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March 23, 1997  
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The word "Zonite" has never been properly defined for me so I will make up my own definition. I think it means a person that was born and raised on the American Canal Zone and spent most of their life there so I will write this story thinking in that vane. This story is written about my own life and my experiences from childhood to my retirement in 1973 especially the attitudes and feelings between myself and my Panamanian friends and how we all, as two different groups, got along together. During our lifetime my first wife Barbara Clarke and second wife Emma Louise saved various numbers and types of literature that I will be using to make my point on the relationships of the American and Panamanian people.

The fact is that the United States Government is turning over the American Canal to Panama in the year 2000 and it will never be returned to its rightful owner. Perhaps some other nation may acquire it and the United States will have to go to war to get it back but that is in the future and God only knows what will happen in the future. I for one know there was a big mistake made by the Congress of the United States and it is too late to cry over spilt milk.

All the trouble the two nations have had was thought up and done by a small number of trouble makers in Panama. They got the ball rolling and then others fell into line behind them and it grew and grew until there was no way out except the killing of innocent people on both sides. My opinion is that the government of Panama saw this to be an opening to broadcast to the world that the Canal was theirs because it was on land owned by Panama and they had no say in its ownership. Let me say here that there were very few Panamanians, if any, that worked on the building of the American Canal - no engineers, no mechanics of any kind and I have not been able to find any Panamanians in any photos of the building of the Canal. So if the Congress of the United States is as smart as they advertise they should monitor the Panama Canal closely after it is turned over to the Government of Panama


From my first memories in the teen years we were living in a Paradise called "The Panama Canal Zone" and what little I could understand about the Zone was we were living in the "Big Easy". These words I now can write and understand. Everything was in such order and taken care of by the leading employees of the Canal Zone from the Governor down to the local rate janitors. But of course at this young age I did not understand much of the workings of the Canal. My Father Howard L. Clarke was so well known that my Brother Leslie B. Clarke and I were well known and treated well. At this time my Mother Maude Gertrude Clarke was deceased. So my brother and I were orphans so to speak.

I don't remember anything about Kindergarten on the Zone that is if I ever went to one but I do remember about my first time in any school on the Zone and that was located in the old wooden building along side of the Balboa Post Office on Balboa Road. The building was used for Union meetings which were held upstairs and downstairs in the rear of the building was our school. It had about 40 wooden desks with ink wells and pens with the old fashion nibs that had to be dipped into the ink and what a time I had using that pen. Being left handed the teacher was always after me to write with my right hand, which I did when she was looking and when she was not I changed over to my left hand. Oh, and the wooden building was also used by the Shriners and other organizations.

Some of my early memories of where we lived and the conditions that existed are we lived in bachelor quarters near my school. The bachelor quarters building was very large and housed a great number of Canal Employees, mostly bachelors. The rooms consisted of one or two single beds, one table, two chairs, a chest of drawers with a mirror and a large closet for one’s clothes, shoes and things that you did not want stolen.This closet had a large lock which the renter had to supply. The showers, toilets, and basins were in a separate room that was large and would hold about ten to fifteen men shaving or whatever. My Dad paid a small rent for two rooms, one for him and one for my brother and myself. This bachelor quarters was kept clean and looking well by one local rate employee who was in charge of that one building. In the front and back of the inside of the building there were rocking chairs for lounging. In later years some of the employees had ice chests or refrigerators to keep small things for snacks and a few beers. These types of buildings were located all over the different cities on the Canal Zone.

My brother Leslie and I had a room, if one wanted to call it that, in the rear of the large bachelor quarters and from time to time we used to watch the other Canal Zone teenagers play baseball on a make shift diamond between the buildings. It seemed like a lot of fun to play that game, which I had never played so from time to time I would go outside and try to get picked on one of the teams but I was such a small and skinny kid no one wanted to pick me which made me a bit angry but I persisted and got chosen a few times. One of the better players was Eddie Curtis who later became a top ball player and even pitched against the famous Yankees when they made a trip down to the Zone during the early times. He did well for a local boy pitching against such a outstanding team.

How long we lived in that bachelor quarters I really don't know but the next home we had was a four family wooden house in the so called "flats" in Balboa not very far from where we lived in the bachelor quarters. This house was much better and had more room.

