on that fateful day
standing right next to my father,
Cobert Sr.’s, Studebaker while
we smile dutifully for the snap shot.
The park behind us is Parque Melendez.
The day finally arrived when we, as children, would once again be blessed with connecting with our maternal grandparents in Colon. Only four years had transpired since my sister and I had been surreptitiously (to me anyway) stolen away from the affection and care of our Naní and my beloved grandfather, Seymour, to be placed in the precarious care of my parents in Panama City; a period during which at least one of us had not survived.
Up until this point I have skipped the ugly and inevitable details of my parents’ disastrous divorce that put an end to their even more disastrous marriage since it was a deeply traumatic time in my life, a time when we three children got caught up in the perpetual war between our parents. By 1943 my little brother Earnie had been born and I was glad that he showed some promise of surviving in this valley of tears, long enough, anyway, to remain my only brother- another man child in our clan. His birth, however, had hailed in an even greater period of conflict between my parents and their renewed fighting culminated in my mother abandoning our home.
The facts behind my parents’ tumultuous divorce, as with everything in my family life from this period, were only slowly revealed to me after I became an adult by several different people. Piecemeal I think they call it, a piecemeal history. My father had been tipped off as to my mother’s supposed indiscretions and he went and had her “denunciada,” hired a lawyer and everything.
As for me, I was probably the only witness to the actual moment in which my mother dropped her wash pan and wet laundry, ran inside our one-room, donned her prettiest dress and shoes and simply left us three kids to fend for ourselves. My plaintiff cries and attempts to reason with her fell on deaf ears. The hardness on her young, beautiful and exasperated face told me she was determined to find happiness somewhere else. My greatest fear, that my mother would just leave us and never return, had suddenly come upon me and that was the stormy end to our experimental days of being a family.
In those days women’s rights and mother’s rights especially were not as jealously guarded by the judicial system so Rosa wound up divorced and bereft of her children’s custody. One day however, after she had gone back to live with her family in Colon, she came to the court prescribed visit with us in Panama and stole away the baby, Earnie, and never brought him back. This is how our visit to Colon had come to be arranged. It was supposed to be a visit for my father and us children to see Rosa and Earnie again.
On this particular day, our first visit after the storm of the divorce had somewhat died down, my father packed us up in his Studebaker with camera in hand and drove us to Colon to visit our mother and check on the baby. It would be a memorable day for me.
Our Naní was there with welcoming arms, sort of like an old familiar tree in a vast and tranquil forest. My young aunts, unmarried as yet, still acted as though we, their second generation nephews, had made them into very important adults. They were so happy to see us, especially Aminta and I, that two of them soon followed us back to Panama to see that we were well. However, we were never well without them and they seemed not to understand that fact.
My little sister and I had not yet been placed in Spanish School and the trip had been a blessing for us to get away from my feuding, ill tempered paternal aunts that had suddenly found themselves caring for children who were not theirs, or so it seemed to us suffering kids.
This Atlantic coast trip was the more painful for me because of another terrible experience I encountered while enjoying the company of my little brother Ernie. My father had taken a tricycle as a gift for little Ernie, a toy that was still too large a contraption for him to safely maneuver, and he and I immediately headed for the Parque Melendez in front of my grandparents’ house to put it to good use.
We spent most of the day with one or the other of our maternal aunts who were supervising us at the park as I propped myself behind little Earnie on the tricycle while he sat on the tiny seat. As we ride round and round on the tricycle, enjoying the ride, someone suddenly comes and sits on one of the benches intently observing us. I pretended not to be aware of this older man although he had that look of malice on his face. I kept up our feverish play riding Ernie around holding on to the handle bars and soon I felt a blow to the head that knocked us both off the tricycle to the ground. Stunned I cried out to alert my family of what had occurred.
When I looked up from the ground and attempted to get up a giant of a Spanish man kicked me and then ran off into the nearby alley. As I managed to get to Ernie one of my aunts came running up to us saying, “Oh Juni, what happened?” It was no use, I felt at the time, for me to tell her about someone I did not know and who had been so cowardly as to attack two little kids like us for no apparent reason. At any rate, I got over the physical assault but I never did get over the look of malevolence and envy on the racist bully that would be so moved by his abusive inclinations as to attack two small boys who were just having some fun on a new toy on a beautiful sunny day.
This story continues.