An interview with Alwyn Sprague


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An interview with Alwyn Sprague
Physical Description:
78 minutes
Alwyn Sprague
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal


General Note:
Interviewed by Candice Ellis

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
PCM 032 Alwyn Sprague 7-8-2011
PCM 032
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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 accounts 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 research 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, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when c onducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview transcripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SP OHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the original oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim document of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interview ee; 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 format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelling corrections SPOHP transcribers ref er to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


PCM 032 Interviewee: Alwyn Sprague Interviewer: Candice Ellis Date of Interview: July 8, 2011 E: This is Candace Ellis and Al Sprague on July 8, 2011 at the Panama Canal reunion in Orlando, talking about life and adventures in the Panama Canal Zone. So, we can start at the very beginning. How did you come to be at the Zone or how did your family find themselves there? S: My father and mother were in the depression. It was in the [19]30s. And they were so poor that my mom used to make him a banana sandwich and then on don have tea together. couple, Peggy Corigan, who was married to Allan Deleyon, where I got my name, Allan from. It was Peggy Deleyon. Th ey were married. He was up in the United States. He had to spend six months working in the United States to become an American citizen because he was from the West Indies, one of the Dutch islands out there. [Coughing] Excuse me. Anyway, they became friend s and they saw the plight of my parents and so Allan got my dad introduced to the Texaco Oil Company in Panama. So my dad borrowed $500 from my grandmother, and back then it was a lot of money, and he got on the old Lancon with my mom,


PCM 032; Sprague; P age 3 who was pregnant with me, and they went to Panama, and I was born in Coln, Panama. Anyway, he worked for the Mount Hope tank farm of the Texaco Oil Company. They had these tanks o f gasoline, whatever, oil. And he worked for them for a year. Then he went over to the Customs Bureau for Banconal, and he got on with Banconal, and he worked with them, and then next thing, he got into the Inspection Bureau, and then from the Inspection B ureau, he went into the accounting branch. My mother told me she used to put all the books on accounting and everything in the bathroom and took all the other books out accou nting. So he worked his way up to Assistant Chief Auditor of the Panama still that animosity out there. So from there, we moved over to the Pacific side, and that was before World War II. I was born in [19]38. E: [19]38. Okay. S: And I remember Pearl Harbor. I remember everybody running around. I was only three years old. E: Young. S: But my dad I remember him building air raid underneath the house, these old wooden houses. Sand bags. They put sand. Everybody got in together and we


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 4 had blackouts. You had to put the screens down and turn off the lights. You used light in your car, you know. Actually, you know, being a kid in a war, you grew up American than anything. I do have dual citizenship though, and I love being a E: Do you go back often? S: Yeah, we go b ack every other year or every year. My wife, she was born down there, and her parents were born down there too. And her father, who came back and lived in Panama, was a torpedo plane pilot in the navy during the Second World War, and he sank three ships. A nd he was out in the Pacific, and he got the Distinguished Flying Cross, two air medals, and he was in the group that started the Blue Angels. But he got out of the service. He said he had enough of war, so they let him go. But the rest of the guys, his gr oup, they were a war bond tour, and they used to related to the Corigans because the Corigans got me down to Panama. Well, Peggy Corigan and Alan Deleyon, but she was a Corigan, so I met all the other Corigans, and my dad met the Corigans, and we were always on best of terms.


PCM 032; Sprague; P age 5 abscess ears and, you know, general things kids have tonsillitis and all that. But I liked to keeping in shape, and running, and weight lifting and all that. So I stayed in good shape until myself. But is there anything special you want to hear? E: Sure. So you were born in 1938 in Coln, and you were raised there until when? When did you leave? S: Well I was three years old when we moved to the Pacific side. E: Okay. And then when did you ultimately leave? Just trying to give it a time frame. S : When did I what? E: When did you leave? S: Oh. To go to live in the States? E: Uh huh. S: 1989. E: 1989. S: But the first time I left was to go to college in 1957. I went to Mississippi Southern College. And I got a year, almost two years in the


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 6 But, they kicked me out. Anyway, that just made it good for me to go to another schoo l, a better school American University in Washington, D.C. And I got a E: In what? S: In art. E: Oh, neat. What kind? What medium? S: ory, painting, about. E: amo unt of time. You must have had a lot of different experiences just with school and high school and what that was like. S: Well, I remember a lot of fighting. [Laughter] E: Betwee n the boys, or between everybody? S:


