Journal, December 31, 1976 PM

<I wonder what Sofia is doing?> I feel a certain emptiness not being with her. I have no one I can really hold on to.

It just became 1977 in New York; Dick Clark gave the countdown in Times Square. What lonely people they must be, those that stand out in the cold in Times Square to welcome in another year. Of course they’d be drunk . . .

I remember some years ago when I watched “For Whom the Bell Tolls” on New Year’s {Eve}. I was the only one at home & they showed the movie without commercials. They just interrupted it at 12 to announce the new year. I had read the book, I loved Hemingway’s novels, and was completely engrossed in the movie.

<I remember last year with Sofia in my arms. We snuck off behind a pine tree to embrace and her older sister found us. We took lots of pictures and drank very little. Skip Baker said Sofia was “foxy.”> It was a great party at Ed Stoll’s.

I’m glad I didn’t go out this year. It would have been forced & hollow to get bombed. I think I’ll have a beer on top of my two brandy & 7-Ups, and listen to some more bubble gum music!

Journal, December 27, 1976 AM

Now that “Happy Days” is over I will attempt to write a few sentences. My time is not my own here, especially now that more of the family is here for the holidays. From the time I get up to go to the barn in the morning, until I go to bed, I figure in other people’s plans to the extent that I feel I have lost control of me. I must discipline myself better if I hope to get things done which I have set for myself as goals while home. I’ve already developed a singular dread of going to the Congregational Church to talk with a pastor I don’t know.

We went to Neenah {WI}, to Jaime’s patents’ farm. It couldn’t have gone much better or much more predictably. Mom & Dad found the Olsons extra-especially good folks, as I knew they would. Dad talked farming at his customary rapid rate, leaving poor Mr. Olson just a bit dazed I suspect. Mrs. Olson keeps a fine house, is a fine traditional wife, like I expect Pilar will be. My folks liked Pilar & were impressed with the way she is standing the cold & learning English.

Bruce is sitting on the other end of the couch, checking out “The Odessa File,” and Tom is at my elbow in the lounge chair starting on “Walden.” Marcia brought a pile of books up with her from Nashville, including the {Lord of the Rings} trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. She arrived last night. We are a family of readers & investigators! Even Donna, who I used to think of as the least analytic, was impressing me yesterday with her powers of reasoning. We were driving back from Madison in the pickup after taking Jan some wood we’d chopped. She’s sharp in the business sense of that term. She can spot a fast-talking salesman or a charmer, & she has her own immediate future plans so well laid out as to put old “methodical Dean” to shame. She has the man she wants to marry, has known him for 5 years, and is satisfied with him. She plans to take driving lessons, get her license, & get a car this spring.

Donna’s very open, which makes her pleasant to be around, but her personality is still fragile. You have to be supportive, which I’m usually talented at, though being on her own has done absolute honest-to-gosh WONDERS.

Mary is the most disappointing to me, I guess. She’ll never learn to appreciate her youngest siblings as people / equals! Even Marcia claims she is treated like a child by her. Mary & David came with kids, stock & barrel on Christmas Eve & spent the night. The tension was so thick in this house at times it resembled the fog of Ken Kesey’s novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” However, not even Jan blew up when Mary said, “I thought I looked bad!” in response to Jan’s modeling of her new army pants, and it passed. Everyone but Dad thinks Mary & David should start their own Christmas at {their} home. They both do make overt (& unfunny) verbal jabs at the rest of us kids. It was painfully obvious this Christmas, but damned if it makes any sense.

Merna came for a night & a morning, and was OK, but what do you say to a smart, slick, good-lookin’, fine-dressin’ businesswoman in a sports car? The rest of us have so little in common with her & boyfriend Greg Friday. Warren Barnes, a local boy now living in Florida (former boyfriend of Marcia), is their friend, and provides the closest link to us. He is very down-home friendly.

I feel like one of the clan at home now, you will note. I even use “us.”

Journal, December 21, 1976 PM

I’m such a sentimentalist. I swear it’s involuntary or if socially learned it has penetrated deep! I’ll be listening to music & the combination of emotion-stimulating instrumental and direct-to-the-soul vocal will cause tears to well up in my eyes and my breathing rhythm to be broken. “When You’re a Free man Again” by Moody Blues did it to me, and an old Jim Croce tune . . .

I’m at home semi-vegetating today. Some folks claim they need pot to be able to do this. It only fogs up my mind or makes me yawn or puts me to sleep.

I read a bit about Lorenz, the physicist turned behaviorist, who was so controversial when I left the U.S. I think he got entirely too much attention. He’s looking for an ultimate solution to a perpetual problem, asocial people in society. How are we going to select out or otherwise “weed out” genetic defectives when we don’t know yet to what extent social behavior is dependent upon genetic factors as opposed to socialization factors? His work on goose imprinting was useful. His interpolations into human interrelationships are unsubstantiated speculation. He never says who will decide who is genetically defective, and seems to ignore the inherent political nature of such a decision. Enough!

I called up Jaime Olson in Neenah {WI} yesterday. He & Pilar made the trip in fine shape & will expect our visit tomorrow. I hope Mom & Dad don’t pull out at the last minute. They have been luke warm about the idea of going up there from the start.


Journal, December 20, 1976 AM

I’ve been delinquent again. Partly, my not writing more often is due to all the demands on my time here. I’m depended upon to do my share of the chores (like loading feed this morning), and I try to go to things, like the basketball game last Friday. However, I also recognize that I am slipping (all too comfortably) into my old “at home” attitude. Do the chores, B.S. with the family & plop yourself down in front of the T.V. to be entertained. Old habits come back easily, especially the bad ones!

Yesterday we (Mom, Dad & I) went to visit my sister Mary & her husband in Stoughton {WI}. We stopped by Jan’s in Madison to dump some stuff & arrived just in time for the football game. David is an avid fan, so our whole visit was centered around the big RCA color T.V. The two toughest teams, Pittsburg & Baltimore, were playing in a preliminary to “Super Bowl.” It was the best offense in the NFL against the best defense, the irresistible force meets the immovable object, etc., etc. So it was a must game for all real fans. We ate our ham, giant lima beans, jello, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie on tray tables while watching Pittsburg maul, stomp and otherwise brutalize outclassed Baltimore. Brian Olsen (1½ years) provided the most excitement as he sashayed around the room, causing much minor havoc & loads of laughs, in open defiance of the epic struggle on the screen.

Note: I am down on American football since a game I saw Saturday between New England and Oakland. New England dominated the game on the line of scrimmage all day, and was winning with about 4 minutes to go. They had the ball & were moving it. Then the referees missed the most blatant pass interference I have ever seen on a fourth down play, & Oakland got the ball. Later, with Oakland in a 3rd or 4th and 18 situation the refs called roughing the passer on New England when the defender was in the air jumping at the quarterback when he released the ball. He may have tipped it. Still Oakland couldn’t seem to score on their own. It took another penalty, which gave them the ball on the New England one. They scored on second down.

After all that I was more than half convinced that what was involved was not just referee incompetence. The fact is that betting on U.S. professional football is big, big business, and it is common knowledge that the Oakland vs. New England game was the bookmakers’ and betting houses’ sure thing. All the “experts” (old fuddy duddies who are so conservative it sometimes makes them blind) picked ‘perennial playoff team’ Oakland over the ‘Cinderella team’ New England by at least a touchdown. Perhaps I have been in El Salvador too long, but given that those betting places would lose a bundle in the event that New England won, it is not implausible that they would buy the referees for “insurance.” I can’t get the idea out of my head, & it disgusts me the more because I still have a passion for the first sport I took an interest in, American football!

Sister Mary said I was being very quiet & asked me about El . . . Rica. Everyone {here} confuses the countries, & no one can remember which one I spent 2 years in. I think I made a disclaimer and a few trivial remarks, and she was satisfied. David’s sows are having small litters & dead pigs, & they have a virus in the hogs. Their corn only yielded 42 bushels per acre. His mother broke her hand when she fell on their steps while bringing groceries to Mary. And so it goes.

We got a phone call in the fourth quarter. An old man, who has taken over as Donna’s surrogate father, called to say she was in the hospital. Donna had gotten hit by a driver who hadn’t seen her crossing the street. We went to see her. She’s all bruised up, but is in the same hospital where she works as a dietician, so she’s having no hassles. She has her little world of the hospital & small town all figured out. She has people who look out for her, like Vic, the old man. She has a boyfriend. She’s pretty content, & I’ll leave it at that.

Journal, December 16, 1976 AM

I was in Madison {WI} yesterday and got myself a new toy. I had intended to buy an electronic calculator while I was home, & the family got wind of it & decided to buy it for me. I picked out a Texas Instruments SR-40, and Jan wrote a check for it. I was in Madison to take Jan back, & we had hoped to go visit Mary also, but she wasn’t home.

The calculator is just what I wanted. It cost $42, but does sine and inverse sine functions, all roots & powers, logs & antilogs, etc. Ro get a more sophisticated one you have to pay about twice what I did (what the folks did!).

