My memories of the Canal Zone


The following are anecdotes which I remember.  I am sure that I have forgotten or confused some of the details and will appreciate any builds and/or corrections from any readers.  I will from time -to-time sit down and record new remembrances.  I confess that as I sit here I feel I am somewhat presumptuous to believe that anyone will be interested in the tales I weave here.  I do hope my effort will encourage others to take the time to author their own Canal Zone remembrances  which I volunteer to publish here on the web.  Send them to me via e-mail and I will provide the forum for their dissemination on the World Wide Web. 

 
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I have broken the story I will compile into sections by general timeframe as follows:

I will also add to the end of this journal chapters which narrate my life after leaving the Canal Zone.

General ramble of my life, Age 1 - 59

Dale C Clarke (2002)

After coming back to the States I went to American University and then on to Temple School of Data Processing. In the '60s I became a programmer and from there I progressed to the top of the profession. During my climb I was the first Director of MIS for MCI Telecommunications in 1974, Manager of Professional Services for Litton Computer Services for 8 years, Consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, and my last managerial position, Technical Director for CAP Gemini/ Ernst & Young for 10 years. I then went back to the technical realm and now work as a Senior Developer for FannieMae, with 2 Trillion dollars in mortgages in our portfolios and s ystems. I live on the Washington, DC area; 12 miles west in Fairfax, Virginia.

In 1974 I married a great little lady from the Pittsburgh area; a 5'2" tall goddess of Greek ancestry. We have been married now for 26 event filled years and have a fine 28 year-old son who has worked in the Senate and graduates Law School in 2003. I feel I have been truly blessed and have reaped much better than I sowed.

Chapter 1 (1943-1964)

I was born in Santo Thomas Hospital in Panama City, Republic of Panama in 1943.  I was delivered by Dr Ramon and was born in Santo Thomas because my mother preferred Dr Ramon and he did not practice at Gorgas, in Ancon.

My grandfather was Howard Lindon Clarke, who my contemporaries will remember as the greens keeper at Summit Hills Golf Course.  My dad is Leslie (Biff) Bastian Clarke and my mom is Lillian Bishop Clarke.  My uncle on my dad's side is Howard Linden Clarke.  On my mom's side I have and uncle as well, Archdale (Dale) Bishop, after whom I am named.  The final aunt was Margaret (Pug) Bishop Brandy who died several years ago.  Grandpa was the first of my line to go to the Canal Zone during the construction days.  My dad was born in the states, Newport News, Virginia, in order to protect him and my grandma from the diseases then prevalent in the Zone.  Dad returned at an early age and attended elementary and high school in the Zone.  In 1933 dad took an apprenticeship as a shipwright and cabinetmaker.  My mom was on vacation in the Canal Zone and met my dad and they were married.  The rest, as they say, is history.

When I was born my parents lived in Ancon.  We lived on Tavernilla Street, and on Bougainvillea Street, off Amador Road.  (Balboa Map BIG|  *HUGE*) Slow to load -- very large file.

We moved to Margarita when my dad went to work in the mechanical division there. We lived first for a short time near the Clubhouse on Second Street, number 8033, then we lived on Sixth Street and finally moved to Snob Hill just before they extended it down the hill.   I lived in the last house on the left. See the marked houses.   (Margarita Map BIG!) (Huge!)  Slow to load -- very large file.  I remember taking a dead 8 foot long boa constrictor the grass cutters had killed to show-and-tell at school. I got the day off.  Names I remember there are Sharon Cooper, "my" first girlfriend (she liked someone else).  Also, my cousins, Howard and Tita Clarke, Maxie Sanders, Charlie Chase, who beat me out as catcher on the Little Mottas, Jim and Bill Wills, Dockery, Gary Maloy.

