Dog Tags

A small essay I wrote not long ago is live at the Camroc Press Review.

It was originally posted here as Lost and Found, but it now has a new home. I couldn’t be happier.

On a Morning Walk

I am participating in A River of Stones this month. The idea of the exercise is to develop close observation and capture what is seen in a few short sentences, a poem, a haiku, or simply a short  piece of loose form. To join click on their logo to the right of this post.

Here is my first:

After the rains…

a traffic jam of mud puddles on the road, reflecting the jungle overhead.

And, a patch of blue.

INS and Out

Today I decided to attack the dreaded bureaucracy of Costa Rica. Our marchamos are due again.  I don’t know why but last night something jolted me awake and yelled in my ear, PAY THE MARCHAMOS.

What are marchamos, you ask? They are the little tags for all vehicles proving you have paid your road fees and government (hear that Rush Limbaugh?), I repeat, government-run car insurance. They are renewed once a year. In December. Every licensed vehicle must get their tags by the end of the month (December) or face the traffic cops who are looking for… well, let’s just say they might be short of money after the holidays.  Which means, if you are late getting yours, you risk standing in long lines reading things like Harry Potter or watching endless brutal nature shows on the ubiquitous TVs mounted near the ceiling of every agency and bank in the country.

Years ago we had to drive to the capital and go to the central INS office to pay for our tags. So did everyone else so the lines were odious.  Slowly, there came to be satellite offices where you could stand in endless lines. Then came the Internet. My bank, Banco de Costa Rica, has a special icon that shows up when it’s time to pay each year. So, I went online and tried to order mine and have it mailed to my APTO. It wouldn’t work. I called the telephone number on the failed attempt notice and got a very nice girl who informed me I must now go through INS, the national insurance company. “They aren’t letting us do it this year,” she said. One wonders why they don’t take the icon off the website, but, hey, I pick my battles.

I went to the INS website and was directed through the steps and, lo, I have a receipt. I have no idea if the tag will actually arrive as planned, but I do have a receipt. A couple of years ago ours failed to come and it cost us a ten thousand Colone note to an upwardly mobile transit officer who pulled us over. When I showed him the receipt he claimed it had to be notarized.  It was cheaper to pay him.

Once I got the marchamos taken care of, I moved on to bigger things, like renewing our health insurance (also a  government-run health insurance company, Rush). I can do it through our insurance agency, depositing the money into an INS bank account, but I wondered if I could pay with a credit card. I went to their website and there, I swear to god, was a live INS Web Chat.  I signed in and had the conversation below:

Solicitando asistencia a un especialista…
Instituto Nacional de seguros, muy buenos días en que le podemos servir?
Usted: buenos dias. es posible a pagar mi cuenta de seguros en linea. mi cuenta es INS H.A.—#XXXX
Usted: y por favor disculp mi Español. 😉
Ins en Línea: Buenas tardes
Ins en Línea: Gracias por escribir al Instituto Nacional de Seguros
Ins en Línea: El seguro de que seria
Usted: seguro medical en el nombre de AGH -cuenta #XXXX con Proseguros SA
Usted: pero, es posible a pagar por internet
Ins en Línea: Ins medical no se puede pagar por ins linea
Usted: okay. muy bien. Gracias y tiene un bien diá
La sesión de chat ha terminado.

Now this might not be a big deal for you who live in the USA, but to find a live chat here was like finding gold in my backyard.  I wasn’t able to pay with a credit card online; I’ll have to do it the old way and deposit the money in their bank account, but in two hours flat I completed both jobs. Jobs that would have taken me a week not five years ago.

We have arrived.  Modernity has officially come to Costa Rica.

Lost and Found~

My uncle, Elliot R. Corbett, was one of those who fell at the Battle of the Bulge. According to the US Department of Defense website: “In late 1944, in the wake of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, the German army launched what was arguably the last major counteroffensive of World War II in a final desperate attempt to break and defeat Allied forces. The ensuing battle, fought over an 80-mile stretch from Belgium to Luxembourg, began Dec. 16, 1944 and ended Jan. 25, 1945. It was the largest land battle involving American Forces in World War II. More than a million Allied troops fought in the battle across the Ardennes, including about 500,000 Americans and more than 55,000 British. More than 19,000 troops were killed in action.”