Our new home was on Carr street and it was number 1406, downstairs. It was a four family home made of wood and screened in on all sides except where there was a need for privacy. It had a long front porch with suitable rocking and straight chairs, a dining room with the necessary table for four with chairs and a wooden cabinet for dishes. A living room with a table and chairs was partitioned off from the dining room. There were two bed rooms with beds and chairs and necessary cabinets for clothes and closets for extra clothes. All the closets had a large electric light bulb for heating to prevent mildew. There was a single bathroom with a toilet, a shower with a concrete floor and metal sides, and a sink. Our kitchen had a small table for two which could be made for four if it was pulled away from the wall, an electric stove, a place to wash dishes and a drain board. The ice chest was just that, it used ice that came once a day in the mornings from the Ice House in the rear of the Balboa Commissary. In front of the ice chest were two stationary tubs so the maids could wash clothes in the house if it was raining, which it did in the rainy season. Out the back door of our house there was a stairway leading outside to a clothes line which all four families used to hang clothes. Beneath the house there was a coal bin that was used for coal when the homes had a coal stove but that was before our time. We lived very comfortably in our new home with my brother Leslie and my father Howard Sr.

One of my grammar school teachers whose name was Mrs. Prather lived across the street from us in a four family wooden house the same construction as ours, Mrs. Prather owned a model T two door car that I use to wash for her and she would give me some change for that and I hoped better school grades which I needed at all times Mrs. Prather was a very kind person and one of the things that caught your eye was the hair bun she always used for a kind of show off, but in those days I guess that was the mode.

Our wooden home was just about a block, perhaps less, from the Balboa High School and about two blocks from the Balboa Grammar school that was located behind the local jail and court house. I used to come home for lunch that was prepared by our maid. Most all the Canal Zone people had one or two maids which were very cheap and most of them were very faithful and honest. Lunch was usually a bowl of Campbell’s soup some crackers and a banana or some other kind of fruit, then back to school. As far as I can remember the maid also made our supper when all the family, my father Howard, Sr., Leslie my brother and myself sat down together and ate. Of course the maid did all the dish washing and cleaned up the table and kitchen and then she left for home. The maid had to walk a couple of blocks to catch a chiva which is a bus to Panama City or La Boca where the colored and other nationalities lived which was not far from where we lived and I think it only cost a dime for the fare.

After supper my dad used to go to the Balboa theater to see the movie and I used to go either to the Balboa Playshed or the Balboa Clubhouse to see what our gang was going to do that evening. Perhaps the Playshed had a basketball game or we could sneak into the movies and see the show or play Ring-O-Leveo out on the large lot that was across the street and adjacent to the Balboa Clubhouse where there was a large square concrete cover for the sewer line that we used for a base. At that time the Balboa Post Office was not built there and we had a large area to play in. If we wanted to we would make some fake movie tickets and try to pass them off on the ticket collector. Some times it worked but mostly it did not so we had to go behind the theater and see the movie through the wire mesh screen. In those days we had good eye sight and a long distance did not bother us.

If we were going to play Ring-O-Levo we would pick up sides and one side would go out an hide and the other side would try and find them and bring them back to the base and then one of their members could run in and tag the base and set them free. At times we would play this game for hours and some times one of the gang would go home if it was late and never check back into the game so we could never find him. Some of the gang were Harry Dockery, Billy Benny, Walter Kunkel, Joe Corrigan fellows of my age and we used to pal around together.

On Sundays the Army used to have a nice band play in the front of the Balboa Clubhouse. There was a large circle there in those days with benches for folks to sit and watch the world go by, the band used to set up their instruments and play some nice pieces and the folks would gather around and listen for an hour or two depending on the crowd, this event would take place in the evening before the movie and after the ball game that was held in the Balboa Baseball Stadium.

On Sundays around two P.M. the ball game would get under way we had a Balboa, Colon or later called Cristobal and an Army or a Navy team that would play one Sunday on the Pacific side and one Sunday on the Atlantic side. The Ball Park was adjacent to the Balboa Commissary and about a block along side the Balboa Dispensary and was so handy for all the people that wanted to attend the ball game. This was a big event for us kids the charge was very small but of course we did not pay as we either sold peanuts, cracker jack and chewing gum for our old friend that used to have a wagon that he used to pop the pop corn and keep it warm with his bags of nickel peanuts in the warmer also. During the week old Joe used to have a spot on Balboa Road across the street from the Balboa Clubhouse but down the street a ways under an old Frangipani tree. Peanuts were five cents, pop corn was ten cents and gum was five cents. Joe used to give us a little per cent of what we sold and some left over merchandise.

When I joined the Boy Scouts I used to sell soft drinks at the Balboa Ball Park on Sundays they were ten cents a bottle and we used to get a commission on what we sold so us kids could make a few nickels from time to time.