I’m being put to work here at the farm. My labor is being duly exploited, but I’m enjoying it for now. Yesterday morning I helped with the milking, helped load corn for Dad to grind feed, went with Jan to cut wood (I ran the chain saw, she carried wood.), and helped Dad unload the feed & clean the manure out of the barn. We use a mechanical barn cleaner. In the afternoon I took Jan back to Madison, & got back in time to take Dad’s place for the evening milking. He and Mom had a banquet to go to in Wisconsin Rapids. Who ever said life was slow paced down on the farm, has not been “down on the farm” lately. I’m newly amazed at how hard my parents work daily.

Mary Ann Carr, the former member of Peace Corps’ Costa Rica nursing program & friend of Diego Cox, sent me a Christmas card with a picture from the party we had at Charlie Mayer’s house in San Salvador. She’s so sweet.

Journal, December 13, 1976 AM

My days have been very full since I arrived in Madison {WI} Friday night. I have done nothing special, except get back together with the family and adjust myself to their pace. They are very energetic, active folks, every one. I had half forgotten.

I was the last standby passenger to get on the last flight out of Chicago on Friday. <I’m not yet ready to credit it to Sofia’s cross, but it was very fortunate.> Jan met me at the airport in a borrowed car. It turned out very fortunate that Mom & Dad did not come down to meet me. They’d have been waiting impatiently 3½ hours, or perhaps given up on me & gone home.

Jan took me to her place & we drank hot chocolate & talked with her roommate, smoked a joint and went to bed. In the morning we went down to the campus (of University of Wisconsin) and meandered about. I bought a Spanish-English dictionary at the bookstore and checked out electric calculator prices. There was one for $39 that has about what I want. I think it will be a good investment as I should be able to sell it when I leave Costa Rica at a small profit.

We went into a head shop so Jan could buy (Continued at 2:30 PM, after Dad got tired of discussing with me & went to sleep.) cigarette papers and I was confronted by something the U.S. has which Costa Rica and other Central American countries definitely don’t, a store totally and openly dedicated to selling all of the accessories needed (or that one might desire) to smoke marijuana and hashish. I picked up my lower jaw quickly so as not to be too conspicuous.

In Rennebolm’s {pharmacy} Jan & I had a hot chocolate, and were discussing Costa Rica & the business of learning a second language, when the woman sitting next to me put in that her husband was Mexican and told us about some of the problems he’d had trying to learn English. Jan says Milwaukee and Madison are becoming important centers for the Chicano movement, and that they have acquired significant Hispanic American populations.

Anyway, I saw Bruce about 1:30 when he showed up to take us home. Still, I was lost in thoughts of the past that kept swimming through my head. Everything I saw brought back an association from 2+ years back. My perceptive powers molded what was there to fit my memories surely, but also nothing radically unlike my past experience broke the mood. Bruce didn’t break it. The fact that he was driving a car I’d never seen before, the folks’ “new” Comet, didn’t alter it. Landmarks along the route from Madison to Friendship were largely unchanged. The house looked the same.

My first big jolt was lying on the couch in the living room as I strolled in. I had already greeted Carla. She was bigger, and showed physical signs of blossoming womanhood, but the voice & manner were unaltered. Anyway, as I walked into the living room, I noticed a young man lying on the couch. He saw me as well, and got up nimbly and came rapidly toward me, extending his hand and saying, “Dean, how you doing boy?” I was momentarily stunned. I took his hand and replied, “Good to see you, Tom.” But actually, I half expected to be told he was a neighbor or friend or . . . As I expressed those thoughts, everyone smiled & nodded knowingly. Yes, Tom had grown a lot, and his voice had changed. He had filled out some. I must have sounded like a broken record the rest of the day, talking about the new Tom. I still find myself kind of looking sideways at him and cautiously studying his movements, seemingly to reassure myself that I am dealing with one person in two time frames instead of separate people! Also, he is the most interesting family member to study in terms of personal development. I’ve always had high expectations for him, & it appears everyone else in the family does also.

Saturday night Bruce and I tipped a few beers at his favorite place. Bruce has become the responsible big brother of the family, smoothly and completely. He told me he could never bear to see the farm go out of the family’s hands, and that he expected that if something sudden happened to Dad, or if no one else took it over, that he would take over the farm. He’s matured almost more than I would have wished. But clearly my cutting myself off so completely from the folks & farm was the crucial factor in it. I’m both feeling a little guilty that I dumped on him the responsibility I had borne, and feeling very proud and satisfied with the way he has borne that responsibility. He’s even recognized that Jan has a major problem because she can’t sustain satisfying relationships with men. The younger kids are beginning to analyze and propose solutions for the problems of their elder brethren. It’s good; it’s very healthy. I must strive to avoid playing the overbearing older brother.

My parents also please me. Dad tends to dominate conversations as much as ever, but the breadth and depth of the things he is thinking about are impressive: tax laws, local& international politics, the importance of choosing a good woman, birth control, education, transferring the farm to the next generation. The farm remains firm as Gibraltar in the center of Dad’s universe. It was “the living” for his parents, his family, he & his wife, and for our family. We must keep it in the family. This is not a threat or an order directed at me, but a statement of unalterable belief & faith, even a kind of pleading, as he’s well aware that we the children will decide the fate of this piece of the Earth in which he has invested so much of his once boundless energy. Now at 55 he would like to be already started on transferring it to his heir. I sense that I’m still his choice, & that Tom ranks above Bruce. Bruce however is my bet to do it. He’s already told me he’s found the woman, & she’s "a lot like Mom."

Mother never says much, but she exudes moral & mental power. Dad admits she has always been the support & counsel he needed to do what they have. But he told me today, “She will never make a business decision, she always has left that to me. I have decided everything.”


Journal, December 10, 1976 PM

I’m in Chicago. If I’m not pretty lucky I may be in Chicago until tomorrow. My flight out of Guatemala today was held up an hour and a quarter while the Guatemalan Air Force demonstrated their proficiency by dropping smoke bombs on the runway! That’ll show those British!

As a result I missed my connecting flights to Chicago & Madison. I got another flight here, but there is only one more flight to Madison tonight (North Central {airline} - 10 PM), and they don’t know if they have space. I’m on standby. I hope to heck my folks didn’t come all the way down from Friendship {WI} to meet me. I was supposed to be there at 7:35 and when I wasn’t on the flight, they surely were worried as all get out. My present plan is that if I get to Madison late and no one is there, I’ll take a cab to DTS {fraternity} and spend the night there. I don’t know Jan’s or Merna’s phone numbers to call them.

<Sofia didn’t cry this morning.> She played it just right. You’re going, but you’re coming back. <A sister and nephew also saw me off.>

I had interesting conversations on each flight:

San Jose to Guatemala City - I sat next to a guy from Riverside, California who is working with the national planning office in Costa Rica. He’s a technocrat economist, but a guy concerned about people, a very intelligent guy. We traded impressions of Central America.

Guatemala City to Miami - (There were 2) (1) A friendly, conventional Guatemalan school teacher who said I looked like her son, & paid my Spanish the complement of asking if I was Guatemalan. (2) A Borden Company executive who works out of New York, travels extensively to Europe & Latin America, lived 10 years in Venezuela and is from Minnesota. In a word, he was fascinating to talk to. Among other tidbits he said the Minister of Agriculture of El Salvador is a great guy, knows nothing about agriculture, but is a great guy. He talked some about the things corporations do routinely to get contracts in Latin America. Wining and dining the military is standard procedure in countries like El Salvador. He’s a pragmatist & a cynic. He doesn’t like it all, but it’s business. We discussed the world milk market, & the relative utility of education & land reform as methods of spreading the benefit of development. He’s for education & against land reform. He makes a strong case. Apparently even petty airline employees will help you for a price in Central America, according to one remark he made. I freely admit that I don’t know how to react to basically good, right-minded, intelligent, but (a la vez {at the same time}) cynically pragmatic people like him. I find the same cold, calculating sentiment in me. I do sense that it’s dangerous & must be carefully controlled if one wants to be a moral human being.

Miami to Chicago - A lab equipment salesman for southern Michigan & northern Indiana, who was very friendly & decent. He was coming back from a company short course & all fired up about it. He was in the army in Germany & could sympathize with many of my Peace Corps experiences. His friend, a Chicago native, helped me find the baggage claim area. Nice guys, but very much content to be company men & put any excess energy into their private lives.

You meet interesting people traveling, & there is a certain sense of comradeship. Today I was fortunate in that respect.

Journal, December 9, 1976 PM

{some text not transcribed} We had a great trip to Turrialba yesterday. It’s a 2-hour ride in bus one way, but the journey is picturesque, with dairy farms, some forest, mountain streams & {sugar} cane & banana plantations. <Two of Sofia’s sisters and a nephew went along and made it quite a family affair.> It was like my family, all women!

The “balneario” (Las Americas) in Turrialba was just a good-sized pool with swings & other apparatus around it, plus a big dance salon. Still, it wasn’t crowded & the water was agreeable. <The nephew provided entertainment for all.> First, he wouldn’t go near the water, but with much coaching & coaxing he was persuaded to enter the kiddy pool. Then of course when we were ready to leave, he wanted to stay, & I had to carry him out of the pool.

{some text not transcribed}

<Sofia says I have 4,500 Colones invested in her. She announced that over beer at “El Ranchito” in Santo Domingo de Heredia (One sister & a boyfriend invited us.).> She’s as bad as Jaime {Olson} as a price dropper, & it upsets me a bit. I’m not trying to buy a wife!