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 7 [Slapping sound]. And so, the guy next to me goes... E: Not me. S: And I go... E: He was pointing at you? [Laughs] S: [Slapping sound]. So I go out and get my black eye or whatever it was, you know, then I got bigger, and you know, started to fight back a li ttle. [Laughs]. E: [Laughs]. Which high school did you attend? S: Balboa High School. E: Okay S: E: Oh, okay. I S: And they picked the highest evaluation they could, and the teachers had to have E: Wow.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 8 S: Arlington County in th after school and summers and in part, you know, whenever I could, and worked E: So you could go back to teach in Panama? S: went back, and I taught in Curundu Junior High School, but I went over and taught in Balboa High School in the same room. I taught art in the same room that I got kicked out of art in. E: Oh my goodness. S: I was kind of pain out there. E: S: somethi ng annoying. E: Did you have to kick anybody out of art class? S: Huh? Pardon?


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 9 E: Have you ever had to kick anybody out of art class? S: Well, I had one problem with one guy, who was one of the bes t of all the artists. I just thought the kid was great, but he just got out of control. I mean, when you And then one kid, I allowed them to all come into class and watch this one I mean all the kids who had study hall or some thing could come to my classroom this one day and watch the surfing slides that this one guy took and r to this kid E: Yeah. S: He ruined it for everybody. E: How old was he, bringing bee r to class? S: I think he was probably seventeen maybe. E: That is very bold.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 10 S: Yeah, well, you know, he was on something too [laughter]. S: s and the boozers. The heads were on marijuana. The boozers were on beer or whatever. And they did fine. I can only think of one guy that really messed up his life, but the res t of them, they got away from it, and they did fine. E: Get over it and grow up a little. S: of the anymore. E: Yeah. When you were there in high school, was there a lot of hard partying like that? S: Oh, yeah. E: Yeah. S: I mean, not with me. I used to go down to the yacht club and drink beer after school or on Saturdays or something like that. E: Yeah. Describe an average Saturday night for a high schooler in the Zone. S: Down there?


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 11 E: Yeah. S: S: And I think a l ot of that has to do with the way I am, what I make and what I do, E: S: Well, maybe. Maybe. E: Yeah. S: remember really a happy day until recently when my wife has gotten me some E: Yeah, S: E: And you dealt with that all throughout high school? S: Oh yeah [inaudible 16:00] fruitcake. [laughter]. S: I mean, I still did all the things I wanted to do, you know?


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 12 E: Right. S: And I still was trying to chase a girl here and there, but I just was out of luck, you conforming peop le, more steady in their lives. I think if a woman has been was young, I would do crazy things, you know? E: L ike what? Do you have stories? S: Well, even when I was teaching school down there, I still liked doing crazy I were when we were in our thirties. And as far as girls, as far as diving. We did a lot of diving. Free diving, where you go do wn and you just use a snorkel. E: Yeah. S: the Pan Canal record, is it, or anything? E: I mean S: -E: yeah. S:


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 13 E: S: Well, let me give you an idea just how crazy we were about it. I had the Hong Kong Flu. It was a bad flu that went around back then. And I coughed so hard that I got a hernia. It popped out, so they were going to have to operate on me, for a week, you know? So weekend, the water was cold and perfect for fish, and I just put a wetsuit on. A it held the hernia in, so I went diving with a bunch of guys. And we went out to Bona Notoki Island, and about twenty seven miles from Panama. And I shot a, well, we used to call them jewfish, but they call them goliath grouper now. I have to be political ly polite, you know. Anyway, I shot him, and he took off and went down, and in this place where I was, it was 100 feet deep. And the line got tangled around me, and I went down with him 100 feet. So, I got untangled when I hit the bottom, and I started up, and I got up about 50 feet, and I had to breathe. You calm down. That part of me shuts down. I said, You gotta get air. One drop of ng to find air? Where am I going to find air? I was probably going, where am I going to find air? You know. And I said, my mask. So I leaned my head back, and water ran down, whatever water was in the


