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|Table of Contents|
|Philosophy of life|
|The purity squad|
|The clean sweep|
|As deceased as a door nail|
|The tie that binds|
|Lines of communication|
|The helping hand|
|An Isthmian heartache|
|When the lily is gilded|
|The dividing line|
|Not the littlest sparrow|
|The millinery art|
|Seed time and harvest|
|Change; the spice of life|
|A rose by any other name|
|The wreck of the desperate|
|Paging the silhouette|
|Diamond not yet polished|
|Swung with the wind|
|The cat and the king|
|The un-lost cause|
|Bosom of the family|
|The too-slender silhouette|
|A maiden young and fair|
|The pungent punch|
|Should auld acquaintance|
|Petals on the tide|
|S. O. S.|
|The main stem|
|Our metallic age|
|The spice of life|
|Return address missing|
|English as she is spoken|
|Out where the tall sleeves...|
|Pattern for a maid|
|Roses by other names|
|The local bunion derby|
|Banks and turns|
|The spiritual touch|
|Advertising does pay|
|The school of experience|
|Oil for troubled waters|
|The old order speaketh|
|Cool and collected|
|Battling the corruption evil|
|High air is purer|
|In the blood of the lamb|
|South Seas trivia|
|The struggle for contacts|
|Rumblings of disaster|
|The beauty of truth|
|The purifying flame|
|Fashion is spinach|
|The lost cord|
|Life minus joy|
|Some grapes are sour|
|The Seeing Eye|
|The vexing hour|
|The early bird|
|The unclinchable argument...|
|Two minds with a single though...|
|The secret room|
|Familiar is as familiar does|
|Scales of justice|
|Lilies are easily smudged|
|Cherchez la femme|
|The departed brother|
|The heaping measure|
|Isthmian theme song|
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|Table of Contents|
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Table of Contents
Philosophy of life
The purity squad
The clean sweep
As deceased as a door nail
The tie that binds
Lines of communication
The helping hand
An Isthmian heartache
When the lily is gilded
The dividing line
Not the littlest sparrow
The millinery art
Seed time and harvest
Change; the spice of life
A rose by any other name
The wreck of the desperate
Paging the silhouette
Diamond not yet polished
Swung with the wind
The cat and the king
The un-lost cause
Bosom of the family
The too-slender silhouette
A maiden young and fair
The pungent punch
Should auld acquaintance
Petals on the tide
S. O. S.
The main stem
Our metallic age
The spice of life
Return address missing
English as she is spoken
Out where the tall sleeves grow
Pattern for a maid
Roses by other names
The local bunion derby
Banks and turns
The spiritual touch
Advertising does pay
The school of experience
Oil for troubled waters
The old order speaketh
Cool and collected
Battling the corruption evil
High air is purer
In the blood of the lamb
South Seas trivia
The struggle for contacts
Rumblings of disaster
The beauty of truth
The purifying flame
Fashion is spinach
The lost cord
Life minus joy
Some grapes are sour
The Seeing Eye
The vexing hour
The early bird
The unclinchable argument clinched
Two minds with a single thought
The secret room
Familiar is as familiar does
Scales of justice
Lilies are easily smudged
Cherchez la femme
The departed brother
The heaping measure
Isthmian theme song
Back Cover 1
Back Cover 2
Back Cover 3
Back Cover 4
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Trails of Progress
Ravelings from a Panama Tapestry
Christmas on the Isthmus
Soldiering on the Job
Panama's Jungle Book
An Odyssey of the Spanish Main
(DAID IN QANAMA
Anne Cordts McKeown
DOBBS PBRRY, NEW YORK
Copyright, 1938, by
Printed in the United States of America
THIS BOOK Is DEDICATED TO THE OLD
TIMERS OF THE PANAMA CANAL, BOTH
WHITE AND COLORED; WHOSE MUTUAL
DIFFERENCES IN LANGUAGE INTERPRE-
TATION HAVE GIVEN RISE TO AN IN-
FINITUDE OF AMUSING INCIDENTS-A
SMALL FRAGMENT OF WHICH AiuR RE-
CORDED IN THE FOLLOWING PAGES.
Digitized by the Internet Archive
She has never had a complex;
Inhibitions? Not a chance!
She's serenely set the tempo
Of her life to circumstance.
SHORTLY after the United States Government
took upon its shoulders the tremendous responsi-
bility of building the Panama Canal, those in
charge realized that not the least of the attendant
difficulties would be solving the labor problem.
Even though utilizing the mightiest machinery
which man's ingenuity had yet devised, there must
still be available an amassment of man power
greater than anything the country had even
known, and... where to get it? That was the ques-
The natives of the country were unfitted for the
job; both by hereditary inclination and by physi-
cal ability. Peoples of Latin lineage had never de-
veloped the dogged and determined stolidity nec-
essary for long stretches of rough toil. Their
spirits were unwilling, and their statures too frail
for such a back-breaking undertaking as digging
a gigantic tunnel from one ocean to another,
through the spiny backbone of a mountain range.
White men could not do the work. That had
been demonstrated by the failure of the French.
The heat and humidity, added to the attacks of
disease and vermin to which white workers in a
steaming tropical jungle country are subjected,
had already laid thousands of Frenchmen in their
Experimentally, but with the speculative hope
that possibly Americans were made of a tougher
fiber than sons of the fleur-de-lis, workers were
sent down from the States at first. The twin hor-
rors of malaria and yellow fever, however, to-
gether with homesickness and fear, depleted the
workers' ranks almost as fast as the recruiting
stations could fill them up.
Newcomers either joined the still legions sleep-
ing on Monkey Hill shortly after their arrival,
or they took the next boat home. There was al-
most no other alternative offered them. It was
suicide for a white man to stay where disease and
death shadowed every step. Such was the impres-
sion among the workers, and such was the repu-
tation of the place which they took back home with
It soon became apparent that while the white
man could take care of the supervisory details of
the Canal building, other hands than his would
have to do the actual spade work; that part of the
colossal undertaking which called for a strong
back and muscular arms. Toiling with pick and
shovel in the steaming mud and muck. .. no,
definitely; the job would never be finished if white
men had to do that part of the work.
Casting a worried eye about the world's labor
caIns, the chiefs of the undertaking next im-
ported several thousand Chinese. Known to be
reared with a background of toil and hardship as
a racial heritage, they seemed the logical answer
to the riddle.
They weren't. They died like flies, succumb-
ing even faster than the white men had done, to
the rigors of Panama's disease-infested tropical
atmosphere. To this particular type of hardship,
their generations of privation on the plains of
China, severe as they had been, had never accus-
Terrified at seeing their ranks mowed down so
relentlessly and swiftly by venomous onslaughts
of malaria and yellow jack, the survivors were
thrown into panic. They desperately committed.
suicide or left for China on the first boat out. The
ancient town of Matachin, now deeply buried un-
der the impounded waters of the Chagres, is the
only monument left to mark the disastrous Chi-
nese chapter in the digging of the Panama Canal.
Hindu coolies were tried, also, and found want-
ing. After the initial experiment it became
clearly evident that the frail bodily structure, and
even frailer mental attitude toward hard work, of
that vegetarian-trained race, would never make
the grade. It called for huskier bodies; for more
brawn and bone than is likely to be built upon the
diet of Gandhi.
After innumerable experiments, all unsuccess-
ful, a decision was finally made to try natives of
the near-by Caribbean islands. Of African line-
age, and not likely to be affected adversely by the
climate, perhaps they would fill the bill. Any-
way, the expedient was worth trying.
It was. The skeptical dubiousness with which
the authorities watched this new experiment, soon
turned to surprised relief. The pocket at the foot
of the rainbow had been reached at last; for the
West Indian laborer was the answer to the riddle.
He was by no means the perfect worker, but he
was the best that had yet been found.
These colonial importees were not only strong
and healthy, but singularly disease-resistant.
Reared in tropical surroundings, they were af-
fected little by adverse climatic conditions which
laid the white man low. Infinitely slow and, at
times, maddeningly annoying, but unfailingly
willing and cheerful, they plodded away at their
share of the work till the job was done. ... and a
permanent waterway ran from the Atlantic to the
Pacific. While the Panama Canal is a living testi-
monial to the ingenuity and skill of American en-
gineers, it is also an enduring monument to the
patient and unremitting toil of myriad black men
who assisted materially in its construction.
Many of the construction-days immigrants re-
mained on the Isthmus after the great work was
completed. They, with a numerous crop of de-
scendants, are now an integral part of the com-
munity. Serving in all capacities where hard
work is the watch word, they still form the back-
bone of the labor set-up which keeps the Panama
Clerks, dock laborers, grass cutters, garbage
men, laundry workers, painters, waiters, carpen-
ters, truck drivers, ice men, delivery boys, jan-
itors, messengers, cooks, laundresses, nursemaids,
dressmakers, and general helpers .... there is no
Phase of life here in which the colored people do
not play a helpful role. They are everywhere;
and life is infinitely pleasanter and better, because
The relation between white boss and colored
worker is generally one of mutual exasperated
tolerance; but on the whole, however, it is amiable
and pleasant. They annoy one another exceed-
ingly at times; but knowing thit each is necessary
to the well-being of the other, they exercise self-
restraint sufficient to get along.
The West Indian is a black man, but very dif-
ferent from the colored people of our own coun-
try. Coming chiefly from islands under British
jurisdiction, his traditions, his loyalties, and his at-
titude toward superiors is distinctly different from
that prevalent among our colored people. His
speech, especially, is different from any ever heard
within the confines of our broad land. Poured
into a British cast and baked in an oven of native
peculiarities, his manner of speaking is highly
mystifying, albeit infinitely intriguing to his white
Like most colored people, our West Indian
neighbors lean strongly toward the flowery, high-
sounding pattern of speaking, rather than the
simpler way of talking which is preferred by their
"white folks." No self-respecting colored gentle-
man, asked to do something, would be content to
answer briefly, "I will try to do so." No, indeed!
It pleases his inner ego more, to say ponderously,
"Madam, I shall endeavor to accomplish it for
Laughing at speech peculiarities of others is a
perfectly natural and human failing; but in this
case, the score is about even. We chuckle over
the linguistic oddities of our West Indian com-
patriots; they probably laugh out loud over ours I
The diction of the newer generations, trained in
Canal Zone schools, differs only slightly from that
of Americans hailing from Maine or Illinois.