Journal, December 7, 1976 PM

<I ran into Sofia and her older sister on the 5:10 bus from San Jose.> They had been buying material for the wedding dress & were pretty bushed. <The dress is coming out expensive, but It’ll be what Sofia wants and surely become a family heirloom.> I just hope I can come up with enough money to do the wedding like I want to. Well, there’ll never be enough money, can’t be, but hopefully we’ll pull the thing off and make a good party of it.

I’ve been writing Christmas cards, que pereza {what a drag}! I have to get the ones for El Salvador done to send Thursday. The U.S. ones I’ll send from home.

<Sofia, her sister & I are going to Turrialba tomorrow, to a swimming place there.> I hope it doesn’t cost much. I gave her nearly all of my money for the dress, and I’m down to less than 70 Colones.

Doña Carmen’s mother will undergo an operation at 9 AM Friday. Whatever the outcome, I’m glad I won’t be here for the immediate aftermath. Doña Carmen has the ability to upset everyone around her when she is upset.

My rat poison claimed its first visible victim. Doña Carmen found a large dead rat under my bed today. One for the good side!

Journal, December 7, 1976 Noon

<Sofia took her first look at my journal this morning.> She read a bit from the first part of this volume & more than anything else was disappointed to not find herself mentioned. Meanwhile, I was wondering what I would do if she stumbled upon last Sunday’s entry. She didn’t, but she was looking at the diary as we sat in front of the priest’s home waiting for him to open up for office hours, and I was in the middle of explaining to her an entry discussing the principal character’s befriending of a prostitute in {the movie} “Taxi Driver” when the office door opened and the priest walked out. <We never resumed our discussion of the diary, except that Sofia said she was going to translate it into Spanish & publish it!>

The priest is a very polite & proper fellow, but I was hoping for more depth of character. He asks nothing of us except the proper papers to make his task routine. He showed me Jaime’s letter from his church and said something like that would be fine. I couldn’t bring myself to begin a philosophical discussion of why I didn’t consider myself associated with any church or desire to be so affiliated. It seemed we were discussing a purely administrative matter. He would have to request a dispensation from the bishop, which takes 15 days, and we would need witnesses and certification of birth & being single, etc., etc. I guess I’ll see if I can get some sort of paper from my childhood church. I don’t think I was ever baptized, though I held a near perfect attendance record in Sunday School for 11 years.

Work goes on. We went to the university experimental farm this morning, & we are measuring percentage of broken kernels in rice samples. I got all of my documents & my ticket for the flight {home} at Peace Corps Office this morning. Looks like nothing can hold me back now. <Sofia goes completely silent whenever I mention the trip home.> She doesn’t like it much, but seems to have made up her mind to accept it & leave it at that.

Journal, December 6, 1976 PM

{some text not transcribed}

Anyway, it was a mellow day at the “balneario {swimming place}” of the “Country Club” in Alajuela, and I got time to write a couple letters, & make my list for Christmas cards between swimming trip & evening mass. We had no luck talking with the “Padre {Priest}.” He was in La Rivera for a special “fiesta patronal {patron saint festival}” mass, and another guy substituted. Now D-day is tomorrow. <At 07:35 AM Sofia & I will meet in front of the Padre’s {Priest’s} home to see what can be accomplished.> Both of us are about as eager to talk to him as a young child is to visit the dentist, but it is important we do it before I leave.

<No beer last night, Sofia has a big exam tonight, and I haven’t let her study much.> So I get today off to run my errands, etc. However, Doña Carmen has already buttonholed me to help son Orlando with his math. Obligations, obligations!

My boss at CIGRAS may have me order him some lab equipment while I’m in the U.S. If all I have to do is make a phone call when I pass through Chicago it’ll be no hassle, but little favors can grow.

Journal, December 5, 1976 AM (Sunday)

I used to say and believe, I guess, that people with less education or even those with less innate intelligence were happier than those (of us) who know & comprehend more. I was very wrong. Doña Carmen is a person of very limited education, but her desires and aspirations reach to the very sky, and she can’t even seem to resign herself to the most basic fact of life (i.e. death). Her mother is dying (no ifs, ands or buts), but I would not dare tell her that. She’d probably kick me out of the house! She takes hope from every little reassurance the doctors give her. She lets it upset her so, that she yells at everybody (me excepted) and talks a mile a minute.

I can think of other examples in support of my reversal on the idea that the ignorant are the happiest. {Thomas} Jefferson said, "Knowledge is happiness." He must have considered the question and arrived at the conclusion I have. Knowing is the basis for a realistic happiness & contentedness. The person who comprehends the limits of his existence is better prepared to direct his energies to what he can improve, accepting what he can’t, though always probing around the frontier between the “possible” and the “impossible” to see if those limits can’t be expanded.

{some text not transcribed}


Journal, December 4, 1976 PM

Poor Doña Carmen, her mother is very bad. She is going crazy from the strain. Last night she paid a special mass to be said for her mother, on the occasion of them taking her to the hospital to undergo an operation. There’s no question the woman (Carmen’s mother) is dying. It’s only a matter of time. Jan & I saw the lady when we were here last February, and Jan commented then that she looked like death warmed over. It’s terrible to say, but I hope she dies while I’m home for Christmas. Doña Carmen is already to the point where I can’t count on her to wash or iron my clothes or anything. When her mother dies she may lose complete hold of herself. I should talk. I’m far from ready to lose a parent yet.

Oh what do I want to go & get married for? Married people can’t get anything done quickly, and neither (partner) can just go & do something on a whim without explaining himself or herself at length, begging permission (indulgence), and then going off feeling guilty for doing it!

<I got away from Sofia for a night.> I enjoy being with her, but we can never just break off & go get something done that we’d like to. At least I just can’t say “so long” or when I do she doesn’t want to let me. Call it love or call it foolishness. How it turns out will tell the tale I suppose.

Journal, December 3, 1976 PM

<Sofia was into playing her girlish games last night.> I accomplished nothing in my trip to Peace Corps Office this morning. Manuel said to come back Tuesday for my ticket. We’re analyzing rice today and it’s a bore.

For all of that I don’t feel too bad. At tourism they gave me a map this morning & said there was a pension {small hotel} with cabins about 10 kilometers from Volcán Irazu, a possible honeymoon spot. I need a mind stimulator, like an issue of “Scientific American,” to get me back to 100%. Today it’s just “regular {OK}.”

Journal, December 2, 1976 PM

I’m a lackey, there’s no doubt about it. I have my semi-worthwhile, semi-interesting job. I leave the house at 6:40 or 7:00 in the morning & get back at 6 PM if I don’t go to see the girlfriend. I say that it’s only temporary, & that after one more year I’ll get started on the road to a truly fruitful career. But how many lackeys have justified themselves that way? How many times have I heard similar words? My mind flashes back to Andy Newell, sitting on a barstool in the basement at Delta Theta Sigma {fraternity}, mooching beer & saying, "I’m fucked up right now, but I’m going to get it together . . ."

Jamie {Olson} eats up the lackey life, getting completely into whatever trivial task he’s involved in. <I may be more of a lackey, because I know I’m just diddling around, but tell myself it’s OK, it’s temporary, it’s for Sofia, etc.>

Perhaps there’s nothing really worthwhile one can do in this life. Or at least there’s nothing that one can be sure is worth his intellect, time & effort. There is so much shooting in the dark. Most of our living time is spent: “passing the time of day” or “paseando”, “shooting the breeze” or “choteando”, “having a good time” or “divertiendose”, or thinking up new things to do or places to go to entertain ourselves. The Spanish word entretenerse says it more “up front” than the English entertain.

Last night I made popcorn, & helped Jaime & Pilar, and others “entretenerse.” I watched a soccer game. Today I read about aflatoxins (perhaps semi-useful) & B.S.’ed with Renán {Molina}. <He says he may be related to Sofia.>

Does anyone really know what is worth doing? Or is it just having the self-discipline to convince yourself that what you’re doing is useful enough (or the blindness to accept whatever you’re doing as useful enough)?

Journal, December 1, 1976 PM

Yesterday afternoon they called me from Peace Corps Office and said my ticket should be ready Friday. I think I’m going to make it home, only delays in getting my visa & permission to leave can hold me back. I got letters from {sister} Mary & from Ron & Nancy Shiflet. They were at Peace Corps Office yesterday. I also got paid. The salary is 1,953 Colonies. {At the time the exchange rate was 8.5 Costarican Colonies per U.S. Dollar.} <That’s what Sofia & I will have to live on starting in March.> “You knew the job was tough when you took it Fred,” said Super Chicken, famously.

We did some moisture tests on rice in the lab yesterday, and today we are husking & polishing rice for home consumption, for lack of other work. I’ll be interested to see who is going to take it home. Renán {Molina} gave a little to the “ordenanza” or cleanup man.

<Sofia served me up a banquet last evening.> We had rice with tuna & vegetables, beans with various spices added, platanos {plantains}, lettuce & tomatoes, cold milk, curtido (They pickle a whole combination of vegetables including broccoli, green beans, cucumber, carrots & others.) and a tortilla de elote {fresh corn tortilla} complete with a thick cream they call natilla here. {some text not transcribed}

<Sofia gave me more tamales.> Two regular ones wrapped in banana leaves & a piece of a large loaf-like one they make out of corn “masa {dough}” with spices & sugar added. The damn rats at Doña Carmen’s ate a hole in my shoulder bag & ate some of the “loaf” tamal. Now it is war. I’ll buy some rat poison today, if possible, warfarin if I can find it. Doña Carmen says they’ve tried everything to kill those rats. We’ll see what happens.


