Gamboa News

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CZ Memories

chronicled by
Andy Van Siclen

I'm not really part of the Gamboa crowd. My Mother, Mamie Van Siclen, is Clover Shobe's sister. I remember many pleasant Sundays spent at the Shobes where we would often go for Sunday dinner. Like Carolyn Tyssen, I remember well Jimmy's train set all laid out in his bedroom and Lord did I ever envy him for it. Always wanted to play with it but, as Carolyn said, it was look but don' t touch.

I was born September 30th of 1935 in Panama City Hospital and was delivered by Dr. Raymond. I couldn't be born at Gorgas because when I came along my Dad was working for, I believe, Standard oil.

I guess that makes me a Panamian by birth. Hope I never get deported cause I speak only enough Spanish to get me in trouble.

Also since Dad was not working for the zone we were not eligible for quarters. Because of this Mom and Dad were kinda, I guess, subletting from a guy known as Dr. Odem out at the old quarantine station which was across the street from the Balboa Yacht Club. The yacht club was sort of in our front yard. The house was a big old place which had been built by the French. Some of my earliest and scariest memories are of that place. I can remember that Dr. Odem had a fascination for tarantulas and he had some of the hugest spiders that I, as a little boy had ever seen. He kept the in jars of formaldehyde. I often had nightmares about them.

The house, of course was built up off the ground on posts to keep the bugs out but it was not built high like later C.Z. homes were built by the Americans. As I recall this place was just high enough for a small boy to get under and play in the dirt which I loved to do. Un- fortunately there were also what I called golden spiders which also liked to nest under there. I was terrified of these bugs and would always forget that the underside of the house was loaded with their webs and sooner to later I would stand up and get into one those webs. I would scream and cry and my Mom would make the maid crawl under and get me out.

I remember that some kid down the street got a really neat tin castle one year for Christmas. It was really neat and hands twin doors that would open. The first time I saw it I thought it was so neat and when I opened the doors I found, to my delight, that I could get my head through the doorway. I stuck my head in and looks to my right. to my horror I saw a huge spider. I looked left and there was another one. I the discovered, to my extreme distress, that I could not get my head back out. The Fire Department was called and they were able to get me out. If any of you remember me as being somewhat weird I am sure that little episode had a lot to do with it.

Dr. Odem was an avid hunter and he had an old model T Ford that had been made into a hunting wagon. I used to go play like I was driving it. I can still remember the smell of the hunting dogs in the seat covers.

World war 2 came along and I remember that they made the quarantine station into a sort of detainee, concentration camp, where anyone who was German, Italian, or Japanese were locked up. I couldn't figure that one out back then. Here were all these nice people locked behind the fence and they seemed to all want me to go buy the some cigarettes or whatever. My Mom kept saying "Don't talk to those people." I could not figure out what she was so excited about. My Dad had gone to work for customs after I was born and we eventually moved to Cocoli. We lived in one of those four family apartment buildings. I remember one of our neighbors was the Baldwin family (Bill Baldwin and family). Another visitor I remember was a fellow named Joe Flynn. My Mom had a piano and sometimes Joe would come. I can still hear him playing that piano and singing on the road to Mandalay where the flying fishes play. I still remember all the words of that song and can hear Joe singing. I can remember falling asleep at night listening to Mom playing classical music on that piano.

My Dad had left customs and had gone to work for the Navy as a civilian employee at the Naval Ammunition Depot known locally as NAD. It was right across the street from the Naval Station and just down the road from Cocoli. Since the war was going full bore Dad joined the Navy and kept doing the same job he had done as a civilian. Dad was able to enlist as a Chief Boatswains mate and so we moved into enlisted men's family housing at NAD. I thought this was really neat. Our house was that last one at the end of the street and right behind us was the jungle where we loved to play to the horror of our parents. Some nasty things lived in the bush and every once in a while one would creep, crawl or slither up under our quarters. Dad was soon promoted to the rank of chief warrant officer and we got to move up on officer's row into some really nice quarters.

As the war wound down the decision was made to invade Japan my Dad was sent to the states for some special training as he was to be in that invasion. Since he was gone we could no longer qualify to be in naval housing. We not able to get housing in the Zone and the Shobe's, God bless them, came to our rescue and took us in. That's when I became a Gamboan. Uncle Shobe did some modifications to their place and made a room for Jimmy. Dick and I shared a room and I don't for the life of me remember where everybody else got crammed into, but there we were for the duration of the war.

I can remember getting on the chiva with Dick and Jim and going to Balboa on Saturday afternoons to see the serials and matinee at the Balboa Theatre. Back then the theatre was not air-conditioned and when they showed the movies during the day they would lower curtains to keep the daylight out.

I don't have a lot of memories of Gamboa. I remember that Dick and I would go fishing and Dick would get annoyed with me because I would eat the bread we used for bait. Jim and some of buddies used to catch baby gators in the Chagres at night and put in Aunt Clover's laundry tubs. I remember that Aunt Clover had the neatest washing machine I had ever seen. Instead of an agitator like modern machines have this one had an agitator that went up and down as well as back and forth and had three cup like things on it.

I remember that Dick had a paper route delivering the Star and Herald and we would be in hog heaven when his Dad would drive around the route in his Hudson. It had broad front fenders and Dick and I would sit on the front fenders and deliver the papers. What a life.

We did not live in Gamboa long, but I guess we were there long enough to at least be honorary Gamboa kids. The war soon wound down, thanks to the "A" bomb. My dad come back home and we moved back to the NAD until we were finally lucky enough to be assigned housing in the Zone. I'm sure my Mom hated it because all we could get into were some of few old remaining French places up on Empire Street. We lived upstairs and a family named Graham lived downstairs. I don't remember Mr. Graham's first name but Mrs. Graham was Gladys. They were great people and she always had great stories to tell. In fact she went on to become a Lonely Hearts editor for a Denver newspaper. Louie Schmit lived down the street and so of course we heard the story about how the train ran over him and cut off his arm and leg. I remember going fishing off the old oil crib for corbina, I never got any at night. So many memories of a paradise long gone but never to be forgotten, God, how I loved it and miss it.

I left there in 52 . Came back briefly in 58 but was unable to get a job so returned to that States. I am now retired and live in Vancouver, Washington. Most of my working life I worked as a long haul truck driver. I still work part time as a truck driving instructor.

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