While this may have certain advantages from the
angle of harmonious understanding between the
two factions, it still adds up as a distinct loss to the
world.... because there is no doubt but that little
anecdotes arising from speech differences between
white boss and colored helper, form some of the
most precious of the many memories which early
residents will file away with a sigh of regret when
they are heard no more.
For a long time there has been recognized a
definite need for some manner of recording and
preserving for posterity, some of these intriguing
speech figures of the old-time Jamaican workers
here. Such a record must be made; should have
been started long ere this; because, with the grad-
ual passing of the "Old Timers," both colored and
white, the wealth of anecdotes now familiar to
everyone, will gradually fade into the limbo of
forgotten Isthmians. This small collection is but
a wispy fragment of the whole, but it is at least a
step in that direction.
A compilation of West Indian anecdotes bears
the same relation to Isthmian history as do our
frontier tales to early North American history.
Little stories of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett
furnish a picture of life in the early eighteen-hun-
dreds. In like measure, these anecdotes of West
Indian vs. white employer, paint for posterity a
picture of Isthmian life in the "Old Days."
It is, therefore, with this understanding, that
these little informal stories have been gathered
together. They are not fiction. Every one listed
is an actual happening from an experience related
by friends and neighbors who make up the Ameri-
can personnel of the Isthmus; they who form the
employer-half of all the partnerships with "boys"
and "maids"-in Panama.
Philosophy of Life
Heredity Speaks .
The Purity Squad.
The Clean Sweep .
As Deceased as a Door Nail
The Tie that Binds .
Lines of Communication
Fading Vistas. .
The Helping Hand
An Isthmian Heartache
The Miracle .
When the Lily is Gilded
The Dividing Line
Labor's Utopia .
Not the Littlest Sparrow
The Millinery Art. .
Seed Time and Harvest
Change; the Spice of Life.
After Adam .
A Rose by Any Other Name
The Wreck of the Desperate
* 0 0 0 ix
* 0 1
* 0 0 6
* 0 0 7
* 0 16
S 0 20
* 0 29
S 0 35
* 0 939
. 0 40
Paging the Silhouette .
Diamond not yet Polished.
Swung with the Wind .
The Cat and the King.
The Un-Lost Cause .
Bosom of the Family .
The Too-Slender Silhouette
A Maiden Young and Fair.
The Pungent Punch .
Should Auld Acquaintance
Petals on the Tide .
Social Security .
Paradise Lost. .
S. O. S.. .
Social Snobbery .
The Main Sem .
Our Metallic Age. .
The Spice of Life .
Return Address Missing
Pinch Hitters. .
English as She Is Spoken.
Out Where the Tall Sleeves
Pattern for a Maid e .
Roses by Other Names.
The Local Bunion Derby .
Banks and Turns .
The Choice .
The Spiritual Touch .
Advertising Does Pay .
The School of Experience.
Oil for Troubled Waters
The Old Order Speaketh .
Cool and Collected.
Battling the Corruption Evil
High Air Is Purer
In the Blood of the Lamb.
South Seas Trivia .
Narrow Escape .
The Struggle for Contacts.
Rumblings of Disaster.
The Beauty of Truth .
The Purifying Flame .
Spring Zephyrs .
Fashion is Spinach
The Lost Cord .
Life Minus Joy
Some Grapes Are Sour
The Seeing Eye .
The Vexing Hour. 164
The Early Bird .166
The Unclinchable Argument Clinched. 169
Two Minds with a Single Thought. 171
The Secret Room .174
Familiar Is as Familiar Does 176
Scales of Justice 178
Lilies Are Easily Smudged 181
Tinned Goods. 183
Cherchez La Femme 185
The Departed Brother. 188
The Heaping Measure. 190
Elaborately Romantical 193
Isthmian Theme Song. 194
PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE
THERE is an old Jamaican vegetable vendor
who trundles her toilsome way to my apartment
doorstep every day or so. I'm not much of a cus-
tomer, but her optimism doesn't permit her ever
to risk the chance of my buying a stray bag of
tomatoes or a pound of string beans from some
rival competitor who might try to "muscle in"
on her territory if she waxes negligent on the job.
Her peculiar way of letting me know of her
presence outside, is a long, low sort of "Hoooo-
Hoooo!" somewhat like the call of a cookoo in the
jungle. Because of this, and because I have no
idea what her real name is, I simply call her "Hoo-
SUp and down Ancon Boulevard she goes on
the days that she doesn't wash clothes for her two
or three customers. She has to make every day
count, in order to keep soul and body together for
MAID IN PANAMA
herself and the numerous kinky-headed pickanin-
nies I see trooping at her heels occasionally.
Squat, semi-toothless, brown and wrinkled,
her untroubled face reflects a placidity of soul
that many a white sister might envy. Erect, be-
cause long years of balancing burdens on her head
have not permitted the back-curving slouch of the
more fashionable nineteen-twenties, she trudges
methodically along, uncannily alert for the flash
of an apron string or the flip of a dish towel
to disclose the presence of some potential femi-
ninq customer who happens to be at home instead
of off gadding somewhere, as so many white ladies
always seem to be.
A big basket on her head holds Hoo-Hoo's
stock in trade for beating back the wolf from her
door. "Tomahties," in little brown bags, beans
parcelled off into "fif-een cent" portions, "nize"
plantain, bananas, and occasionally a papaya,
make up a burden which would bend the back of a
Hoo-Hoo, however, lifts it up with only a care-
ful tensing of strained muscles; and, placing it
deftly atop the circular pad on her kinky head,
she marches majestically off down the steps as
nonchalantly as though you or I were carrying a
I often ponder over Hoo-Hoo. Wonder, for
MAID IN PANAMA
instance, just what inner urge it is that can send
her out to plod wearily the sun-baked pavements
day after day, for such pitifully small returns,
Sand do it with greater cheerfulness than you or
I exhibit in the performance, of what she would
Consider millionaire jobs.
No carping or complaining. No grousing over
what she doesn't make. Just a small flicker of
satisfaction when she manages to put across a
sale which at most could not net her more than a
few pennies; and no sign of disappointment when
she doesn't. Hoo-Hoo has long since become
inured to disappointment from following blind
trails. One more or less can't mar or upset her
Under happier stars and in different circum-
stances, Hoo-Hoo might have been a clever sales-
man of what the world considers its more impor-
tant plunder. She has her own naive means of
appealing to the buying instinct, subconsciously
using tactics of sales psychology of which she has
never even heard.
To a crisp, "Nothing today!" she has ready an
Ingenious missing-toothed smile as she digs down
among her little sacks.
"You no care tomahties? Nize big ones, today 1"
she says coaxingly, extending the sack so you can
glimpse the luscious red fruit inside. "Only ten
4 MAID IN PANAMA
cent!" She makes it sound, Oh so very, very little
to pay for so much.
"And, maybe beans?" from another bag she
fishes a fat green pod and snaps it to show that
it is tender and practically stringless.
So ... I buy. Always. Even stock up on
purchases for which I have no immediate need,
because Hoo-Hoo is such a capable salesman.
Half annoyed, but with the feeling of a Girl
Scout who has just turned in her quota of good-
deeding for the day, I stow my purchases in the
refrigerator and vaguely wish Hoo-Hoo didn't
consider me such a good friend. She makes me
feel such a selfish wretch if I allow her to make
that long trek up the hill without making at least
a teeny sale.
I decide mentally that I'll be very, very firm
next time. I'll break her of marching up this
hill to my doorstep; intend to tell her I'm going
to the States; or maybe starting on a diet of no
vegetables ... anything so she will let me alone
for a while. Yes, indeed, that is exactly what I
intend to do the very next time she appears
Then, first thing I know some afternoon
when darkly engrossed in a bridge game or per- s
haps deep in a magazine, I hear a familiar, coax-
ing and long-drawn-out "Hooooo-Hooool" at the
MAID IN PANAMA
With a little sigh of resignation I reach for my
purse and make for the door. There isn't one
single, solitary thing I need; but I know just as
well as I know my own name, that I am going to
buy something anyway. One always does ..
from a saleslady like Hoo-Hoo!
AN ARGUMENT FOR DARWIN
A gentleman passing by the Cristobal Police
Station one day saw two colored men watching the
antics of a monkey inside the cage. They were
admiring the little fellow, and chuckling enjoy-
ably over the way he has been able to fool the white
"Him reely smart fellow, for true, mon," said
one of them to the other. "Him could talk if
him want to, but him doan wish. There where
him smart. He know if him talk, the white man
work he -
DOWN FROM FRANKLIN
"I lock off the electric and put the key under the
receptacle," said Jinny, meeting her mistress a
,block from the house as she was leaving for home
after work. She had been told always to turn out
the lights and put the key under the mat when
she left for the night, if the family was not there.
WE smug and self-satisfied white folks have
many ways of saying, "Blood will tell." Mean-
ing, of course, that one can't too successfully buck
With raised eyebrows we sometimes say, "Well,
we have to remember that, after all, she is just
a Higgins from across the track, you know"
This, when some lady who perchance has married
above her station, but who has acquired a veneer
of elegance, cracks under the strain and reverts
to type; acting like her fish-wife progenitors.
The West Indian has his own naive way of say-
ing the same thing:
"A cocoanut never fall very far from de tree"
CHIVA CHIVA MAXIM
Folks whut live in grass houses, better be keer-
ful de match I
THE PURITY SQUAD
BENEATH the impressive exterior of every
beautifully synchronized organization known,
from a family unit to a great railroad system,
there lie myriads of small, seemingly unimpor-
tant parts, each playing but an insignificant role
in the dramatic exterior presented to the world;
but embodying in itself, nonetheless, a definite
part of the well being of the whole.
