Gamboa News

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Bonfires

chronicled by
Jim Shobe, Lyla "Lou" Womack,
Louise Womack, Jay Green (Jeannette Collins)
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Jim Shobe
I am suprised that there has been nothing said about the xmas tree burns. I recall the fun of amassing great piles of trees and them proctecting around the clock from xmas tree raiders and then the delivery and burning almost as much fun as xmas itself.

Lou Womack
Okay Jim...Here I go. Christmas tree bonfires! Now the memory is really being taxed but I do remember them. We gathered up all the trees from the neighbors and hauled them I believe to the end of the row of cottages near Arden Lou Cooke¹s house. Did we bring metal coat hangers once the trees were lit and the fire died down and roast marshmellows? It seems like that rings a bell.

Christmas on the Isthmus was very memorable though for all of us. How in the world did we get real Christmas trees? They had to be sent from the states because we surely didn¹t have fir trees in the tropical jungle of Panama, maybe just Norfolk Island Pines.

Once our tree was purchased, Mom and Dad would take it into the backyard of our home and spray it white and then add flocking to its branches. That¹s as close as we got to snow in Gamboa. Then my job began with bedecking the tree with those long silver icicles on every branch so heavily that they drooped and one could hardly see the flocking or the ornaments hanging underneath each limb. What a beautiful site it was to behold when completed. Our trees were always white and Mom has still carried that ³tradition² even to this day...fifty years later.

As Christmas came to a close then the task of taking off the icicles very carefully, draping them over a piece of cardboard and putting them back in the original box until next year made the beautiful tree loose its usefulness.

A castaway it became as it was hauled outside to be retreived by the neighborhood tree watchers for the "burn."

Louise Womack (My Mom)
The commissary ordered the Christmas trees from the states. Ralph Stewart was head of the commissary at that time. All of us waited anxiously for the phone to ring telling us the trees had arrived. They probably came from Oregon or Washington. The trees lost their needles very rapidly due to the tropical climate. Also the trees sometimes had branches missing so the bottom branches would be sawed off and inserted in the vacant spots on the tree to make it more presentable.

Jay Green
I don't remember the bonfires, but I do remember one Christmas when the trees didn't arrive until after Christmas due to the war (1943 I think). That year my dad cut down a mango tree and we decorated it. It was one of the most beautiful trees we ever had. We had several parakeets as pets at the time and they loved it too.

Jim Shobe
I recall durning the early days of WW2 ther were no Xmas trees sent down to the CZ for Xmas. My parents went out and cut down some tropical tree and decorated it just as if it were the real thing. You know of all the xmas at home that on sticks out in my mind.

As for xmas tree burns the one that was the mother of all burns was the year we teamed up with Marvin Banton and hauled all the trees for storage down to his up and down on Jadwin St. His whole backyard was covered in trees higher then you could stand. I have often wondered later on what a terrible safety hazard that was. That year the trees were all taken up passed the gravel pit and down to the gun club area for the burn. What a great burn it was.


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