Wedding Bells

A 1930 Studebaker sedan similar to the one Cobert owned.
Image is of my sister, Aminta, and myself serving
as flower girl and ring bearer at one of several
weddings we would be called upon to adorn. My mother
would also be asked to do all the dress making for these
Silver weddings of the 40’s. I remember refusing to
smile for the photo as no one had really informed me
before hand that I would be participating in this wedding.

Rosa Lena Green and Cobert Reid, as with most young people, had very little notion of the enormous responsibility ahead of them as a married couple. They were too busy falling in love and enjoying themselves and their friends in the few areas around Calidonia and Santa Ana in Panama City that offered anything interesting for adolescents.

Although my father, Cobert, was already twenty years old and enjoying a certain degree of freedom since he was the oldest boy in my Grandmother Fanny’s home and had been employed on the Zone for several years, he was feeling like a young teenager again in the presence of his beloved, Rosa.

The not yet emancipated Rosa, on the other hand, was still quite young, about fifteen years of age, and had been packed off by her parents from the City of Colón to go “study” dressmaking with a well known and respected “modista” (dressmaker) in the capital city. The plan was for her to stay with her Aunt, Mrs. Ethel Anglin Francis, who lived in a one-room on Mariano Arosemena Street with her daughter in Calidonia, the part of the city preferred by Silver people. Her parents would send Ethel some money from Colón periodically to help with costs since Aunt Ethel was a widow and had never remarried. She was raising her daughter as a single mom and was employed at the nearby Ancon laundry where she was acquainted with my Grandmother Fanny Reid as co-workers.

Young, pretty and petite, Rosa also proved to be quite handy with the Singer sewing machine– you know, the original heavy black iron masterpieces of American ingenuity- and she knew many tricks of the dressmaking trade which she was learning from her new teacher. She was good enough, as with many dressmakers of the time, especially those brilliant “artists” from Colón who could turn a piece of cloth into a designer’s dream, to design and stitch together her own wardrobe.

She was a teen knock out with her pretty little flirtatious ways and she was always decked out like a sophisticate. In fact, Rosa was utilized by her Spanish speaking master dressmaker as her model and to meet with her Westindian clientèle to promote her “costurera” (dressmaking) shop. Her friends and younger sisters were soon asking her before and after her wedding to design and sew garments for them and she seemed to be on her way as an up and coming seamstress.

The appearance of Cobert in her life, however, curtailed her ascendance into some kind of sustainable trade and she was soon distracted away from her lessons, dashing out with Cobert as soon as her Tía’s warnings had worn off. She had always been a head strong girl and now, in the prime of her youth, she was proving to be a headstrong and irritatingly determined woman, although she very seldom prudent. She would acquiesce to this young man’s desires to marry her.

After all, he was gainfully employed on Ft Clayton, always had spending money, and belonged to the well known “Sheffield” social club where she could meet other young people of the city. They immediately attracted groups of youngsters within their own age group since he owned a car of his own, a gleaming Studebaker. Rosa Lena just loved to see the admiring glances coming from her friends and she was especially empowered by the look of envy on her girlfriends’ faces whenever Cobert would show up in his black Studebaker to pack her in gingerly. She would hold her head up high like the Westindian Queen of Panama as he would turn over the car and they’d drive off on their date.

Without ever having informed her parents, her teacher or her poor beleaguered Aunt Ethel, Rosa straightaway gave into Cobert’s decision to be married and when and where the wedding would take place. She enthusiastically began amassing the costly China silk and lace- lots of lace- from Belgium, France and Spain to help her decide the exact design of the wedding gown she would wear at her own wedding in October. In fact, her teacher and mentor assisted her with the wedding plans and it seemed like the wedding couldn’t come at a better moment since by the middle of September she had begun suffering through her first bouts of morning sickness. Cobert was a little taken aback by how swiftly she’d become pregnant in their relationship- it seemed to him that they had not had as many opportunities to be alone as he would have liked- but, he would guard her secret until they were formally wed. It wasn’t that uncommon, after all, since many weddings between young people in those days were of the forced variety.

Finally, the wedding day arrived in October and the wedding party with a couple of bridesmaids, the Best Man and the accompanying ring bearer and little flower girl in tow, arrived all elegantly dressed. Rosa was proud of herself, but then she had had help from her mentor. They were married in St. Paul Episcopal Church– something to which Cobert had reluctantly agreed since he was loath to step inside any church- but, for his little Rosa he would do just about anything.

In her usual and infuriatingly impulsive manner Rosa went to Colón to announce her marriage to her mother and father, my grandparents Seymour and Marcella Green, only the day before the actual event. With no time to express their anger and disappointment, Naní only had time to buy a beautiful wedding bouquet and take her other five daughters with her on the train to attend the wedding the next day in Panama.

The procession to and from the church was extraordinary and a spectacle worthy of a VIP, and it would probably be the highlight of the entire marriage from start to disastrous end, since Cobert was one of the few Westindian boys to have the means to be able to pay for a flamboyant wedding and own such a grand automobile.

I was born seven months later and all the tongue wagging matrons and especially Cobert’s three sisters around the San Miguel section of the city winked at each other when they heard that Rosa and Cobert’s new baby boy had arrived a “sietemesino” at the local Santo Thomas Hospital.

This story continues.

3 responses to “Wedding Bells

  1. Anita Cumberbatch

    What a lovely story!The photo by itself tells its own story.It is interesting to see how the early West Indians in Panama prepared their children to be marketable and for employment. Your mom started out as an apprentice with a master seamstress.

    The first generation of West Indian children born in Panama enjoyed an interesting life. My maternal grandmother was born in Panama. My mother would often tell me stories of the fabulous lifestyle that she and my father led.

    My sisters and I would often visit our seamstress-Ms. Carmen, who lived in Colon, to measure and fit for our Easter and Third and Fifth of November dresses.

    Most families in Colon and Rainbow City had an excellent, top-notch dressmaker. In Rainbow City there was also Mrs. Luna who was very good at her trade. She was often booked for a long time, so one had to plan and go to her with cloth and measurements long before the holiday.

    I look forward to reading more of your stories.


  2. Anita,

    Thank you for reminding us of the talented Colón dressmakers that, even today, give us a glimpse of their handiwork for 3rd and 5th of November. These women as well as men (tailors) were the best in the land- even better than the artisans in Panama City; and I have experience on both coasts.


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