In 1996 Nabisco dropped the cracker
and then revived it in 1997 in the face of a
concerted campaign from consumers.
in the community
of Gorgona (earlY photo)
courtesy of czimages.com
By the 1930’s and 40’s the US Interoceanic Canal Commission (ICC) would, once again in history and with the able assistance of Black Westindian labor, effectively transform the bankrupt economy of the U.S.A. into the booming advertising centered economy that would eventually emerge during the 1950’s and 1960’s; and they would achieve this from an obscure corner of the world called Panama.
The large, well known super market emporiums that later became the chains food distributors in the U.S.A. and even the countries under U.S. hegemony paled, at least in the beginning, in comparison to the Commissaries on the Panama Canal Zone of the 1930′s and 40′s. In Panama, believe it or not, was where the first American style super markets saw their beginnings and experienced their test runs.
For the Silver Roll workers there were three main “Silver” Commissaries. The Curundu Silver Commissary which stood right outside the west crossing of the entrance to the Canal Zone from Panama City proper. It, indeed, was one of the largest and most well stocked of them all. The second largest was the “Silver” Commissary at Paraiso, one of the oldest and most well known of the “Silver” Roll settlements. The township of Paraiso was very much like most of the Silver settlements, as we’ve seen in former posts. It was built on former swamp ground which used to be a temporary Black workers’ camp ground designed that way to be near the field works during the construction era.
The departments within the Commissaries were well planned on the inside of the store, just as reported by some of my aunts who were employed as check out cashiers at the Gold Roll Commissaries. I can vividly remember, in fact, when I went to visit, the well stocked shelves of canned meats, Campbell Soups, Aunt Jemima Pancake boxes, cereals, Crown Pilot Crackers, Royal Crown Soda, Coca Cola, Cracker Jacks, and Gold Dust Twins Detergent, packed in an orange colored box with the silhouette of two black children sitting side by side imprinted on the face of the boxes. It was in the commissaries where I had my first taste of American brand name products that many folks came to enjoy and trust. I can trace my preference for Crown Pilot Crackers to accompany a hearty bowl of Westindian style soup to the well stocked shelves of the Silver Commissaries.
The toy section of the Commissary was where the latest in toys were displayed, such as a hand held two wheeled foot pumped contraption- a scooter- that did not cease to be popular among the Westindian kids in the neighborhoods of Panama. The scooters of those days, however, were well built and durable with strong wheels that were perfect for gliding down San Miguel Hill in our neighborhood in Calidonia.
Christmas and New Year were days of ample celebration in most Black workers’ home and would become a tradition that even I would not let die as I reached the age of adolescence when toys and gifts were not supposed to be important. Our homes had to be decorated for Christmas and there should always be a tall Christmas Tree with all the trimmings and lights adorning one corner of the living room.
The town of Red Tank, however, which was approximately three kilometres away from “Silver” Paraiso, would distinguish itself for its beautiful decorations at Christmas time. In fact, Red Tank, in its heyday, made the list of places to visit during the quiet nights of the Christmas holiday season for its welcoming and lavish displays of lights, tinsel and nativity scenes that became a feast for the eyes. The “Silver” Canal Zone, in fact, went all out during Christmas and New Years in spreading the spirit of cheer and celebration. It would have rivaled any American town.
The next holiday to be celebrated by Westindians was the Fourth of July, although in all the times of growing up in Panama I never witnessed American white people from the states celebrating our (Panamanian) Third of November. We, the Panamanians, however, did, since the earliest of times celebrate the 4th of July as if it was one of our own holidays. This holiday was a purely American holiday but the Black Westindians would celebrate “Picnic,” as we often referred to this family day off, as if it had been theirs.
This story continues.