We then moved to Detroit, Michigan for about a year.  That was my 5th grade year.   My best friend in Redford Township, off West Grand River, was Roger Brown.   When we returned to the Zone my dad worked for the navy on Rodman Naval Station and we lived there for a short period.  While there, dad and I built an 18 foot day cruiser with two 35 horsepower outboards.  We built it in the hobby shop and coated the hull with fiberglass.  Everything tasted of chemicals form the catalyst for the fiberglass we kept in the refrigerator.  When quarters became available, we moved to Radio Farfan, just inside the gate at Fort Kobbe on the left as you enter.  I was the bouncer at the Fort Kobbe teen club.  Names from this period include Larry Self, Frank Todd, Johnny and Bobby Fortune, Mouse Maxwell, Tom Mallia. I met my best friend Robert (Pio) U. Schultz around this time.

From there my dad went back to work for the Pan-Canal Company in the Contract and Inspection Division.  We moved to Mango Street, just off Amador Road.  Jackie Ashton lived 2 houses down.  I had a screened in room of my own dad built for me under the house.  This is about the time I succumbed to the Sosa Hill tradition of beating the "bomberos" to the hill.  Shortly thereafter, I joined the US Air Force without finishing high school.  I injured my knees badly in my first year at my permanent base, Lowery, in Denver, Colorado, and was discharged.  I returned to the Zone to finish highschool and graduated from Balboa High School in 1963.  My parents seperated shortly after my return to the Zone with my sister Nancy remaining with my mother, and me going to live with my father on Plank Street in Balboa. 

In 1964, I took pictures of the 1964 Flag Riots. I was withdrawn failing from my classes at the CZ College which I had neglected during the disturbance.  The head of the College at that time was Dean Lattimer. I applied for an apprenticeship, took the tests, got a grade in the 90s, and was beaten by a Panamanian with a 75% due to quotas; I was told that third-generation Canal Zonians couldn't get apprenticeships anyway.

My mom had gone to Washington, DC, to work in the Panama Canal Company office there.   She invited me to come to live with her and to go to finish college.  The early 60's were a turbulent time in the US and universities were avoiding radicals like the plague.  I cannot prove it, but I believe that the universities were informed that I had taken pictures of the 1964 Flag riots and that I had flaunted the authorities by selling pictures to the media.

Chapter 2

Being unable to enter a college in the Washington area, I took a job as a gas station attendant at Rand American Station on Quaker Lane in Alexandria, Virginia. I was living with my Mom and sister Nancy on Preston Lane, some 6 blocks from the station. I had sold all my cars when I left the Zone. I had owned a green 1955 Turner sports car which I had driven in the 1st Panama open, a 1955 Mercury convertible, a 1953 Pontiac convertible with no top and holes drilled in the floor to let the water out, and a 1949 Ford with the back cut out.

We used the Ford to go to parties, filling the void left by cutting off the back and removing the seat with ice and kegs of beer. Richard and Fred Levee and I left a party at Contractors Hill toward Rodman Naval Station for more beer. As we passed the electric plant on the right hand side at about 90 miles per hour I realized we were not going to be able to make the right turn at (was it?) the Foreign Legion Club at that speed. Rather than turn the car over with Fred standing up in the back, I took out the sign posts and slammed across the boulders toward the cavern that was the Third Locks, an 80 foot drop. The Clarke luck held up. We stopped 10-15 feet from the edge and all I lost was an oil pan. We sat for a while finishing the keg that had not flown out into the locks, tossing dry ice into the water and admiring the smoke it made as it wafted up through the headlights. When the beer ran out we walked to Cocoli and called my houseboy Victor to come and get us and tow us home to Plank Street in Balboa.

I got enough money from the sale to buy a champagne colored 1963 Chevy Corvair Spider. I was working at the station and spending weekends either racing the Spider at Acquasco Speedway in Maryland or going to the beach at Ocean City, Maryland. In Ocean City, nights I hung out at the Purple Moose Saloon and days worked at the Twirl-a-paint booth on the boardwalk. I was dating 2 girls in Ocean City. One worked at the Pancake House and fed me free when I came in after the bars closed at 2 AM. The other was a barmaid at the Moose and fed me free beer and bar nuts. They booth worked nights so I was free to "chat up" girls from there on vacation as long as I avoided places I was well known. The two girls I was dating knew of each other and competed for my attention. I alternated living with them on my weekends there.