I never met my uncle Yottie, as my mother always referred to him, but I gather he was a charmer. I’ve seen pictures of a dark, curly-haired man grinning for the camera as he stands easily next his horse, reins in hand. He was a handsome and easy going man who loved the out of doors. I understand he had a girlfriend before he was drafted, or enlisted, but no one in my family seems to know what became of her after Yot’s death.

Apparently, he tried to join the 10th Mountain Division to fight alongside his brother, Alfred, but the Army refused his application.  According to my mother, he was sent without training of any kind. Like so many, he ended up as cannon fodder in the European theatre. Alfred came home. Yottie did not.

But the Battle of the Bulge happened five years before I was born, and I am now sixty one. All this may seem like old history, and it is, but yesterday my 92-year-old mother wrote to say that a woman contacted her a couple of weeks ago. She wanted to know if my mother was a relative of Elliot Corbett. Yes, she said, she was his sister. The woman said, the Army will be contacting you shortly. Four days later the Army called to say they would be sending some articles for the family.

After Yot’s death my grandfather, with the help of his political friends, established the Elliot R. Corbett Memorial State Park, located off US Highway 20, fourteen miles west of Sisters, Oregon. It is mountainous country and the park is only accessible by foot. I have hiked there among Ponderosa, sage and wetlands and felt a kinship with the uncle I never knew. It is a living testament to Yot’s love of nature.

This week, true to their word, a small package from the US Department of Defense arrived in McMinnville, Oregon. In it were some papers from my grandfather assuring the Army that his son should be buried in the Margraten cemetery in the Netherlands, some official forms, and documents.

And, Yottie’s dog tags. Sixty-five years after his death. His dog tags. Where have these things been all this time, and what do we do with them now?

I just finished reading a book by Craig Childs about artifacts and the conundrum of where they belong and to whom they should be entrusted. Childs’ view is that they are best left where they were found; it gives the land a sense of history. As he points out, an artifact can outlive you, your children, and your grandchildren, so once they are in your possession the responsibility is enormous.

My mother asked me what I thought she should do with the dog tags. I told her I didn’t know. But what I thought was, I want to hold them for a moment’s reflection and then fling them onto the field where he died.

That is where they belong.

Inversion Therapy~

All he needed was a ball-point pen and a paperclip

My husband is an original MacGyver, pronounced here in Latin America as Ma-Gee-ver, accent on the middle syllable. According to his wiki page, MacGyver’s “main asset is his practical application of scientific knowledge and inventive use of common items—along with his ever-present Swiss Army knife.” Alan doesn’t use the knife, but he is the master of reusing, recycling, salvaging, and reprocessing.

He is also (not surprisingly) a hoarder. I am the great liquidator. I, for example, would toss all leftover parts from broken appliances or scraps of rubber or wiring or plumbing or anything else he keeps.

I rarely go in his shop. The shelves are full of pieces and parts of all sorts of things. I can never find anything I’m looking for out there, anyway, and he gets pretty testy if I move something. On the other hand my house is spotless. Well, I admit I have a bit of an If It’s Out of Sight It Doesn’t Count as Clutter mentality. But, really, it’s pretty tidy in here.

I suppose we keep each other balanced.

But here is the thing. I have wanted an inversion table for the longest time. Ever since I first saw one, over 20 years ago, I just knew my back and hips would feel divine if I could only hang upside down for a few minutes a day. I never felt I could fork over the bucks for one when I lived in the States, and then we moved to Costa Rica. Until recently things like “exercise equipment” has seemed redundant to people who evolved from an agrarian based culture. Want exercise? they’d  say, Go out and chop bush for ten to twelve hours a day. Then see if you want to “work out.”

Alan has known about my bat-like desires for a while now. The other day he asked me what project he could do next. That is something else about him: he is always busy with some venture or another and one reason our house is as beautiful as it is.

Would you make me an inversion table? I asked.

We looked online and have studied YouTube videos of various models. I printed off a couple of brochures for him to peruse.

He is almost finished with it. I will post photos and video here and on facebook when it’s done.(I think I should pre-flight it in private and over a very soft surface.) He has welded it together using parts from bicycles, motorcycles, paint rollers, plumbing tubing, as well as wood from a tree that fell a couple of years ago. I can hardly wait to try it out.