Images, December 1976

{ Gert Verberkmoes and her dog in her Madison home, December 1976. }

{ The Jefferson farm in winter, Friendship WI. }

{ Me showing off an icicle & a temperature of 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. }

{ Me with snow in front of the farm house. }

Dad milking Belle {, a cow that had been a 4-H project of mine as a calf} .

Me & Belle in front of the house.

{ Dad opening presents, Christmas Eve 1976. }

{ Front row: Pilar, Jaime, Mom, Dad; Back row: Jaime's Dad, Jaime's Mom, Jaime's sister Julie; taken at Jaime's folks' home, Neenah WI. }

{ A bit of Pilar, me, Mom & Dad at the home of Jaime's parents. }


Journal, November 30, 1976 PM

Manuel, the administrative assistant, called from Peace Corps Office this morning and said they had received the necessary papers from El Salvador to get my plane ticket. Looks like I’ll have no hassles with going {home} unless my Costarican temporary residence visa fails to come through in time. I’m going to stop by the Office this afternoon and see if they’ll give me my December salary in cash. <I need money to pay rent to Doña Carmen, and I want to give Sofia some money soon, so they can get started making the wedding dress. One of Sofia’s sisters is going to make it, since she does a lot of sewing for other people anyway.>

Jaime {Olson} says he figures his wedding cost him $800 or thereabouts. That’s a lot of bread, but one can’t be chincy about his wedding. Presumably, it’s a one-shot deal! I finally got to rap with Jaime & ask that question, among others, Sunday at the {U.S.} Ambassador’s Thanksgiving Day dinner for Peace Corps. Pilar & Nuria also went.

I met a few PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers} there & decided that they are another varied and interesting crew, like those I knew in El Salvador. They have more jocks here (sports programs), and more women because of nursing & swimming programs. Rita {Klukazewski} was there. She says I have to invite her to my wedding.

I had a weird experience at the dinner. I saw a guy who was a near perfect ringer for Dale Kranz, a fellow I knew in F.F.A {Future Farmers of America, an agricultural youth group} and at U.W. {University of Wisconsin - Madison}. I looked and looked, and finally had to go over and tell him about it. His name is Jim Hamilton, and he’s been in Costa Rica for 8 years. He’s an ex-PCV. Even his voice was enough like Dale’s that it was freaky.

<Sofia & family did all the shit work of cleaning up after the party.> I feel like a worthless bum. <I got to Sofia’s last night, & she handed me 60 Colones which they got back upon returning the two cases of pop. Her sister’s boyfriend took them back to Heredia in his car.> That sure was easy, I said to myself! I can imagine the mess left after the party - goo, spilled drinks & dirt on the floor, half-full cups of liquor all over, “bocas {snacks}” being eaten by flies & ants. <It reminded me of old times back at Delta Theta Sigma {fraternity} to hear Sofia describing it.>

<Poor Sofia, she has reservations about marrying a man with aspirations to be a physicist.> The only thing worse would be a mathematician, she says. Although she’s good in math (her own judgment), she hates it with a passion, so much she says she thinks she’ll study philosophy instead of psychology because I told her there was chemistry & biology (& therefore math) involved in psychology. Her mind is still open though. High school math bored me too. They make it sound so cut & dried. Plug in the formula & crank it out, as Mr. Koleck {a high school teacher} put it.

Journal, November 29, 1976 PM

I don’t know if having my journal here in the lab desk is such a good idea. I left it here Friday, and that was more than excuse enough for me to not record anything until today. I was running all weekend anyway, so I really don’t expect I’d have written anything coherent in any case.

I’m now officially engaged. <Sofia has the ring on her right hand and is “feliz como una lombriz {happy like a worm}.”> I guess I am too. It was a pleasant engagement party last night. <Sofia’s sisters are a real troop of workers when it comes to serving drinks & “bocas {snacks}.” They also were the life-blood of the party, dancing & flirting with the men.> {some text not transcribed}

I had one major surprise. <After we had gotten the first round of drinks passed out, & Sofia & I were discussing logistics of making the engagement announcement, she said, “First you have to talk with Dad in private, OK?, and get his formal approval!”> I had half expected something like that earlier on, but I thought they had let it pass. <Anyway, she cleared everyone but her Mom & Dad & us out of the kitchen, and I said, “Sir, I want to marry your daughter Sofia.”> He said, “Con mucho gusto {With much pleasure},” and the deed was done. I think he & I were both forced into the formality by the two women then present. He doesn’t seem any more a lover of formalities than I.

Soon after, I had a small surprise when I went to open the champagne and the cork hit the ceiling, and bubbly went all over the floor (exactly as we’ve all seen it do in the movies). I hadn’t thought to leave the champagne in the refrigerator ‘til the last minute.

<We made the toast with bare shots of champagne for all, and I slipped the ring on Sofia’s finger without formalities in the aftermath.> Jaime made the toast, and I don’t remember a word of it.

<The last little adventure of the evening was a reckless ride to Heredia with Sofia’s sister’s boyfriend who was more than semi-drunk at the wheel of his VW {Volkswagen beetle}, and the return at a snail’s pace with yours truly driving, hitting every pothole and killing the engine once. The car has a very weak battery, so Sofia & her sisters had to push to get us started again.> The seat was too far forward for me {some text not transcribed}, but I crawled back to La Asunción and parked it.

{some text not transcribed}

Jaime & Pilar {Olson} gave me a bottle of brandy for my engagement. They still seem to be honeymooning. They livened up my party with little stunts & making faces. I continue to marvel at how they get along and compliment each other. They both put a lot into just entertaining each other. And they’re such good friends to have.

<At the height of the fiesta {party} Sofia led me out the back door, ostensibly to show me “their farm.”> “Mucha bulla {A lot of noise},” she explained when we were alone, then, “Sabes que no nos hemos besado en todo el día {You know we haven’t kissed each other today}?” <She is something, this little woman, Sofia, something very special.>

Letter, November 26, 1976

Hi Jan,

How are things going? It’s been a while since I heard from you! Jay said he’d gotten a letter recently, but I don’t remember when I have. My address has changed, look on the envelope!

Looks like I’m coming home unless my visa gets held up. (I need a temporal residence visa here before I can leave.) I’ll be coming to Madison on December 10 at 7:35 PM, flight #739, Northwest. If it’d be OK I’d like you to meet me, & I could stay the night in Madison. I want to go to the U.W. {University of Wisconsin-Madison} administrative offices, to the bookstore and a few things like that, Saturday morning before I go up to Friendship. I’d also like to pass by & see Gert Verberkmoes, the old DTS {Delta Theta Sigma Fraternity} cook. But only if it’s convenient, otherwise I’ll just go home. Tell the folks if you can’t meet me & want them to. I told them in a letter I was counting on you, & I doubt there will be time for another exchange of letters.

I’m looking forward to talking with you again while I’m home. I’ll be home about a month - lots of time.

<Sofia & I will be engaged on Sunday.> We bought the ring last Friday, but have been holding off until Jaime Olson’s wedding was over. Jaime’s wedding was an authentic folk festival. I wish you could have been in San Antonio to see it. Mauren, Doña Carmen’s littlest (the blonde, green-eyed “gringa”) was a flower girl, and Marielos, her oldest, was a maid of honor. I was the “major amigo” {best man} - it was a real community event. 5 Peace Corps Volunteers came down from El Salvador for it & were like a delegation of goodwill ambassadors. Everyone in San Antonio got a kick out of them. Jaime’s parents & one grandma came. They are super good folks. Typical humble Wisconsin farmers, but also very calm, very tolerant. They really were impressed with the hospitality in San Antonio.

My job is the most sophisticated technically I’ve had yet. Have you ever heard of aflatoxins? They are toxic substances produced by fungi & are a major problem in food grains in a hot wet climate like they have here. I keep on learning, so I guess I should be satisfied.

<Sofia and I have set up March 4 as our tentative wedding date.> It’s very soon, but convenient because it’s before her university classes start, before the rains start, and hopefully before planting season in Wisconsin. I hope someone will be able to come down, but that’s a matter to discuss when I get home in December.

Jay says you’ve changed jobs, true? See you soon.



Letter, November 25, 1976

Dear folks,

I had about forgotten it was Thanksgiving today until I went by Peace Corps Office here in San Jose and found it closed. Now I am waiting in line at the Pan Am {Pan American Airlines} office to see if they have my return reservation from Wisconsin confirmed yet. Looks like I’ll be home for Christmas if my visa comes through in time! I’m scheduled to leave here December 10, arriving in Madison about 7:30 or 7:45 pm. I think it might be best if I can get Jan to meet me at the airport and I’ll run a couple errands in Madison Saturday morning before coming home. I want to go to the University Book Store and see Gert Verberkmoes {the cook at Delta Theta Sigma fraternity house when I lived there} (remember her?), etc. I’ll write Jan too!

<Sunday Sofia and I are throwing an engagement party.> We already have the ring. We are talking about a March wedding – like March 4th (a Friday). Think about that, and I’ll give you the hard sell on why I think you should try & come when I get home. It’ll be before planting season.

