The Bloody Scenario

You are looking down from one of the
balconies in our building at Mariano Arosemena St..
The neighbors watched the entire bloody scene
unfold in our courtyard
from these same balconies over 60 years ago.

The day on which the whole neighborhood’s eyes would be turned on my mother would be another day of calamity for me, another shameful incident for us kids to have to endure. The Silver commissary caper had not yet subsided nor had its potential for disaster insured our safety as small children.

It must have been in the latter part of the morning one day when I heard a sudden commotion in the back of the building in which we lived. I was sure it originated from the center courtyard of that large building and when I ran back there to see what had happened, my eyes focused on my mother who stood ready with a large club in her right hand. Then I looked up and down and noticed that the whole neighborhood was out looking as spectators do in a bull ring.

The “bull” at the center of the spectacle, in fact, was the Chiricana woman who had recently come to live in the room next to ours in the front of the building from the Province of Chiriqui. “A white Panamanian woman at that,” I thought with the acumen of a judge to see a large problem unfolding. To my surprise and horror this woman, who had recently come to live so close to us, was, in that moment, covered in her own blood.

The screams from the neighborhood women echoed from the balconies and their dismay infected us small children too. If there was ever a scary scene to stay away from this was it and yet I bravely made a rush over to my mother’s side to try to pry the club from her hand.

Fearing that we all would end up in jail I started to cry with that dreadful vision in mind that my mother would soon wind up in jail. This was just another fear of a childhood filled with awful events and foreboding. I had still not gotten over the blows to my head by an angry Silver Roll man; then the “accident” in which I had almost been run over by a passenger bus- I was beginning to expect the worse. All of this added to the stupid habit my parents had recently gotten into of going out at night and leaving us kids locked up inside the room alone began making me a permanent worrier. I was worried about our safety all the time- to be trapped in a fire, especially, something I had witnessed in the Colon I so loved.

I made a desperate but determined move to take the club out of my mother’s hand, a woman who was much stronger than her spindling little six year old and particularly strong when she got into these rages. She then gave me such a shove that it made me fall down on the slimy “patio limoso,” which was always slippery from all the washing that was normally done there. I really felt foolish in front of the washer women as I scrambled to get up again. So much for my attempt at making my mother realize that she should be a mother who cared for us and not one who endangered our lives. She, however, behaved like she was deranged and couldn’t even recognize her own son enough to desist in what had turned out to be a violent act.

“Trapped again!” I thought and, like in a flash dream, someone intervened to stop the big blood covered woman from retaliating and advancing towards us. My father had appeared on the scene at the same time as the police. The entire neighborhood now watched while my parents and the Chiricana were escorted to somewhere out of the neighborhood.

For the rest of the evening the Spanish neighbor ladies who lived in the building looked in on us. They, like real vecinas, fed us and some of them even waited with us in our room until my parents returned home. We were too young to really understand the seriousness of the events that had just transpired but I fully appreciated the absolute awfulness of what was befalling us. As usual, no one spoke to us about the events of that day or any of the other days on which things would seem to go from bad to worse.

In the meantime, for me things would get especially difficult since I seemed to be the only one who could read my mother’s moods. She, in fact, began relying on me more, especially when she would feel confused. By then the inevitability that any incident or minor “event” would get out of hand seemed a sure thing. I began to worry continually as I watched my mother grow increasingly morose. In what seemed to me a depressed state all the time she would sit at her sewing machine without producing anything at all for days on end.

This story continues.

6 responses to “The Bloody Scenario

  1. Hi,

    My grandfather Balfour E Barnswell was born in Ancon, Panama in 1906 and his mother died a few days later.

    His father Robert P Barnswell came from Jamaica and married again in 1911 in Panama.

    My grandfather was finally sent back to Jamaica where many years later he became the Mayor of Kingston for three terms.

    I am Balfour E Barnswell and live in London, England and I’m trying to find out more about my family’s stay in Panama.

    • April Barnswell

      I am April Barnswell. I was married to Basil E. Barnswell, who was Balfour Barnswell’s son. Basil was born in 1960, in Kingston, during the time when Balfour was major. I attended Balfour’s funeral in Kingston, Jamaica in 1998, along with my then husband, Basil Barnswell, his twin brother Barrington E. Barnswell, and their sister, Berlins E. Barnswell. My daughter is Balfour Barnswell’s granddaughter. Nice to meet you! 🙂

      • April,

        It is always very gratifying to know that people can make their family connections and renew contacts through following our blog.

        Thanks for stopping by and leaving us a welcomed comment.


  2. Everill,

    Thank you for stopping by and leaving your query. We would like to place you on our Silver People mailing list to help many people such as yourself connect with their ancestors on the Panama Canal Zone. We do need you to e mail us,however, to have your contact info and we need a little bit more info on your grandfather, his mother’s name, birth dates etc., if you have them.

    Your grandfather sounds like he was repatriated back to Jamaica which means his repatriation info might be available. Please email us using the email scroll on the side bar. Waiting to hear from you.


  3. Nadine Arthurs-Bland

    My name is Nadine Arthurs-Bland. My mother, Hyacinth Arthurs (born:Barnswell), now deceased, is also one of (former Mayor, Ja.) Balfour E Barnswell’s offspring. Everill, (blogger, above) as I’ve been told, is my cousin by way of one of my mother’s brothers, Robert P Barnswell, (“Sonny”).
    My research , as well as direct info from our late grandfather to my twin sister, confirms that Balfour’s mom is Marie Louise Low(e)-Barnswell. She married Robert Parsley Barnswell, 6 April, 1899 in St Thomas, Jamaica. Please pass my email info to Everill. I believe he’ll be able to help me with my Family Tree Project. Thanks!

    • Nadine,
      Happy that you stopped by with a genealogical query. Unfortunately Everill did not leave an e mail address so we’ll hope he returns to see your note to answer you.