Pio Barroja author of Sonata de Estío, looking over his balcony in Itzea. Image
I would often find myself sizing up my possibilities of survival. In my estimation I was like the thousands of Panamanian youths growing up at the time in the barrios of Panama. The age of modernity had reached us all and found us wondering if we would ever survive to adulthood, become educated or married with children, etc. Life, so far, as one of the Westindian juniors, had proven to be full of rejection even from within the nest as I referred to my home.
Even before one could learn to fly away, I reasoned, your wings were clipped from the nest. Even birds born on a mountain ledge stood a better chance by learning from their parents the art of flying as just one possibility of survival. “I must learn a trade!” I said to myself figuring that even eaglets were more fortunate than I was.
The summer of 1947 I talked my grandmother into asking the upholsterer at the mechanic shop down Mariano Arosemena Street a block from “M” Street to allow me to spend time in the shop so that I could start learning the trade. The Westindian man had a small space within the premises of the mechanic shop where he had set up his upholstery operation.
In fact, I ran into a bit of good fortune that summer since although the upholsterer had almost no work I was able to maneuver to be accepted by Reggie the mechanic who did have work enough to allow him to make some headway. Reggie even compensated me with a few dollars on Easter Sunday, which, up until then would be the first time that I would have actually been paid for doing men’s work. Although I made a mental note of how my parents had refused to teach my sister and me anything about the respective trades they had professed to know, heaven opened the way for me amongst perfect strangers.
Summer vacation was approaching, however, and I went about testing what I called the “Westindian character,” as I went around the neighborhood seeking some other trade shops as my source of life skills before I would have to matriculate for secondary school. In those days as a Westindian youth I could find no formal or informal way of learning something that would allow me to invest in an activity that I could later fall back on to make a living. The more tradesmen I could develop a relationship with, I figured, the better.
In fact, there were no programs that I could be referred to that would attend to my moral, mental or physical needs. I had felt pretty much abandoned since my mother had left us cold in the care of in-laws or people she never liked or cared for, and I was certain that I would never see her again.
Each time I returned to my sixth grade classroom, I was made to feel that I was fortunate just to have been admitted to an institution of learning in the first place. I would sit in class and read a Pio Baroja novel, bored to the core, and think about my own Summer Sonnet, feeling as one who had escaped- at least for the time being- some kind of famine, emotional starvation.
By then I had found another source of spending cash working at the small one-room cafeteria run by a family friend. That was no big deal, however, since cooking, cleaning, baking and serving people, which is what I was doing at the small café, did not seem to me something to be taken seriously as a career choice since they were things that came easy to me.
Like most youngsters of my age and disposition I was looking for more organized and valuable activities. I also yearned to find social, cultural or recreational pursuits that were not necessarily in sports; something organized for kids my age that would help me develop the good that still remained in me and, at the same time, afforded some satisfaction to my soul.
This story continues.