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 14 3 mask. And I just went [sniffs]. And I sucked through my nose as hard as I could, flattened that mask up against my face. Well, that assuaged the urge to breathe. And I went on, and I got about 25 feet more, and I needed air again. And the mask had decompressed a little bit, so I sniffed again, and I came up just taking it easy. And everybody was laughing, nervous laughter. They said they were dividing my gear up. You know, I get this, I get this. But I was down over five E: Oh my goodness. S: E: ? S: People go diving for E: S: Some peop breathe through my mask too. First, I had to untangle myself. First, I was down, and then I saw the fish and shot him, and he pulled me down, then I had a hundred feet to get back up. So all of this was going on down there. E: Did you write about that in your book? S: Pardon?


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 14 E: Did you S: Yeah, I wrote that in my book. In fact, the best diver down there, Jerry Coffee, He said, You know, I never thought of that. And everything else, you know. But we used to brag about sharks and all that, you know. [Inaudible 21:50] old thing, but there were plenty, and we did some stupid E: guess, bring it back to the Zone S: But what I was telling you there gives you an idea of one of the adventures that E: Yeah. S: And other guys did just as much as me. And you would try to laugh at it all, but everybody was scared when they did something like that. And that was a way See, I was [inaudible 22:43] for the military. I volunteered for the draft in 1956 and a couple other things. So, I was [inaudible 22 college. And later on in my life, after I was teaching a while And finally, when I


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 16 5 quit teaching and just started working on painting, I had four kids by then. I mean, E: [Laughs] S: life, seen them go by in trucks. Most of my friends were drafted. Some of them went that I was supposed to do. Down in the Canal Zone, people are very patriotic. very patriotic. I said, I owe my country. So, I went to General Warner and told him that I wanted to do a series of paintings on the military, on the army and the jungle, or wherever. And he says, how long would it take you to get your gear together? I sai So, I did twenty paintings. Big oils. In fact, they just started showing Philadelphia not long ago, a couple mo nths ago. And they had two of my paintings in it of the military. They were in the Pentagon for a while. And they put one of mine on a banner even. E: Wow. S: So, I put everything I had into those. I went with the grunts in the jungle. I had flown every kind of helicopter there was. I just did everything they did, you know? And it was very enlightening to me, and it made me really, really just love the military. You can thank God we have the men we do. Oh geez. I ought to put a


PCM 032; Sprague; Pa ge 17 6 sign on the back of my truck saying Because of rednecks, country boys, cowboys, hillbillies, and mountain boys, and tough city kids, and they had military E: Do any experiences with them in particular, when you were with them doing the S: Well, when something happened? E: Yeah. Just any memory you might have doing that with them. S: took another one with him. It was like in the movie Platoon It looked just like it. He took another one with him, and another one, and another one, and they all rolled down the hill, you know. And then one guy broke his leg and they had to evacuate him, so [inaudible 26:49] had to come and fly in on a helicopter, and it started raining inside the helicopter, through the radios and all that, and then, Hi, uh, we got to g et back to base [Laughter]. S: And there were probably more than I can remember. You know what I mean?


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 18 7 machine gun, and you sleep there. You just sleep in the jungle, you know? And the guy says, Look at a ll these leaves falling around us! I looked and I said, and they land and then they crawl over to you. And then they find a bare spot of skin or something, like your ankle or som they lap the blood. And then they can give you rabies. So, at least one every time they had a maneuver one. We moved. [Laughter] E: How long did you do that? S: I did that for about four or five then they sent me down to Just Cause when they had the military invasion there. They sent me a month later, but there was still a little bit of stuff going on, not much. And so I did a lot of paintings on that too. So I worked about four to five years on it. E: Four to five to do the twenty -S: up. I met the chiefs of staff, Colin Powell, almost everybody. I actually sat at the table with the men the run the wars. It was something, and they gave me a show, and


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 19 8 E: S: Why? E: racking. S: involved in politics with them or telling them anything. I just thanked them for too pretty. E: Thank you. S: And they will be very glad to have you around, so you just be yourself, you know? E: Alright. So you were actually sent to Panama City in the wake of Just Cause to do some paintings within the city. S: Yeah, yeah. Well, gun from a guy, so then I had that in my pocket [laughter]. E: For protection. Did you ever have to use it? S: Oh, no. E: No. S:


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 19 E: Yea h. S: I slept with it right in my nightstand there. E: What was the city like after that when you were there? S: See, I knew Noriega. He bought a lot of my paintings. E: You knew Noriega? S: Oh yeah. E: Personally? S: Oh yeah [laughter]! Yeah. In fact, his cohorts tried to have me shot. E: What? Why was that? S: Well, my brother was in Army Intelligence. He was a civilian in Army Intelligence, and Noriega knew that, but Noriega liked my paintings, so he bought a lot of my paintings. He bought around ten. He gave one to Reagan. Yeah, in fact, if you want to verify this, call the Reagan Library, and ask them if they have a painting there by Al Sprague that was presented by President de Espriella. He worked for Noriega I guess. But just say, do you have a painting there by Al Sprague from Panama? You ought to do it. E: Yeah.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 21 0 S: E: e you. S: Huh? E: S: E: S: E: Okay. S: Okay? E: paintings? S: Yeah. In fact one time one. Good. E: S: E: S: But you know, I hate talking about myself [Laughter].


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 2 1 E: I understand, but this oral history is really about I understand that you feel really interesting. S: The bottom line is the website. E: O kay. S: But up there, you see E: Yeah. S: E: Okay. S: Alright? E: Yeah. S: E: Candace. S: Candace, the interviewer or Canal Zone interviewer or something so I know who it is, because you got all kinds of stuff. E: Yeah, I do too. Definitely junk mail and stuff like that. But thank you so much. This looks really neat. I like the colors, everyt hing. S: Pardon?


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 23 2 E: I like the colors. I can hang that up. S: You like colors? E: S: Can you turn that off? [Break in recording] S: Jimmy Rhinehart. And since then, I knew him in school, and I used to have a couple of When I quit teaching, I had so many students of mine. We were good bronze for forty years. So, we would go and pour bronzes and have a good time. a rod with two handles. So, you put the pot in it, and then you have a hanger that comes down and grabs it, and that lifts it up. See? And then you take it over with the crane, and you pour it. Well, what happened is, we had to skim the top, a lot of metal and all that. And when the shank came up with the crane, there was a pot in the middle, there was a little piece of slag that got caught between the ring and the pot, and it tipped the pot over, and it was ninety pounds of 2,000 degree metal on the floor.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 24 3 E: Oh my gosh. S: Boy [Laughter]! He went that way and I went this way! But, you know, all kinds of things happen like that. E: How do you even remove that once it S: Pardon? E: How would yo S: You know what I did? It chills. E: Yeah. S: It gets cold. E: Yeah. S: And we cut it up on the band saw, the pieces, and I melted them again, and we poured it. I got it [Laughter]. E: S: Well, you see, and the method I was using was using is a plaster and sand that, you have to pour it within a day or it deteriorates. E:


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 2 4 S: Now, I went all over the world just about. I went to Florida, I went to Panama, any place I could find anybody doing anything in Panama. I went to Italy with my wife to learn how to do foundry, so we went all over the place wanted to do. E: S: s. But you know, E: Did you meet both of them in the Zone? S: No. I met my first wife in the United States. Very good woman, and very and a son, Michael who I worry about him, because I want him to be able to You father. I worry about him, you know? E: S: worry about you?


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 26 5 E: S: Yeah. Are you the only one? E: I have a younger brother. S: Younger brother? E: Uh S: Okay. [Inaudible 36:58] How old are you? E: I worry about him. Twenty two. S: Twenty E: Yeah. [Laughs] S: Oh, oh. E: S: her [Laughter]. Are you good friends with your mom? E: Yeah. S: Yeah. E: Really close. Well, so your experience as an artist sound like they I mean, buying your paintings.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 27 6 S: Well, when I went to see him, I was in a dentist chair. And the dentist got a call, a see you. I said, W better get going. So he packed his stuff up, and I went out of there and went home and changed into a [inaudible 37:44]. I got pictures of all this too. E: S: But the E: Yeah. S: I can send them over to the Internet. E: S: was a lot taller. I lost four inches with my spine, but I knew that he w English. He could speak English, but he spoke Spanish as a matter of pride. E: Right. S: He would only speak Spanish. So I said, how am I going to do this? because my Spanish is terrible, you know. So I said, [inaudible 38:35] mucho gusto and then I started fumb ling around with my Spanish. He [laughter]. I knew my Spanish was bad! He says, I want you to know, you should


