My mothers last baby,Victor, was acting peevish and would not be comforted which raised a warning flag for me that the child was at risk of dying. After all, it had happened once before in our family and it brought back memories of my mother’s past behavior of total neglect toward her babies before they even reached their first year of life. It was a chilling throw back for me at the time, and I feared for him as for myself since I knew her to be the kind of mother who had never been able to comfort her children no matter what their age.
Noticing how the child was not doing well I began to attribute his behavior to bouts of teething pain or a normal yearning for comfort and nurturance. One evening, however, he was trying to imitate his older brothers who were talking about me as they had been doing with their friends since I’d arrived. He said, “My brother,” but to them it sounded like “my Brada,” and had them all shrieking with laughter to hear him say one of his first words. They all came out with a joyful glow on their faces reporting it to me saying, “Him say ‘Brada!’” Their childish joy marked a milestone for me as well as for the baby. It was his first word and I was certain that little Victor would survive to be able to say more difficult words.
He’d just been trying hard to join them in their conversation about their oldest brother so I let them run around repeating their chorus of “Him say Brada!” That word “Brada” made him cling closer to me in those early days and I began spending a lot of time at home with him. It wasn’t unusual for us to be home alone together for many hours almost as if we were cellmates. The innocence of children surrounding me reminded me that we had been reunited and were enjoying being together and showing our mutual affection for each other, especially in pampering baby Victor while saying to him, “¡My baby Brada!”
Since I was at home permanently now, I used the time to take the baby for long walks just to enjoy an opportunity to explore the city while giving my baby brother the pampering and nurturing he so badly needed. Also, since I had always been accustomed to being alone back in Panama City, I relished being able to continue my routine of finding something to read here in Colon.
I found a book in the house which was some kind of voluminous work, a travel guide by automobile, of some of the great National Parks of the United States. Just what I needed on those lonely days at home with my baby brother and it served to give me some tranquility while I acclimatized again in Colon. The book had been laying around in the house and no one had read it yet.
Reading the book became a big comfort to me as I recalled the days of my infancy that I had spent with my maternal granparents and my experience with a long automobile ride when we were driven from the City of Colon after one of the biggest fires in the history of the city in 1940. The irony for me as a grown man years later in the United States would be that I would finally have the opportunity to visit some of those same national parks as a tourist and others in the western United States as part of my job.
It would be an experience I would cherish all my life though and at that time in 1953 life had given me the opportunity to visit places like Yellowstone National Park if only as an accidental reader.
At this time I still had relatives in Colon but I had distanced myself from them because none of them had come to Panama to vist me. Although my sister had developed links with them for me most of my cousins were very small children. Apparently my sister, Aminta, had been so happy with my arrival that I expected her to escape the confines of the small apartment and her never ending duties as the house babysitter. My mother also was glad I was home to take up her slack and she would leave me at home alone with the baby. I didn’t mind, however, as it was a perfect situation for me.
I was simply and anxiously waiting to be able to enroll in secondary school in Colon. Back in Panama, when I had attended some of the free cultural events of the times at the Olympic Stadium , I had noticed with admiration the arrival of some of the students from Abel Bravo School, the only official high school outside of Panama. I couldn’t wait to join the students of Abel Bravo School- The College.
This story continues.