During week-ends and school vacations we used to make a scooter wagon and take groceries for the lady's of Balboa from the Commissary to their homes. The lowest price was 25 cents and if it was a long haul they would chip in another quarter or if we had to carry the groceries up stairs, sometimes we made a couple bucks a day and we thought we were rich.

My father never knew what an allowance was if my brother or I wanted a couple of bucks for something we had to go hat in hand and bargain with the old man. Most of the time when he got his pay slip with the deductions for commissary books, electricity and rent taken out and he paid his bar bills he did not have much left over just enough to go to the movies every night. So we were mostly out of luck.

My brother Leslie, at that time he did not use Biff as his nickname he had a paper route and delivered the Panama American to folks in Balboa and got a percent from that and he used to purchase some extra papers to sell in front of Carl Stroms restaurant during week days to the men that came there to eat breakfast before going to work and he made a few bucks on that. Some times I filled in for Leslie and he would give me a buck or two from time to time. But we never did have any allowance or did not have any birthdays or Christmas celebrations and that is the way it was will I lived with my father. I really think my father was never cut out to be a family man in his younger days he was a person that went from job to job as a dry-dock riveter or wherever he could get a job and he liked this kind of life so kids was a bother to him is my belief. But at times he could be a great person tell stories of his life along the way sing a song and tell jokes as long as you wanted to listen.

About this time I was in high school and doing very poorly to say the least. I was having fun that is for sure but grades no way. As you can see from this writing all the alignment has changed, the reason for that is I have changed into another area to write this story. Well, what the heck, no matter.

The little money I made was very small, doing odds and ends and helping my brother on his paper route. I used the money for no good that is for sure. We used to go down to the limit on the Panama border, which was an imaginary line between the U.S. and Panama. When I say we it was mostly myself and Walter Kunkel and myself. Going to Bars, Cantinas and some time if we had enough money we would go to a dance hall there, where we could get dances for ten cents a dance, we used to call it "ten cents a dance." We hope we could make dates with the dancing girls, and meet them after work, which was around three Am. in the morning. That never did happen, the girls were to smart to have anything to do with us two guys that only had a couple of dollars, we learned a lesson from this.

There was also a Red Light district in the near vacinity but we never had enough nerve or money to go and see any of the madams. We did drive through it from time to time and walked through it when we were a gang, it was years later that I finally tried one of the ladies out and what a thrill. it was, the only thing I could think about was venereal disease. At that time they had a navel prophylactic station at the limit of Panama and the Canal Zone where I went to take one of these tube type injections, what a relief it was to think I had done the right thing and it always did turn out good for me. So much for sex and for a dumb kid, that should have had parents to steer him in the right direction, what is the saying about hind sight. My father was the only parent I had except for my brother who tried to be a parent at times and did do some good, but I ran loose like a young deer with not much brains to do the right thing or go in the right direction. I really don’t fault my father and brother for this but the time and place had a lot to do with my behavior.


Well, as I mentioned before I did very poorly in school. As I go back with my memory to my school days in Newport News, Virginia my school grades were very good, and at one time I did have some report cards from there. But for all the moving about living in different placees and different houses they were lost in the scuffle.

My High School years were a disaster, mostly grades of CD and many F’s. which means I failed many grades and repeated a few also. Even in my Senior year I had to go back and make up some hours to complete my High School career and I use that word loosely. But now I am getting ahead of myself, lets go back to the early years when I was a Freshman.

I was very good in sports, especially baseball and track, I did win a few awards in these sports and I loved baseball. The only thing wrong with my baseball career was no money to buy a first baseman’s glove, spiked shoes and the other things that a baseball player should have to practice and find out what position the person would play. I tried all of the various positions and got down to two.

Being a left hander I found my pitching was passable. I did practice pitching for a long time and did a fair job. After a while I tried out for first base. As I was a tall and lean figure of a boy I got the position at first base in my Sophomore year for the school team and that is the position I played for the rest of my life. There was only one set back about being a first baseman. I was not a good hitter, I could hold my own and hit around 200, but that was not good enough and that was my down fall. I did finish my high school career as a first baseman on the school team and later went into the Isthmian league and played for Cristobal. I also played for a team in the Panama League. At that time I was getting to old to play ball and was married and working so I gave it up. While I was working for the Mechanical Division in Balboa we did have a Twilight League which I played for a number of years.

Now let us get back to the High School years.

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Page Author Dale C. Clarke.
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