head into the dry season. Coffee is appearing on the large concrete slabs they use to dry it after soaking off the outer layer.

Somehow the hospedaje we stay in today and stayed in our first nights in Managua seems to have improved as has the neighborhood around it. Of course, it is we who have changed. We notice more of the good and less of the disagreeable than we did a short time ago.

We had fun last Friday going to the site of two volunteers a couple of hours northeast from Ocotal, Ciudad Antigua. The church was built in 1611. Aparently pirates came up the Rio Coco and established Ocotal as a base from which to rob the church of its gold. On the way we passed, we are told, a place where Sandino ambushed and killed many US Marines early in the century. Of course, much of this North saw intense fighting in the 70s and 80s.

The occasion was an Olympiada for all the kids of the school. Several volunteers were there to help as 11 groups of students spent the morning going from station to station garnering points for their arbitrarily assigned countries. (Australia won.) Bob worked the one where kids had to run, pick up a bat, hold it to the ground and to their forehead and rotate around five times before drunkenly running back. Marney worked the 3-legged race which was intense work --tying untold pairs of legs together with cloth that was to fragile for the task.

It was so well organized by Melanie and Aimee the local volunteers. Teachers and kids seemed to have fun from the moment they marched in to the beat of their drums to their departure three hours later. Of course we did it all on a baseball field with permanent, small grandstand and 350 feet down the left field line to a high cement wall. It says something about the passion in the sport that the grandstand is enclosed in wire and the dugouts are really farouts --located well beyond first and third base and out of danger from the crowd. 

November 20

Hi all and very happy Thanksgivings to you all. We hesitate to get excited about our homecoming too soon as we fear it will slow us down and we have much to do to wrap everything up neatly here.

By Friday last week we had completed courses in 5 communities (2 to 3 3-hour sessions in each) and were warmly received in all by the volunteers and the community participants. One, Ducuale Grande, is a community with a 10-year-old women's pottery cooperative and our last day there we walked out to the bus with great recuerdos. In Ducuale Grande and in Meme Mckee's site, El Porcal, we discovered some talented individuals who did beautiful jobs on the community maps they made in both places. The detail was incredible and as they presented them to the rest of the community, they were so proud as well they should be. The community maps are used to record the risk areas for emergencies and the community resources that can be used in an emergency. People are adding each family's house, name, and in El Porcal the drawer even put the adobe houses in red and the block houses in blue (red indicating more danger for collapse after continuing rains). We will photograph some of these maps to bring home with us. The dinamicas (situations that involve the community members playing roles) have been especially well received. 60 % of the people do not read or write so this gives us another teaching tool for the key points. All in all, we have just been having so much fun --something we had not anticipated, but delighted it has turned out this way.

So today we are starting the all volunteer conference which happens once a year. A nice hotel across from the airport in Managua. All the volunteers who want to come can participate. There will be conference sessions of which we are giving one tomorrow on our Disaster Preparedness courses, and lots of socializing. It will be a nice time for us to see some folks for the last time before we leave. 

Adi a Peace Corps Volunteer (who lived in the house we lived in) and his new Nica wife Erenia leave for Pittsburgh tomorrow- he has finished two years as a business volunteer. she is scared, speaks no English...I wish them well but think the adjustment will be a real challenge for them both. It is incredible the number of US-Nica marriages that have happened in the last three months. It has been interesting talking with volunteers about the dating scene.

We have almost simultaneously with US national elections had elections for alcaldes (mayors) here in Nicaragua. Given the historical election mess in the states (which we have followed in local papers and on Spanish-language CNN) it is interesting that they are still counting disputed votes here.

Other tidbits: Very early Sunday morning walk out to Pueblo Unido, a new community being built west of town --post Mitch. The families work on their houses on Sunday and it is all looking pretty nice. We had planned to help a friend work on her house, but her sister had a baby so she stayed at home to help. Another Saturday we went to a birthday party for the 2 yr old son of Gladys who works in the house where we live. Mothers and children seated around the sala, everyone served arroz con pollo and a refresco, music and some children dancing, a hired photographer took 3 pictures and then people left and the cake was not cut...maybe just for the family afterward. Bob was the only male and the 2 year old cried when his mom wanted him to have his picture taken with us. Our favorite Nica food so far is the nacatamal (much like the tamales that we all loved in Costa Rica) so we get them on Saturday nights at the fritangas (food cooked outside on barbecues) and savor them --corn masa with rice, veggies, pork and wrapped and steamed in banana leaves-- what a taste treat.

December 11

Our transportation has included the very efficient buses, Russian-model open trucks with shade roofs with benches on each side of the bed (oh yes, dust!). This system is amazingly reliable. Despite a few problems we had, we never stopped being impressed at the consistent on-time departures, and the more amazing on-time arrivals with the many stops and slow-downs along the way. We did pay $15 for a taxi to one site one day when the express bus we had planned to take told us they would not let us out on the highway. That is a reasonable policy for an express bus, but we had managed to work it out with others. It will feel very strange to drive a car and not think about schedules of buses. It has stopped raining in the north and the dust on the dirt roads and highways (still being repaired from Mitch) is in constant motion.

