Report to the Office!

United Fruit Company (later it was called Chiriquí Land Company) poster depicting the Great White Fleet.  Image thanks to

United Fruit Company (later it was called Chiriquí Land Company) poster depicting the Great White Fleet. Image thanks to

I had traveled to Bocas as a real novice and it was the first and longest trip I had ever made in my young life. And now I was no longer a rookie plantation worker. I was working with gangs of men, oftentimes alone in the hot sun and on rainy days, digging and setting up the various sections of cable lines that would eventually tow out the pampered fruit and take out rows of heavy four to five foot long stems of banana fruit. 

It was the year 1956 and Carnaval had come and gone and I found myself under one of those flatbed railroad cars daubing black creosote, an oil derived from tar, under the cars to repel any insects that would dare to attack the precious fruit of the banana. The plantation during this harvest time was looking great to me as I got to know my boss better. The president of Panama was a man by the name of Ernesto de la Guardia Jr.. Another Panamanian “Junior like me,” I thought to myself.

The flatbed cars were intriguing as I had seen strings of these same railroad cars filled high with the banana fruit traveling to the dock in Almirante for shipment via the Great White Fleet. Docked at the harbor they were destined to travel around the world to deliver their precious cargo. I had also worked on many a job from laying water pipeline for bringing water to more people, to helping carry in the railroad rails to serve as electrical poles for providing electricity to all those people in the backlands. I got to musing about one of my high school friends in Abel Bravo, a young lady, who later was named as a teacher in one of the Fincas surrounding Baseline.

That was when I was approached by the cheif boss man who crawled on his belly to be able to speak to me. “Look, Reid,” he said excitedly, “I don’ want you to come to the platform to wait on the truck starting Monday morning.” I was perplexed. “You report to the office because I am recommending you for that job! I don’t want the rest of the men to find out what we just talked about but you jus do as I ask you. I know that you are a very smart boy and you would know what to do!” He was quite emphatic and said nothing further as he crawled back out while shouting orders to some other workman. Still somewhat dazed by this encounter, I really could not believe my ears.  So I stayed under that railroad car until someone came to get me to quit for the day because they were all going out to the road to await for the truck.

I hadn’t even thanked the gentleman who had been so kind to me, I thought to myself. He had always acted like a responsible father to me. I then continued to muse about fatherhood and how, I too, would soon be a worried father. The current pace of life seemed to be going faster than I would have liked it to.

Then I started to worry about beeing able to remeber enough of what I had learned in Prof. Savage’s typing class at Abel Bravo College to meet the demands of my new job.

I was soon cornered by two of my Westindian compañeros who didn’t usually visit at the barracks. They didn’t hesitate in telling me that they had heard all about the guy who had my shoes and had wound up in jail and they scolded me for taking up with him. I pleaded with them, however, for understanding that I was worried about the baby coming soon to which they responded with some sympathy. They did give me some boxing lessons, double teaming me, to prepare me for any eventuality.

I also confessed to them that I needed to find some place for my lady and me  to stay because I wanted to bring the baby home from the hospital to our own place. I really didn’t know who to turn to, I pleaded. And so, they conferred amongst themselves as to the quickest way to get me a place.

This story continues.

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