Although the rest of that first day was uneventful, the two of us, as partners, started enjoying working as a team all morning and during the afternoon. Once the concrete slabs were in place we had time to enjoy each other’s company. The foreman would briefly appear and then leave after he saw us shoveling and digging as expert workmen.
By then part of the evening was spent digging our first hole which was approximately six feet deep, six feet long and three feet across. As we dug, we wondered about what was to be buried in that hole. Soon, as the day reached its end, our friendly coworkers whom we hadn’t seen eye to eye yet suddenly shouted, “You two better get ready to get going because the truck will be here soon!”
We all would have enough time to find out, however, as our gangs were the first to be a part of the mechanization of all those banana plantation fields of Changuinola laboring for the Chiriqui Land Company for the year was 1955 and I still had much to learn about working for wages. For me it was a lesson just working with different groups of men. In the meantime, other men were showing up filling the empty bunks at the single men’s quarters which was a railroad boxcar installed next to a toilet and shower for our convenience.
Friday arrived all too quickly and we all got paid, for they paid us weekly in those days. After paying for my meals, I was left with a few dollars for at that time there were no banks or any place to save money. Cash in hand was usually cash spent. Anyhow, my meals had been my only expense because transportation on the train and on the ferry to Bocas Town was totally free. Both of these services were sponsored by Chiriqui Land Company.
Even then, however, I continued to worry about when I’d be able to get a place to live on my own so that I could bring my Chinese sweetheart up to Baseline so that we could live like man and wife. I prepared to make my first trip back to Bocas Town with money and hope in my pockets.
The train was always waiting at the station as it was very reliable. So, there was no sense in hurrying since there was no danger of missing the train. It was always there. I reached home to report to China on how it had gone with me and I left all my money with Pug’s Aunt, Roberta, for the care of her basic needs. This became routine for me after paydays. I would then leave late on Sunday nights with enough time to catch the last train and get enough sleep to make it to work on Monday morning.
From the moment we arrived in Bocas I figured that China had been five or six months pregnant. But, now it was the month of March and I had drawn my first week’s pay. In about three months time, the birth of the baby was imminent. During the entire trip back to Baseline on the train I pondered as to how I would meet the new demands of a baby without having baby clothing or furniture for the makings of a home. The issue of even requesting one of those very desirable quarters that I’d seen surrounding the plantation seemed remote as it was too early, I believed, to ask the bosses.
When I considered our predicament, I decided not to go home to see Pug on a weekly basis but every two weeks to give me time to set aside some money for purchasing the things I needed to work in comfort and not spoil my dress clothing.
There were no stores up-the-line that would allow us to make purchases, so I planned over the next two weeks to purchase the work clothes and even some rubber boots that I’d seen the men wearing at work and to just get around. The rains were coming and they would accelerate things on such a vast operation as the banana plantation.
I did, in fact, stay in my barracks for two weekends and didn’t go home. It was on a Saturday morning that I heard the Boss man outside knocking on the boxcar saying, “Anyone want to work?” So I dashed outside and quickly answered, “I’ll work, Jefe!” I was eager to make some extra cash. There were others who lived in the workmen’s houses who also came out to work and earn a little money.
The whole experience of digging and eating three meals at regular times had made me strong and unafraid of taking on any job with the rest of regulars and veteran workmen.
This story continues.