It is good to be back from our extended hiatus and we are happy to usher in the holiday season with a memory of a Colon of a day gone by. Our friend and occasional contributor to our blog shared with us his “Reminiscings of a Colon Bway” which we decided to share with you our readers. It triggered some buried memories of my second home, Colon, with its unique West Indian character- of those times anyway. Thank you Tito, my friend.
Reminiscings of a Colon Bway
by Aubrey “Tito” Johnson
Just remembering that this time of year in Colon the air was always pleasantly different. We called it ‘Christmas Breeze’, the mood always uplifting and easy as we laid down reminiscing on the hoods of parked cars on the corner, hands behind head gazing up into outer space and dreaming, at the same time smelling from Panaderia Garcia that ‘micha’ bread baking, and the aroma of rum soaked fruit cakes in the air baking from nearby apartments. Somehow this time of year, the sky always seemed a darker blue than usual, and stars somehow brighter, shinier silvery twinkling, and as customary at this time of every year, Rex Archibold (q.e.p.d.), Radio CPR DJ and announcer was always playing Christmas Carols.
The streets of Colon were always crowded this time of year with people walking up and down Bolívar Ave. and Central Ave. buying things, Criss-Crossing over from/to ‘Panaderia Garcia’, or to Muñoz Bldg, or to Club Bohio, or into the Shelter Bar.
There was an expectation in the air of an impending happy event to occur and due celebration was in order. Meanwhile, on our corner of the world, park bench at 12Street/Central Ave., we all agreed this joyful mood had something to do with the breeze in the air that we felt, others called it the ‘Christmas Spirit/feelings’. Staring up in the skies we remembered how just a few years earlier in packs of 20 plus of us on skates would roller all the way up to Silver City High School first floor level to skate with our Union and Winchester brands, showing off to the girls just how great we were jumping over tires, etc.
Our friend Ruldolph, aka, ‘Poroto’, was always first to notice it, according to him, the breeze, from way back in November, and who virtually lived and dreamt of it, always wondering what it’s going to feel like in New York City, the source of the breeze, when his friend Pancho as promised sent for him. The rest of us guys were more interested in the cigar box in front of us, resting on the sidewalk.
Every day we counted the change we collected. How long will it take for us to raise enough money to buy that tall 10-12 ft Christmas tree at the Camp Beard’s Commissary?, available only to those in the CZ who had so called ‘privilege’? Our friend Herman always handled that part of the project via grandfather. Grandfather had a farm in Puerto Escondido and was honored by the CZ military for helping in the rescue of the crew on a crashed sea plane from Coco Solo on his terrain. The CZ military gave him a new hunting rifle in appreciation.
We occasionally visited the farm for food when things were tough, and to help out grandfather in projects like moving a shed from here to there; and whose name to this day we never knew, as he was always addressed by Herman as ‘grandfather’,….. as in: ’grandfather’: where you want me to put this or that?
Shelter Bar, now Tommy, and Bohio Cabaret, now mercado, across street. This time of year we had to prepare to compete with the Christmas displays of other groups in town like: Los Piratas, Corsarios, Peñoneros, etc., whose elaborate Christmas displays, of either mangers and/or trees were always things of beauty. We never wanted to do a manger scene, because rumors had it that once started, it had to be continued for nine years in a row, or else suffer the consequences. We played it safe by collecting coins, our nickels and dimes in our Cigar box.
To get a head start, we usually began collecting this money right after the culmination of the 5th of Nov. celebrations, taking advantage of the increased foot traffic. Funny thing is that all day long our corner would be empty until around 4-5 p.m, after school or work hours. Slowly appearing, one by one, were our guys, some well ‘lambed down’ in stiff-starched Khakis, or ungarees with Argyle sox and shined penny loafers, or Florsheims to boot. It was time for sitting on our bench commiserating about the daily school or social happenings; plus, our usual teasing, skylarking, razzle-dazzling of one another, watching the girls go by, and playing dominoes under the lamppost.
As time slowly moved on, our main interest was raising the funds necessary to purchase our tree. It was a slow process. In those days coins were welcomed albeit in a drip-drip way, and any coin was helpful. We counted our nickels, dimes, pennys, ñapas, quatties, even depósito receipts, etc. Of course, when someone dropped a quarter, it was huge, a big spender. While watching the drip-drip we were also planning on how, where, and what decorations we will purchase and from where, considering either “Almacén 25 Centavos Store” on Bolivar Ave., or on the Zone along with the tree. We were happily anticipating, as DJ, Rex Archibold on CPR, continued playing Christmas Carols on a daily basis.
Of course, in the Shelter Bar across the street, the jukebox was blasting Nat Cole’s ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an opened fire’, and, ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ by The Drifters, played continuously while the G.I.s were slipping and sliding R&R in the bar.
We were perplexed, as we had to consider the source of electricity in order to have lights, etc. for our tree. Notice there is no lamppost on our side of near our bench; it was our source of electricity, until one night we caused it to come crashing to the ground.