I talked to Jim Olson’s parents when they were here for his wedding. They said I should be sure and bring you (Mom & Dad) up to visit when I’m home in December. Jim & his new wife Pilar will be up there too after about December 20th, so maybe we can go up and see them between Christmas and New Years. They really enjoyed their stay in Costa Rica and fell in love with the people of San Antonio {de Belen, Heredia}. They just couldn’t say enough about the hospitality. The Olsons are really good people, farm people.

My work here is pretty interesting. I am working in a much more sophisticated environment than in any of my jobs in El Salvador. I work in CIGRAS {Centro de Investigacion de Granos y Semillas}, the national grain and seed research center of the University of Costa Rica. My two top bosses are PhDs who studied in the U.S. One has a brother who studied at U.W. {University of Wisconsin – Madison}. There is a guy in my lab who is being exceptionally good about getting me oriented to my work. He’s also invited me to go fishing some time. They have trout in the mountain streams and lakes here, & of course there is lots of salt-water fishing on the coasts.

One gets so much more of a positive attitude about life living here. There are still virgin lands here & so much natural beauty, population growth is being brought under control and the government is civilian. However, because they are better off you find people more like in the States – putting so much importance on cars, clothes & other material possessions. I guess it’s human nature to be greedy, and especially in a decidedly capitalist society.

Anyway, I got here, no problems, with my bike & everything. I hope and plan to be in Madison the 10th of December, and home probably the next day. I’m so busy I have had to write in installments.



Journal, November 25, 1976 PM

At noon we played soccer, so there was no time for eating or writing. It was good fun & good exercise. The guys here are easygoing & joke around as they play.

We worked hard this morning, calculating a regression coefficient and Y-intercept longhand from Renán’s {Molina} rice data. Then Dr. Mora showed us the programmable calculator in Dr. Echandi’s office. It is no bigger than a common desktop adding machine. With control panel it fits in a briefcase, yet you can do all kinds of complex math operations on it. God, what they have done with calculators in the last couple years!

<It was a crisis last night for Sofia & I.> We just kept rubbing each other the wrong way. She was being the talkative, spoiled girl, & I the sullen, unwilling suitor. I think we’ll survive it.

Journal, November 24, 1976 PM

I feel so serene and content with my life today that I hardly believe it’s me. <Last night I went with Sofia to register for the University in Heredia, and it was just a very pleasant evening. The registration took no time at all since Sofia’s sister’s boyfriend works in the University’s administrative section, and he got the girls’ forms to them without them having to stand in line or anything.>

<Sofia pulled the favorite trick of the locals on a tourist, on me.> She told me to get off {the bus} at the stop in from of the Siemens store and, as it turned out, the store no longer says Siemens anywhere on it. I ribbed her about it, but she told me I was supposed to tell the bus driver to let me off at Siemens, and then there would have been no problem.

The engagement party is going to be Sunday now. There was a conflict with Alexandra’s graduation, but now it’s all worked out, so full steam ahead. I guess I’m in charge of the drinks, and they are going to handle the food. I want to make punch.

Wedding planning is already moving. <Sofia has a list of who she wants to invite, and we hashed over some possible “padrinos {godparents}” and “amigos {friends}.”> I’m going to write to ask Fred Tracy to be my best man. He’s the last one left of our original pastures and forages group, and I’ve a lot of respect for him besides. I hope Marlene {Johnsjoy} and he can both come down, though it’s a lot to expect. I don’t know who’d be my second choice.

<Sofia’s older sister made me supper last night.> In spite of the fact that I seem to be eating a lot here, I also am skinny. Of course, at Doña Carmen’s the standard fare is rice and beans, and the cafeteria where I eat lunch is only a little better. You always get a piece of tomato, cabbage salad, a thin tortilla and meat or cheese with your rice & beans.

Yesterday I out figured Renán {Molina}, my lab partner & teacher at present, on a math problem, percent humidity of a sample of rice in 2 stages. He wouldn’t accept the reason for the discrepancy in his answer and the calculator’s from my explanation though. Like so many people (e.g. my Dad) he is more inclined to rely on an authority than on his reasoning powers. After his boss (and mine too), Dr. Miguel Mora, confirmed that it was indeed necessary to make a correction such as I had suggested, he took a good look at the correction formula, and then explained to me why it was essential. I try to be an attentive student, but at times it costs me. Renán is a very patient instructor though, and I think we’ll get along well. Today he commented that I have a lot of shoes, very observant! <I’m wearing a pair Sofia had been storing for me, and it’s the fifth pair of shoes I’ve worn to work in 7 days.> I have 5 pairs & it’s a lot, but shoes were cheap in El Salvador & are less so here. I should get by a year with those I have.

Journal, November 23, 1976 PM

I only have time to write at lunch break it seems. I’m only home to eat and sleep, often not even that. <I ate at Sofia’s last night and will probably eat on the road tonight because I’m going with Sofia & her sister to register at the University {Universidad Nacional} right after work.>

<Last night I was first kind of down on Sofia and then pretty down on myself. With Sofia, it was because of her lack of appreciation of a good wine. I brought over a bottle of California red wine to share with Sofia’s family.> I’d gotten it in El Salvador tax free because of the Feria Internacional, and I thought it was just a little special. <It was not sweet enough to suit Sofia, and in general the family treated it like a bit better than guaro {Costarican rum-like liquor}, but certainly not on a level with vodka. Only one of Sofia’s sisters said she really liked it.> But you can never tell if she is sincere or just being nice. The lesson is, the quality of a product is of no importance to people who don’t realize or appreciate the quality, and if they don’t like the taste, well, they just don’t.

<Sofia was being a little bossy, a bit overly self-assured, and that can get me a little miffed, even while I’m kind of enjoying the performance.>

I got more pissed at myself for letting it slip my mind that the El Salvador bunch were leaving early today. I went to bed pretty early, & it turned out they had gone drinking right in San Antonio. I’d have only had to go looking. What a deadbeat.

Anyway, I got up at 4:30 AM with Dean {Current} to be sure to not miss saying goodbye. Strangely, I feel none the worse for it! I told Steve {Pamperin} I’d probably get married in the “spring.”

There’s a problem with the engagement party Saturday. Alexandra, one of Doña Carmen’s {children}, is graduating from grade school. I want them there, as closest representatives of my side of the family. They’d be so utterly crushed & offended if they weren’t included, and they always treat me right.

I started the rumor at work that I’ll be getting married. It means some ribbing, but in general this is a very marriage oriented society. It’s just that many men want a woman who never leaves the house, & who doesn’t holler too much when they come home late. I don’t think the idea of a wife being an important intellectual companion appeals to most of them.

Journal, November 22, 1976 AM

Today we encounter our hero in line waiting to get fingerprinted at the Ministry of Public Security in San José. I haven’t written since Thursday, no time.

I am now pretty well “cocido {cooked}.” <We bought a ring for Sofia on Friday.> It’s beautiful. We were fortunate to find the place where Jaime {Olson} & Pilar bought theirs. Other places had no selection. <I feel very positive about taking Sofia on as my partner.> But all the expense & hassle of a wedding scares us both.

Also Friday, the boys arrived from El Salvador. They have been a hit with everyone in San Antonio since they got off the bus. List of passengers: Steve Pamperin, Mike Shank, Dean Current, Jim Monachino, Art Bailey {all PCVs, Peace Corps Volunteers, except Art}. <Sofia took a real liking to Mike immediately & for the wedding I left her in Dean’s care, so she got close to him too.> They were like a delegation of good will ambassadors. With {PCV} Felipe {Vasquez} & I, they took Jaime out for a few beers to send him off.

Jaime was the star of the show at his in-laws’ house. He carried a bottle of guaro {rum-like Costarican liquor} around and judiciously made sure every one of us had as much to drink as he did. He had hoped Ahenor, his buddy from Anamoros, would show up, but he didn’t come on the Tica Bus with the other guys, and once Jaime got drinking he forgot about Ahenor completely.

The first round of drinking ended at 11 PM when we returned from the Jardín Cervecero {a bar whose name means beer garden} (after the guaro and 6 pitchers of beer) to hear a “serenata {serenade}” that some local musicians had been contracted to do for Pilar. They got there late, but it was really nice, a guitar & singing, as a sendoff for the bride.

Steve, Art and Felipe took Jaime into San José to drink more beer about 1 AM. I had already gone to bed at that time, but found out about it promptly in the morning through the rumor mill.

The wedding was beautiful, a real community event, with about 20 couples in the party between “padrinos {godparents}” and “amigos {friends}.” The fiesta {reception} was a true folk festival. <I danced the second dance with Pilar, & then got Sofia’s jealousy flowing by dancing one with Nuria (the “major amiga {maid of honor}” and a special enemy of Sofia).>

<Sofia got over it quickly, & we caught all the slow dances after that.> The rumor mill has turned full force on us now. Not only were we both repeatedly asked when we were getting married, Jaime’s Dad asked me if it was true we were going to get married in March. It doesn’t bother me any more. We’ll just follow our own timetable.

<Sunday, Sofia, her sisters & I took the El Salvador bunch to Ojo de Agua {water park}.> It was great, just the thing for the morning after, even though it was ungodly crowded. The guys loved the cold water, the falls below the Ojo {spring} and the diving boards. I went off headfirst from 3 meters for the first time ever. Mike took a picture of us in the falls.

