The Scowling Stranger

This is an image of 29-47 Mariano Arosemena Street
where my father and mother eventually came to settle in a
one room dwelling- the four of us- in the heart of Calidonia.
Our home is the downstairs unit, second to the
right-only one window.

My first experience with what
Mr. George W. Westerman later called “The Westindian Problem“-a set of problems that I feel we all, directly or indirectly, encountered as Westindian people and were somehow related- would unfold at the tender age of four. It would prove to be an unforgettable morning in that same year of 1940 as my status as a member of the Green Family of Colon would end abruptly- too abruptly- at a time when I most needed my family’s love and care.

It would turn out to be one of the first times in life that I’d be thinking about finally settling down with my grandparents and forgetting the world around us. I remember that according to the banter I heard from my aunts that it was a Saturday morning and that for the past two Saturday mornings my grandfather Seymour had made it a ritual to take us for a dip in the ocean at the nearby beach.

Usually he would only take Aminta and me to the beach with him and there he would meet some of his friends. For us kids it was a very pleasant experience because we would, invariably, become the center of attention to all those folks, as both Westindian men and women alike made a big deal out of us kids. We would, from time to time, call out from the beach, “Grandfather, Grandfather, come!” just to recapture his attention it seemed. But, he never did become annoyed or treat us as a nuisance. He seemed ever loving, gentle and responsive in all his ways with his first two grandchildren.

At any rate, this particular Saturday morning we would not be going to the beach, I thought, as I was conscious that Naní had dressed me as if we would be going out together as usual and not for the beach. I heard my Papá talking to someone in the receiving room in rather hushed tones. Then, the moment I walked into the room and got close to my grandfather this person, who I didn’t recognize, scowled at me in an intimidating way. The man continued to look my way with a pronounced scowl on his face all the time we were together. My reaction was to think, “Why is he mad at me, I don’t even know him?” I was only four years old and he seemed to be a grown man already. “Why is he so mad at me?” I pondered again.

By evening all my maternal aunts had congregated downstairs in front the entrance to the building on the side walk to see us off but my grandfather was not there. My Aunt Hilda, the one that followed my mother in age sat in the back of the car with Aminta, three years old then, and me. My mother, Rosa, sat next to this man whom I was soon to learn was my father and we were off to Panama City by road taking a route I didn’t remember taking before. The trip was a long one and it would be night before we would come to a stop. We disembarked in a place that I would later learn was called Calidonia.

I was very sad, to say the least, because no one spoke to us kids about who this man was or where we were going. I had fallen asleep for most of the car ride lying down on the seat next to my aunt and, upon arrival in the city, she more like dragged us up the steps of this strange wooden or “board building” and put us to bed as soon as we entered the place.

The morning light brought the revelation to us that we were in our new home and that, as I saw it, I would never see my Naní and grandfather again. Even more saddened by my new surroundings I wanted to get away from the ill tempered Westindian man they, my mother and aunt, referred to as my father. The man had not even acknowledged me, in fact, as all his attentions were centered on my mother and aunt all the time.

I was aware that they had started talking about a pigeon coop and making Ice cream as I wandered away from them seeing the flock of pigeons on a ledge right outside the wrought iron balcony that I was still too young to look over. In fact, I had a better view of the birds and soon got bored with watching the pigeons. I wandered down the wide wooden floored balcony space and soon met up with a neighbor, a Westindian girl, much older than I was at the time. “Who you?” she asked friendly like and I answered, “I’m Juni!”

She looked me over then told me her name, which I forgot immediately as she said, “Want to play house?” “Ok!” I answered as she led me into an enclosed area of the balcony were she had her toys already laid out. She served me a cup from her toy tea set and said, “You’re the Daddy and I am the Mommy, all right? Before I could think that she seemed to me too old to be playing with such toys and games, I heard my mother call out, “Juni, Juni come here right now!” “I got to go!” I said, and ran to meet my mother who, for the first time in my young four year old life, had had anything whatsoever to do with me.

This story continues.

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