The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix 241 Pugh Hall PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 Phone 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accoun ts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by res earch scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOH P recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interv iew transcripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the original oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim document of it. The transcript is w ritten with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; subjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and f ormat I nterviewees can also provide their own spelling corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit http://oral.history.ufl.edu or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013
PCM 021 Interviewee: Malena, Didi, and Fred Brewer Interviewer: Candice Ellis Date: July 2, 2010 E: is is Candice Ellis and N: Amanda Noll. E: DB: Didi Bremer. MB: Male na Bremer. FB: Fred Bremer. E: All right. The best place to start, I guess, is from the beginning. How did your family and yourselves find yourself in the Canal Zone? DB: Well, the time was the French building of the c anal whe n our families actually began w ith the arrival of John LaPriere and Edmund Veysset or it was the opposite. Anyhow, they came from France. They were not coming for the const ruction of the c anal but rather as wine distributors. So, they came and distributed French wine. Of course, there was quite a market for it. It took a lot of courage and initiative. From there these were great grandparents so our great grandmother, Elena Veysset was raised in Pa nama by French parents. FB: Our grandmother. MB: Our grandmother. DB: Our grandmother, excuse me; grandmother Elena Veysset raised in Panama by the French parents. In the meantime, our grandfather came from FB: Jamaica.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 2 DB : You can tell that part of the story. [Laughter] FB: Our grandfather, who came from Jamaica, came to Panama to start his own business. It was in the agriculture supplies and veterinary supplies business. MB: He was an Englishman. DB: From oh, you said Jam aica. FB: From Jamaica, a Brit from Jamaica. Spoke with a Jamaican accent. [Laughter] DB: The old bajan accents, we love it. FB: But very white. DB: He began his own import export business with the idea of these agricultural veterinary products, but he wen t into business with a Danish man and is credited FB: Mr. Eshoy ? DB: Mr. Eshoy, what was his first name? FB: DB: a box up in FB: DB: There is, really? FB: Yeah. DB: FB: Yeah, a pack of about twelve They were specially made because of the humidity in Panama
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 3 E: DB: out. So, somehow, this Jamaican gentleman Brit got together with this French lady, so then the pictures the French connection is so fascinating. MB: This is their wedding picture. N: E: Yeah. DB: That was about 1909, approximately. 1910. FB: DB: I should have highlighted the dates, bu t see, this goes off onto the line; it runs in the family. N: DB: This is part of the FB: MB: Veyss et, ended up marrying an American and moving to the United States. So, N: Wow. DB: But we called our grandparents Ito and Ita. FB: Which was short for DB: Abuelito and abuelita So, although they were French and Brits, they spoke Spanish in the home, and English, but with the British and Jamaican accent. But
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 4 Agencias Escoffery has been in the family ever since and is now run by our cousin and his son, Pancho Guardia Escoffery and his son, Tom. FB: DB: Escoffery, yes, Agencias did we mention that? Very disjointed. [Laughter] FB: E s c o f f e r y. So, Elena, they say, got tog ether with Frances Escoffery MB: They say. FB: They say. And produced DB: Six. FB: Six children. MB: One of them being our mother. DB: One of them was our mother, so there was only one brother. Back in those days, my grandfather ended up buying some prop erty up in Volcan. Have you been to Panama? N: No. E: No. [Laughter] DB: Oh, gosh. N: DB: Okay. Well, Volcan is really very close to the Costa Rican border. He raised cattle there, and at one point, his only son started a powdered milk factory. Calla limeo FB: Yeah, Klim.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 5 DB: Vitalac, Vitalac. MB: V i t a l a c. FB: DB: In any case, the story is that, when they t ravel from Panama up to Volcan back when our mother and her siblings, her five siblings, were little they would drive as far as David and go by horseback all the way up to Volcan. At one point, our grandmother, Ita Elena Veysset Escoffery, she was pregnant with her youngest daughter, Ima. Pregnant and going by horseback from David to Volcan. how long it took. These were very courageous people. I mean, adventurous and courageous t conditioned, either. [Laughter] What else can we tell you about Ito and Ita? Oh, well, so they raised the five daughters and one son, and our mother was the third of the daughters. Since our grandfather was British, he sent mo st of the kids away to college to study. He worked very hard and provided for their ability. The oldest two went to England to study, and our mother was the third. She was sent to the United States. So then MB: Washington, D.C. DB: Washington, D.C. George Washington University. MB: George Washington University. DB: Tell them about FB: Temple Secretarial School in there somewhere?
