Presently, I’d gone back to doing what I knew best to do which was helping my grandmother, but I got the impression that I was beginning to feel too comfortable being around my grandmother and her adult female friends and associates, especially running Susú. It was a time that, at every turn it seemed, I’d become so trained by my grandmother that I was feeling taken for granted. I was not only the general handyman to her but to every one of her friends.
Class let out early for me one day and I headed down to pass the whole day helping my surrogate aunt, Gladys, who owned the small one room fonda. My grandmother, however, would never find that out as she would summon me as soon as I got back home and she’d usually have another one of her errands to fulfill.
As usual it was a visit to the home of one of her Susú associates, members of her Society some place in the city of Panama. At times I would even have to travel as far as the old Black Canal Zone. I knew that these ladies, within their own little tightly knit circle, would secretly describe me as a “very good boy.” I understood them to mean that I was not only the perfect gentleman but that I knew the meaning of responsibility and honesty.
In fact, those ladies would later even use me to tutor their children without even asking me, mind you, if I was available for such study time. I would encounter this “entitlement” attitude many times in my life throughout my formative years growing up as a Panamanian Westindian boy, which led me sometimes to feel as though being responsible and obedient got you very little gratitude or respect. I could understand the attitude of rebellion in some boys, in fact, how they could feel taken advantage of since I was already beginning to feel like a messenger boy and slave and that no one really cared about my needs for just being a kid.
I’d also become a ready source of labor for one of my young uncles, my father’s younger brother. The man worked on the Canal Zone for as long as I could remember since he’d been my age, about fourteen years of age. My uncle frequented his mother’s home and feigned to be interested in my behavior and school performance. He’d show up at our house and would enlist me in his projects which could last for days or for weeks. As for being generous, he never really considered parting with so much as a coin in appreciation.
On one occasion my aunt had me mix and pour a whole cement floor under the home or basement of one of her friends all the way up in Rio Abajo. I had worked all day on that project in the heat and humidity and while cleaning up I remember feeling real tired and worn out expecting the man to at least offer a glass of water or something to eat, but it would never happen. The skinflint looked me straight in the eye and handed me a nickel coin for bus fare, and, without so much as a “thank you sir for helping out” I was on my way back home to Panama City from Rio Abajo.
Around this time is when I became acquainted with one of the best memories of my childhood days, however, someone who really appreciated everything I did for her and never made me feel used, Miss Polly. I remember it being the time of the year that I spent almost all my free time during that summer vacation ministering to a sick old Canal Zone maid. It seemed as though one day, as I rose to a new day I turned a drowsy eye in our two-room in Magnolia Building and we apparently had a new guest, an older lady who had been invited to come stay with us by my Aunt Berenice, the Zone cook.
This was not a surprising event to me since my grandmother often helped people, either women just arrived from Jamaica and needing a roof and orientation until they got their bearings and landed a job or, as in the case of Polly, a haven while they recovered from some sickness. Where she was from and why she was there I would discover only in bits and pieces, but she turned out to be one of the best friends I’d ever make at the time.
This story continues.