Onward Christian Soldiers

Image thanks to LatinOL.com

Before the month of November closes I just wanted to highlight the importance of patriotism, pomp and ceremony and how they filled in a big gap for young people like me while I was growing up in Panama.  As I’ve pointed out before, having acquired community support had been mostly accidental with me since my immediate family’s support had always been questionable.

In the case of my youngest aunt who worked as a Panamanian telephone operator, her work schedule was entirely variable and it was similar to being a live-in maid.  She and my other aunt Bernice, the live-in cook, had that much in common.

The Fuerza y Luz Company my young aunt worked for had these women practically sequestered within their premises.  I believe they provided a dormitory of sorts also as my aunt slept over many a night at the company.  Such was the need for operators for the  company that had been in existence since 1917,  especially English speaking operators.

My grandmother, therefore, looked to me for all her needs, or so I thought.  I was more or less “in charge” at home and made it my daily duty to go use one of the few public phones in the neighborhood to call my aunt for my grandmother and check up on her daughter.  Also at my grandmother’s insistence I delivered home cooked meals to her at her job as often as I could.  By the way, I did all the cooking in the house at this point as my sister had escaped to go live with our mother in Colon.

The walk up to Fuerza y Luz telephone offices for me was a way of relaxing and also of getting away from the daily routine of school and chores.  Upon arriving and announcing myself over the intercom at the door, however, like any common delivery boy, my aunt would appear abruptly at the door to take the package from me.

Then, just as abruptly, she would turn on her heels and re-enter her work area again without so much as an acknowledgment or a thank you before disappearing inside. Talk about an entitlement attitude, well she had it.  However, my increasing irritation with this insensitivity on the part of the women in my household was reaching its boiling point and it would eventually bring me much trouble.

The importance of having my grandmother’s support went beyond the few dollars that I could get from my dear old “Toots,” when I truly needed it.  It was more of a way of having her involved with me that year in the Independence Day Festivities.  After all she would be the one who would fray all the costs for my participation in the grand parade before my Calidonia community.

If I could wrest this much support from my grandmother, it would have represented a sort of triumph in getting her to finally show some moral fortitude towards her children, the fortitude of a strong matriarch.

It would also mean that the entire Reid clan would back me in my endeavors to bring glory to the family name.  By extension, since there were few Black Westindian boys in the National Institute it would also signify that we Westindians understood our sense of honor and patriotism and that we had our part in the auspicious public ceremonies.

In those days, during preparations for the big parade, the words of the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers,” turned over and over in my head. They would be my motivators as I wove my plan to get my grandmother involved in that year’s Patriotic Festivities during the month of November.

This story continues.

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