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 6 DB: Left that part out. MB: he met our father. DB: But, while she was there, she made quite a name for herself. Yes. [Laughter] N: And what years was she there? DB: She was there 1938 let me think. I was born in 43, she was married in 42. It must have been 39, 40, [19 ]41 that she was there. Of course, World War II was really picking up speed. So, our dad was in Washington, going to night school at G.W. So, they met in Washington and they were married in Washington, and my mother was given away by the Panamanian ambassa dor. The reception was at the Panamanian embassy. But, before they were even married tell her the story about how she made a name for herself. MB: Oh, yeah. After she finished school or, while she was in school she ended up being, she took that dictation from Eleanor Roosevelt. N: Oh, wow. MB: It was a sort of FB: Internship. MB: picture of her taking N: Wow. MB: This is a copy from a newspaper. She was also, what was it? DB: Cherry Blossom.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 7 MB: She was also a candidate for Queen of George Washingto n University was also one of the what did you call them? DB: Princess of t he Cherry Blossom Festival. MB: She was a princess on the Cherry Blossom festival, on the float. She was a Panamanian beauty, she really was. DB: This is her high school picture. E: DB: High school. But it was during that period that a dash ing young man from Pennsylvania swept her off her feet in his gallant uniform. He was an officer of the Army Air Corps. This is before the air force existed. As such, after well, they parted company because of the war. Dad was sent overseas MB: After they were married. DB: After they were married, he was sent overseas. Back then, of course, she got pregnant right away. So, she went home to Panama, which is when I was born, a few months later after she got to Panama. We lived with my grandparents until my f your I mean, they were separated for that long a period of time. There were no psychologists that met with you when you got back. [Laughter] You just did it, because they were very softer and softer as the generations go by. But, anyhow. We still have a pretty MB: And he decided to settle down there after he got back.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Pa ge 8 DB: Yeah, he was actually transferred down there. By that time, the air force came into being; separated from the army, and there was an air force, U.S. Air Force. So, he was transferred to Albrook Air Force Base in the Canal Zone. FB: What year was this in? DB: That would have been 46 no, 45, because Joey, our oldest brother, was born in 46. So, it must have been the latter part of 1945. But he stayed in the inactive reserve FB: Active reserve. DB: Active reserve. Because I remember him putting his uniform on and, because of the tropics, the uniforms were Bermuda shorts. But he still had the bars and all FB: So, he got out of the active air force and went into the MB: Reserves. DB: Reserves. FB: Air force reserves, but continued wor king as a civilian for, now, the army. DB: But, as the family grew, my brother Joe was born in 46, and then Malena came along in 40 MB: 48. DB: 48. Then, Fred came along and then our youngest brother came along. But, in the meantime, I think m y father began to see that he would have to do something to get all of us through college, so he started a chicken farm. [Laughter]
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 9 MB: In addition to his regular job. DB: In addition to the regular job, and the air force re serve, he had a chicken farm. FB: And that was unusual, that people in the Canal Zone had a side business. DB: FB: DB: FB: No, very few. DB: But he ended up selling eggs to the commis sary MB: And to the airlines. DB: And to the airlines. It was really quite successful. He had a partner, John Findleson, who was also a Zonian. FB: They bought that farm in 53. DB: 1953, so, I was ten. FB: The year I was born. DB: The year you were b orn my gosh. I wish we still had it now. Panama is so vital and, just, booming. They sold it at some point, in 70 FB: 74. DB: So, they had a good ten years, eleven years. N: Was the farm in the Zone itself? DB: No. MB: Twenty years. FB: Twenty one years.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 10 DB: Twenty one years. FB: 53 to 74. DB: 53 to 74, what am I saying? Twenty one years. The farm was not in the business FB: Private enterprise. DB: Private enterprise in the Canal Zone. It was all government. It was either Panama Canal Company, Canal Zone government, or U.S. military or civilian civilian working with the military. FB: Working with the military. DB: Which is what he did when he got out of the air force and he went to work for the Army Transportation Corps, although he still had his obligatory two weeks a year, I think, in the air force. So then, the five of us went through Balboa High School, except for my yo ungest brother. By that time, our parents moved to California, so he went to high school in California. But the four of us graduated from Balboa High School. E: And what was that like? The high school experience? DB: Well, high school in the Canal Zone was fascinating because there was no competition in terms of fashion. Everybody was kind of the same, you know. So, FB: There was no fashion. [Laughter]
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 11 MB: There was skirt or a dress. Boys could not wear jeans in public high school. FB: Remember, in the Canal Zone, everyone got a job. Okay? There is no upper Sure, some people depending on their position between classes. So, everyone went to the same schools, except for private school. DB: Yeah, some people went to private school. FB: Which we d id. There was a Catholic school. DB: Up until the eighth grade, went to private school. MB: For elementary school. FB: For elementary school. Then, once you finished eighth grade, then, there was only public school. DB: But, during that time, when I was s till in high school, our mother began the first FM and bilingual radio station. So, this young Panamanian beauty went off to become a very enterprising businesswoman like my dad was, also. And the station was called TNT Kaboom. MB: TNT Kaboom. FB: What did the TNT stand for? DB: Top Network Tunes. [Laughter] FB: Yeah.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 12 DB: So, I went off to college right after she began that business, and I would send her er radio station. She employed a lot of Canal Zone kids, right? FB: MB: A couple of GIs, too. FB: Yeah. John Bateman. They were employed as announcers; they made the advertisements. DB: ish tunes, which became very popular. What else did oh, she volunteered as a Gray Lady at the hospital. MB: And she snuck out DB: Oh, Margot Fonteyn. MB: Margot Fonteyn. There was political chaos at a certain period of time, and she had to sneak out one o ballerina. So, she snuck her out in a car, under a blanket. DB: Can you imagine? MB: Dashed her to a plane so they could put her on and get her out of the country. DB: But I think the reason she w as asked to do that she was employed by the Pan American newspaper, and that was owned by a man named Armonio Arias. The Arias family is a very prominent family in Panama. He was married to Margot Fonteyn, right? MB: ich one.