At the same time, back in Washington, DC, I was dating a girl who worked in "Mom's Crab House" near Capitol Cadillac.

My mother felt that I was not advancing my future, that I was a "ner-do-well", and told me I had to go to school or move out. Go figure! She went so far as to pay for the school I chose, Temple School of data processing. I decide by looking in the classified in the Washington Post and analyzing which profession paid the most for the least apparent effort. At that time electronic data processing won, hands-down. I took a one-month course in which I learned to operate electronic card sorters, operate and wire card collators, card interpreters. I learned to operate the IBM 026 keypunch and 056 keyverifier. I also learned to program the IBM 1401/1410 General Purpose computers in the autocoder and COBOL. I went to school 12 hours per day and took every class they had. I loved it and matriculated with a 97% "A" average. I went out to look for a job and found that, without experience no one got a job and without a job you could not get experience; "Catch 22".

While at Temple School, I met Kennly Drummond, a great lady, who ran the keypunch group. I told her I wanted to take her to Ocean City for the weekend but the Spider needed tires. She bought me 4 Michelin X tires and paid for the hotel we stayed in. Well, she had a good job, and it was better than spending my meager money and buying my own! Kennly was as close to the perfect girl as I had found since leaving the Zone. I dated her for a while and I lived with her for a while, until she started to tell me why she was fighting wanting to get married. I saved her the conflict and immediately moved back in with mother, though I continued to over-night at her place from time to time.

I alternated between my abortive job search and bouts of depression where I slept all day. My mom asked me to take her shopping for clothes. While dutifully waiting for her to try on dresses I tried to pick up one of the two sales girls. "Danger, danger, Will Robinson!"

One was an unbelievably beautiful blonde who I was sure would have no interest in me and the other was an attractive girl who, it was obvious, did. While all three of us were talking the latter gave me her number so we could catch a "flick" that night. When my mom finished up I went home to get ready and somehow lost the paper containing the phone number. I headed back over to the dress shop to get the number but the blonde was the only one still there. I asked her for the other girls phone number. She said that even though she had heard her partner tell me her phone she would not give me the number. Tilting he head and playing coyly with her waist length flaxen hair she said that if I wanted to go out with someone why not her. "Yeessss!" I followed her home and we spent 6 hours at the drive-in after which we were a frequent thing. I later found out that she had told her friend the day we met that she was going to marry me… and she did.

One night after dating her for a couple of months, when I arrived to pick her up for a date, I was met at the door by her mother who was brandishing her fathers police service revolver. She forced me into the house where her father talked the mother into letting him have the gun and sat us all down to talk.

Let me describe the parents. Stella Mae was close to six foot tall, well overweight, dressed in a pink bathrobe, her orange dyed hair was in hair curlers, and on her feet were pink house slippers with matching pom-poms on the toes. In one hand was a can of beer, in the other between yellowed fingers hung a smoking cigarette. Oh did I note she spoke with a nose-twang Texas accent? She worked for the NRA and hated me with a passion. It was obvious to whom the whole family cow-towed. Her father was a smallish man, five-eight or nine, with a military haircut that fit his profession as a former Capitol Police officer and the current Washington, DC, "Hack" inspector. He sat there holding the pistol non-threateningly like a beanbag that he passed back-and-forth, hand to hand, as he spoke. The gist was "marry her or stay away from her". At that moment Leslie, my blonde, appeared with her long hair soaked with tears, her eyes swollen from crying, clutching a 50s brown suitcase in two hands, and obviously expecting me to choose "marry her". Unable to decide, I told her, "let's go", and we left.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Things my Father and Mother told me

These anecdotes are ones my mother and father told me concerning my early childhood.