A little bolt costing but a few cents may, when
missing, render impotent a cleverly intricate en-
gine of great power and human-like ability. The
sites on a gun cost little of themselves; but, miss-
ing, the highest powered rifle yet built, would be
utterly worthless. A tiny watch spring hidden
from sight, and costing very little, can bring to
an immediate standstill, the entire delicate time-
keeping mechanism. An electric fuse is an in-
consequential little article when viewed alone,
8 MAID IN PANAMA
but it holds the power of light and darkness over
In organizations made up of human beings
rather than mechanical units, the rule holds no
less true. It is oftentimes the humble, unnoticed
parts of the structure which encompass a greater
percentage of the weal of the whole, than the more
glittery, pompous executive heads which are so
much more assertively obvious to the eye of the
In connection with such lines of reasoning, I
often cogitate about one of the humblest units of
our entire complicated Canal organization-the
garbage collectors. Hardly ever glimpsed in
daylight hours, since they perform their arduous
tasks for the most part under cover of darkness,
they are one of the least thanked, yet withal one
of the most necessary, of all the cogs whose turn-
ing keeps our great enterprise rolling on smooth,
well regulated wheels.
Of course, they dislike that job even as you or
I might hate to spend our working hours manipu-
lating the foul-smelling offal of the world's back
yards. But, like we, they have their work to per-
form, and with no visible demonstration save a
vague suggestion of satisfaction that they at least
have jobs in a world of unemployed, work-hungry
MAID IN PANAMA
men, the garbage crews go doggedly and methodi-
cally about their nightly toil.
During the wildest torrential down-pours of
a black tropic night, when we drop the slatted
shutters to close out the driving wind and rain,
we can hear the banging and clanking of garbage
cans being dumped onto reeking trucks backed
up to our back doorsteps. Wet and sodden;
hardly ever possessing even a decent raincoat or
shoes adequate against the mud and slush, those
humble functionaries must carry on through the
long black hours with no hope of drying or warm-
ing themselves until their work is done. Garbage
cans must not be left standing.
From the cozy heights of my aerial balcony, I
can see the brilliant crescent of lights at the gar-
bage ramp, twinkling like a jeweled collar the
whole night through. To it in a constant proces-
sion during the early part of the evening, but at
lengthening intervals as the night advances, come
the glaring headlights of the swift-moving trucks;
gleaming like the eyes of giant beetles as they
rumble in with their contributions to the long lines
of cars which wait with open maws for what may
be their allotment-and then scurry away, wink-
ing into the darkness after more.
In the performance of their unpleasant toil, the
ensuing difficulty of making themselves clean and
10 MAID IN PANAMA
comfortable in their crowded homes after it is
over, the almost impossible feat of getting ade-
quate sleep during the daylight hours in the hot,
noisy streets where they live, it should be a con-
siderable satisfaction to the garbage men to know
that few functionaries of the entire Canal organi-
zation really mean more to its well being than
they; that almost any of the more important de-
partments of the whole, would suffer grievously
if there were no garbage men.
That knowledge should at least give them the
feeling of being necessary and important; which,
after all, means happiness and contentment in
THE CLUTCHING HAND
Hepsibah explained to her mistress that the rea-
son she was late to work one morning was because
she had been getting her no-account fourteen-
year-old son, Eustace, out of jail. He had been
caught tiefing. It was the third time she had had
to perform such rescue work.
"He trouble is that he is too grabicious, Mis-
tress," said Hepsibah with a sigh. "He just can't
let nothing alone, and I fear his grabiciousness
going to cause him reely bad trouble some dayl"
THE CLEAN SWEEP
As I pursue my brisk and more or less blithe
way to work in the early mornings, I often pass
or meet another worker, the beginning of whose
day of toil coincides somewhat with my own.
As cogs in the sociological scheme, our orbits
are as widely separated as the poles, but despite
that, we seem to have much in common. Not
only I, personally, but all of us. You and you
The man I refer to is an old colored street
sweeper who pushes his little wheeled dump cart
with its flanking accessories of shovel and broom,
along the street in a seemingly endless round of
trying to make and keep the world looking better
than it would, were it not for his efforts.
He is little and bent and old. Bent from stoop-
ing to pick up so many carelessly strewn scraps of
paper, mango skins, and other refuse which a
MAID IN PANAMA
careless world has left to mark its heedless mean-
derings through the days.
Rheumatism evidently long ago laid its cold
hand upon his joints, because he moves with the
plodding doggedness of one to whom muscular
movement long ago ceased to be anything but a
chore. Perpetually weary, he drives his laggard
limbs into a sort of shuffling shamble as he alter-
nately pushes his little wheeled equipage ahead
of him, or uses it as something upon which to rest
his gnarled, weary hands.
Not always has he been a street sweeper. Years
ago he was probably one of the gay young blades
who spent their sunshine hours at some work call-
ing for bodily strength and skill; and then when
evening had come with its blessed relief from the
heat and toil of the day, laughed and flirted with
the dark-hued belles of their happy, careless
world. One earned money and one spent it.
Grandly and with a gesture. For what else was
money ever intended? Old age? Pshaw! Time
enough to think of that a hundred years or so in
He has probably experienced during the many
years he has lived, every emotion which life has
to offer those who tread its pathways-joy, sor-
row, love, happiness, hate, and despair. He has
held his precious babies in his arms and has seen
MAID IN PANAMA
loved ones close their eyes in death-the little
closed cycle of life to which every human entity
Now that fortune has passed him by, however,
and the years are resting heavily on his bent
shoulders, he dwells largely with his memories.
And his job gives him ample time to live over and
over again, the high lights of a career which to
him, at least, was one colorful and exciting.
There was a time, he remembers wistfully, when
he walked along whistling, looking up at the tree-
tops with their bits of sky peeping through the
branches; instead of plodding with a perpetually
down-cast head, looking always for some bit of
street refuse which he must stop to collect, ob-
livious of the grass and flowers blooming along
We self-styled superiors in intellect, social
status, and what-not, pursue a daily routine not
so radically different from his. We look for
wrongly figured tabulations in lieu of scattered
banana skins; misplaced files rather than crum-
pled papers; imperfect weldings in machinery in-
stead of mango seeds; and errors in English com-
position in place of mud deposits left by the rains.
There are few of us who, also, have not become
so preoccupied in looking for the mistakes of
others that our eyes unconsciously have a down-
MAID IN PANAMA
ward slant instead of being trained steadfastly
on the heights. We, too, searching painstakingly
for tell-tale evidences of another's heedlessness,
all too often fail to see roses blooming at our very
Sociologically we are all street sweepers. Trun-
dling along through the world, trying to make it
a better looking place by bending our efforts
toward gathering up and doing away with the
mistakes of others. And in the final analysis, the
reward of all street sweepers is pretty much the
Lola 'was complimented by the boss of the house
upon the success of a dish she had prepared suc-
cessfully, after only one instruction. Smiling
smugly, she replied, "Me head hard; but not too
hard for dat!"
THE HERMIT TOUCH
The Hortons had a house guest for the week-
end. Mrs. Horton, coming downstairs after
dressing for dinner, asked if the gentleman had
"No'm, not yet," replied Ollie. "He still isolate
AS DECEASED AS A DOOR NAIL
DURING the Cristobal Court's discussion of the
last will and testament left by a Silver City
worker who had recently died, the word "de-
ceased" was frequently used.
Since the sum total of effects to be administered
was small, and since the only living relative on the
Isthmus was a brother, the case was an easy one
to settle; nothing to it.
Just as the judge had started to make his sum-
mary of the case, however, there was an inter-
ruptionr from among the audience of colored
people ranged at the front of the room.
"Please, yo' Honor, Suh," said a small black
man, stepping diffidently forward, "Ah's dat de-
QUERY FROM THE SILVER SIDE
Money h'order, is dis where you git de stamps?
| II III I II
THE TIE THAT BINDS
EXCEPT in the Canal Zone where the formality
is obligatory, there is considerable disposition on
the part of the colored people in our midst, to dis-
pense with the rites of matrimony in their marital
relations. Looking upon a wedding ceremony
as a purely social occasion, they do not consider
marriage by any means an important fore-runner
to a couple's setting up housekeeping together.
The reason for the omission of the marriage
ceremony is chiefly financial. The combined
matrimonial taxes of Church and State are fre-
quently more than they can afford, and they can't
be censured too severely for dispensing with an
expensive formality which means little to them.
Legal bonds do not hold people together, how-
ever, and fidelity is probably quite as general
among the colored people's common-law mar-
riages, as though they were tightly bound in the
MAID IN PANAMA
eyes of the law and of the church. An agreement,
matrimonial or otherwise, need not be registered
in a court book or the Bible to make it mutually
binding upon the two parties concerned.
This truth was brought home rather forcibly
some time ago by a story told me by a friend who
had attended a colored wedding where he was the
chiefest and most impressive guest of honor; the
crowning touch of glory for the affair, to be exact.
The groom in question was an aged worker
who had called this friend "Boss" for many years;
and the ancient bridegroom's happiness in his
wedding was increased ten-fold by having his be-
loved boss-man present at the most important
function of his life.
The story started some thirty years ago when
Mose and Mariah were husky young colored
folks lately arrived from Jamaica. They had
fallen in love and wanted to be married, but in
order to do it up brown, as a "wedding" and not
just a marriage, they needed twenty-five dollars.
Which they didn't have.
Reasoning logically enough that they could
have the marriage ceremony later, when they
could afford it, they decided to be married folks
anyway. They both wanted the ceremony, how-
ever, and decided to have it just as soon as they
could save the necessary money.
MAID IN PANAMA
Fate was not kind to them in the matter, how-
ever. Time after time as the years passed, their
little savings box would just about have the re-
quired balance, when a baby would get sick, or a
six-year-old would break an arm, and doctor bills
would eat up the carefully hoarded wedding fund.
Birth, death, food, and clothing, managed for
over thirty years to keep Mose and Mariah from
realizing their mutual and never-forgotten dream
of a fancy wedding with veil, stove-pipe hat, and
all the trimmins. They raised a big family and
did well by them as they were able, however, and
at last the day came when the youngest child,
finally, was out from under foot.
The economic relief afforded by the grow-
ing-up of their offspring enabled Mose and
Mariah at last to complete the little nest egg
which they had so long been striving to accumu-
late. And then, with the thrill of realizing a
thirty-year-old dream, they set about prepara-
tions for their long-delayed wedding.