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 13 DB: It was he, though, her boss, who asked her to do this; to sneak her out of the country. One time, she phoned me at school and said Clark Gable is in town with his wife and he needs transportation from his yach t out to the airport. Would you I said, of course, of course. I went down to the office right away and got permission from Marie Weir, was the vice principal. MB: This wa s in high school? DB: High school. I think I was a freshman or a sophomore. So, she picked me up first, and then we went over to the pier; found the yacht and picked up Clark Gable and his wife and one other couple. I sat in the backseat between them, you know. [Laughter] Clark Gable sat with his wife and Mommy, in the front seat. But we drove out to Ticumen Airport, and I remember just being in awe of this man. He was so handsome. I was all of fourteen years old. When they left to board the airplane, I wen t over to where he had been standing with his leg up on a ledge, and he had been flicking the ashes from his cigarette or his cigar. I got the ashes [Laughter] And my mother dropped me off at the ballpark, near home, on our way back. I went up to everybody and said, look, these are the ashes that Clark Gable, from his cigarette, or his cigar, or whatever. [Laughter] Anyway, she was always involved in something like that. It was amazing. What else? FB: So, life in the Canal Zone. It was great. DB: Oh, it was fantastic.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 14 FB: know, Balboa High School and Cristobal High School, about fifty miles apart. They were the rivals. MB: Well, we played the junior college in football, also. FB: Oh, and the junior college. Right. So, our football league consisted of four teams: the athletic club MB: The athletic club. FB: Which were guys that finished high school and went into the apprentice program down there; the junior college; Cristobal High School and Balboa High School. games. [Laughter] MB: DB: end of the year. FB: Yeah, at the end of the season. DB: There was always the jamboree. We would take this rickety train that was awesome, with rattan seats, and it would just shimmy all the way across. Remember? To go from Balboa to the Pacific side, cros sing over to the Atlantic enough of it, you know? So much fun. I mean, good, clean, wholesome fun. It was fantastic.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 15 E: FB: Yes. DB: Right. FB: We lived in different the first assignment with Dad was through Albrook, right? DB: Right. FB: Albrook Air Force base. Then he was th ere how long? DB: Very short period of time; I think a year. FB: Then you moved to where? DB: Then, they moved to Curundu Heights, the lower level. I know I was five. I had my fifth birthday there. That was civilians that worked for the army. Then we moved to Curundu itself, which was when Joey was born, and then we moved to the Atlantic side, which we called the other side. [Laughter] FB: So, this is where, Cocoli? MB: DB: MB: Then we moved back. FB: Whe re on the Atlantic side did you live? DB: Gulick. FB: Oh, Fort Gulick. DB: Fort Gulick. FB: Another army base.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 16 DB: And there was a small, civilian section in Fort Gulick. I mean, the active military had the big concrete ho mes. We had these little cottages; they were wooden cottages up on stilts. That was Gulick. FB: Then they were in Fort Gulick for about how long? DB: Two years, perhaps. I was there first and second grade. FB: And then back to the Pacific side? DB: Then b on the hill; that used to be called Christmas Heights at Christmastime. FB: What year did we move into Curundu Heights? DB: I was in third grade, so FB: 51 and DB: 1951. FB: And we lived there until 1967. December of 1967, we moved, left Curundu Heights. MB: Left the Canal Zone. FB: Left the Canal Zone and moved into Panama City. E: DB: Correct. E: ting to me, the Atlantic and the Pacific side; you know, the other side and that kind of sentiment surrounding it. But, were there any great economic or demographic or social differences that you guys really noticed moving between the sides? Is one side we
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 17 FB: Not in the Canal Zone. MB: Not in the Canal Zone. DB: No, although you might say that, because the Pacific side had Panama City, which was more vibrant; had more cultural activities and things, the capital, that perhaps we drew a lot of Panamanians attended the high school. Either their parents, they had to pay a certain tuition MB: They had to pay tuition. DB: At the high school, but I think on the Cristobal side there was less of that; there enrollment, at least the percentage that we had. FB: Because the city on the Atlantic side, Coln, was not as affluent as Panama City. DB: Correct. E: Right. FB: Totally differen DB: MB: DB: I think I felt very fortunate to have a bicultural type of upbringing, becau se my mother being Panamanian we would go into the city a lot, and spend Sundays with my grandparents and all the aunts and uncles and cousins. So, we were raised with Spanish and English, whereas, I think a lot of American families that went to Balboa Hig advantage. They were all Americans, and then the maids that they employed
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 18 know if that FB: Yeah. DB: The island accent. So, in that regard there was a difference. MB: And, when we were growing up down there, there was no drinking age limit. FB: In the Canal Zone, there was. MB: But not i n Panama. [Laughter] DB: Do we want to divulge that? [Laughter] N: It sounds intriguing. MB: you were done with college in Washington, D.C. when I went up? DB: I was finished. FB: Yeah, you finished in 65; you went up in 67. MB: No, this was before I graduated. I went up the summer before, in 66 or 65, and visited my older sister and my older brother at Christmastime. She was living just outside of Washington, D.C. or in Washington, D.C., and there was a favorite bar in Georgetown that they all used to like to go to. So, my went down and gave the guy twenty bucks, got a license that said I was already