Jaime’s folks came to visit Doña Carmen in the afternoon, and I served as interpreter. Jaime’s folks are so much like Pilar’s, just humble, hard-working folks who hate anyone making a fuss over them. But they just can’t repeat too often how much they appreciate the hospitality. They said Doña Carmen reminded them very much of a neighbor of theirs, & she was tremendously flattered.

When they had left last night, Israel Campos {Pilar’s father} said to me (taking me aside), “You know, you people come from a culture that is very much the same as ours, you & Jaime. His folks are like us and you’re like our children, and that’s why it has all worked out so well.” He said it all.

I saw the Olsons to the airport this morning. Again, I was interpreter & managed to help the flow of communication. Actually, most of what they tried to get across was emotion, & the language was largely superfluous. I couldn’t find any better words for them, or for Doña Marita {Pilar’s mother} and Doña Carmen, to express the great love & respect they all felt. The liquid level in my eyes got pretty high, but didn’t spill over.

<Sofia said that when I go home in December, she’s not going to the airport.> She doesn’t like to cry in public, she claims. I bet she wouldn’t cry, she’s pretty self-controlled, but I know what she means.

I got to Peace Corps Office late, but no hassle, & it appears I’ll have no problem going home for Christmas. Only the visa could hold me up. That’s what the fingerprints were for. I’m finishing this after lunch at the cafeteria in the Facultad de Agronomía {Agronomy Department} before reporting to work at CIGRAS.

<Sofia & I keep getting closer.> We both are apprehensive of the rough financial road we’ll tread in the early years of our marriage. But I’m very confident now that she believes in the central importance of learning all she can as much as I do. Her Dad is a great preacher of the get-an-education doctrine, like {my} Dad. She really enjoys the interchange of ideas, & I think she must get the same high from fresh knowledge that I feel. I’m pretty content with her.

Journal, November 19, 1976 AM

This wedding tomorrow is going to be something. Yesterday a few neighbors pitched in to kill a big hog & make chicherones {Costarican food like very thick bacon}. It is like weddings must have been in the U.S. when people had less money (Jaime’s {Olson} phrase), when my parents were young. Pilar {Campos} is the pride of the whole village, the joy of her relatives, the sweet girl who has never offended anyone. Jaime plays the part of the gallant and worthy suitor from afar perfectly. He is big & husky, a mountain, yet ruggedly handsome, outgoing, affable and saintly with his future in-laws.

It will be a folk festival, like one of the flashbacks in “The Old Gun”, or the wedding scene in "The Godfather!"

<Today, Sofia & I buy a ring. I have been getting bad vibes about Sofia from other folks, just yesterday.> What a weird phenomenon at this crucial turning point. <A girl on the bus said Sofia doesn’t know what she wants. Pilar is still upset because Sofia declined to be in the wedding party. Doña Carmen made a big scene this morning of explaining to me that she really doesn’t dislike Sofia, etc., etc. and so forth!>

Well, I can still back out. I won’t. I think she just doesn’t meet their standards for the all suffering, docile spouse. I’m not quite “cocido {cooked}” yet.

Journal, November 18, 1976 AM

Yesterday got completely forgotten until about noon, and at work I couldn’t do much about it. I barely was home at night. <Two nights in a row now I’ve eaten at Sofia’s.>

<Sofia & I are talking about the details of the marriage process.> I don’t hardly believe it, but tomorrow we’re going to buy a ring. We’ll make the engagement a fact next week, Saturday. She wants to set a wedding date then, tentatively. We’ve talked about March & June.

We had a minor “pleito {fight}” last night. {some text not transcribed}

Work is good. I am learning to classify rice & beans by quality. My lab partner is really decent. There is a Salvadoran woman in the adjoining seed quality lab. They have very fine facilities here, but lack personnel, & are just beginning in the seed & grain quality control field.

Journal, November 16, 1976 AM

First day on the job, and I felt like I was back in college. I’ll be working in a lab in the Agriculture faculty. The place is well equipped for grain analysis. I was impressed. The people seem very friendly and cooperative.

I spent little time at the Peace Corps Office. Juan Coward {Peace Corps Costa Rica Agriculture Program Director} asked if I had anything pressing to do, and when I told him no, he took me right out to where I’ll be working. He said that as far as arranging vacation leave was concerned, I would have to work it out with them, that he would defer to whatever they decided was best. Fortunately I had already discussed taking my home leave at Christmas time with Dr. Ronald Echandi, who appears to be the big boss at CIGRAS {Centro de Investigación de Granos y Semillas}, so I think there will be no problem.

<I saw Sofia on the run today as I returned from work, and she headed for the University in Heredia.> Not much of a love life.

I visited Pilar’s and B.S.’ed with Israel {Campos}, Marita and Juan Diego. Poor Marita is worn out from all the wedding preparations. She fell asleep sitting up. She’s incredible though in that she never loses her good humor. Mom would be feeling persecuted and be touchy. Israel’s a good man too, responsible. He says a lot of Costarican men spend their money in the bars while the family doesn’t eat right, but not him. Pilar is so sweet, and so incapable of a bitter thought. Sometimes I think she doesn’t belong in this world! <Sofia wonders how she’ll cope with the reality of married life.> Will Jaime {Olson} continue to shelter and protect her?


Journal, November 15, 1976 AM

It was a whirlwind transition. <In an hour I’ve moved from my El Salvador world into the world of San Antonio (of Sofia, Jaime {Olson} & Pilar, Doña Carmen, etc.).> It almost wiped me out. Now that I’m here, it seems like no time at all since I left.

Jaime’s folks are here, and his grandma (who is a real wonder, she’s got the grip of a man at 85+!). We drank the German wine from the Feria Internacional last evening. It was good, the only white wine I’ve ever had & I really liked. I’ll have to remember the name.

<Sofia received me with open arms even though I’d caused her and everyone else around here a lot of consternation by coming a day late.> The airline never gave them my message. <Sofia has already read the Aeneid (& many other classics).> They must stress the traditional humanities here more than in the U.S. She was impressing me with her insights and rational evaluation of situations more than ever before yesterday.

Journal, November 13, 1976 PM

We went to San Rafael near Zacatecaluca today to build a partition out of bamboo as an example for some campesinos {peasants}. That’s right, we were taken there by Margaret’s agency, the Unión Comunal Salvadoreña {Salvadoran Communal Union}, to stimulate their cooperative socios {members} to build themselves bamboo house / room dividers, even though they seemed perfectly happy with cardboard ones or none at all. It was a vintage Peace Corps expedition, Walter Mondale would be proud!

It was hotter than hell down on the coast, a good break-in for Art Bailey who yesterday morning left 20 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures {in Wisconsin}.

<I’m ready for Costa Rica, Sofia, Pilar and Jaime, and all the rest, now.> One extra day in this country was kind of interesting, sweet nostalgia, but now I’m impatient. Life is waiting for me there. I’m already a day late!

Journal, November 13, 1976 AM

I’ve been delinquent again. I intended to write after I ran this morning and then forgot. I have had two very pleasant farewell parties, one at my office (DGRNR) yesterday and the other here tonight. At work they gave me a huge pair of wall plaque that just barely fit in my suitcase and a hammock. Joaquin said the hammock had been strength tested for two! Everyone signed the wall plaques, & Max Anaya, our boss, took pictures. It was a nice waste of office time. Then they shot nearly the whole afternoon in a meeting to plan the office Christmas party. It’s no place for the person who wants to get things done, our office, but very sweet people, sincerely!

I got the corporate shaft this morning. LACSA {Costarican airline} called and informed me they had oversold my flight for today; would I like to go Sunday or Monday? <What an incredible bummer for the people there who’ll be expecting me, Sofia, Jaime {Olson} & Doña Carmen.> I was so disgusted I could feel the adrenalin flowing up into my head and the lump growing in my throat as I was sitting in the LACSA office being told that I had a reservation for the 14th, and that was all they knew, after I’d been called and told that my reservation for the 13th would not be honored earlier in the morning. I almost reached that point (threshold) where you have to interpret it as anger or grief and either strike out at something or break into tears. So now I go tomorrow.

The party yesterday evening was very mellow, very relaxed, and seemed to lack no one. Jay {Hasheider} came, with Conrad {Ebish}, Ana {his wife}, her mother & her kid sister. Russ Soules brought Rosamita, Hilda’s sister, as well as wife Hilda. Gerardo {Chavez} and Teresa from the tienda {store} came, and after the crowd thinned out, Gerardo got into form with his jokes. His jokes always border on the ridiculous, but his mannerisms and accents carry them. Fred {Tracy} was on hand, helping fry the rabbit meat, making light conversation and generally being useful. Art Bailey, who I once stayed with during a DTS {Delta Theta Sigma} fraternity “hell week” (1970-71, my freshman year of college), came by plane today {really yesterday} to spend two weeks with Steve Pamperin. He’ll be down for Jaime’s wedding.

Journal, November 10, 1976 PM

There’s no way to top off a day that’s quite as pleasant as drinking a bit of wine. Gary Forest brought home a bottle from the Feria {Internacional}. Everyone is buying wine! He shared some with Steve Pamperin and I. I have so seldom drunk wine that it is always a very special thing for me to try a little.