My Mom recounts that she always impressed upon me that keeping my clothes clean was critical.  I proved to her that I  had learned the lesson in a way that embarrassed her a bit.  Mom got me all dressed up to go to a local  birthday party and then went up to get dressed herself.  She put me into a fenced off portion of the carport under the house to play with my toys and wait for her to get ready.  Her last words before going upstairs were, "don't dare get your good clothes dirty!"  On coming down, she found I had complied... My clothes were neatly piled on a chair, the chair I had used to climb over the fence.  She found me at the birthday party.. Even at that early age I was the hit of the party.

I was told that on a trip to Santa Clara with my Dad's good friend Bob Adams his son and I shared a laundry tub down on the beach as a pool.  Now, Bobbie Adams was bigger than I was and it was his Dad's wash tub so Bobbie was monopolizing "our" pool.  I tried unsuccessfully to join Bobbie in the tub. To the amusement of the adults, I then tried to physically remove him, to no avail. My "can do" spirit then showed itself, even at that early age.  I enlisted the aid of a captured large toe-biter crab which got Bobbie out of the tub on the run.  If I couldn't enjoy it, well then, no one would.

I recall vividly being forced by my parents to put on diapers because I had an accident in my pants.  They did this to shame me into being more careful.  I remember waiting as close to the front door as possible until I was let back in (probably a very short time which seemed interminable). 

Caught experimenting with matches and a cigarette, I was "allowed" to try one.  One was lit for me and I was instructed to take a deep breath.... I still cannot smoke and am nauseated by the smell of cigarettes.

I had frequent boils which the maid told me I experienced because Tavernilla Street was a place of the dead.  I later found  testimonials that the place had been used by the French to bury Chinese who had died of yellow fever.

The one event that affected me most was the accident.  My Mother was making coffee in an electric percolator.  I was playing on the kitchen chair and jumped on the percolator cord, dumping scalding hot coffee and coffee grounds all over me.  I had third degree burns on 1/3 of my body.  I was taken to the hospital and put in medicated Vaseline inside a body-shell cast (a treatment learned treating burned WW2 pilots)  I was also given sulfa as an antibiotic.  That night, I got a reaction which the doctors took for measles and for which they quarantined me in the quarantine ward.  The old people coughing and wheezing scared me and I climbed out of my crib and headed home.  Caught, I was netted into my crib where my mother found me the next morning.  She found my crib in the children's ward empty and, after recovering from the heart palpitations precipitated by believing me to have died during the night, was directed to the quarantine ward.  The netting caused me to begin biting my fingernails; a habit I have to this day.

I had a dog who we had named Yippie in honor of his nightly incessant vocalizing for our attention.  The neighbors were apparently bothered by his habit and poisoned him with what I later realized was cupric-sulfide.  He died with blue all over his lips, the maid said he was poisoned, and I found a dish with meat scraps colored the same blue.   My logic said the neighbors had poisoned him, so, before they returned home, I dipped out every one of their hundreds of beautiful tropical fish and sent then to 'fishy' heaven. I took their dish, and Yippie and buried them behind the house.  I told the maid what I had done and why and though I would not tell my Dad why she did and showed him the grave.  The neighbor was going to sue until my Dad exchanged his dish for his written promise not to.  The humane society penalty pertained to dogs, not fish.

I remember an incinerator across the mud-flats which had a huge red brick chimney.   One afternoon all the neighbors go together and sat on the bank of the bay and watched and waited for something.  Suddenly, there was an explosion and the chimney came tumbling down, leaving a huge cloud of smoke.

The back yard was fenced by a tall hedge of hibiscus containing every color found in Panama.

