Wednesday, May 20, 2015


We were in Brasil during Carter's presidency, and the Brasilian government of the day was not kindly disposed to American citizens.  We jumped through hoops pretty regularly to stay in the country.  There were border crossings, paperwork nightmares, and interminable standing in lines that took place the whole time we were there.  It was so bad that although Dad grew a beard while we were down there, he shaved it off when it was time to come back.  He was concerned that if his passport didn't exactly match his appearance, they would deny him permission to leave.  Bureaucratic hurdles plague visitors at the best of times.  But Brasil decided to make it especially difficult in 1979 on visiting Yanks.

So one time when we were in Belem, applying for a permit of some kind, we were pulled out of line and taken into a back room. Dad moved quickly into Papa Bear mode, but it was of no use.  The officials were going to fingerprint us, to make sure that we were not on an international criminal list.  (Come to think about it, that beard was a pretty fierce look for Dad...) and there was nothing that Papa Bear could do.

Mom helped make light of the situation, moving with us to comply.  They took Caroline's prints, rolling each of her 5-year-old fingers in the ink, then on the paper.  Then mine. 

Then came Mom's turn. They rolled her fingers, and then stared at the page.

Muttering commenced.

They looked at the fair-complectioned, slight woman, and edged menacingly closer to her.

"Do it again."

They tried again.  And then again.  At this point, they are getting more and more hostile, and Dad finally stepped in again.  "What is going on here?"

"Your 'wife' has burned off her fingerprints to avoid detection!"

Mom and Dad both looked down at the paper, and the smudges for each of the fingerprints was completely free of any ridges.  No identifying marks - no whorls, loops or lines of any kind.


Mom looked over at Dad, and said, "How often do YOU use lye soap to do washing?"

Dad turned back to the bureaucrat, and explained what had happened.  Explained that Mom was not an international fugitive.  Explained and argued, and finally we got out of there.

I thought of this episode from the distant past this week because I am finding some of my surroundings caustic.  There are things around me that eat away at the very thing that distinguishes me from every other soulless bureaucrat in the world.  The high points get worn down, and the whorls that make me interesting get muted.

But then, at the very point at which I feel that my individuality is gone, I look around and the people I love go to bat for me.  They argue that they know me - that I am not a fugitive.  That I am loved, and that the lack of fingerprints do not mean that I am faceless.

And I look back and smile to think that somewhere in Brasilian bureaucracyland, enshrined in some little folder, is a study of black and white of my fingerprints.

1 comment:

aunt Patty said...

Will Always have your back. Will ALWAYS stand in the gap. Will always be by and on your side. You are my son and I am very proud of you.