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 19 eighteen, so I went to visit them and I got to go to Georgetown and all wherever you went. [Laughter] DB: How about that? Oh, my god. MB: FB: Attitude. [Laughter] MB: DB: One of the t hings I remember vividly about high school, since I was the oldest one, was that it was very hot. We had no air conditioning. So, by the time I got to be a senior, there were a few of us that were really pushing for air conditioning. Somehow, we got it thr ough the student association and in through the administration and it was approved; we got air conditioning. [Laughter] They were only window air conditioners, but nonetheless. You know, installing central air would have been costly, to say the least. MB: We would make a trip to the U.S. every third summer, because it was paid; the we had no escalators in Panama at the time. Going back to Panama and just being so excited abou t escalators, and wondering when are they going to put escalators in? [Laughter] FB: We would typically fly from Howard Air Force Base or Albrook DB: Or Albrook, either one. FB: Up to Charleston, South Carolina. Unload there and then you usually get on a train.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 20 DB: An overnight train. FB: To either DC or go all the way up to Pittsburgh and Johnstown. DB: All the way up to FB: Or Detroit. DB: To New Jersey. Our father, as we mentioned, had been in the military, but he came, originally, from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He was one of ten. Two three of his brothers, lived in New Jersey, so we would take the train up from Charleston FB: Right. DB: ting his three brothers there and then trek across Pennsylvania FB: Pittsburgh. DB: Pittsburgh, to visit Aunt Marie. FB: And then go on to Detroit. DB: And up to Detroit. FB: To visit Aunt Dolly and U ncle Albert. DB: MB: And we had all our cousins convinced that we lived in the jungle, in a treehouse, DB: We had to ride water buffalos down the canal to get to schoo l or something like that. [Laughter] It was ridiculous. Oh. MB: Oh, we had such a great time.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 21 DB: Good stories. Every three years, that trip. And, before we started flying from Panama to Charleston, we would take a ship Mi litary Sea Transport Service, M.S.T.S., all the way to New York. So, that was quite an adventure. FB: On the Panama line? DB: Not the Panama line MB: Military. DB: Military Sea Transport, M.S.T.S. FB: DB: Then it was M.A.T.S ., Military Air Transport Service, because of Dad working for the army. FB: I do remember taking a trip to New Orleans on the S.S. Cristobal. DB: Now, that was a Panama Canal line. FB: Yeah, that was part of the Panama line. DB: So, how were you entitled t o do that? FB: I have no idea, but I remember getting seasick, and the pictures there are pictures of the Cristobal you know, down in the museum. DB: Really? Oh. FB: When I saw a picture of the museum Joey and I were, yeah. DB: Really? FB: And to prevent getting seasick, you had to swim in the pool. MB: Yeah. [Laughter] FB: There was a little bitty pool about half the size of this room.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 22 MB: DB: Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gos h, you were so lucky. FB: Yeah, that was around 60 or 61. MB: I did not get seasick. I laughed at my two brothers for FB: Who was it? The three of us and Dad, right? You, Joe and I, and Dad. DB: l have to find out how you were entitled to do that. [Laughter] MB: The other thing not there DB: Yes. MB: So, even though we were middle class, we had maids. They sent people out to keep our lawns trimmed a nd everything like that. The place was just DB: Immaculate. MB: Immaculate. Everywhere you went, the Canal Zone was immaculate. FB: There was no trash. MB: It was weird. FB: There were no homeless. DB: now, the Canal Zone has been defunct for the past ten years, but on the downside of that is, they were so careful about eliminating mosquitos that these DDT trucks would come through our the legs moving beneath. [Laughter]
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 23 N: Wow. FB: E: No MB: ld your breath. FB: Oh, yeah, trying to hold your breath. Who could hold the breath the longest following the DDT truck. MB: Who could hold their breath the longest as you ran behind the DDT truck, which E: Oh, wo w. So destructive and dangerous. MB: A lot of people have died from lung cancer and the suspicion is that it was attributed to that sort of thing. FB: DB: FB: Things to do. MB: Mm hm. A sports stable for horses. DB: Oh, we all loved h ours. We had stables; a lot of us took horseback riding lessons. FB: The swimming pool. DB: The beach. FB: Fort Amador Beach, the one beach on the Pacific side specifically for the Zonians.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 24 MB: We lived up on the hill and w e used to take cardboard and sit on the cardboard and go down the hill sitting on cardboard. Remember that? DB: Yes, I do. FB: Or getting the dustpan and putting that on a skate and riding down the hill. MB: FB: Or buildi ng our own. You and Mary Redding built a nice Lightning MB: It was called Lightning, you remember that! Yellow Lightning. It was black with a yellow lightning bolt on it. FB: Made with skates and boards. MB: Yeah, rode that thing down that hill. DB: Yeah MB: FB: You were twelve? So that was 48 1960. Holy cow. DB: in the afternoon. It went off the air at ten. FB: Johnny Carson was DB: And one station. FB: E: Oh, I was just wondering until 1957 stateside politics kind of percolate through the Panama Canal Zone? Were they heavily influential in the area, or was there kind of an absence of that?
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 25 DB: Def initely there was a presence. MB: Oh, yeah, absolutely. FB: Through the radio? DB: But we got most of our news through newspaper and movies. FB: Oh, yeah. MB: You went to the movies, you got the news before the film started. DB: Definitely the politics inf luenced MB: And the Pan American newspaper was all in English, and they carried a lot of news from the States. DB: remember when Nixon was vice president to Eisenhower, he came to visit Panama. He rode the train and stood on the last car of the train waving to everybody. I remember that distinctly. FB: You were there, watching him wave? DB: what class, to go see him. FB: So, we had pools, theaters, bowling alleys and the clubhouse the clubhouse? N: and exactly what FB: MB: Basically a big cafeteria and a place to socialize.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 26 FB: DB: Eat your French fries. MB: And teen club s. DB: And Teen Club was vital. That was vital. You wanted to see anybody if you wanted to see your crush MB: You went to the Teen Club. It was always well chaperoned. There was always a great band. We hung out there. FB: We had our sports: baseball, the civic league for baseball. Each of the high many years later, even after I left. DB: FB: g, of course; we had good swimmers. And imagine playing football in the tropics. DB: With all that heavy gear. FB: E: Were they big events, the football games? DB: Oh, yeah. MB: Oh, yeah, yeah. DB: Our oldes t brother, Joe, graduated in 64. He was class president when the riots began that evidentially led to a new treaty and, eventually, of course, it turned over. But that began a lot of it had a ripple effect.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 27 MB: I want to mention one last thing we used to do, and this was a custom. We did this every year FB: Oh, the causeway. DB: Oh, the causeway. MB: Wait a minute, wait a minute. At Christmastime, the Christmas trees. DB: Oh, the Christmas tree bonfire. MB: We would ha ve a huge bonfire, but we formed teams and we were constantly down the hill from where we lived there were old World War II bomb shelters. FB: Bomb shelters. MB: So we would store our trees in the bomb shelte rs. DB: Oh, my gosh. I forgot abut that. MB: Then the little group that I was stealing of the trees and everything they used me as a spy. So, I was this other guys where their trees amass the largest number of Christmas trees, and then at the ballpark FB: Yep, at the baseball park. MB: At the baseball park, everybody would brin g their trees and have huge bonfires. FB: MB:
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 28 FB: You know, the patio that we had. MB: Yeah, hide them on the roofs, hide them anywhere we could think of. We wanted to have the most FB: Tie them with ropes with cans on them so that if someone tried to steal them, DB: Amazing. FB : Yeah, Christmas tree competition there. MB: Oh, the other thing I can remember living there on the hill: there was a ledge out between the first and second level of the house. It was a ledge. We would sit on the ledge on one side, as the hill went up and around and came back down. DB: Cul de sac. FB: Cul de sac. MB: Cul de sac. The military policemen would come every night to check, you know. As soon as you came around the other side, the other group would yell out, cheap copper. [Laughter] That was a big thrill. [Laughter] We were being rebellious, you know. FB: Where we lived, this cul de well MB: Throughout all of Panama City.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 29 FB: Throughout all of the Canal Zone and Panama City, too. People would come from afar in their cars because all of us in the neighborhood how many homes would that have been? MB : About twelve? A dozen homes. FB: We would put out decorations in our yards, which was something Mommy was real good at. Our mother painted very well, and she would make figurines that stood three to four feet high. But all everyone in the neighborhood ha d different I mean, [inaudible 37:00] motorized and animated DB: And we had icicles that were FB: And fake icicles. It was plywood, but cut out in the shape of icicles. MB: Painted. DB: Painted. FB: Painted with blue and white and sparkles, and everyone would hang them from MB: The little ones would entertain themselves with a notebook and pen; lie on their And then compare together. FB: hter] DB: But the other unique thing about that, and all the decorations, was that there was no hesitation to put out a nativity scene. MB: Oh, yeah, you had no problem. DB: No problem with that whatsoever. In fact, our mother cut out some figurines that r epresented the different races, and she painted them. There was a little China
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 30 doll, and there was a little black boy, and a little white girl with blonde hair, and then the cresh with the baby Jesus. She painted them all and had a spotlight on them, and there was never any complaint about it. Now, you have to be careful of all of that sort of thing. N: Can you guys go into, maybe, the 64 riots and how that affected your family? DB: ther were here because, as I mentioned earlier MB: He was a senior and I was a freshman that year, so I do remember DB: Oh, so, you remember too, of course. MB: my father and we t ook another side. I can just remember so much sitting on our back porch. We could see the lights of the city and you could see fires that were starting as rioting went on, and then the arguing would start between DB: Oh, my gosh. MB: My aunt and my father FB: Our older brother, Joe, should be here to talk about that. MB: It started innocently. It started innocently. DB: Well, it started MB: Got out of hand. Got out of hand.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 31 DB: But the U.S. government always has an intelligence presence in Panama. As such, I worked for the CIA for a while when I graduated from college. I was a translator and after working in Washington, D.C., I was transferred to the Canal Zone. Pardon me. I had an undercover ID, did you know that? FB: I did not know that. MB: I did not know that. DB: ow that about your sister. [Laughter] I was Dona, and I was the only person permitted to answer the red phone. The red phone was the informant calling into the office to report in. A woman named Thelma King was an outspoken Communist and she taught at the University of Panama. I had to go out and take her payoff to her, leave it at a safe house. You know what a safe FB: The statute of l imitations has passed on that. DB: Yes, exactly. Thank you. [Laughter] FB: How many years has it been? That would have been you graduated in 65, so that was about, what, 66, 67? DB: 65, 66. FB: And is that what Mr. Deerwester was involv ed with? DB: FB: They lived up at the top of the hill. They had a son, Barry, my age. DB:
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 32 MB: No. DB: But That was the CIA office. How could anybody not guess that that was where the intelligence was? [Laughter] FB: That was where, in Fort Amador? MB: Okay, you were going to talk abou t the causeway. That was the other thing. DB: Oh, yes. FB: That was another thing that we did. MB: Best make out place in the world, best in the world. [Laughter] DB: FB: Yeah. With little to do down there, one o f the activities was going out to what we called the causeway. It joined the mainland to three little islands. One of those islands is where the beach was; a very, very small beach. DB: Which is still there. FB: With a shark net, and yeah, you just cruise out to the causeway and just hang out. If you were over eighteen, you drank beer out there. You go out at nighttime to make out or whatever. [Laughter] DB: They had a gorgeous view of the city over there. MB: was the city across the bay; the beautiful water, the moon out, the city lights. DB:
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 33 FB: I want to know part of Fort Amador, how did civilians get out there? Could they would the military police at the gate of Fort Amador allow..? DB: Well, we had access to the Army Navy Club which was in Amador. FB: ma Canal. DB: FB: MB: FB: I guess, okay. MB: Maybe you had an ID card. DB: There was a checkpoint; a military, like a guard gate, a guard post. FB: To every base. DB: looking back on it, that was very unjust. FB: Some Panamanians got through. Tio DB: Tio Eduardo. F B: Tio Eduardo made it out to Panama Beach all the time to do his exercises. DB: FB: Juenal would go out to Fort Amador and walk. So, there were a few that had some privileges MB: Pull.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 34 DB: Ye ah, they had some pull. They had clout. FB: To be allowed on the base, to get out to the beach, yeah. What else were the DB: All you can eat for fifty cents. [Laughter] FB: Spaghett i, garlic bread, salad, iced tea. DB: the seventy five cent triple decker, what do you call it? MB: Club sandwich. FB: Club sandwich. [Laughter] MB: Unbelievable. FB: Bing o. My mom won a lot of bingo. She had a lot of luck. DB: Lottery. FB: That was also something at the officers club. DB: Amazing. E: When did you guys end up leaving the Panama Canal Zone? DB: Well, each of the five of us left home to go to college, except for Mike, our youngest brother, who moved to the States with my parents. So I left, essentially, in 61 after graduating from high school, but because my parents lived there and because we had Panamanian relatives there, I came back every Christmas and summer. E: The breaks, right. DB: Then, afterwards, less often; and then, now, more often.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 35 E: And you mentioned you went to college in DC? DB: I was an hour out of Washington. E: Was that transition difficult for you, goin g from this kind of tropical environment DB: Frankly, yes. It was in that regard. I remember my first snowfall. My roommate was from Aruba, and we would run out of the class, there were only ninety nine in my class. So, the rest of the class had angels in the snow, and then walking into the cafeteria eating a snowball? [Laughter] [inaudible 45:13] FB: The only way we communicated was either letters or, occasionally, a ham radio. DB: FB: There were no cell phones. To make a call from the Canal Zone up to Maryland DB: Was much too expensive. FB: Was very expensive. So, occasionally, someone came along to offer to hook up a ham radio call and, other than that, it was DB: It was during that period of time, when I first started college in 61, that the Bay of Pigs in Cuba occurred. Everybody was up in arms that the Russians were going to do something to help the Cuban s. I mean, I was a nervous wreck. Somehow, one of my classmates who lived in Maryland not too far from the college
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 36 t talk on the phone or do anything, and mail was too slow. So, we really counted on ham radios at times like that. FB: So then, the next in line: Joe left in 64, Malena left in 67, I left in 71, and then our parents, with our younger brother, f inally left in 74. MB: well, those of us who were married, we settled down in the states. FB: They settled down in San Diego, California. DB: Yep. FB: Didi, how do you feel about turning over the canal and the Canal Zone? DB: I, frankly, have always had very mixed feelings about it. I think that, probably, the that tumultuous period. On the other hand, I feel that pulling out of the Canal Zone a nd leaving all that infrastructure to Panama was rather unfair to the U.S. They did not get recompense for just an immense amount of infrastructure that refurbished and used. So, the re are different aspects of it. How about you? FB: I did not like seeing us give up the defense of the canal and the running of it. I did understand we needed all that land. It was five anybody was going to run and maintain the canal as efficiently as the U.S. could.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 37 en wrong now, but you still go back and see some things that are in disarray. DB: people down there who have told us and shown us immensely. If you go dow However, as you cross the canal, when we cross the Atlantic side of the canal I Pedro Miguel Locks and you can see the apparatus that was built back in 1914 when it first opened. I think, when the U.S. was there, it was maintained much more meticulously, that when we were there, with North Americans patrolling. FB: all the homes are painted different colors and they all have added their own little modifications to the house. everyone was a light green or greenish E: Right. DB: It was government housing; it was all the same. FB: o go back to.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 38 N: Being from a multicultural family, does that affect your feelings about the turnover to the canal at all? FB: could. You can educated. A lot of them come to the States and get their engineering degrees from Purdue, Georgia Tech. Many of our cousins DB: Are Georgia Tech graduates. FB: Are Georgia T ech and Purdue graduates. Went to Notre Dame and LSU. So, educated. And, the University of Panama is a good school. DB: But I think Panama has always been very multicultural. So, trying to understand it from each perspective is very diffi cult. Business opportunities have always been in Panama, not the Canal Zone, now that the Canal Zone is no more. So, t the question was, how has it affected us? N: Mm hm, and your opinions about the turnover. DB: home to go home to, except that we do still have relatives there. So, now when into the mountains, we might know people or just to enjoy the environment up there. How did it affect you? How do you feel about it?
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 39 MB: It hurt in the beginning, when we first did it. But, now, looking at the results, American countries. So, in the long run, it was a good thing. DB: From the year 2000 until 2005, Panama for the National Association of Realtors. In that capacity, I saw Panama just totally blow up. The immense amount of investors that came to Panama, either for personal investment or to invest in business es, grew in leaps and bounds. I mean, I just feel like I was personally witness to it. So, it was good for be interviewing Father Kennedy. Father Kennedy was connected to our f amily. FB: For many years. DB: school. MB: And his friendship with Mommy. DB: Oh, yes. Very stron g friendship with our parents, and my mother in particular. He married when I was first married, in 1968, he did the ceremony. Then MB: Then, the next year, I tried to get him to marry me and my husband, and he was gonna be away. That really hurt, because I wanted him to marry us, too. But, anyway. DB: Yeah. Then, my mother remarried when she was seventy something MB: Seventy six.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 40 DB: She married a Panamanian, and he did the ceremony for them. Then, when my mother was very sick, he came and gave her the last rites. MB: But all this was up here. DB: All this was up here. MB: In Florida. DB: In Florida. Then after my husband passed away, I remarried Larry Corgan, who has a big Zonian family down in the Canal Zone. He came fro m Philadelphia MB: A part of our family. DB: [Laughter] Last night, he had to have his martini. [Laughter] Oh, my gosh. MB: Yeah, anyway. N: Maybe you could talk about the Catholic culture down in the Zone. Was it prevalent? DB: Definitely. Well, Panama itself is a Catholic country. There was a large percentage of Catholic parishioners in the Canal Zone. But, I would say, gene rally speaking, it was a Christian group of Americans that lived in the Canal Zone. MB: Mostly, yeah. DB: There were Methodists, and there was a United Church of Christ, and there was a Lutheran church, and there was FB: Episcopalian.