I went to DGRNR {Dirección General de Recursos Naturales Renovables} today (tomorrow’s the last time) and read over Chico’s {Rodriguez, Peace Corps Agriculture Program Director} latest draft of the Río Pacayas watershed project. I made a few comments on it and gave it back to him this afternoon. He’s getting his ideas organized better & better. It could be a really interesting piece of work.

I killed the rabbits this evening, and threw them in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator. The skins are for Doña Teresa, in the tienda {store}, and Tony, the maid. I also got a chocolate cake to take to work tomorrow & eat.

Virgil was in his glory today, describing the gore of battle as the Trojans and Latins waged battle. His descriptions of the deaths of “name” warriors are some of the most vivid mental pictures he draws. Through the long & sometimes tedious epic, I had reflected from time to time that he was just a Homer imitator, but just turning the tables (Trojans are the good guys and Greeks are the bad guys), and changing the setting and some names. I apologize. He is a true poet, building on Homer’s base, and adding in his own vivid imagination to turn a collection of Roman myths of their country’s beginnings into an epic worthy to be the sacred myth of the founding of the Roman Empire.


Journal, November 9, 1976 PM

I forgot to mention the landslide of mail I got yesterday, 3 letters in a day (and one more today). <Sofia wrote at last. She’ll be at the airport with her nephew.> And Jaime {Olson} wrote. Jaime has been picking coffee and enjoying Costa Rica. <Sofia says their wedding day will be the happiest day of their lives for Pilar and Jaime, but for her it won’t be like that.> She added a quote about living & dying rationally and productively. She also mentioned a humanized humanity, which is more in line with the idealism I remember.

I went out to DGRNR {Dirección General de Recursos Naturales Renovables} today, and B.S.’ed. I also went to a soils workshop with Fred Tracy. I’m such a bum, not doing anything of my own for my self-betterment, except {reading} the Aeneid.

Fred and I went to the Feria Internacional and bought wine, two bottles apiece, which used up all of our money. I got a bottle of German white wine and a bottle of California red. The German wine is for a toast with Jaime. <The other is for a special night with Sofia’s family.> Perhaps I’ll save it for the engagement party.

Fred showed Rick Ingles and I a bunch of his pictures tonight. Fred is such a worker. You can see all the stuff he has done as an extensionist from his pictures. He makes me ashamed of my puny accomplishments as a PCV {Peace Corps Volunteer}. He’s all energy and initiative! He really knows his field too. He’s not diddling in something he’s not sure of like I felt I was in the campo {rural zone}. But then, for me, the Peace Corps years will be just a pause for reflection, decision and personal emotional growth, while, for him, they are an integral part of his experience in his chosen field (as well as a great time of personal development, no question).

Journal, November 8, 1976 PM

I spent the day on administrative chores and odds and ends. <I sent a card to sister Mary for her birthday, and saw one I liked, so I sent a card to Sofia too.> Perhaps it will get there before I do.

I hung around with Fred Tracy some today. I was surprised to find that he leaned toward Ford in the {U.S.} election. Of course the whole West went to Ford, and he’s just back from spending some time with his conservative parents. Still it disappoints me to see Fred cop out and say, “Well, we knew what Ford could do, and Carter scares everybody!” I wouldn’t vote for Ford precisely because I knew what we could expect from him, negativism! Ford’s campaign button was red, Carter’s green, like metaphors of the two men.

Journal, November 8, 1976 AM

“And I just want to live on and on!” I was grooving on that tune through my 4 laps this morning. That’s what it’s all about for the living and thinking person. Writers write so they will be remembered through their works. Scientists develop theories to describe the universe so that they will perhaps be remembered as adding a given insight to our worldview. Politicians propose laws and programs which they hope will immortalize their names. Though so many of them are cynically power hungry that you wonder! I want to create something, too, that will prove me a useful human being who was worth having on this globe. Still, I don’t fell tremendous urgency yet. Perhaps I never will. {Walt} Whitman says you show what you are through your daily actions.

Yesterday I went to Metalio to say ‘Goodbye.’ El Maizal greeted me with lots of faces (Sunday is clinic day), but none I knew well. I took a hike around, and found some great legumes for my rabbits. They are getting some things done. They have a place built for the scale from AID, and, a building next to it that might be a milking shed, is under construction. They have a couple pastures fenced off that look pretty good. They filled the silo with maicillo {grain sorghum}, which made me feel good, though they could have put more in if they had heaped it up in the center. They have one huge female rabbit (a New Zealand White) that is simply gorgeous. Things are coming along at El Maizal, but slowly, and I don’t think my being there would have made them move any faster.

There being nobody to say goodbye to at El Maizal, I left my cuma {small curved machete-like tool} as a gift for Aristides and went to Metalio.

Don Tin was glad to see me as always. He called me Jay instead of Dino, just like always. He and his wife Reina are such good people, and their kids are so cute. The littlest girl played peek-a-boo with me all the time I was there and seemed to enjoy it immensely. I took a picture of the family group, minus the young son who was asleep.

Don Tin is a true hard working, self-reliant man. He has worked hard all his many years and never asked favors. What a contrast he makes with the last people I visited in Metalio, Don Adán and his family. Adán takes care of the beach house where Jay and I first lived, and where Jay is now living again. His wife used to wash my clothes. They live so wretchedly, in such filth, and look such physical wrecks. Yet everyone helps them out. When their children are sick, they appeal to Dr. Suares Castro, who owns the house Jay & I lived in. Everyone gives them things because they look to be in such desperate straits. I gave them my kerosene lamp and my water jug. Don Adán is so worthless, he does nothing except raise a little “milpa” {corn field}, and of course drink. I don’t think he’s been really sober in years. I took 2 pictures of the family. I don’t ever want to forget the contrast between Don Tin & Don Adán. Neither started with anything much in life. Adán has regressed.

In between the two visits, I ran into Don Santos. We had a good talk about life - women, wealth, politics. Both Tin and Santos lamented the situation in El Salvador. There is no work here, no chance to get ahead. And as Santos said, you don’t even dare say anything against the government, or two “agentes {agents}” will take you by the arms, put your hands behind your back and lead you off to jail. The next morning they will take you out somewhere and put a bullet in your head. And nothing will be heard about you again. The failure of the agrarian reform project shows how hopeless things are. The countryside is peaceful yet, but both Santos & Tin hint that it won’t last. This poor country! The paradise of Claudia Lars’ youth has been raped by the big landowners and industrialists, and by the campesinos {peasant farmers} trying to scratch out a living. I fear the path from its present unstable state to a more egalitarian & stable one (socialist or socialist / small capitalist) will be a bloody one.

Journal, November 6, 1976 PM

Pupusas de ayote , just another of those innumerable experiences I’ve had here that I’ll never be able to duplicate. Gerardo’s {Chavez} wife, Teresa, made us some huge (6 inches in diameter & nearly an inch thick) pupusas with filling of ayote (a winter squash they tell me, with a taste close to pumpkin), tomato, onion and two kinds of cheese. They were delicious, and 3 made a big meal. The evening was made complete by Mike’s {Shank} antics and Gerardo’s endless repertoire of jokes (most about Salvadoran President Molina). It was Gerardo’s and his family’s “despedida {farewell party}” for me. I’m going to miss them.

I bought 2 more rabbits today, for Friday’s barbecue. They are skinny, so I plan to fatten them up until Thursday. They eat everything in sight!

I’ve given up the idea of doing anything useful before I leave this country. Mike met the new group of trainees (51 of them arrived last night), and he says no replacements for us came. So I’m a lame duck with no successor. It’s probably better that way. I don’t know how my replacement would have kept busy.

Journal, November 6, 1976 AM

I took an easy day mentally yesterday. I went up to Parque Balboa {Balboa Park} in Los Planes de Renderos. It is one of the more peaceful and beautiful spots near San Salvador. However, even there I was approached by a couple kids selling sweets & gum. There is no escape in this country. I shudder to think this is where the world is headed.

We went to the Feria Internacional {International Fair} last night. It is mostly industrial exhibits, but they are selling some foreign wines tax-free. I think I’ll buy a bottle to make a toast with Jaime {Olson} and Pilar.


Journal, November 5, 1976 AM

Día del primer grito de independencia de {day of the first shout of independence of} El Salvador.

I ran again today, 4 laps on the big cafetalón {coffee field} track. I weighed in at 176 lbs. at Peace Corps Office yesterday, but I don’t feel fat. I feel tough, or at least semi-tough.

I got my stuff packed in a big bamboo basket to send to Costa Rica yesterday. I’ll send it tomorrow morning. I also got my bike wrapped up in foam rubber. I feel just about ready as far as my possessions are concerned. Jaleh {Peace Corps staff} promised me my airplane ticket for Monday. Then I can change money over and such.

Carter will get somewhere between 272 and 303 electoral votes when the “college” convenes in December. In any case, it was an incredibly tight election. He won by only about 34,000 votes in Wisconsin, and even less in Ohio. Actually, Ohio is doing a recount; he may lose it, but will win without it. The entire West went to Ford (except Oregon where the final count is not in), and the whole South to Carter. It was a regionalist election. As an older woman from California (who is a Peace Corps Volunteer) said, “Westerners distrust someone who wears his religion on his sleeve.” At least it’s an interesting observation, if not a partial explanation for the phenomenon.

