But, Miss Ethel Levy’s wake would turn out to be a revealing one for me in particular. It was attended by mostly her family and close friends crowded into the Chapel at the Mount Hope Cemetery. I never did look forward to these things and the actual viewing of my close friend’s remains was brief. So I hung out outside together with my acquaintances listening to the Albert “Nick” Brown the tailor- Miss Levy’s only son- give a running account of the events leading up to his mother demise.
As I listened to this man talk about his mother’s death, I was flabbergasted at how he referred to her as “That woman? traveling alone to Panama City to the Oncológico seeking a remedy for her cancer, and then how she traveled alone to Bocas to get the help she could not get from the doctors in Panama City. It wasn’t the story itself that got laughs out of the gang he was relating it to, but how he told it.
“Peló el Bollo,” he said out loud, much to my disdain, and the peals of laughter pour out of the group, referring to her “pealing” the favorite dish known to Panamanians as “Bollo.” The Bollo was prepared with fresh corn off the husk, gratered into a meal and then stuffed into the husk again. The finished product would always taste so different depending on the know-how of the cook. Although I found it distasteful, it struck me as a novel way of looking at death, especially the death of one’s mother. We all tried to smother our grief with laughter and took death in stride. I, for one, was saddened for I loved her and respected her, but I knew that Nick would never forget the novelty of that funeral.
After the funeral I disappeared since I had to make the trip to Panama City to deliver my school transcript which I held pending some money to make the fifty mile trip. The next couple of days I looked for work at Simeon’s detail shop, grateful to God for a chance to make me some small change to eat. I found some old clothing I had left at Nick’s and Carlino’s, my roommates.
Three or four days work was enough for me to make it to Panama City and then back to Colon, hoping that I could keep the job for a few days more. However, I wasn’t surprised when Simeon told me there was no more work for me, though he paid me four whole dollars, which was ample enough for me to hold on and advance Pug something for the baby’s up-keep.
So I showed up by her mother Carmen’s and her aunt Roberta who all seemed to have been having their own private wake. The neighbors all knew me, and her aunt’s husband and kids made it a crowd. Pug welcomed me bringing the baby boy to see me and we sat together. Suddenly, her mother Carmen starts shouting at the top of her voice looking straight at us sitting together. “Juni knows what Pug is doing!” she said in her most disdainful voice. She repeated it over and over apparently referring to Pug’s whoring or what I called putería in Spanish.
The next thing I know is that her Aunt Roberta was coming at me with vengeance in her voice. “And he jumping out window and disappearing for days!” she said. Completely humiliated and feeling powerless, the tears started flowing down my cheeks. I wasn’t sure if I was bawling over the death of Grandmother Ethel Levy, or over the outrageous accusations they were throwing at me. I continued sobbing without being able to stop as I remained in my chair. By now Pug and the baby had been removed from my side and I was left there alone as the night covered the scene.
It was then that Mrs Mackenzie, the tailor’s wife, came to my rescue and took me into her home. I sat there for the remainder of my ordeal until I could compose myself and leave by the back stairs for a walk home- a walk I would never ever forget.
This story continues.