Truly splendiferous was the account of this
function. The bride scintillated under orange
blossoms and a flowing veil, while the groom was
impressive in a swallow-tailed coat and a high silk
hat. Three sons acted as ushers, and two small
black grandchildren carried the train of the
bride's sweeping satin wedding gown.
MAID IN PANAMA
Everything went as per schedule, and the fact
that it was a life-time dream realized, only added
to the wedded couple's enjoyment of the occasion.
Nor was their zestful appreciation of its magnifi-
cence dimmed by the fact that, next day, Mose
had to report to his watchman's job, while Mariah
went back to her tubs and ironing board.
During the process of having a tailored suit
made down town a year or so ago, I found I
needed a bit of extra material for pockets.
When the polite colored clerk at the suiting
counter asked how much material I would need,
I said I imagined it would require about a third
of a yard.
"But, Ma'am," he said politely regretful, "we
don't third! You must either half or quarter!"
Gwendolyn, the cook, was instructing a new
"You mus' always empty the water outa the tea
little of a morning," said she. "Water no good
when it been sleeping in the kittle all night I"
LINE OF COMMUNICATION
JEEKS has been the Smiths' gardener for a long
time. He takes care of a little plot of land out of
town for them; raises flowers, vegetables, and a
few chickens. It gives the old fellow, no longer
able to hold down a regular job, a place to stay.
and a little money.
Not long ago the boss man drove out one Sun-
day and found a bed of cosmos in full bloom.
"Well, for goodness' sake, Jeeks," he said in
pleased surprise, "I had forgotten all about those
cosmos. Are these from the seed I gave you two
"Oh, no sir!" Jeeks replied. "They's the de-
"How do you mean, 'descendants'?" the white
gentleman asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"W'y, descendants, sir; descendants!" the old
fellow said earnestly, endeavoring to kindle a
MAID IN PANAMA
little spark of knowledge in the arid desert of the
white man's mind. "Them first ones, you know,
kinda circulated a bit; put they roots down into
the soil and went circulation' a while. And now,
these is their descendants. You know, sir ...
descendants!" he added, with a sly wink.
And, finally, the Sir admitted that, yes, he
Theodosius had a son who was ambitious to be-
come a member of the Salvation Army. Theo-
dosius, being a modern-minded father, believed in
permitting children to decide such matters for
"Far be it from me to stifle his gumption!" he
Mr. Anderson had run his car only half-way
into the garage because he expected to leave again
shortly. Something occurred, however, to change
his plans and the car was just left as was. A heavy
rain came up in the afternoon, and Dorcas came
rushing in, greatly perturbed.
"Your car still wetting, Mr. h'Anderson!" she
,**** '....... .**...* U
HAWKINS has not always been just a. janitor
at the men's bachelor quarters. There was a time,
years ago, when, briefly, he touched the dizzy
height of high adventure; living thrillingly and
dangerously-as* all gods and men are entitled
to do at least once in their lives. Hawkins, in
short, ivas in the World War.
He enlisted when the United States tossed her
hat into the ring, and with a proud regiment of
his brother West Indians, sailed away for the land .
of the fleur d lis. He served in a number of
places and subsequently found himself in Egypt;
a member of the Legions ork the Nile.
Returning to the Isthmus after hostilities were
yover,.he basked luxuriously in the sunny approval
granted all heyaoes come home from wars afar.
Many biave tales he had to tell of his adventures
during the two years he had been gone, and the
MAID IN PANAMA 23
White gentlemen whom he janitored were by no
means the least enthusiastic of his listeners. They
liked his yarns, and especially the ones he had to
tell abbut his stay in the land of the Pharaohs.
Straightening around, one evening, when a
small group of his gentlemen were gathered for
a&pre-dinner highball, they asked him to tell them
something more about his trip overseas. kWhat,
for instance: was the strangest thing he saw while
Nothing loath, Hawkins scratched his wooly
head a moment and then without hesitation, said,
"I specks the most oddest thing I sees over there,
was them there meerges. Yes suh, a meerge is a
mighty peculiar thing!:"
He was pressed to explain what a "meerge"
was, although his listeners knew very well to what
he was referring.
"Well, you see," his brow was creased in heavy
concentration as he groped for words to express*
what he -wanted to say. "W'en you'se out in
that ole desert, they jes' ain't nothing Jes' sand!
Eve'ywhere you looks, it is still jes'. ole sand.
Then all to onct you looks 'way off yonder, and
you sees some palm trees, and some water under
'em. You sees it j s' as plain as you sees that bed
over there "
MAID IN PANAMA
"Yes, yes, go on I" he was encouraged by his
"My, MY!" he shook his head and made a few
little clucking noises by way of bespeaking the
wonder he still felt about the mystery of a
"meerge." He went on speaking.
"Well, w'en you sees all them palm trees in
that ole desert, you starts toward 'em pretty fast.
And you walks and you walks and you walks.
And all time you see them trees and the water.
And then-" he paused dramatically, rolling his
eyes heavenward by way of emphasis, "W'en
you gits right up to it-it don't l"
THE CYCLE OF LIFE
Clarissa's master commented upon the fact that
sometimes her pies were excellent; and at others,
not so good.
"De han' come and de han' go!" Clarissa told
him, cheerfully agreeing with his opinion.
THE DRUDGERY OF LIFE
Horatius, a huge Barbadian, presented himself
at the Dredging Division office one day.
"I craves a job working on de drudge," he in-
formed the clerk who asked him what he wanted.
THE HELPING HAND
A FOREMAN with his gang of silver laborers
was returning to Balboa yard from the Amador
section one afternoon on a hand car. Slowing
down while passing the shop area, the boss looked
around and saw a colored laborer, dinner pail in
hand, racing breathlessly to catch up. One of
the boys on the hand car was beckoning him on;
encouraging him to run still faster.
"Hey there, Jeff, what the devil are you do-
ing, anyhow?" the foreman demanded.
"I jes' a-helping him a little, Sar," explained
Jeff smoothly, but with an inner grin.
"Well, what you doing that for? You know
damn well we can't pick up passengers!" was the
rather exasperated reply.
"Oh yes Sar, Boss, I knows dat," Jeff answered
ingeniously. "But you see, Boss, if'n him run a
w'ile, him git home quicker!"
AN ISTHMIAN HEARTACHE
IN a world where hardships, suffering and sor-
row seem to fill up the heavier side of the scales,
one sensitive to his surroundings can't escape
seeing things here every day which wrench his
heartstrings grievously. Sights which force him
to shut the eyes of his soul to what is before him,
because he is helpless to remedy matters; and in
that way only, can he maintain peace within his
One of the things which always casts a slight
shadow over the day, are these aged Jamaican
fruit and vegetable peddlers who so constantly
tread the streets of the Zone, seeking for custom-
ers who are few and far between. They pause at
each doorstep with pathetic humility, asking the
lady of the house to buy some of their wares. And
they accept a refusal with such patient resigna-
. ..- H I I I I I__
MAID IN PANAMA
tion; as though hopelessness were the constant
companion of their wanderings.
The margin of profit from a little basket of
vegetables balanced on the head of a weary street
plodder, or carried in a market basket on a shaky
old arm, must be very, very small, indeed. And
think how frightening to know each morning that
unless one can dispose of this little store of sup-
plies, he will go without food for the day!
With cars as common as they are, it is but nat-
ural that the average housekeeper should go
periodically to the Chinese gardens or to the
market to stock up with fruits and vegetables
enough to last several days. And even though it
wrenches her heart to say, "No," to the numer-
ous peddlers that appear at her door, there is
little else she can do.
Among the stream of such itinerant vendors
that pass in a constant procession to and from
my own hilltop apartment house, there is one
feeble old grandfather who appears almost every
morning with a big basket of oranges on his arm.
He is tottery and unsteady of gait, and usually
sits on the steps of each house for a little while
to rest before picking up his burden again-a
load which, though small, is almost too much for
his frail old strength.
Life has not treated him very kindly. That is
MAID IN PANAMA
evidenced by his gnarled old hands, his bent
shoulders, his patched and shabby clothes. Dur-
ing his days of exuberant vitality, he donated
physical strength, his only capital, in answer to
the world's insistent demand for brawn. Now,
his strength gone, and no longer of any use, he
is left stranded; a battered, worn-out shell tossed
carelessly upon the world's economic beaches-
just a poor old Jamaican laborer who, after a life-
time of hard, poorly paid toil, now finds himself
hungry and penniless.
There are so many of them. One can't help
them all; can't buy un-needed little bunches of
fruit or greens from every peddler that comes to
her door. And yet--! That look of patient hope-
lessness in the eyes of an old person who is so
helplessly at the mercy of a thoughtless, hurrying
world, can cast a shadow over the whole morning
when one has to shake her head because of an
already over-stocked kitchen.
"Is tiat canned milk in the small pitcher?"
asked Mr. Branden, sugaring his breakfast cereal.
"No sir, it cow milk!" replied Theresa, passing
MR. CLARK had an orchid garden. Myers, an
old colored man, helped him care for it. One
year they had a rather rare specimen which they
both watched avidly; waiting with ill concealed
impatience for it to bloom.
Finally a bud appeared, and it was difficult to
say which of the two gardeners was the more en-
thused; Mr. Clark, or his first lieutenant.
A morning or so after the appearance of the
bud, old Myers hastened to meet his boss-man
as he sauntered out to the garden before going
"It hyatch out, Capt.!" he exclaimed jubilantly.
"The new bud, she done hyatch out las' night"
Too much you talk wid de mouth, Mon, and
don't say a t'ing!
WHEN THE LILY IS GILDED
SOME of our colored brethren who help in their
various ways toward the smooth functioning of
the great Canal organization, are a source of
never-ending interest to me. I find intriguing
their speech, their habits of dress, their very pe-
culiar way of doing things, and their leak-proof
guarantee against over-work in the hot sun; the
ability to move at one certain pace in spite of all
the pushing which any white boss may do.
I have much respect for these laborers as a
whole. They are unfailingly kindly, polite and
obliging. And in certain lines they are amazingly
clever. Were I selecting any one class of them
for unusual praise, I believe I should point un-
hesitatingly toward the paint gangs who move
into our houses with their big pieces of burlap or
canvas, and their cans of paint; and without dis-
MAID IN PANAMA
turbing a thing, leave our houses tidy, clean, and
smelling of fresh paint.