I saw this same woman’s nephew, Robert DeNiro in a movie last night. Steve Pamperin and I went to see “Taxi Driver.” It was “well done” as everyone had told us, and their adjective “strange” was also apt. The story of a man who just could not take the meaninglessness of his own life and the vile baseness of his world. He tried to lash out at the most visible of the powerful (whom he also saw as at least a symbolic sexual rival), a politician. Failing that, he spent his wrath on the corrupters of a young prostitute. He, even in his insanity, was very moral. He was haunted by the $20 the girl’s pimp had given him to look the other way, finally returning it to the “hotel manager.” His wrath spent & himself proclaimed a hero, by accident of fate, he returns to his taxi, now seemingly content to be just an invisible taxi driver.

Journal, November 4, 1976 AM

I ran over at the cafetalón {coffee field} this morning, and am writing while the sweat is still dripping and that feeling of euphoric exhaustion from physical exertion is still upon me. I am trying to get better control of myself emotionally and intellectually by this physical conditioning and discipline. Last evening I was at a peak of frustration and disorientation. I had been trying to get all my possessions into my two suitcases, and had found it impossible. I was torn between getting another piece of luggage and letting Steve Pamperin take a lot of stuff down, and mailing some of my books and other junk down. I’ll mail some stuff. Then Mike {Shank} was occupying almost the whole kitchen when I wanted to make supper . . . Plus, intermittently, I was struck with the big doubt about why I am forsaking temporarily my personal goals for the sake of a romantic relationship. I wish I could just make a decision and shove it to the far corner of my mind, remembered and followed but no longer subject to reassessment!

James Earl Carter is President-elect of the United States. I wore my Carter button to work yesterday in the interest of having my own little one-day campaign. I am pleased to have a nonlawyer President, a President who has a varied personal experience (military, academic, private enterprise) instead of a lifelong politician. Carter has promised to pay more attention to Latin America, too. I have high hopes. He is just unorthodox enough to be a great leader. America and the world need one.

Journal, November 3, 1976 AM

I had a very wholesome day today. At 7 AM I went to run 3 laps around the track at the cafetalón {coffee field}. I had a good breakfast, and at 11:00 I headed for Los Chorros swimming resort with Steve Pamperin, Marlene {Johnsjoy} and Margaret. It appears Margaret is going to inherit my room here when I leave. We never have any vacancies in this place. The price is right!

I took a nap this afternoon, ate and went to Tiffany’s (a Gringo {North American} place in Escalón) to an election night gathering for the American community. When we left at 12:30, they had projected (CBS) that Carter had 267 sure electoral votes and Ford 126. The popular vote was 51% to 48% for Carter with 63% of the vote counted. Wisconsin is predicted in the Carter column. They impounded the ballots in New York. The race is extremely close there. In California, 85% of those eligible apparently voted, which should mean Carter has a better chance of carrying that state. I expect Carter to win, and I’m pleased. It could be a historical turning point. At the very least it means some new faces and new ideas in Washington, change instead of the status quo.

Russ Soules was at the election night what-cha-ma-call-it. He and Hilda seem to be getting along fabulously, and he promised to come to my despedida {farewell party}. I may have seen Art and Lila Eisenhower for the last time. They leave Thursday. They gave us one last ride home this morning.

Journal, November 1, 1976 PM

The dog that bit me still lives. I apparently won’t have to get the 20 odd rabies shots. Not only is she alive, she’s got 6 fat little pups.

I left work just a little early today, and while walking to where the #33 bus stops, I met a man from the campo {rural area}. He’d been at DGRNR {where I work} trying to talk to the head of the Fisheries Service. He was looking for work, a common pastime here, and he meant to leave no stone unturned in his search for employment. I fully expected him to ask me if I could help him get work (that’s not uncommon either) but he was too polite to be so forward with a complete stranger. For the unskilled and uneducated getting and keeping work is a constant battle. Many will try most anything. From the Gringo’s {North American} standpoint it’s a liability of getting close to people that they ask for and sometimes simply expect your help getting a job. The PCV {Peace Corps Volunteer} who is on a limited salary and has no leads on jobs, can be made to feel inadequate. You gain insight into the thought behind the Biblical saying about the poor always being there. There is “too little of you” to help all of them.

Dave Quarles can be a bother to have in the house. Nothing escapes him and nothing is safe from him! He has borrowed one of my pens (I spied him with it, having assumed I’d lost it.), and ate half an apple I had stored away in the refrigerator for a special treat. I have to make sure he at least pays me the 20 Colones I loaned him last night before he leaves.

Dave has a book of quotes just about like mine. I copied an interesting quote he had by Henry Kissinger. Dave’s hard to live with, but interesting to have around certainly.


Images, November 1976

Gerardo Chavez, Maria Teresa de Chavez, Mari Cruz and Steve Hays at my farewell party in Santa Tecla.

From my farewell party, Hilda and Russ Soules, and Hilda's sister Rosamita. Mari Cruz is on the left in the background.

Conrad Ebish, wife Ana, her sister & mother at my farewell party in our apartment.

Margaret, Art Bailey, Rick Ingles, Fred Tracy and Marlene Johnsjoy at my farewell party.

Doña Carmen's youngest daughter, Mauren, with a cousin, in front of their house.

Jaime Olson and his parents in church at his wedding. Mike Shank is kneeling to take a picture.

Juan Diego Campos & his escort walk down the aisle at the Jaime Olson & Pilar Campos wedding.

Dino Jefferson and other groom's men at Campos / Olson wedding.

The two families at Campos / Olson wedding.

Alexandra {Doña Carmen's "middle" daughter} receiving her diploma at graduation ceremony. {Costarican primary school is grades 1 through 6.}

Alexandra's 6th grade graduation.

Alexandra's 6th grade graduation.

Alexandra's graduating class at primary school.

Girls doing a dance number at Alexandra's graduation.

Alexandra and her teacher at her graduation from primary school.

Jaime & Pilar {Olson} at our engagement party at Sofia's house.


Journal, October 31, 1976 PM

It was a peaceful afternoon. We went to Cafetería Tin for lunch. I had 3 tacos, a platano {plantain} with crema {sour cream} and coffee, and I wrote 2 letters. I also spent some time B.S.’ing over at the tienda {store} on the corner. Marlene Johnsjoy, our new neighbor (she & Fred Tracy are living with Steve Hays and Mari Cruz now), was over for an evening visit. She even did our supper dishes, in spite of the fact she ate almost none of it. Without Fred and in a new environment, she’s very lonely. She reminds me of my sister Joyce, loves plants and animals even. I gave her “All Creatures Great and Small” (which Joyce sent down to me) to read.

Journal, October 31, 1976, 12:20 PM (Sunday)

I just got through killing Hojo Rojo {literally Red Eye} the rabbit and giving his skin to the folks at the tienda {store}. What a cold-blood I am!

I went to {Peace Corps El Salvador Director} John Jones’ party for {U.S.} Ambassador Lozano yesterday afternoon. Ah the peaceful chatter and appetizing snacks of a suburban lawn party. But then PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers} are interesting people, so it was decent. I listened to the new {U.S.} Embassy number two man (Lubensky?) talk about Germany and Ecuador, two of his favorite countries, and about his 120 acres in West Virginia, where he hopes to retire soon. I met the aunt of a newly famous actor {Robert De Niro}, star of “Taxi Driver” and “Godfather Part II”. She’s a PCV and says she finds it strange being related to a famous person.

I went to Conrad Ebish’s wedding. It was kind of sad, no music and only a local photographer. Dr. {Art} Eisenhower and his wife Lila were Padrinos {Godparents}, and ended up taxiing Conrad and Ana all over. Steve Pamperin and I were the only Peace Corps people attending, and we tagged along to the reception at Circulo Militar. A big meal was served which I couldn’t eat because I’d stuffed myself at John Jones’.

Journal, October 30, 1976 AM

Today is Halloween in the U.S., but they don’t celebrate that one here.

I’ve already been to see the rector {University chancellor or president} and dentist this morning. He struck a nerve in one drilling this morning, so today I’ll refrain from singing his virtues.

We had an office party yesterday. It was Joaquin Rodeno’s birthday and I don’t know what else, but it was quite a do. We began with pizza and a birthday cake at lunch hour, and then, after work, we had a real party at Joaquin’s family’s place on Lake Ilopango. (He’s from a rich family with a place on every major beach & lake in the country.) Mike {Shank} and I went early with the food and beer, and had time to smoke a joint (with Joaquin & Oscar Nuñez) and take a swim before anyone else arrived.

Sandra, the secretary, was in her glory at this party. When she started dancing there was no letup. The image of her trying to throw her small, well-formed breasts from side to side like a strip teaser lingers in my brain. As Mike put it, she is so reserved in the office that it really takes you aback to see her let go. She’s got the impishly sweet looks, bravado and vulnerability of a sixteen-year-old.

Francisco Avalos explained to me why the agrarian reform in El Salvador failed. He claims the crucial factor is that the industrial elite and the agrarian elite in this little country are the same people (or at least the same families). An independent industrial elite might back a reform as a road to increased internal demand for their products. But here, says Francisco, only the multinational companies with factories here (mostly U.S. corporations) stood to gain. {Salvadoran President} Molina tried, but only proved you can’t carry out a sweeping agrarian reform when your government is so dependent upon the landed class.