My new neighbors in La Playita were surprisingly up to date on all the happenings in the Canal Zone, as their fathers and grandparents had been. They would bring to the beach the up-to-the-minute news as to what was occurring amongst the Silver Roll employees. Anyone who would happen to visit La Playita would, at any given moment, be quickly informed as to what was current regarding the politics of the American Zone as well as that of Panama City’s and Colon’s.
Despite all the talk going on about the Zone, however, I never really yearned to work there. I did have secret ambitions of obtaining a job in the Panamanian government. Nevertheless, knowing the realities of job hunting in Panama, I continued to pretend to assimilate into the born and bred members of the silver community that fed off the silver tit- a legitimate son of the Canal Zone Silver Roll.
My friends and classmates from Abel Bravo never once stopped looking for me and inquiring into my well-being and continued to include me in their activities. They would, for example, invite me to go study together, to visit one of their friends who lived in the Black Zone communities like Camp Bierd, Silver City or Camp Coiner, etc., or to attend some party that they would organize now and then. Just being with these young people awakened many positive feelings that I had never experienced before in Panama City.
I felt especially welcomed around them at this time because the dark emotional clouds surrounding my home life had already started forming again just when the rainy season was descending upon Colon Province. I found that I could confide in these kids about these painful problems I was having and about all kinds of sentiments that I had kept bottled up for years.
I was able to explore with them my uncertainties, weaknesses, my hopes and other issues without getting into tiring descriptions and beating about the bush. Before meeting my Abel Bravo friends, I had thought I was alone in my feelings and experiences in walking those uncertain paths that all adolescents have to walk, especially with the burden on my shoulders right after my parents’ divorce.
These kids showed me a different way of maturing in the African way of doing things within your age group, comparing and contrasting the advice and experiences of your peers. That group in particular had received the blessings of the many West Indian counselors of our tribe since their early childhood and they were under their protection, being tracked for better things in life. They manifested that brightness, a kind of halo of protection against the predators of our society that I had never met up with until my encounter with these school kids in Colon. My grade school teachers had tried to bring me under their protection in Panama City but, their way of going about it had been rather cruel and unfeeling. I had been glad to leave them behind and move on to secondary school.
Although the dysfunction in my family in Colon was mounting and presenting an ever more serious challenge to my sanity, my relationships with my friends at school were becoming stronger and they helped to shore me up. They would always receive me into their homes at any given time, just when I would start my accustomed retreat into isolation. They seemed to be in tune with my family problems and my pain and they always showed me how much they appreciated me despite all my difficulties at home.
I was using La Playita, in fact, as a refuge and I wasn’t really conscious that I was, again, distancing myself from them when I needed to study. What they couldn’t imagine was the degree to which my family life had disintegrated.
I was able, nevertheless, to count on the support of these kids and their names would stay recorded in my memory like my Silver Roll grandfathers during the most difficult moments of my life. I shall never forget Alberto Bryant, Tito Johnson, Zeke, Henry, Rafael Samuels, Wendel Stephens, Nicolás Paganini and many others who gave me an emotional anchor when I met them that year of 1953 in the “College,” Colegio Abel Bravo of Colon. My close ties with these kids from humble families would prove a crucial factor in helping me to finish my third year of High School and receive my certificate of completion of “Primer Ciclo.”
This story continues.