I have done enough painting to know what a
messy job it is. Let me once decide to paint a
kitchen chair, or lacquer a small table, and before
the job is done, the whole house will serve as con-
crete evidence that a lonely accident in search of
a place to happen, had found the ideal spot in my
cluttered little domain.
I have had considerable experience with the
Zone's paint gangs, and I shall never cease mar-
veling at how they do it. They use very little
paraphernalia; just a ladder, a piece of canvas,
and a few buckets of paint; but they do their job
as well as though they had on tap every painters'
convenience yet devised to lighten the task and
gladden the heart of a paint slinger.
Usually about all one does when the painters
are due, is take the pictures off the wall and pull
down the draperies. Since curtains always need
washing, anyhow, this is seldom any extra work.
One is always a little jittery about her rugs and
furniture, but.... "Oh, ma'am, there is no need
to be apprehensive," you will be assured by a
smiling black fellow in paint-splashed overalls.
"We will cover it h'all up l"
And they do. A piece of canvas over Chinese
or Persian treasures, the bigger pieces lifted care-
32 MAID IN PANAMA
fully out of the way. When that section of the
room is finished, a shift is made to another corer.
Almost before one knows what is happening, the
entire place is spic and span and new looking.
When things have to be moved, they are moved.
And then put back again. Seldom if ever does a
housewife find so much as a straw misplaced when
she takes over after the paint gang has moved out.
As artists at their job, they come as near to being
top-notchers as anyone you could possibly name,
THE FRAILTY OF THE UPPER CRUST
Cecilia came to the table with a fresh pie which
looked a trifle the worse for wear. One side of it
was caved in considerably.
"What on earth happened to the pie, Cecilia?"
her mistress said, startled a little. She had put it
into the oven herself less than an hour before.
"It meet up with a blow as it come out the oven,
Mum," said Cecilia regretfully.
THE SOCIAL TREND
'A 1927 social item from the West Indian
Page: "Mr. and Mrs. Alfonso Trellis and their
daughters, Cascara and Vaselina, spent the day
with friends in Red Tank Sunday."
THE DIVIDING LINE
KATE, first wash woman I had on the Isthmus,
outlined for me during our initial conference, the
various purchases I should make to start off our
laundress-lady combination. She enumerated
soap, starch, blueing, clothes pins, ironing board,
iron, washboard and tub.
Kate was a particular lady of definite convic-
tions, and gave me careful instructions as to-the
exact brand of each commodity which she pre-
ferred. Wishing to please her, I made careful
note in order not to make a mistake in their pur-
chase. She liked yellow soap, for instance; bulk
starch, cake blueing which could be tied up in a
little cloth and pulverized; and a wooden wash
4 board. One could get them at the Cheno's, she
said. Tin and glass ones were hard on the hands.
"Now about the tub," I asked after I had
MAID IN PANAMA
jotted each of the other specifications. "What
size tub do you want?"
She stood with hands on her hips in rapt absorp-
tion for a few minutes, thinking it over.
"Miss," she said finally, speaking with great
deliberation, so I could not possibly misunder-
stand .... (because white people really are pretty
dense at times, you know!) "They is two species
of tubs. There is the big species, and there is the
little species. I prefers the little species, if you
So I purchased the small species of wash tub.
It was highly satisfactory to both of us.
Mrs. Harris was having some painting done.
Before she left for a call, she told the painter and
two maids to be sure and tell her, when she re-
turned, if some more paint was needed, so she
could get it that afternoon. The paint shop was
to be closed for two days due to a holiday.
One maid, "I will pay notice, Ma'aml"
Second maid, "I will be sure to observe it,
Painter, "Ma'am, I will scrutinize the matter
ONE of my favorite maid-mistress stories is
compounded of a strange conglomeration of in-
gredients an opinionated Jamaican maid
named Rozelia, a social-minded Army lady at a
near-by post, a mess of fresh mushrooms, a choice
assortment of ladies and gentlemen in evening
attire, a pooch named Fido; and, lastly, of all
things, an Army truck. One of these great big
rip-snorting covered wagons that go selling
around corners to scare the living daylights out
of all of us.
The Army lady who told me the story, was pull-
ing off an especially swank dinner party one eve-
ning and had included in her menu, for reasons
* best known to herself, fresh mushrooms. She
had found some right good looking ones at the
commy and had carried them home in high fettle,
MAID IN PANAMA
because one doesn't often find them on local mar-
Her elation was short-lived, however, because
when she reached home, she ran into a snag in
the form of her cook, Rozelia. Rozelia had a
superstition which forbade the frying of fresh
mushrooms. And you probably know, yourself,
what it means when one runs up against a Ja-
maican superstition in a strong-minded colored
The hostess-to-be stood by her guns and refused
to retreat in spite of Rozelia's stubbornness. She
had planned fresh mushrooms, and fresh mush-
rooms she intended to serve. Rozelia finally gave
in, but took one last shot that hit home. "Any-
ways, Ma'am," she glowered darkly, "they's not
mushrooms anyway. Them's toadstools!"
By hereditary instinct, we all secretly distrust
mushrooms to the very bottom of our souls, even
when we know they are above reproach. The
seed of suspicion thus sown, upset our lady's
equilibrium considerably. She did not let on, but
she was a little worried. Refusing to hoist a white
flag, however, she directed Rozelia to fry two or
three of the mushrooms and they would feed them
to Fido. If they didn't hurt him, the guests
should have the rest of them that evening ..
and that was all there was to it.
MAID IN PANAMA
A few hours later, Fido was still wagging an
animated tail and apparently enjoying the very
best of health. Therefore, the dinner prepara-
tions moved along as per schedule, in spite of
Rozelia's dour mutterings that "They won't no
good come of it!" as she went darkly about her
During the table chit-chat which is the custom-
ary procedure upon such occasions, our lady en-
tertained her guests with a graphic account of the
Battle of the Mushrooms. (You know how we
all recount the idiosyncrasies of our kitchen help-
ers ) ; and described laughingly how they had
passed the buck to Fido, making him serve as an
involuntary guinea pig of the affair.
Her story was just ended when, during the
laughter it occasioned, Rozelia, with distended
eyeballs and a stricken face, burst precipitously
into the room to announce dramatically, "Miz
Brown, Fido is as daid as an aigl"
Well ... there is no need to describe the scene
that followed. The hostess was horrified, and
several of her guests proceeded promptly to get
very, very sick. It was, taken all iir all, consid-
erable of a shambles.
In the midst of the anguished exclamations, the
frantic calling for a dispensary doctor, or an am-
bulance, or anything, the hostess summoned Ro-
MAID IN PANAMA
zelia to ask her where Fido was. Had she seen
him herself as he was dying? And did he suffer
"Yes'm, I reckon he suffer plenty w'ile he was
a-sufferin'," Rozelia replied dolefully, "but it
didn't last long. That ole Army truck went right
smack over him; and I'll tell you, Miz Brown,"
and her voice sank to a confidential whisper, "they
jes ain't nothing lef' of him. He's all mash-up 1"
FAN MAIL FOR TIBBETTS
A friend was playing a Lawrence Tibbetts
record, "The Glory Road," on the victrola. A
colored carpenter, working in the house, stood lis-
tening in anything but rapt admiration for a spell
and then asked, "Whut sort of song you call dat,
Ma'am? Sound lille de mon in great distress !"
Blossom is a cheerful, stolid Jamaican lady
who works for a Cristobal friend.
One day when her mistress gave a shriek at
sight of a small mouse scurrying across the floor,
Blossom spoke concernedly, but with intent to
"You 'fraid it, Mist-ress?" she said with con-
cealed amusement. "It don't dangerous!"
THE West Indian version of our idiomatic fig-
ures of speech is an interesting one and, often-
times, more expressive than the English way of
saying the same thing. There is one such expres-
sion of which this is especially true.
When asked how we like our job, how our
health is, or how we are getting along in general,
our answer is quite likely to be, "Oh, so-so!";
meaning that while there is no cause for going
into deep mourning, maybe, there still and all are
no special grounds for uttering wild hallelujahs
of joy over the existing state of affairs.
A West Indian worker, being asked such a
question, gives the same sort of informative reply
by saying, "Oh, come soon; come soh!"
THE VIOLENT LIFE
Yes, Mon, me chuck him down wid a rockstonel
WITH a more or less sincere antipathy for jobs
in general, I have never supposed that any one
specific occupation, providing it were obligatory
and regular, would appeal to me particularly.
Which only goes to show that one never knows-!
For, believe it or not, I have at last seen one
worker whom I envy. His is a job, but its pleas-
ant features so far out-number the more objec-
tionable ones, that my instinctively grim attitude
toward steady toil relaxes somewhat when I pass
him ambling about the landscape; and I sigh
wistfully as I walk reluctantly toward my own
so much more terrifically arduous niche in the
The fellow I envy is one who saunters about the
countryside picking up little scraps of paper by
means of a nail at the end of a stick. It is, so far
as one is able to judge, the perfect and ideal job.
MAID IN PANAMA
He never hurries. What is the use of hastening
from one spot, when all he will ffid when he
reaches the next one, is just another scrap of
Most jobs exact a toll either of physical
strength or mental exertion--often a combination
of both. His does neither. A scrap of paper
weighs very little, and to get it he doesn't even
have to bend over. Just a slow-motion, leisurely
jab with his nail-equipped lath; a push with his
thumb to poke it into the little receptacle he car-
ries. That is all there is to it.
My worker, being a black man who conserves
his energy, doesn't even waste that thumb motion
with every paper he finds, but waits until he has
a dozen or so clustered on his nail like hot dogs on
a skewer. Then, leisurely, he ambles over to the
nearest garbage can, disposes of his gleanings
and then shuffles on his way once more.
Grudgingly I concede one fly in the ointment
of this otherwise perfect job. He does have to
lift the lid of the garbage can-and there seems
no way round that obstacle! If there were, I feel
sure my brother in toil would have solved it ere
now, because I have seen him stand and gaze ab-
stractedly at that lid for as much as five minutes
at a time; wondering, no doubt, just how that top
could be made to come off without his having to
42 MAID IN PANAMA
lift it up. Since he seems to have found no solu-
tion for this problem, I logically presume there
But-what is lifting one garbage-can lid if it
doesn't have to be done more than a half dozen
times a day? I believe even I could do that with-
out grumbling-much I
THE RIDDLE UN-RIDDLED
Conversation heard between two maids meet-
ing outside the hospital after visiting hours.
