Bocas del Toro. Image.
It was the year 1950 and the seemingly endless year of 1949 had passed with many political happenings that I would remember all my life. I would usually end my days at the dental clinic where I had been drawn to in order to stay off the streets. It might have been the place that I would end up spending my summer as that year closed on my adolescent activities.
As it turned out, however, it would be the summer in which my personality would blossom, as I made it my concern to tend to that sickly woman who immediately took over all my attention. As our summer vacation drew closer, I fleetingly remembered my surrogate family over in that part of the Black Canal Zone called Pa’riso (Paraiso).
I could mentally make out the expected hoards of kids, the new and younger generation of cousins, who’d show up at Grandfather and Grandmother Julienne’s country place. There they were in my mind’s eye running wild into what had become for us a summer camp, nursery and playground for kids from the city barrios.
Although I had just finished reading Pio Barroja’s novel about the exploits of a young inexperienced physician’s own summer in the mountains of northern Spain, my mind kept wandering off to remember my previous summer and how much fun I had had with all the kids in the bush. Now that Polly had showed up, however, somehow this fifteenth summer of my life was going to take a different turn. Little could I imagine that my movements would be curtailed all summer due to the needs of this sickly old Canal Zone maid who had showed up one day at our home in Magnolia Building at the foot of San Miguel Hill.
It wasn’t as if I was actually looking forward to playing nursemaid to this old lady. This was my summer vacation after all. I would just as soon run off, just disappear, and hang out with the older men at the dental clinic which was a couple of blocks down Mariano Arosemena Street. But Polly, as it turned out, had a way of attaching herself to me. I connected with Miss Polly almost immediately. Miss Polly, by the way, was the way my grandmother addressed her in deference to her age and immediate status in the family.
It was my grandmother, Fanny, in fact, who sort of introduced me to her and volunteered me for the job of looking after her. “You see that lady over there, Juni?” she said, signalling over at our new guest who was sleeping on the cot I normally used. “You just make sure you help her with whatever she needs. Her name is Miss Polly.” “Yes Mamí,” I immediately answered, and that was usually the only response I could ever have for my grandmother.
Soon, as the languid days of summer passed, I was eagerly answering every call the sick woman made without feeling put upon. For me it was as if she had become a very important person in my life, as if suddenly I had been endowed with some divine power to heal her. It seemed to me that I had known her all my life, just as if she had been with our family all the time. Polly, suddenly, became one more Aunt I had to help and did not mind assisting her in any of her projects.
Although, as time passed and she seemed to recover, I could never imagine at the time that all my attention and ministrations to my Miss Polly would not only not be enough to keep her alive but, more importantly, she would become my only significant link to a pot of rundon, the Panama Canal Zone and the Province of Bocas del Toro.
“This my people,” I mused with some trepidation since the story of the Westindian People had been a story I was always trying to figure out and document in writing somehow ever since I could think for himself. Miss Polly had suddenly showed up to help me make some of those connections.
This story continues.