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 28 7 be very proud that Panama likes your work this much, he said. But Panama is very proud to have your work too. E: Did you ever paint anything just for him? S: Well, he just liked my paintings. [Inaudible 39:19] He really was a patron of mine in a way. I d know? I never had any dealings with them or any kind of dealings with him. Just met him there face to face that one time. Then he said that he gave paintings to Mitterrand in France, president of Mexico, president of Spain, but he just went on and on and on all these people that he gave He says, but the one I was so proud to give a painting to was Anthony Quinn. You ever heard of him? He was an actor. He got the Academy Award and all that. Hav e you ever seen the movie, E: No. S: Well, he was in that. You know, old actor, like old me. But what happened is I had a show in November just a month before Just Cause, and a friend of mine bodyguard to the ambassador to Japan, Albert Calvo, who I went to Balboa high school with, who should be in our things [laughter]. And one night, we were coming back from the airport, and he


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 29 8 gave me the pictures that th ey took of Noriega and me at the airport. He met me and drove me back to my house. I had my kids with me too. Not my little one, but airport, and they were turning cars over and burning them, and throwing rocks and they were shooting, and you know, everything was goin g all that nice stuff to t us with torches, and we were blocked off from behind. So, this guy comes up, walks up to the car, maliante, and he puts his head in the car, and Mariel reaches behind and gets his nickel plated or stainless steel .357 Magnum and goes, MBOW! Just like in the movies. He cracks his head so hard, it could sound like a coconut. The guy went, BLOOMP, down. Then he got out with the gun, and it was dark, and I up in the air, and he go t back in the car, and we drove off. It took us an hour to get out of that. And anyway, he was faithful to the regime though, you know? Well, when I went down there in [19]89 for a show, November [19]89. See, in December [19]89 was when they hit Noriega. W hen I went down there, after the


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 29 ing to kill you, man. I said, what? He says, under was in intelligence. I never told my brother a thing. I got all my information from the maid. I knew that my phone was bugged and I only said good things, you know. I shut my mouth. I know how to do that. So, he says, but he used Noriega. He used the name, you know? And finally, later on, he admitted, I was try ing to anyway, so he starts driving the car and I said, oh, come on Mariel. Quit joking with me. So, double, but you had to kind of go off on the grass to kind of let the other guy by. People were jumping off the side of the road and everything. He was going so fast. Finally, I said, Jesus! We must have been doing ninety miles an hour. I said, take you back to where you are in the Zone. And you stay there, and you get the y the airport. You go out by the airport, you go get your general friend or


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 3 0 to spy. I said, Oh man. I said, Okay! [Laughs] I promise! You know? So he drove me home, and my brother helped me get a and I got General Max Thurman he got me on a plane. And what was funny was when I got to the airport, that Howard Air Force Base, when we had it in Panama, I went up and had a beard and [inaudible ] clothes, and this little Air F orce guy you know how you know how to Sprague. Al Sprague. So he, No Sprague on the manifest. I said, well, you got to have a Sprague on there. They told me I was on the manifest to fly out on this plane. No Sprague. I said, well, let me have that phone near you please. I want to call a general. I had his number too. He says, The only Sprague we have on How com mon is Sprague? He says, the only Sprague we have here is a Captain Sprague! He says, boy, they have all kinds of spooks running around here now. [Laughs] Anyway, I got out, so. E: Was it hard to transition, move to the States after?


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 31 S: Oh, no I miss Panama a little, and I miss it a little, but, you know, I like living where I am. I get to make all those things. I cast bronze. I meet all kinds of got ten years. Who another realm. E: Another new adventure. S: E: straight. Was Mario the bodyguard to the S: He was the bodyguard to Albe rt Calvo, who was the ambassador to Japan. E: Okay. Alright. S: Under Noriega. E: Okay. S: And Calvo bought a lot of paintings from me. He was a great guy. He was a cham pions. E: Did you guys ever play a game?


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 3 2 S: E: No? S: fish [Laughter]. Do you ever play fish? E: S: E: Yeah. S: I like to make things. E: S: Really? E: g. S: What do you like to do? E: I read a lot, and I do a lot of writing for school, but reading, I think that cons S: Do a lot of editing? E: Writing, just for school. S: E: But I think reading and that kind of consumes mo st of my free time.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 33 S: E: Yeah? S: Her and I just wrote a book together. Well, I wrote the book back in 1966 for my the book, and what I did was, I was teaching English and I wanted to give the kids something extra, so I wrote a story in my own time that I read to them if they were good. I read them a chapter. Or not a chapter, but as far as I had done on Friday, and t hen I show them whatever illustrations I did. There are kids that are adults now E: S: [laughter]. S: years o published by a publisher, and it was a finalist in some kind of award or something. So, it did you know? So that was kind of nice for a first time.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 34 E: you mentioned [inaudible 52 :02] S: Excuse my speed. E: S: I always draw wherever I go, or I get ideas. I have books like E: Oh, wow. S: You know, I write, put down stuff for casting bronze, you know, and ma king E: And are they produced and sold in Panama? S: Yeah. E: Oh, wow. S: g to get them in the States too, if we can. In fact, and try them out on the salmon and on the halibut. But this buddy of mine and I, Windswept and these guys get blown out to sea in their sailboat, which happen to us, and it capsizes and everything. They end up on a log, floating out at sea. A big tree, and which we see all the time out


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 35 there. Big trees wash down the rivers and they drift around, and all the dolphin and whale shark and then he slips in. And then, the tw o of them end up on the back of the whale shark [laughter]. And then here they are diving off the log when it hit him. And both of us have been in the water with some big tiger sharks in our life, and E: Oh. S: likes to have his nose scratched. And then they get on an island. There are feral dogs and everything. And then the sharks and O h God, and then they find a little puppy in a coconut shell. And then here he is scratching the boards, and as I go on, I And then this is E: He is scratching it. S: Well, everywhere I go, I bring my sketchbook. E: Wow. S: If you want to look through it, you can.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 3 6 E: Yeah, definitely. So you guys are actually S: I made the book by the way too. I taught myself how to make books. E: Book binding. S: Book binding. Do you ever do that? E: I S: You ought to do it. You ought to do it. Really. Because you can take your own writings and bind them, and you can make some neat stuff. E: g out, that was kind of a big social, kind of cultural thing in Panama? Were a lot of people into that? S: No, not a lot. I would say a very small percentage of the Gringos and Panamanians did it. Panamanians were some of them were excellent! They were good divers, but they kill everything! BLAH BUM BUM BUM! [Laughter] E: How did people really get along with native Panamanians? Everybody S: Oh my God! A lot of the Panamanians went to American schools if they could pay the tuition! E: Right. S: The they go to Panama to go into


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 37 E: Right. S: So, Panama and the Canal Zone are a lot closer, I mean American time. Now, granted you had som e Americans who only went into Panama to buy a lottery ticket, and they only had lousy stuff to say about Panama, but most of your Americans got along fine with Panamanians. My family, my dad, some of his best friends were in Panama. E: Did you have a lot of Panamanian students at the school where you taught? S: Yeah! Yeah. We had quite a few. And there was intermarriage too. You know, girls would marry a Panamanian guy, or a guy, an American would marry a to each other, Panama and America. E: Panamanian kids picked on or teased or anything like that as far as you saw? S: Gringo. A mixture mother Panamanian, father Gringo, or vice versa. They had that Spanish temper and American size. They beat the [laughter] out of anybody, you know? E: S: Oh That was my first language. I hear that when I two years old. My mama give me to the maid. Her name Lynmon and Lynmon take me all over the place and show all her friends this little white boy, and then she rub blonde hair, you know,


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 3 8 and they touch me hair and kiss me face. They kiss me face all over and I come back, and my mother say, what [inaudible 58:19] different kiss marks on his face there. Lipstick all over them. I see purple and pink and blue [laug kiss me up. They were I learned how to talk that. E: Can you give me the name of that? S: Well, we call it Bajan. E: Yeah. S: In the Canal Zone, people call it Bajan, but a lot of people call it Creole. Bajan comes from Barbados. M ost of the workers who dug the Canal were Jamaican. E: Right. S: were the ones that could take it. They took the disease, they took the accidents, and they were strong. And they needed the money. And then they brought over their families, or they met a wife and they raised a family. The woman that worked for us, that raised me from the time I was eleven, her husband dug on the canal. He was one of the diggers. He was a littl e older than her, about twenty years older I think. E: construction I think in 1914.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 39 S: In 1914. Yeah. E: Right. So. S: But I said, Well Louise, I can see you love your children. She says, I love all my children and all these children too [Laughter]. E: Did the maids live in house? S: No, they lived at home in Panama. We just lived on government pay. E: n multiple family. S: But no, no. Some of them came from men who worked for the canal, but a lot of them came just from Panama, and like I said, her husband was retired from the canal or they came from Panama. But when you hire a maid, you must watch out that hired three women in one day, and his wife got rid of every one of them. E: Said no because they were too pretty? S: She came home, [inaudible 1:00:47], and fi nally hired a real ugly one. She stayed with her family for a hundred years [laughter]. E: How did the process work for hiring maids? Did they S: Well, they just come to your house. E: They come and okay.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 4 0 S: But, you kno Louise and my dad would cook ev ery Saturday together. My ma or my mom was selling insurance or encyclopedias. She put me through college my mom did. ril it. Saturday. Sat ril day. And shrimp is strimps. E: I bet it was good cooking. S: Ah, my dad was a good cook, but he taught Louise how to cook. E: Okay. S: And she put the Jamaican cooking weird [inaudible 1:01:50 ], back and forth. E: ecall the name S: Oh, the greatest favorite was Johnny Marzetti. E: S: Yeah. And it was made with Alfredo sauce. Salsa Alfredo or something like that, deal. And the good Canal Zone parties were great, but they, [Laughter] they were wild.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 4 1 E: Did they get a little too crazy? S: They got cr azy, you know [laughter]. Lot of men and women there, you know. Yeah, they got kind of wild. I remember one time I was drink for thirty five years, but when I was back in my drinking days, I was young and we were having parties and all I w a little too fast on the lawn, I hit my brake and I skidded and all the houses are up on stilts, you know? new friends. E: Oh my goodness [laughter]. S: B ut Zonies, were oh God they still are. They all talk Bajan. You talk to them, the character, Olman, he was a real character, he used to take me fishing. He was a black kid. He was sea worms and all kinds you know, adventures. Aw, I was only ten or eleven years old [laughter]. E:


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 4 2 S: something like that. Anyway, we were such devious kids that I pity any molester who tried anything on bad things. E: Does anything stand out in particular? S: Well, we were throwing firecrackers at people one time in the car. You know, 80 is what they call them. The military use them. I threw one out, and his car was packed with about eight guys in the car. You know? And it hit the top of the window, and it bounced back in the car, and everybody was trying to find it [la ughter]. BOOM! E: Oh my goodness. S: this was the old tuna fisherman. They used live sardines an d anchoveta, and they had bait wells on the tuna boat, and they were about a hundred feet long, the men would stand in the racks. And the guy up at the bait tank, he would throw sardines out, a net full here and a net full there, and the tuna would come in. And then these guys are outside these poles with a hook on them, and you


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 4 3 know, and they, Nnnn had one pole, two pole, three pole, four pole tuna. Four guys pulling a tuna this big. If you want to write down what it looked like, write down, Tribute to Tuna. t know if you can watch it for free or what. A Tribute to Tuna. That will show you just what We knew those guys! They say, We come into Balboa Harbor to resupply. But we go down there and use their snapper and mackerel, and we caught big fish! Aw, man. I remember trying to sell them and one night, we got shot at and everything. But anyway, anyway. E: Somebody shot at you for trying to sell tuna? S: you this. We caught a bunch of Corvina, a buddy of mine and I, and we went downtown to sell the Corvina, and oing to sell the fish. And we passed this checkpoint. Ju! Cop, Bshbshbsh, blows his whistle. And we just goosed it you know? He went, Vroom, BOW, BOW! Took two shots at us, and one went in the trunk of the car, and the other one across the top, creasing th e top. But we stayed in a car that night, and we slept in the car and waited for the YMCA to open up the next day. And the man there, Harry Chan, he ran the restaurant. Probably the nicest man in the world. His daughter comes here Bev. Bev Williams. [Inau dible 1:07:57] All of her family comes. Harry was


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 4 4 eat. He was just a g ood man. And he said, Well, I give you seventeen [inaudible 1:08:16] pound for your corvina, you know. So anyway, we waited the next day and sold the corvina to him. They were still good. We had them on ice and everything. But we had this bullet that went through the trunk, you know? So, he [Laughter] I think those fish saved our lives. E: Yeah. Oh my gosh. S: And then, one time we went down there, and they were, tuna boats and they advantage of the West Indians living in the [inaudible1:09:07] because we gave them a fair d eal and these tuna were fresh. We sold them for two tuna for a feed two families in one tuna, you know? So we sold them two for a quarter. And we just put them in the trunk, filled the trunk up, and it was a borrowed car. I wrote this down. Anyway, we go into La Boca and we open the trunk and start selling fish. And we made so much money so fast that, man, we went back to the tuna boat, you know? So, this time, the guy says,


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 4 5 gone. So they took the tuna, and they filled up the trunk, and we put them in the slide up and bury him. And E: And tuna -S: And we sold all them. And we got out of there, and we pulled up next to a light to get this car back, you know? And we pulled up next to the light, and this car pulled up next to us, a guy in a sports car with a girl with him. And he looks over at us and we look over at him. We had fish guts all over us and everything, and slime. What are you e girl goes, Bllrgrngmrggm. He pulled out of there in the light. [Laughter] So we got the car home, and this poor guy, the guy that he borrowed a car from, was there waiting for him. He was a solider, and he liked his sister or something, and they had some what a chase that was. He left the car in run, and old Bob ran through the swamp for about two days. [Laughter] This guy wanted to kill him! E: Yeah. How old were you? S: I was s ixteen, something like that.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 4 6 E: S: E: Did a lot of kids have their own cars? S: E: Alright, so. S: You know. It was the same. Hey, can I have the car? You know. Same thing. And E: Was everything compact enough to wher e it was easy to get around maybe on foot or with a bike or something like that? S: Oh, yeah. We used to walk to school every day, and it was about a mile. Yeah. It probab [Laughter] E: It sounds like it was a really amazing life and a great experience. S: Oh, it was a lways something happening. E: Yeah. S: We used to crawl underneath the piers. We used to crawl underneath the piers.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 4 7 under same guy. We had more fun together. And we had one spear gun between us. fish, and put him up on the s slope. So, put him up there, and you go back, and then he got a shot, and then I knew how to climb around all the pilings and all that. E: Yeah. S: And no human being would want to be underneath there, you know? I mean, it had rats under there, all kinds of lizards, big lizards, like those black lizards. ook like, Wow! I see this great big grouper. Just year old kid. E: You want that fish! S: You know, I just grabbed the gun, and he grabbed the like gonna get killed with that thing. And then th e grouper went down. And that was it.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 48 E: Not today. S: But we did stuff. We used to walk on the piling. The camels they were this thick rod and gone skidding all the way down there with the fish pulling me. And Hummer kooky, so I d these guys went steady with a girl and all that. E: That costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. Lot of effort into that kind of stuff. S: Yeah. Well, I would have loved to have a girlfriend I think, but you have to spend E: S: sometimes. It was ama zing. E: emotional attachments to it, so when you hear the news that it was being turned back over to the Panamanians, how did you take that?


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 4 9 S: paintings in his library though. The Panamanians bought it from me and gave it to Carter. So, they did think enough of me to do that of my painting anyway. But though. If anybody E: Yeah, absolutely. S: is horrible. E: Difficult to navigate. S: Hundred foot seas, one after another. They call them gray beards. They lost many a lives there. Or you could go through the Suez Canal, but the Suez, you s not a stable place either. E: S: Well, I miss it, but you know what I did? I said to myself, Look you can do about it. Miss it, but look for the good things here.


PCM 032; Sprague; Page 5 0 E: Yeah. Did you continue to teach up here? S: No, I quit when I was down there too. E: Okay. S: Yeah. E: S: E: S: Well, my brother that, then what them is. [Laughter] E: [End of Interview] Transcribed by : Mimi Taylor, February 5, 2014 Audit Edited by: Matt Simmons, February 7, 2014