"Hi, Josie, you know dat Ruby got a baiby?"
"No, you don't tole me! What it is?"
"'Tis a boay?"
"No. Guess again "
Suspiciously, 'Who tole you?"
RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX
Erasmus, discussing the eternal question of
what lottery number to play, "Boss, I can get de
right numbers, but I can't get they in de right
h'order. I sure I can beat dat dom Duque,
though, if'n I jes study whut to put to de back;
whut in de front; and whut to put in de midst!"
NOT THE LITTLEST SPARROW
LORALIA was applying for a job as laundress
at the home of a lady in Old Cristobal. She
looked neat and capable, and the lady was in-
clined to give her a trial. Just on general prin-
ciples, she asked a few routine questions which is
the customary procedure under such circum-
"Have you a family?" she asked pleasantly,
during the course of the interview. She was as-
sured that, yes, definitely, Loralia had a family
"Oh, then you are a married woman!" was the
smiling comment of the lady.
"Oh, no'm, I'm not married," Loralia replied
with cheerful frankness. "No'm, I'm not mar-
ried; but I hasn't been overlooked!"
THE MILLINERY ART
MRs. MORRISON came to the Isthmus as a bride
during construction days. Life is exceedingly
easy and pleasant for women who live here, now,
but it was far from that, in the "old days." A
woman had to be made of nothing short of tem-
pered steel to make the grade under conditions
prevalent during the infancy of the Big Ditch.
Among the multitudinous trials to be endured
during that busy, gusty period, was a shortage
of ice, screens, fresh vegetables and decent side-
walks. And an over-abundance of mud, noise,
and millions of insects and vermin running rife
all over the place.
Another trial was the raw, inexperienced house-
hold servants who were the best to be had, then;
brawny and cheerful, but appallingly ignorant
black women fresh from the bush country of the
various island hinterlands from which they had
MAID IN PANAMA
come. Training and teaching them the habits
and customs of American households was almost
as much a job as the digging of Culebra Cut it-
One of Mrs. Morrison's first "girls" was Jas-
mine, a bewildered and obtuse, but smiling lady
from Barbados. What Jasmine knew about the
ways of white folks could have been incorporated
on the point of a needle without undue crowding.
However, be it said to her credit, she was willing.
So much so that she became practically one of the
family, and stayed with them for fifteen years.
One of her lady's earliest memories of Jasmine
harks back to the first Sunday she was with them.
A day or so before, one of her boys upset a bottle
of red ink on the kitchen table, and his mother,
having nothing else handy, grabbed a sponge ly-
ing near, and mopped it up. The sponge, being
brightly crimson, was tossed into the garbage pail.
Not to repose there unblossomed and unseen,
however. On Sunday morning Mrs. Morrison
spied it gayly and triumphantly decorating the
hat of Jasmine as she went proudly off to church.
BALBOA RAILROAD STATION RECORDING
Back ahead dere, Mon; don't see de train com-
I -F ~e -
L ~- _~
SEED TIME AND HARVEST
IT is grass-cutting time again up on my wind-
swept hilltop. Like a man who has but recently
returned from a camping trip, bushy and un-
shaven, our Reservoir slopes have been looking
bristly for the past week or so, now. I think the
sod must be as glad as I, to see the approach of
the machette and scythe brigade.
I always enjoy these visits of the grass cutters.
I like to watch the slow, leisurely arc of the flash-
ing blades as the scythes are swung methodically
by brawny, glistening black arms; and I admire
the deft precision of the machette men who so
effortlessly and carelessly cut their quota of edgy
places as neatly as with a pair of scissors.
I like to listen to their incessant Jamaican chat-
ter, their ringing peals of cheerful darky laugh-
ter; all mingling like a running arpeggio of
MAID IN PANAMA 47
melody through the steady, twangy rhythm of
whetstones on the blades of scythes.
I am glad my terraces are too steep for the
mechanical mowers, because I so much prefer this
laughing crew who, with scythe and machette,
will transform the now unkempt business of the
hill, into the parallel of a smooth, closely shaven
face fresh, trim, immaculate.
Slowly, leisurely, placidly, the grass cutters
work. No hurry, no confusion, no hectic rush to
get done. Slowly and leisurely, but as inexorably
as the march of Time itself, they spread them-
selves over the hill-top and, passing, leave it as
clean-bitten as a field of corn after a locust
Occasionally I have felt impelled to pity the
colored laborers who perform the ruder, more
unpleasant tasks about us. Felt sorry that their
toil must be so drab and monotonous. Watching
the grass cutters at work, however, I completely
reverse this attitude and wonder if there be any
group of white workers on the Isthmus who get
from their jobs the same measure of pleasurable
contentment as do these unhurried sons of Ham.
The companionable chatting of men around a
club table is theirs; from which their, at times,
almost imperceptible movements, detract not at
all. No worry about overhead, profits or loss;
48 MAID IN PANAMA
no concern as to when the job shall be done; none
of the heavier cares which worry and harass the
hearts of their white superiors, are theirs, to
trouble the peace of their morning hours. They
have sunshine, birds, and congenial companion-
ship all about; a boss who stands dreaming off at
the distant hills-and peace.
I am not so sure that ours is a better niche in
the world than that of the laughing, chattering
grass cutters. If perhaps their scope of vision be
limited, why check that up as a loss? Doors
opened wider serve only to show more vistas that
are beyond our hope and grasp; while knowledge
but enables one to suffer the more keenly.
A mind free from worry; close contact with the
sun and dew of the out-of-doors; dreams and
laughter with his work. These, the grass cutter
has richly and fully. Have we, of things really
worth while, much more than this?
Laborer receiving his pay, found a tarnished
half-dollar in the change.
"Me don't want de black money, Sar," he said
worriedly. "Cause'n de China-mon him won't
CHANGE; THE SPICE OF LIFE
AN acquaintance was making a few purchases
in La Luna one day when an old colored man
came apologetically in and laid a five-dollar bill
diffidently on the counter.
"Ah done like this heah big money mash-up,
please, Suh!" he said politely.
SOAKED TO A TURN
Lastenia and her mistress were having a con-
ference about a shortcake. They had taken it out
of the oven, but were wondering if perhaps it
shouldn't have been baked a little longer.
In the midst of the discussion, the phone rang.
When Mrs. Carstairs came back from answering
it, Lastenia said, "I fear it don't done enough,
Mum, so I put it back in the oven to soak a while
I HAVE a friend who is possessed of a jewel of
a maid y-clept Rebecka. Her native land is Ja-
maica, although she has lived in Panama since she
was a little girl and considers it her country. Her
speech is a quaint mixture of the Jamaican's
broad h'English, a smattering of Yankee talk
picked up from various employers, and some of
her adopted country's Latin expressions.
Rebecka has an inexhaustible store of old tales
dealing with jungle gods and spirits and witches;
stories which have been handed down from other
generations to her, and probably decorated and
embellished by each teller in turn until at the
present time they would do credit to a Hans
Rebecka is a bit choosey about whom she favors
with her stories, but if it happens that one stands
in her good graces, and her mood is righb she has
MAID IN PANAMA
a story for nearly every object that you can men-
tion. She can tell tales explaining why bananas
grow pointing upward; why pineapples have such
thorny tops; why the hermit crab has no house
of his own, and has to depend on what he can
rustle in the way of a shell to cover him; why
cocoanuts grow so tall; and why ants go marching
through the forest with green leaf-umbrellas held
over their heads.
Her stories are whimsically entertaining, and
if they could be written down just as she tells
them, inflection and all, a book of them would un-
doubtedly become the world's best seller. Re-
peated in unimaginative written prose, they lose
much of their piquancy. However, there is one
that intrigued me so much, that I shall repeat it.
It tells why the palms of the hands and the soles
on the feet of colored people are the same color as
those of the white man.
"Long, long ago," says Rebecka, "Por Dios,
so long a time it is that I can't say it, all peoples on
earth had skins jus' the same! No black, no
Indio, no Cheno. All white. All live out doors
and hunt, fish for living. And, by'mby, get ver'
crowded. Too many peoples in Bush.
"One day big Spirit Mans, boss of jungle, come
along and he say, 'No good too many peoples all
alike. Too much do all same thing. I change
MAID IN PANAMA
that; put some in houses to do white folkses work.
That leave other mans more room in Bush.'
"So jungle Boss, he move some peoples into
houses and they stays there ever since. Still stay
white people, too, cause don't need to change
them color. White all-right color for live in
"White no good for live in Bush, tho. So by'm-
by Big Spirit he say, 'You come here, Bush Man.
I give you better skin for live out of doors and
hunt game. I jest empty this calabash of paint
over you and then you won't worry no more 'bout
old lion seeing you against green leaves. You
too tall when stand up, though. Better get down
on hands and knees "
The Bush man, then, according to Rebecka,
crept forward on all fours, and the jungle sachem
poured over him a great calabash of blackish
brown paint that made a fine, shiny, dark cover-
ing, of which he was very proud. It didn't soil
easily, could not sunburn, and made hiding among
the trees easy as anything. In short, it was a very
fine skin-suit for a man who was to live in the
"But, Madre Mial" Rebecka threw up her
hands and rolled her eyes dramatically in conclu-
sion. "Por Dios, you no think what can hap-
pened? Bush man has his feets bottoms and his
MAID IN PANAMA
hands down on ground when he got painted, and
when he new suit all nice and dry and shiny, he
stand up and see he still have white feets bottoms
and white inside hands where paint didn't touch "
With a dramatic sigh she put on the finishing
touch. "Too bad, pobrecito, but too late then
No more paint-all used up! So-Bush mans
ever since has to use hands and feets with no paint
on they under sides. Too bad, carambal"
And with a chuckle she waved me aside so she
could get on with her sweeping.
NAMES MAKE NEWS
Note from construction-days colored bulletin:
Ferdinand and Eliza Tuffles have named the re-
cent addition to their family, Ferdiliza.