PCM 021; Bremer Fami ly; Page 41 MB: Yeah, it was a real FB: It was very much like the U.S. MB: Very, very. Yeah, a good mix. But one interesting thing was, the marriages in Panama between Jews and Catholics. That went on much more than it did in the because it was so, so small. Families knew each other and everything. DB: Mm hm. It must be confusing to you, though, to hear us talk about the Canal Zone but then Panama. Because there were two distinct MB: Two very distinct cultures down there. DB: The Americans who lived on that strip of land called the Canal Zone, and then MB: In Panama itself. DB: Interfaith marriages, that was Panama itself. MB: Yeah. FB: Was there a Catholic scho DB: FB: On the Pacific side, there was the one Catholic school, which also happened to DB: The stories you could tell. [Laughter] FB: It was ru n by the Sisters of well DB: First, it was the Franciscans. I had the Franciscan ones, then you had
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 42 FB: I had them up until kindergarten, and then first grade for me on up, the Sisters of Mercy out of Brooklyn, New York. MB: Out of Brooklyn, New York. [Laughter] FB: MB: FB: They wore their big, white habits. We had a uniform; you had to wear a tie and, ld we be wearing ties? But they brought that from New York. MB: My name is nuns arrived from Brooklyn, I was told by my teacher that I would no longer be Maria; that I would be Mary. DB: Oh my gosh. I never knew that story. MB: DB: No kidding. MB: Took them a while to finally settle in and adjust to the culture. [Laughter] But no, DB: That is funny. My real name, I was named a fter my mother, Dalys: D a l y s. The FB: DB: Silly.
PCM 021; Brem er Family; Page 43 FB: having the business not so much my sisters, but I and my older brother, we spent a lot of our time Saturdays going out to the farm. We had a lot of open fields, so we spent a lot of time cutting grass, maybe mixing the feed for the around our neighborhood DB: With his little wagon. [Laughter] FB: With this burlap sack full of else? One time, we had a lot of pineapple, but I think that was a couple years before me in the field up there. MB: Oh, yeah. Across the creek, there was a big field of pineapple. We had cashew trees, ge ni p trees. FB: Yeah, genip trees. MB: And the horses, horses. Six horses. DB: At one point, we had six horses. What else can we tell you? [Laughter] N: How was the transition coming back to America for your parents? FB: Good question. DB: It was tough. It wa s a difficult transition. I think that my mother never dreamed leaving her parents behind and her siblings behind and all the nieces and nephews. Then, my dad, he was happy about movi ng back to the States because he was originally from Pennsylvania, but it was difficult in that they
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 44 decided to move to California. At the time, I was the one who had children, so their only grandchildren I was living with my husband who, at the time, was with the FBI. We were living in San Diego. So, they moved to San Diego and their marriage, basically, fell apart. So, in that regard, it was difficult. It was kind of like, well, the beginning of the end. MB: Well, the oth er reason, too she closed down the radio station because FB: Torrijos? MB: Torrijos, the dictator that came before Noriega. DB: FB: Is that really it? MB: It was easier for her to leave with that done, because they kept trying to tell her what she could and could not put on the radio. DB: Right. FB: DB: Fred was the only one who married a Panama nian, but they had lived in the States all this time. FB: Yeah, but I married one up here in the States. DB: You met her up here. FB: felt comfortable enough with the Spanis h language to have stayed down there and done business in Panama.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 45 DB: But now you would. FB: MB: We all speak DB: Joe, our youngest brother, is very fluent in Spanish. MB: FB: Yeah. MB: But mine is just conversational Spanish, so I wo uld never dream of going into you feel. DB: I mean, our father was from German parents, German American parents. Malena and her husband had the opportunity to live in German y for quite a while. Two tours of duty, right? MB: Mm hm. DB: He was a West Point graduate. But I was in Germany a couple years ago and I thought, I should feel comfortable with this language. In Panama, we were only exposed to Spanish, English, and occasi onally French, because of our grandmother. MB: Well, at home, Dad would try to teach us. We all learned how to count to ten. DB: I flew for Pan ied, when Pan Am was vibrant.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 46 FB: Are you familiar with Pan Am? N: Mm hm. DB: Pan American World Air. Occasionally, they would ask me to read the German announcement because I knew enough German and they had the translation right there but you had to read it in both languages. So, I think back on that; MB: DB: Very differ ent from Spanish. So, can you review those questions? Have we touched on everything? FB: How did you interface with the U.S. military and the Panamanian people? Pretty much, you interface with both. We pretty much covered that. DB: Right. FB: We had our Te en Club affairs and our football games. Then we also had our parties and DB: Malena and I were asked to be debutantes, so we each made our debut in Panama City. I ran for Miss Pana ma one year, when I was seventeen. They made it to the final ten, I was booted out because I was six days too young or something like that.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 47 MB: DB: FB: Theater scholarship to where? To Penn State? MB: To whatever college I was gonna go. They were going to give me I started as a theater major when I came up to Penn State, but I lost the scholarship when the man who was going to give it realized that instead them to full DB: You were a half breed. [Laughter] If we were to talk about prejudices, I think the only time I felt prejudice against us was when somebody was from an American family in the Canal Zone discovered that our parents were mixed American and Panamanian, it was almost as though, oh, y MB: I was called a spick every once in a while. DB: Yeah. Occasionally, I heard that name. No big deal. So politically correct these days. MB: DB: Did you ever feel t hat way? FB: No. MB: No? DB: We all come from a little bit different perspective. MB: Mm hm, right.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 48 DB: Last month, or two months ago, our youngest brother who lives in California is turning fifty this year. So, the rest of us Joe, who is not here with us and the three of us, we flew out to California and spen t five days with him. Or four days with him? FB: Four days. DB: No spouses allowed, no children allowed, no grandchildren. [Laughter] We had a letters my father had sent to my mothe r during World War II. My mother kept them, and we were reading through them and looking at old pictures. It was just fantastic. FB: DB: Say that again? FB: issed out on that. DB: You were asleep? FB: Yeah, yeah. Ended up in a red square cookie can. MB: Yes, yes. DB: on the Lifetime Television or something. Beautiful letters. MB: Anything else? Your holidays celebrated. Oh, Thanksgiving. My mother always had Thanksgiving dinner for our family, and now, her family celebrates Thanksgiving. DB:
P CM 021; Bremer Family; Page 49 FB: Yeah. We would have our Thanksgiving dinner, and who would come over? Ito and Ita. DB: Ito and Ita, our grandparents. FB: And one other one. DB: s MB: DB: MB: FB: With Julito, or by herself? DB: Well, by herself before she was m arried, and then with Julito after she was married. Now they carry out the tradition. So, generally speaking, the side of the family Panamanian side of our family is celebrating. Th neat. FB: that afternoon or Christmas DB: Yeah, gift exchange. FB: The eggnog and DB: She made the best eggnog. You have no idea, it was delicious. FB: DB: Ron ponche.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 50 FB: DB: FB: DB: FB: Turrn something like that. DB: MB: Fourth of July, we always had the parades in Balboa. FB: Oh, yeah. MB: With Shriners. That was always a big deal. DB: always celebrated. Remember the Shriners FB: the stadium? We w ould watch them from the back of our yard. The back of our house overlooked Panama City, a portion of Panama City. DB: Yeah. We grew up on a hill, and the stadium was right on the other side of the FB: They shoot those fireworks MB: Fireworks DB: FB: did they? Were there any organized firework displays in the Canal Zone? DB: At the ballpark in Curund u, yeah.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 51 FB: Oh, yeah? DB: FB: DB: Oh, that was so much fun. MB: Big deal. FB: The Tivoli Hote l in the Canal Zone. DB: When was that built? FB: DB: It was a wooden structure. E: The big wooden, yeah. They knocked it down recently. DB: Very elegant. FB: E: Yeah, definitely. DB: The dancing, the music was so exuberant. You could feel the floor inundate. MB: And we were teenagers. We were teenagers. DB: We were teenagers. MB: And we were celebrating as though we were twenty three. [Laughter] And nobody said anythin FB: The drinking age was eighteen, right? MB: In the Canal Zone. FB: into Panama City and do your drinking, because you could pay for your drinking
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 52 DB: If you could reach up and put a quarter up on the bar. [Laughter] MB: a date in Panama was, went to dinner, went to a movie, and then you went to the Hilton Hotel, to the bar where they always had music, and you ordered your drink. There was a casino, and we could go in and gamble in the casino. Came to the States and I thought, holy cow. What are these kids do when they go out is. [Laughter] They go to a motel yeah, and that really blew my mind. That just totally blew my mind. DB: point where you can handle those things that were so prohibited. You know? E: Certainly. DB: MB: E: Just a little, yeah DB: Just a little. [laughter] MB: Because we were allowed to drink at home. My parents could give me beer because, when I was very, very little, I was very, very skinny. They said beer hat much in a glass every day
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 53 DB: Yes. I remember Dad and M ommy would have happy hour out on the porch in Curundu Heights. MB: Every day. DB: And Dad liked his Manhattans. When I was a senior in high school, he asked me, would you like me to fix you a Manhattan? And he did. I mean, I sat with them, drank it slowly like a nice, young lady would do. [Laughter] That was part of our culture down there. But our culture, because we did have a Panamanian side, there were many other families wher e one parent was Panamanian, one parent was American. MB: Oh, yeah. Quite a few. DB: N: I think it was great. E: Definitely, yeah. N: It was great to listen to you. FB: cayuco race? N: Yes. D B: You said you did it. FB: I did it. It was actually MB: I did it in 1998.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 54 DB: When you were fifty. N: Oh, wow. MB: Well, we all I was just going to turn fifty, and I said, better do it now. Because E: That sounds like a great experience. MB: You rowed through the Panama Canal. I think that was such an awesome experience. DB: Did you only have four on your FB: Four, yeah. DB: How old were you when you did it? FB: I was a sophomore. DB: In high school. FB: Sophomore in high school. MB: t allowed to do it then. DB: FB: Because it was sponsored by the Explorers. MB: Yeah, okay. FB: Explorer Scouts, so it was an all male competition. MB: It was an all FB: t co ed. Girls State and Boys State was something DB: No kidding. Oh, this was did you go? MB: I went to Girls State.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 55 FB: Girls State, Boys State? MB: That was called DB: It was very educational. Held, usually, over spring break or Easter vacation. FB: Yeah, or Easter vacation. DB: You had to have a certain G.P.A. to be permitted to go or to be invited to attend, and you learned about state government. By the end of the week, you had elected a governor, a secretary of state, attorney general. MB: week. DB: Learning about state government. It was a fabulous program. Very, very good, very beneficial. FB: The Scouts were down there, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts. What else? MB: DB: FB: Golf was big down there. DB: Golf was very big. FB: Fishing. Baseball, they had the V.F.W. baseball and all the different ba seball V.F.W., I remember Joe going around to sell decals DB: the States.
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 56 FB: For competition football. You know who led the B.H.S. in touchdowns in 1970? MB: Who? DB: I was going to say, Gary Ness? No you. FB: 1970. I did. MB: FB: Now, ask me how many touchdowns. [Laughter] DB: Three. FB: One. [Laughter] MB: DB: Oh, my gosh. You mean Cristobal beat you? FB: Yep. Even the one game I made a touchdown, we lost. DB: FB: And it was against Cristobal. DB: Oh, my gosh. FB: My junior year. DB: Well, my sister brought a copy of Stuck in the French Canal MB: I guess the museum has one, yeah. E: Oh, wow. DB: Did we give you enough disjointed material? E: Yeah. N:
PCM 021; Bremer Family; Page 57 E: That was fantastic. Thank yo u so much. [End of interview] Transcribed by: Diana Dombrowski, January 31, 2014 Audit Edited by: Je ssica Taylor, February 2, 2014
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