In our last post we discussed the deep nationalistic sentiments inherent in most of us children from Panama’s barrios. But it was especially the Institutores who acquired the reputation for leading the Third of November marches in displaying their patriotism.
It was a sense of patriotism and love of community combined. This sense has been significantly discouraged in today’s youth by our modern sense of what is fashion and style. The “bad boys and girls” these days get more attention and kudos than the good.
On that memorable Third of November day in 1952, all my thoughts were on the kids with whom I had grown up in Magnolia building, kids who like me followed after such events and who would be watching me parade that day. I was sure that they would be scrutinizing my performance. However, I was more focused on my uniform which was the sharpest thing that I had ever seen and I was positive that my cohorts would be the condemning jury for our Third of November activities. I had nothing to worry about, though, since I was sure our costume was even sharper than an American general’s uniform.
The jacket was adorned with shiny gold buttons and it fit me snug at the waist, Eisenhower style. The color was a bluish gray and combined beautifully with navy blue trousers that had a gold stripe running right down the sides, contrasting with the navy blue color of the pants. Our cap was a smart envelope soldier’s hat the same color as the jacket with navy blue piping along the boarder smartly setting off the top; when not worn the cap tucked nicely around the belt at my waist. I’ve yet to see such style and class in a marching uniform since the days of my youth.
I tossed and turned sleeplessly the night before the morning of the Third of November. I was up early and, as expected, my grandmother was already at the ironing board and I noticed that she was as excited as I was. She was making sure that her skills as a laundress at the Ancon Laundry plant would make me shine like a veteran soldier.
Shortly before dawn I was ready and poised in front of the large mirror of the familiar mahogany wardrobe. That heavy piece of furniture in my estimation had been in the family since before I was born. By then I was ready to leave. I playfully kissed my Mamí before putting on my cherished jacket. I noticed that it concealed the white shoulder drum strap, hiding it from view as I buttoned up the front of the jacket. I was ready to leave although my grandmother was still fussing with my collar.
I tolerated her last minute adjustments as I noticed that she was calling on God in prayer. Her prayer would remind me of all that had occurred even before I was born. “If only Eric had listened to me,” she said over and over as I kissed her face trying to calm her fears. I turned on my heels and I was on my way down the long stairway mentally invoking my deceased Uncle Eric, who would have been the only one knowledgeable about such things and would understand the elation I was feeling about being a Panamanian patriot.
This story continues.