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First memories in Margarita (1950-1953)

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Return to the Zone to Rodman/Ft Kobbe (1955-1957)

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Move to Balboa (1957-1960)

Fishing

The year was around 1957…

My mom dropped me off at the chain at the end of the mine dock. She had picked me up from school at 3 PM. I unloaded my junk from the trunk of the car and promised to be careful and to be ready when she came to pick me up at 2 AM. First things first I thought as she backed back the car out to the causeway and left. I walked out to the end of the pier with three pole holders. One pole holder centered between pilings marked the territory as mine for the night. I never took the end hole since there is a huge grouper that destroys equipment. The grouper once took a 6 pound corbina I was trying to land, like so much bait. At 300 lbs. he just swam off. How do I know he was 300 lbs.? At another time several of us set out and caught him, but that's another story.

Next I hung 9 foot long Calcutta cane poles in the holders, clipped on the 6 oz weights to the end of the 40-lb. test mono-filament line. To the weight I clipped the 80-lb. test mono-filament leader and triple hook which I hooked over the reel bar. Ready for bait. The poles cost $3.00 at the commissary. We taped eyes and the pen reel on with black electrician's tape. This makes it easy to change the position if a large fish and long fight change the bow in the cane.

Taking more than two spots is poor taste. I had taken three but one is for Mr. Englekie. He couldn't get out until after dark so I always saved one for him. Next I hung the lights. In the center beneath each pole holder a green enameled 20 inch light shield is hung by a piece of parachute cord to which the electric cord is taped. Each shield had a large 500-watt photoflood bulb in it. I had loops knotted in the cord every foot which is then hooked over 16 penny nail driven into the timber between the pilings to adjust the height. The tide rises and falls 16 feet every 6 hours here so the lights must be carefully watched during fishing. Hot photofloods hit the water and pow; it's replacement time.

Last, a floating bait box is secured in one spot and a 3 foot square drop down landing basket is secured to one of the pilings.

Now I began fishing for bait. Jigging with spinning gear for moonfish and sticklebacks is the first thing to try. A jigging rig is made by tying a half oz bell weight to the end of 6 pound test mono. Six to eight small triple hooks are tied every 6 inches up the line from the weight. The line is then cast out, allowed to sink to the bottom, and then retrieved really fast whipping the pole hard after reeling the slack out of the line. Each cast the procedure allows about 20 whip-reel slack cycles. I don't know how it worked but usually 5 or 6 palm sized bait could be snagged in less than an hour. These are held in the bait well until after dark.

At about 6 PM others started showing up and grumbling about my taking up the best spots. Hey come out earlier than me was always my answer. At dark Mr. Englekie took his post returning my light holder and pole. The lights were turned on and baited hooks were dropped. Sometimes he would bring live shrimp bought from the Laboca side ferry ramp. These almost guaranteed a couple of small 3 to 4 pound corbina if nothing else worked. We used the moonfish hooked through the back just below their top fin and lowered down just below the reach of the light; about 12 feet. When the big corbina chased the moonfish they would pull the line and the 6 oz weight all over. When the big fish caught the bait the clicker would start and the line would start to run out. I would get the pole out of the holder, let him go until he stopped to swallow the bait and then reel in the slack and strike to set the hook. Then everyone reeled in their poles to let you fight the fish and someone manned the basket to lift the big fish up to the dock when you had fought it to the top. You guided it into the basket and they lifted it up to the dock. It was wise to fight it until it was worn out or it jumped out of the basket snapping your line. Once it was on the dock, the lines when back in.

I started fishing with my dad in my freshman year. I guess I caught 400 fish during my high school years (through 1960). The largest corbina I ever caught was a 32 pound yellow corbina. Five to twelve pounders were usual. The largest snook I caught was 19 pounds. I caught 2 big red snappers in 4 years. I sold most of them to the Chinaman at the YMCA for 30 cents per pound.

I still fish up here in the Chesapeake and catch some fine fish.

Newspaper from 1957 Contributed by Ray Miller Fish Gallery

 

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Return to the Zone (1961-1964)

Not yet recorded.

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