(In later years, Ferdiliza's baptismal moniker
was corrupted to "Fertilizer"; by which title he
was known as long as he worked on the Isthmus.)
Maisie, told that she ctuld go home after she
had served tea to her mistress and three bridge-
playing friends, hesitated at the doorway.
"But, Mistress,"she said in surprise, "don't you
want I should stay to wash the wares?"
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
ARAMINTA has a tongue which serves her own
needs admirably. The fact that it gets a bit con-
fused and twisted over some of the funny words
she has to use in talking white folks' talk, bothers
her not at all. She doesn't even know it.
Years ago her mistress taught her to make
Parker House rolls. She has made them, prob-
ably, a thousand times since then. To this day,
however, they are "Powder House Rolls."
"Miz Laughlin," she'll beam when they start
discussing a company dinner menu. "Supposin'
I make some them Powder House rolls, instead
of having' jes bread?"
Mrs. Laughlin's habitual guests look forward
with considerable pleasurable anticipation to
Araminta's dinners-especially her Powder
House rolls I
THE WRECK OF THE DESPERATE
IN 1906, when cantinas were popular Zone
institutions, a customary aftermath of each day's
work on steam shovel or dredge, was shaking for
drinks in between the time one came off shift, and
the hour he punched in on the domestic time clock.
Naturally, as any man will well understand, these
sessions occasionally elongated themselves into
proportions which called later (much later!), for
embarrassing sessions with the exasperated lady
in charge of the home roost.
Men, being resourceful then, even as now, nat-
urally used their wits to smooth the ruffled atmos-
phere by telling tall tales of floods, slides, fires
and wrecks with which they had been doing battle,
as explanation of their tardy appearance in the
bosom of the home circle. And women, being
smart then, even as now, swallowed such stories
MAID IN PANAMA
with the conventional pinch of salt and with their
tongues in their cheeks.
Mr. Grinnell recalls with a shudder the time he
got rather deeply involved at Joe's Place, and
realizing that it was a situation where a man
couldn't very well quit and go home, sent a mes-
senger to tell his wife that he would be late-on
account of a wreck.
Mrs. Grinnell was an astute lady of some ex-
perience, and asked, not entirely convinced,
"Where is that wreck, Warren?"
Warren truthfully shook his head. "Am doan
know where de wreck, Mistress," he vowed. And
then fled precipitately. Too precipitately. But
he didn't intend no white woman questioning him
About a month later, the same thing happened.
Warren again carried the message to Garcia by
reporting his boss late on account of a wreck.
"Where is the wreck this time, Warren?" was
the rather grim inquiry.
Warren for once was not caught unprepared.
He had an answer to that one, all right, all
right; and he gave it promptly and unhesitat-
"De wreck in de same place, Mistress!" he said
emphatically-not to say, revealinglyI
PAGING THE SILHOUETTE
MRS. STEIGEL was dieting. And, like so many
ladies bent on reducing, she did considerable talk-
ing about it. So much so that everyone in the
house, including Gertrude in the kitchen, had be-
come acutely and jumpingly calorie-conscious.
Discussing the dinner menu one morning prior
to the commissary trip, Gertrude seemed set on
having lamb chops, for some particular reason
best known to herself and God. Mrs. Steigel
demurred a bit, because neither she nor her hus-
band were exactly rabid about that particular
form of meat. They almost never had it.
Gertrude seemed so set on the idea, however,
that her mistress finally asked just why she wanted
lamb chops all of a sudden, like that.
"Because, Ma'am," Gertrude explained with
a great show of patient toleration, "dem doan fat
DIAMOND NOT YET POLISHED
IRIs, an alert, capable maid, worked for the
Marshalls for ten years. Then, having saved her
money diligently during that interval, she decided
to go on a visit to her home island of Jamaica.
Iris had a sister, Mandy, at home, who was
anxious to come to Panama and get herself, also,
a fine job; like the one Iris had. Some friends
of the Marshalls promised to take her on trial if
she came. They knew Iris would coach her, and
if the two girls had many traits in common, she
would surely make a fine maid.
In due time Mandy arrived. She was husky,
black, inordinately cheerful, and eager to learn.
She caught on readily and was thrilled to death
home although rather terrified at some of the
electric had a sister, Mts.andy, at home, who was
anxious to comtte to Panama and gers at herself, also,
a fine job; like the one Iris had. Some friends
of the Marshalls promised to take her on trial if
she came. They knew Iris would coach her, and
if the two girls had many traits in common, she
would surely make a fine maid.
In due time Mandy arrived. She was husky,
black, inordinately cheerful, and eager to learn.
She caught on readily and was thrilled to death
over all the magic housekeeping aids in the Payne
home ... although rather terrified at some of the
She committed many blunders at first, natu-
MAID IN PANAMA
rally; but laughed at herself quite as freely as the
family did. She didn't often repeat the same mis-
take, however, and developed rapidly into a first-
Her vocabulary was a constant source of in-
terest and amusement to the white folks about
her; but instead of correcting and trying to change
her, they encouraged her to keep on talking in
her natural way.
To her a watch was a "pocket engine" and the
family derived huge enjoyment from hearing her
ask the son of the house, "Robbie, whut time it is
by yo' pocket engine?"
It was quite patent that Mandy had not worn
many pairs of shoes before she had come to
Panama, and as soon as she arrived in the morn-
ing, she would shed them gratefully for soft, heel-
less slippers. She referred to shoes as "ground
mashers," and no one ever remonstrated with her
when she would say, "Jes wait twell I puts on mi
groun' mashas, and I be ready "
When the boys of the family would tease or
joke with her, she would laugh good naturedly
and say, "Now you go 'way, Mistah Ed; doan yo'
pappy-joke wit mel" Were we expressing the
same thing in our more elegant diction, we would
probably say, "Don't you kid me l"
A raincoat, to Mandy, was a "tent," and an
MAID IN PANAMA
umbrella a "keep dry." "Here, Miss Marg'ret,
honey," she would say, "Yo' betteh put on yo'
tent cause it is aw ready starting' fo' to rain "
And one day when her mistress had gone down the
street without either raincape or umbrella, Mandy
exclaimed in consternation, "Good heavin, the
rain come and Miz Payne don't got no tent ner
neither no keep-dry wit her!"
Telling four-year-old Teddy to be careful, one
day, she cautioned, "Betteh watch out there; you,
Teddy. Gin you faw down, you goin' bus' yo'
coco bone for true!"
A collar was a "neck fence," and she never
called a comb by its correct title. Instead, she
would say, "Here, Teddy, let me straighen that
neck fence. And jus' you give me that hair rake
so I kin fix yo' up. Yo' hair all standing' on end!"
Of all the wonderful appurtenances of modern-
ity about the house, however, the door bell was
probably the most fascinating at Arst. One day
shortly after her arrival, it rang, and Mandy, in
palpitating excitement, hissed at her mistress on
the back porch, "The button squealin', Miz Payne,
the button squealin'l"
SLIVER COMMISSARY M T L
SILVER COMMISSARY MEaT LINE
Shove off, Mon; make room for de nex' one I
I "" ". l.'".\
SWUNG WITH THE WIND
HATLIE was doing the week's washing, when
her mistress asked if she weren't about through.
"Yes'm, jus' about," Hallie replied cheerfully,
looking up from her tubs. "All I has lef' to do,
now, is the merinos!"
The be-puzzled lady immediately did a bit of
mental research, aided by a little astute tub-pok-
ing. The result was that she found the merinos
were her husband's knitted underwear!
PIES-WITH CRUST AND WITHOUT
The Bellamy's maid, Hester, was sent to the
commy to get an apple or lemon pie. She came
"Ma'am, de h'apple pie and de lemon pie all fin-
ish," she reported. "Only h'eskimo pie remain,
THE CAT AND THE KING
FEW of us ever pause to consider in what light
we appear to our West Indian servants; laun-
dresses, cooks, and maids. Just what do they
think of the way we dress, eat, walk, and talk over
the telephone? They see us in the unpretentious
frankness of our family life, and they watch us,
often with a scornful inner smile, perhaps, when
we are being our most charming selves in front
If we have a sense of justice and fair play, or a
niggardly streak of smallness in our natures, no
one knows it so well as our colored helpers; who
probably discuss such virtues or faults freely
among themselves. We may keep the world
from knowing about our stinginess, our ugly tem-
pers, our arrogance, our generosity, our sense of
humor or our goodness of heart; but we have no
MAID IN PANAMA
such secrets from the maids who see us in every
conceivable mood and temper as they serve us
through the days.
Were we to listen in on discussions where we
were the chief topic of conversation among our
colored helpers, who are often shrewd character
readers, we undoubtedly would be considerably
enlightened, to say the least. Flattered, maybe;
but not likely.
In connection with the foregoing, there comes
to mind an incident told recently by a friend in
Cristobal. Her laundress was formerly employed
in a much more pretentious home than the one she
now graces. Because of this, she carries herself
with an air which, whatever else it may serve to
accomplish, certainly does evoke from the maids
about her, a most satisfying modicum of deference
The lady of the house sat at her window one day
while her own laundress and several others in the
neighborhood were chatting and gossiping as
they rinsed and hung out their clothes. Her laun-
dress was holding forth volubly with a revealing
dissertation re the idiosyncrasies, personal faults
and dubious merits of a former mistress, ,
referring to her in each instance by her Christian
Jane said this to them and Jane said that to
MAID IN PANAMA %
them, according to the speaker. And then Jane
always wanted them to do thus and so; and Jane
gave each of them a new dress one time. And
another day, when some expected guests failed
to arrive, Jane let the help eat the whole dinner
themselves! Etc.,, etc., etc. Always referring.
to the lady as "Jane"!
Considerably amused and more than a little
. interested, the mistress of .the house (wondering,
incidentally, just what she herself might be called.
behind her back!), some time later beckoned the
laundress and inquired the name of the "Jane"
whom she had jeen discussing with some criticism,
but a bit of affection.
"Oh, Jane So-and-so," replied the maid with-
out the slightest hesitation or embarrassment.
My friend hastily sat down to fan herself. The
lady referred to as "Jane," was the wife of a*for-
mer Canal Zone governor!
S. CALL FOR FIRST AID
Henrietta came into the house in a state of great
"Sir," she said to the master of the home, "A
cyar passing by, jus' now, did hit your fender and
wound it sadly l"
THE UN-LOST CAUSE
A COLORED laborer who had worked a long while
in the Shops area, was transferred to the Dredg-
ing Division. One day, after several years had
gone by, he met his former. boss on the Gamboa
Bridge. The white man stopped in pleased sur-
"Why, hello, Ben!" he said smiling. "How's
"Oh, Mr. Van," Ben replied as a shadow
passed over his ebony countenance. "Not so good.
Plenty trouble, Mr. Van; plenty trouble"
"Why, what's the matter, Ben?- More babies?"
The white man spoke with a twinkle in his eye.
Ben formerly had evinced a notorious propensity.
for producing offspring in appalling numbers.
"Oh, no, Sar, she dry now," Ben said with a-
prodigious sigh. "But slie have fight with a
MAID IN PANAMA
Bajan 'oman next door and them taken us to
"You better be careful, Ben, or you go jail-
house !" he white man said jokingly.
"Oh, no, Sar, I don't have to jail," Ben replied
with a small ray of satisfaction breaking through
his gloom. "I gits me a lawyer for five dollars
and now I don't have to pay no fine nor go jail-
house neither !"
"What you waste your money on lawyers for,
Ben?" the former boss-man remarked. "I thought
you were smarter than that "
"Oh, no, Mr. Van," replied Ben earnestly.
"That five dollars don't wasted. Dem Bajan
folks gits fined five dollars and I don't git fined at-
all, at-all!" And then he chuckled with evident
relish. "Dem still so surprised dem can't believe
it yet 1"
PHRASEOLOGY FROM FRIJOLES
Mammy Ida was maid in a family where there
were some rather obstreperous children. One af-
ternoon, during the absence of their parents, they
staged considerable of a riot.
o"Tchk, tchk, tchk Mammy Ida muttered dis-
approvingly, "When de cyat's away de rats take
BOSOM OF THE FAMILY
ANNABELLE has been with the Thompsons ever
since she came from Jamaica twenty years ago.
Cheerful, black, efficient, and fiercely loyal, she
has been on the firing line through all the ups and
downs which a normal family falls heir to, in a
period of two decades. Measles, mumps, wed-
dings-nothing touching the Thompsons during
'all that long time has failed to find Annabelle
right in the midst of it.
Her attitude toward the family is a distinctly
proprietary one. They very definitely are her
folks and she assumes certain liberties as her right-
ful due. They have long since given up any slight
ideas they may once have had, about keeping
Annabelle submerged. She is deferential, but not
humble; would be shocked to death if told she
must serve a meal in silence. She has always
MAID IN PANAMA
chatted amiably as she waits on the table, and she
always will. Because she is Annabelle.
"Now, Dickie, you jes' eat them potatoes,
now!" she will say, filling the glasses. "If'n you
don't, I goin' give that big piece pie out there to
Fido! Jes' look how nice Marg'et has et all her
dinner... even the spinach! I specks I goin' give
her the biggest piece pie I kin fine!" And since she
has always been able to get more food down the
children than either of their parents, they let her
Annabelle is also on easy terms with the fam-
ily's friends, who accept her the same as do her
employers; chat with her on terms of friendly
familiarity. She is the one and only Annabelle,
and they like her.
Knowing that strangers might misunderstand,
however, her mistress has at times tried to break
Annabelle of talking when guests are present;
but she hasn't had much luck. "Now, Miz An-
drews, you better have another these biscuits.
They mighty good" she'll say with such an in-
gratiating smile that the lady invariably succumbs
to the temptation, even though she is on a strict
diet, trying to reduce her waist line.
"I've really got to do something about Anna-
belle," her mistress said in exasperation one eve-
ning, however, while she and her husband were
MAID IN PANAMA
talking over a dinner party they had just given.
"I think I could have wrung her neck tonight,
even though the guests did think it highly amusing
and didn't seem to mind."
"Oh, let Annabelle alone," her husband said,
grinning. "She's a good old girl and they all
understand her; get a kick out of her I"
His wife sighed in exasperated resignation.
After all, there really is almost nothing one can
do with Annabelle. That evening they had had
turkey for dinner and the hostess had rung for
some more white meat midway in the festivities.
Beaming, Annabelle bore in a platter, beauti-
fully sliced. Pausing by the guest lady, a per-
snickety tourist from Boston, she said, coaxingly,
"Oh, come on, Miz Jordan, have another piece of
THE WISH FATHERING THE THOUGHT
Because the house had settled a trifle on its
foundations, a casement window in the Allerton
home kept swinging shut all the time. Marcellina
got plenty exasperated, trying to keep it station-
"This window show a desire not to wish to re-
main open!" she said finally, throwing up her
hands in disgust.
THE TOO-SLENDER SILHOUETTE
I BROUGHT home a chicken from the market one
day. It wasn't a particularly impressive looking
chicken, I knew, but I had bought it late in the
morning, when the selection was limited. It was
the best there was.
My cook was grimly disapproving of my choice.
She considered I'd been pretty badly jipped on
"There isn't anything really wrong with it, is
there, Gladys?" I asked her, meekly defensive, as
is the way of a mistress with a maid who is boss
of the house.
"It a no-good chicken, Ma'am!" Gladys said
severely as she held up the denuded bird for a
scornful scrutiny. "It too meager. It so meager
it be jus' a bite when it cook. No chicken any
good when it too meager l" she ended chidingly
and reprovingly. One does have to teach ihite
ladies so many things before them intellectual
about such-like importance of life
Old Tobias furnishes my neighbor, Mrs.
Mason, with fresh garden vegetables. He and
his sister have a small plot of ground leased from
a Spaniard for their truck patches; and even
though the land-owner charges as high a rental
as the traffic will bear, they manage to clear a
little profit to pay them for their work.
One day Tobias arrived in a state of indignant
dudgeon. He was so mad and upset that he fairly
sizzled. Setting down his basket of greens, he
told his lady all about it. With gestures and ges-
"When I gwine away, yest'idy," he raged, "dat
Spanish mon he gwine a mi patch and help herself
to mi prop'ty. He tek mi beans, mi cuCUMbers,
and mi fines' h'egg plant! And I gwine call de
Mrs. Mason expressed sympathy for his loss
72 MAID IN PANAMA
and said she thought the Spanish mon had cer-
tainly done wrong.
"Yes, Mist-ressr" Tobias exploded emphati-,
cally. "Him do sorry bad, for true. When we
pays de rent in cyash, den de land belongs to we.
An' de provisions on it should be secure l"
PLEDGE OF TROTH
A dusky couple presented themselves before a
Cristobal minister, saying they were desirous of
becoming man and wife. Attending them were
four children in stair-step gradations of age.
Asked who they were, they were proudly pro-
claimed as the ripened fruit of the new union-to-
"Them is our engagement babies, Suhl" Fer-
guson said, beaming proudly.
THE ROAD OF No RETURNING
A West Indian laborer, applying for a job,
knew his house number to put on the file, but not
the name of the street where he lived. He was
sent home to find out.
"I lives on ONE WAY STREET, Sar!" he
reported triumphantly and with satisfied smug-
ness when he returned.
A MAIDEN YOUNG AND FAIR
ANY white boss of a colored work crew has to
perform manifold duties not listed on the official
outline of his activities. Banker, loan agency,
religious and business advisor, arbitrator of fam-
ily and neighborhood quarrels ... all these, and
many other responsibilities, he has to assume for
the men under his care.
One of the most irritatingly amusing things he
does is seeing that the colored boys under him con-
tribute toward the support of their numerous
extra-marital offspring. When Jake or Mose or
Tom fails to turn in his obligatory payments on
time, the Boss generally tries to settle the matter
himself, rather than have the irate lady in the pic-
ture carry the case to "the Building." No use
having a boy get in dutch if he can be brought to
time without it.
Due to this paternalistic attitude on the part of
MAID IN PANAMA
most white bosses, aggrieved ladies suffering from
financial neglect on the part of gentlemen friends,
who also happen to be the acknowledged fathers
of one or more of their offspring, often write to
the white boss to straighten out the forgetful one
before she has the law on him.
One of these white chiefs has preserved for his
memory archives, such a letter received a year or
so ago from a highly indignant girl friend of a
"boy" working in his department.
Respectful Sir: (the letter began)
In the large trubel of my hart I write to you. I
am a fair young maden of twenty-one (21) sum-
mers what has suffered grate wrong from one
Cyril Thelan works for you. I born fo him two
(2) suns, aged ate and ten yrs. old. They are
hisn and he don't help me no more since he took
up with that Sophy Andrews lives in Chorillo. My
honer was torn asunder and I need a comisary
book for he hasn't give me one (1) fore one month.
Make him come to time and the Lord Jesus help
Your obedient servant,
De rain him fall on de good and on de bad!
THE PUNGENT PUNCH
WHEN mentioning the more violent emotions,
wherein grave bodily injury is superimposed upon
some party of the second part by a said party of
the first part, the West Indian has his own em-
phatically picturesque method of expressing it.
"I give him the blows!" is a favorite way of put-
"Careful, es .. or I will bounce youl" needs no
explanation to clarify its meaning.
In relating the gory details of a battle wherein
the teller has won a victory of which he may well
boast, however, he may expand his oratory in a
big way; but at the end he is pretty likely to sum
it all up in as pat a manner as you could wish, by
stating simply, "I sho' lick 'im down!"
I seek salvation, Sar, but I don't kotch de job
WHILE idiosyncrasies of diction among the
older West Indian generation here differ as radi-
cally as do the various vernacular patterns pe-
Sculiar to the speech of our South, Middle West,
or "Down East" sections, there are a few expres-
sions which are staple; a picturesque part of the
vocabulary used by practically every West Indian
whose manner of speaking had been formed be-
fore he left His Majesty's holding in the New
"Next" is an old stand-by; without which the
Jamaican would be bereft indeed. "The nex'
lady come to call this afternoon, Ma'aml" Or,
"The nex' gentleman say he come back at four
The exact meaning of "next" is not especially
clear, but certainly it performs a multiple service.