To celebrate Thanksgiving we decided to head south from the All Volunteer Conference to the Island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua for Thursday and Friday. We booked a cabin in a small resort where many volunteers take their parents. It was a beautiful warm, windy, blustery time with our comfortable cabin right on the shore and good food in the lodge 100 feet away. We are mostly relaxed while proofing the first printouts of our effort to get the hand-written course guide into a more compact and readable form. Marney took a long walk on the beach. We could have taken the bus all the way to the lodge, but we had been told correctly that it was faster and more pleasant to walk in the last three miles from a crossroads. We did, and it was beautiful, with tall Ceiba trees, banana plantations, a gentle rain, some sun, a stop for a coke, and a chance to use the backpack straps on our travel suitcases. It was a great arrival. We left on the 5:15 bus in the dark on Saturday morning and were back in Ocotal that night.

Three more training sites remained on our schedule, but we only got to two. 

We planned to split up and take two training teams out on our last two Mondays to do two sites on the same day --volunteers would assist and learn. However, the Sandinistas blacked our way out of town on Monday protesting the delay in the government declaring the winners in the municipal elections they knew they had won. We managed to reschedule one, Malaladera, for Monday the 4th and Tuesday the 5th. We both did part A on the 4th.

On Tuesday the 5th we did our emotional good-byes to everyone at our home in Ocotal. Marney took the 9:00 a.m. bus to Managua to prepare for our final official act, a talk on Wednesday the 6th to the volunteers about to finish training and go into the field. She also had to get things organized for resources we were to leave in the Peace Corps library. Bob took an earlier bus to Palacaguina and walked to Malaladera to do the mapping in the morning and part B workshop in the afternoon before heading to Esteli for the night and on to Managua on the morning of the 6th. He had a chance to say good-bye to some fine volunteers though he was distracted by having done less well than he had hoped going it alone and tired.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday the 29th our team of seven volunteers come for three days of training in Ocotal. Most had seen the pieces before. This was a chance to go over the details so they could do the course after we leave. They were pleasantly surprised when we presented them with a nice folder with all the modules printed up, diagrams inserted, and giving a general sense of professionalism to something that had seemed spontaneous. We had not expected to have the pieces in anything better than hand-printed form, but we found access to computers at a computer school in Ocotal and were able to get all the pieces typed in there, printed in Esteli, proofed on Ometepe, and printed again during a Tuesday trip by Bob to Esteli for that purpose. We put them up in a hotel in Ocotal, went over part of the course with them each morning, gave them some time to set up their follow-up plan, and went out each afternoon to the community of Dipilto Viejo, about half an hour north of Ocotal and close to Honduras.

Dipilto Viejo had been devastated by Hurricane Mitch. The turnout was not enough to get a representative group ready to form an emergency committee, but it still proved to be a good training ground for the team members. They will go back to finish training at a later date.

By the time we stood up to talk to the new volunteers on Wednesday the 6th, we were exhausted but satisfied. The enthusiasm of the communities and the volunteers kept our spirits up --plus the chance to get out into the campo, walk and soak up this country.

In Managua we made a few final adjustments to the Facilitators' Guide, printed and bound a couple of single-sided copies for the library and Volunteers who wish to make copes. We then wrote a brief final report to Peace Corps, slapped it onto the front of the Facilitators' guide as a preface, added a table of contents and continuous page numbering, and wound up with a double-sided, compact final document. We made copies of it for ourselves, our volunteer team, and for the library. We did not think we would get it bound because Peace Corps was closed tight on Friday, December 8th, the feast of the immaculate conception. The Virgin Purisima is Nicaragua's national virgin, so December 7th and 8th are major holy holidays. Fireworks resound around the city every six hours, but especially at midnight. As we sat in our pension or ate in a restaurant charred paper would float in an on. Groups of children go around as we do on Halloween, singing "Who causes so much happiness? The immaculate conception of Marie!" and people give them food, candy, or toys.

Since we couldn't work, we did some tourism in Managua which was not very satisfying. We visited the modern Cathedral which already looks worse for wear. A craft faire was a bust because not much was open. We managed to see Charlie's Angels movie at a modern mall, Metro Centro. The movie was fun, the mall was a reminder of home we did not need.

We planned to go to Masaya to do our final shopping for typical items on Saturday, but went by the office first. We found two staff people there who gave us access to the copy machine and to the binding machine and supplies. In a few hours we had everything copied, collated, and bound. Nothing fancy, but very satisfying.

We made our trip to Masaya on Sunday from Wembes terminal. At the terminal we explored the market which we found to be as good as the two markets in Masaya about 45 minutes south of Managua. All three were interesting enough to supply us with more than we needed and to help us kill our final full day.

Now, we feel like the folks who finished their exams early but are still on campus to make everybody feel bad, as we hang around the office chatting and waiting to go the airport at noon for our trip back to Colorado. The timing could not be better. We feel good to have been here, ready to leave, and eager to get home.

Abrazos, Marney and Bob (Margarita y Roberto)

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins