An interview with Patsy Detamore


Material Information

An interview with Patsy Detamore
Physical Description:
55 minutes
Patsy Detamore
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal


General Note:
Interviewed by Candice Ellis

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
PCM 047 Patsy Detamore 10-20-2011
PCM 047
System ID:

Full Text
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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 047 Interviewee: Patsy Detamore Interviewer: Candice Ellis Date: October 20, 2011 E: This is Candice Ellis on October 20, 2011 with Patsy Detamore talking about life growing up in the Panama Canal Zone. So, how about we start with, how did you come to be in the Zone or how did your parents? D: My father went to the Canal Zone in 1940 from Montana. He sent an application without ever expecting to get the job. He went there with the intention of helping to build the third set of locks, which then got stopped because World War II came along. They are now on this day working on those locks. E: Wow. He was able to get a job there working on the canal its elf? D: Yes, and he expected it to be just a temporary thing. It sort of was for him. He was there just a few years, but my mother and sister and I followed him, stayed with him there, and then I met a man who had lived in the Canal Zone since he was two y ears old and married him. I stayed there for thirty nine years. I raised just mothering until my children were grown, and then I began to kind of branch out, look around, an d have my own adventures. E: About how old were you when you went there with your father? D: I turned sixteen just a month after I got there. E: Okay, so you were able to attend high school there.


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 3 D: Yes, and I came from a little tiny town in Montana calle d Alberton, where my graduating class would have been six had I not left, to a class in the Canal Zone of something like three hundred. E: Were you on the Pacific or the Atlantic side? D: The Pacific side. E: What was the high school on that side? D: Balb oa High School. E: Balboa High School, okay. D: constructed town called Diablo Heights. E: Diablo Heights. Were there other high schools besides Balboa on the Pacific side? D: No. E: It was just Balboa on the Pacific and just Cristbal on the Atlantic. D: Correct. E: Okay. And it was between those two. Do you know if students went to high


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 3 D: It was actually the other way around. Panamanian stude nts came to our Canal went to Panama schools. There may have been. E: What was making that transition like? You were just sixteen. Montana, and the difference between that and Panama and going to this huge new what was that like for you? D: [Laughter] It was total culture shock. But in order to get there, my mother, sister, and I traveled by train from Montana to New York City, got on a ship, and spent I think it was probably te n days getting to Cristbal. Then, of course, I was seasick for the first three or four days. But when the ship docked and we picked up our luggage which by the way I still have one of the suitcases that we used I smelled the tropical air, the warmth, the dampness, the kind of moldy jungle feeling, and I knew I was home. It just seemed like the place I belonged. E: D: Oh, no. Never. E: What was life like adjusting to a much larger high school, a different t own? What kind of stuff did you guys do as kids? D: were pretty well for me in that


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 4 Diablo Heights was a new town being const ructed by new people, and populated to get together. E: Can you describe maybe a typical weekend night for a teenager in the Zone? D: were different and partly because thing that you can pick up for that. E: Right. How did times change? You mentioned you were out there in 1940, was it? D: [19]41, actually. E: on the eve of the war. D: Well, first the town that I lived in, the buildings were up on stilts with what we called the basement but was actually a space underneath the house where you machines or dryers or that sort of thing because now but we had twenty five cycle instead of sixty cycle or something like that. The lights would actually flicker because they changed so infrequently. If your eyes g ot attuned to that flicker, there were times when I would find that my eyes were on when the light was off, or my eyes were off when the light was on, for


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 5 just a moment. I found that disconcerting. We had blocks of ice delivered to ice boxes daily. The ice box I remember in our house was a kind of a two story affair, in that the ice was put in the top part, food was put in the bottom section. They were separated, and there was a drain then going to a pan down in the bottom, which you had to empty or it woul d overflow. What else was different? E: In that kind of war atmosphere, did you notice changes then where people panicked? D: Ah, okay. Now I remember, d screen all the way around the building. We lived in a corner apartment, so that there was screen on two sides of our apartment. The front part was the living room, and there was sort of a half wall which allowed, of course, air to circulate across the up per part of the rooms. Beyond that wall was the bedroom, and then there was no dining room. There was a kitchen. The apartment next door was so close that in the mornings when my father was shaving, he could hold a conversation with the man next door who w as also shaving, because our bathrooms were back to back. E: During the war, were people nervous? Were people kind of on edge? Because that area was kind of a strategic hold out.


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 6 D: Yes, in a way. There we re occasional air raid alarms i n which case we had to cover portions of the headlights so that just a thin strip in the middle showed t hrough. There were air raid shelters built with sandbags underneath some of these buildings on stilts. There was one town that had a freestanding air raid shelter, I remember. In fact, when I went back a few years ago, I could still find foundations of it. E: D: Yes, it was nostalgic in a way, but things change so much over the years. It was also a little disconcerting. E: may D: In a E: Right. You mentioned you met your husband while you were in the Zone and ended up marrying and staying there with him. Did your parents leave and relocate did you mention ? D: Yes -five, something like, perhaps and came to the U.S. and moved to the Oregon coast because my father wanted to go salmon fishing. In fact, they located on the Row


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 7 River in Oregon. My fat her bought a boat and did go salmon fishing every day for the rest of his life there. E: But you remained. The way that I understand it is that you have to be employed if D: That is correct. E: What kind of work did you do or what kind of work did your husband do? D: He was a file clerk at the administration building in Balboa for a while and eventually ended up as manager of the printing plant in Balboa. E: There i s this decision you guys made to stay withi n the Zone and work. What kind of influenced wanting to stay? D: Neither of us had ever lived in the U.S. as adults. It just seemed natural to stay there. E: How many children did you have? D: Three, all daughters. E: Three kids, okay. All daughters. And t hey were rais ed in the Zone and went to high school there and everything? D: Correct. E: What was it like raising children there and sending them off to high school?


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 8 D: It was wonderful in those years. There was very little crime especially in the Canal Zo ne, mainly because you were there at the will of the U.S. government. If you got in trouble, you got sent back to the States, and your family with you. Panama pretty much took care of its own citizens. There was no real border between the two countries. Yo u drive down the street, on one side was the U.S run Canal Zone, on the other side was Panama. I guess if you wanted to, you could literally stand with one foot in one country and the other foot in the other country. E: Did you guys stay on the Pacific side all throughout? D: Yes. E: All right. What kind of experience did your children have in high school? Did they get into sports and other hobbies? D: Let me see. Actually, the whole family got into judo. E: All right. [Laughter] That sounds awesome. D: My three daughters were all taking judo at the YMCA in Balboa. My oldest entire conversation would be judo. It looked to me like something interesting. So I went and took lesson s myself, and I spent fifteen years doing that, managed to


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 9 g et my black belt, which my daughter presented to me by removing her own belt from her judo gi and giving it to me, which I found very moving. E : D: Well, judo was a whole lot different from karate. E: Yeah. D: E: Did you take judo lessons in Panama City, or was that something that the U.S. D: This was in the Balboa YMCA. E: Okay, alr ight. Were these American teachers that they had? D: Yes and no. Two of them were U.S. citizens, but I believe their fathers were Americans and their mothers were Panamanian. E: So the YMCA was there. What were so me other maybe organizations there that provided entertainment? Were there movies theaters for the kids to go to, things like that? D: There was the clubhouse. There was a clubhouse in Diablo Heights; there was a


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 10 had them on the Atlantic side too, but I was a Pacific sider. Whichever side you lived on, you referred to the other one as the other side. E: What are the differences between the Atlantic and the Pacific side? Is one side D: I would say the Pacific side was probably more populated, but as far as the oceans are concerned, the tide on the Pacific side would vary sometimes by as much as eighteen feet, where on the Atlantic side, in the Coln are a, it varied by in fact, she married this one was an Israeli. He was doing a study on sea snakes with the idea that if a sea level canal were built, and sea snakes migrated from the Pacific to the Atlan those fish would have not only no immunity but no knowledge. He had a number of little tubs that he kept different fish in and put sea snakes in. His theory was correct in that th e Atlantic side fish got bitten and killed by the sea snakes, whereas the Pacific side fish managed to avoid them. E: That sounds like interesting work. Was he a marine biologist and going to school for it? D: Yes. He was a marine biologist specifically i n the Canal Zone from Israel for that the judo club, and I think probably he began judo and lasted only a short time.


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 11 But she married him and went back to Israel with him eventua lly. It was a few years, but she still is in Israel to this day. E: Wow. Do you guys get to visit often? D: She comes usually once a year; stays two or three weeks. E: have your other daughters gone on to do ? D : Let me back up again a little bit, because this daughter and her husband she eventually divorced him but married another Israeli, but this time an Italian Israeli. [Laughter] So they have three children who speak English to their mother, Italian to their father, and Hebrew amongst themselves. E: D: E: They were just there? D: Yeah, they were there for a year, and then she found out the week that they were on their after they agreed to go that she was pregnant, and had her son in Manila. She carries two passports. Her children could carry three passports, some of them


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 12 E: Are they well behaved? D: E: Boys. D: Yeah, they were boys. [Laughter] E: my questions here. It so unds like you had a big family, three girls, a pretty lively household. How did you guys celebrate holidays and things like that? I know there are certain special traditions, I think, down there. D: We celebrated in the traditional American ways, but for T hanksgiving our tiny Actually, another year they got plenty of turkeys, but those turkeys had been fed fish and so they all tasted fishy. E: Fishy? Oh my gosh. D: Pretty awful. E: Fishy turkey. D: For Christmas, a shipload of Christmas trees would come down in November, I one year had a little note attached. It came from a farm in Newfoundland, an d the


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 13 writer was a little girl about the same age as my daughter, with her mailing address on it. They corresponded for years. E: Christmas tree bonfire? that. D: Oh, yes. All the teenagers would collect Christmas trees, and I remember one group stored their Christmas trees on top of one of the flat roofs, one of the trees whene ver they got a chance. But they all ended up at the same place at the E: What was the purpose? Yeah. D: But they were teenagers. E: Right. You mentioned you were in the Zone for thirty nine years, which is a really considerabl e amount of time. When did you eventually leave? D: The year that Panama took over. E: Okay. What were your thoughts on that? D: I was upset. I was against it. I thought that the Canal Zone should be given to Panama, but not that way. When people say, giv giving back, because it had never belonged to Panama in the first place. It


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 14 belonged to Colombia. We bought the Canal Zone, then we paid annually for it, then we paid again when we gave it to them. So I was a little upset. E: An d you were there for the riots as well in [19]59 and [19]64. D: That is true. E: What was that? Because that happened in Panama D: Well, not really. It originated in Panama City. The high school in Panama City that was just one foot over the border h ad some, what I would refer to as, professional students. They were there year after year mainly to incite unrest. This one year they decided that they were going to have a demonstration, so they brought a big Panama flag with them. Soon after they crossed the border and got close to Balboa High School, one of those kids carrying the flag tripped, tore the flag. Somehow, it got reported as the U.S. kids tore it. There was a huge E: Was this [19]59 or [19]64, do you recall? D: [19]59. Anyway, the publicity just got everybody excited, and they began a march into the Canal Zone along Fourth of July Avenue. Our United States government got U.S. soldiers from the t remember now exactly. But the U.S. soldiers were stationed then across the road to stop those Panamanian kids. Our soldiers had rifles, but ammunition Those rifles


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 15 were all empty. I have a kind of a vague memory of one of th e soldiers coming to remember that he had a c ar. His name was Clarence Brown. H e wanted to park his car in our yard to keep it safe, I believe. Anyway, one of our daughters called E: During either one of the riots, did you feel unsafe in Panama or in the Zone? Was there unrest? D: Unsafe. One of our police officers, who was actually standing in the Canal Zone but close to the street that was the bo rder, was hit by a block of concrete by students tossing rocks and concrete. It was really a riot. E: Were you more strict with your children when that was going on? Was everybody t was spilling over into the Zone. D: Actually, my kids were all practicing judo in the YMCA at that time. E: S o they were learning to protect themselves, yeah. D: They were busy. [Laughter] E: You mentioned D:


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 16 E: Sure. D: I made this printout as a sample to my Mexican neighbor to see if he read well enough to enjoy it. E: D: In m y early teens. I still daily make entries in that in my computer now. I n fact, up until I had the computer and the means to record it on other than paper, I had E: [Laughter] A computer definitely makes that a bit easier, I guess, just storage wise and the ease at which yo u can produce something of this length. Does the D: E: I know they definitely the University of Florida is getting their collection and on e hundredth anniversary of the C hopefully to be a part of that, and kind of collaborating with th e museum to figure about it, but I think they would probably really be interested in having this written, kind of about life there and stuff.


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 17 D: They may possibly already ha ve a copy of Mama Wore Jungle Boots sure. But hey can have another one. E: All right, well hat. That sounded interesting. D: This sample, A True Tale ? The family had a boat, and we spent our weekends first day of the weekend would usually be spent in saltwater fishing; second day of the weekend would be in fresh water. That boat would then be pu t into the water in Gamboa. And we would go to an island that the government rented to us for a dollar a month. This island was one of the hilltops remaining from the town of Gorgona after the canal was formed and flooded. There is a town in the interior o f Panama called Gorgona, but it was named after that first town. Anyway, a friend and I were walking around on this island looking for old bottles. people drank beer or wi ne or hard liquor and once the bottle was empty they toss it. We found, somehow, from some old literature that one of the sidewalks in the town of Gorgona had been formed with bottles placed upside down, side by side and then, I believe, concrete poured over them. We were hunting for not only just that sidewalk, but also other bottles. As we were walking along, we found a hole and my ever inquisitive compan ion took a look and he saw a tail disappearing down that hole. So he grabbed it, and it was a big, angry snake.


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 18 Fortunately it was a boa constrictor and not something poisonous. But he called out to me, Patty, bring me a stick! Bring me a forked stick! E: [Laughter] Oh my gosh. D: Well I had a machete, but with all the trees and things, it takes a while to find a proper stick. When I came back, he was pulling on the tail when the snake turned around in the hole and came out with the head, so he grabbed the head. He said, stuffed the snake in one of the sacks. We were still on an island, and nobody in the family wanted anything to do w ith a sack with a snake in it. We h ad to car ry it on our laps on the way back home. We ll we got home and put the snake in a box, but then nobody was willing to keep the box excepting one guy whose wife at the time. So we put the box with that snake in it in what they called their basemen t, and he forgot to tell his wife. So, when she went downstairs with the laundry in the morning, she discovered this box. Of course, four eighteen inch long babies. E: ump about ten feet in the air. D: wife, an excitable girl he met in Spain, slept late that Monday morning. About nine and a half months pregnant, she was happy to have Al buy his breakfast at the cafeteria near his office. W hen she finally rose,


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 19 she decided she would put the laundry in the machine to be washing while she ate her breakfast. Still in her robe and with her hair still in curlers, she carried the basket down to the laundry room and found a strange box in the middl e of the floor. Setting down her burden, she opened the lid to find the insides squirming with one large, still angry snake and I lied forty one babies. Screaming as though she were being attacked by a pack of werewolves, Maria ran out onto the street, wav ing her arms and yelling hysterically in Spanish. Once neighbors got her calmed down and reached her husband by phone, the new mother in the box payday. [Laughter] E: bably feel the same way. What are you doing keeping a box of snakes in D: and I kept one, which I named Alfred. We had to feed the snakes, of course. Snakes can go a long time without eating, but they still need to be fed occasionally. I had a friend who knew somebody who worked in the laboratory at Gorgas Hospital where they used mice in their programs for testing things. They had to cull thei hand it to my friend an d say, fill it up. Occasionally I got as many as ten mice. So for some reason or anoth er, let me see if this will tell us Yeah I had to go to the


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 21 0 states for some reason. So I left my oldest daughter in charge; my father was living with us at the time. She was kind of babysitting him. She took all ten mice and just dumped them in the cage r ather than feeding them one by one. Alfred got deer fever or something. The thing is that there was so one and grabbed another one with his mouth, but he only grabbed the hind leg. The mouse turned around, bit him on the nose. Alfred dropped that mouse like it was hot, and went and stuck his nose in his water dish and kind of hid. And you know E: Because he was nervous. D: months later that he eventually got up enough courage to eat a mouse. E: He was hungry enough. He had to. [Laughter] How big did he get? D: He got to be almost eight feet long. E: D: covered When I wanted to change


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 22 1 clotheslines to hang clothes on in those days. There were two upright posts with posts, and h changing his cage. [Laughter] He grew from that eighteen inches to almost eight feet, and I had to put him i n a big cage outdoors. E: Yeah. No room. D: him out, and he disappeared. In fact, that happened twi ce. Once, he was found in just plain disappeared. I never did see him again. E: D: maybe. E: One of the forty. D: I had lots of adventures, but most of them are included in those two books so you Oh, there are all kinds of pictures in the back of this. E: I thin


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 23 2 D: E: What was it like relocating from the Zone to come back to the States? D: to use a public telephone. As I remember, driving was a problem. E: Did you come back here to Florida first? D: When my husband retired, we came to the U.S. and planned on buying a travel trailer. We came by ship to San Francisco where my sister met us. We stayed ber now whether we bought a car wheel drive pick up truck with a camping top on the back of it. It was one of these pop up tops that you could get into and sit down for lunch, or if you put the top up then you would sleep over the cab and you could walk around at night. Anyway, we travelled then across the U.S. in that truck, looking and looking and looking at various travel trailers and not rea lly finding anything that appealed to us, until we got to Mi ssouri. And t here in Missouri was an outfit that made the Holiday Rambler. The more we looked, the better we liked the Rambler. Our youngest daughter at that time was living in Georgia, and we con tinued on to Georgia and stayed with her for a little while and then decided that we really liked that Holiday Rambler. So we went back and got it. Had to modify the truck somewhat. Actually we left that


PCM 047; Detamore; Page 23 pop ught the Holiday Rambler. We lived in that Holiday Rambler for a number of years. E: Just driving around? D: Yeah. We drove across the U.S. We went into Mexico with a Holiday Rambler caravan, where we got on a railroad flatbed and crossed from Los Mochis on the Pacific coast to Chihuahua in central Mexico, and then drove to the States from E: D: It was. E: add? Anything that stands out that we might have overlooked, just about your time in the Zone? D: se two books. E: Yeah. [END OF INTERVIEW] Transcribed by: Jessica Taylor November 29, 2013 Audit Edit: Liz Gray, February 2, 2014