History Items of the Canal Zone

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Christmas Time and Trees
cronicled by
Dale C. Clarke from Iguana

General Rambles Oct, 2003

I am looking for Lolita Provost Packard of Westminister, Ca. A friend sent me a copy of an article published by her entitled "Christmas in the Canal Zone" circa early l940's. I would like to have her permission to publish the article on iguana as it answers some questions the old dirigible iguanaian fans have been asking for years. She had a brother, William, and her father was a policeman. At one time they lived in an old wooden house on Balboa Road near East Balboa Elementary School. Anybody know where she is? 2003/10/26
At 04:44 PM 10/26/2003 -0800, Frances Coffey wrote:
"Christmas in the Canal Zone. Living in the tropics decades ago made the holiday a challenge.

Christmas was different where I was raised back in the 1920's and '30's. This was in the Panama Canal Zone, where my father, Eugene Provost, Jr., was a federal police officer.

We ordered Christmas gifts in August and September from Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog and hoped they would arrive for the big day.

We also ordered our Christmas trees in August from the quartermaster. The choices were small, medium or large and they arrived after l0 or more days at sea piled high on the poop deck. The trees were put on trucks and delivered by throwing them against the houses around December 20. You had no choices and hoped the trees would be in reasonable condition. We'd order a large tree so we cold cut it to a nicer shape.

The trees dried fast in the heat and had to be down by January 1. They were quickly burned, with help from the fire department. We kids would gather as many trees as posible to see who could make the biggest bonfire. It was always a party and we toasted mashmallows and hot dogs.

Gifts Went Down with the Ship In 1940, I was a young adult still living in the Canal Zone and doing my Christmas shopping in August. I received a check from Sears with a note saying they had shipped my order three times, but each time the ship had been sunk and they'd no longer accept orders from the Canal Zone.

When the war started the next year, it was a somber Christmas, with blackouts and no Chistmas lights or decorations alowed outside...or lights in the house at night. We could only pray for peace.

There was some humor in our situation, however. During the war, big dirigibles were tethered over the canal. With their many cables dangling beneath, the dirigibles were to prevent planes from flying over the canal and bombing it. The problem was, those dirigibles often broke free and floated away as their remaining cables hit power lines, cutting the electricity.

At the office, tha meant no adding machines, and if you were at the dentist having a tooth filled-wow! Just as bad was being in the middle of getting a permanent with those eletric octopus wires connected to your hair!

We had all kinds of pets when Dad was stationed inthe Canal Zone--"Baby", a deer; our dog, "Conga";cats; parrots; aligators; sloths; snakes; and "Beanie", my monkey.

The tropcal climae made living dfferent, too. Our houses had single walls, and the cupboards were open because of the bugs. We stored sugar on a "sweet tray" hooked to the ceiling and on a pulley. The cords were covered with something to discourage bugs.

As you can see, I grew up in a rather unique setting and I have lots of wondeful memories.!"

By Zonian Lolita Provost Packard, Westminster, Ca. published by "Reminisce." November/December 2003 Thanks a million, Lolita.

Thanks Jean for posting this--it was fun to read, and thanks to Lolita. I can remember how important the Sears Roebuck catalog was but can't remember having to order in August. I wasn't happy at first, as when I lived in the U.S., we never shopped or bought from Sears Roebuck! I think by the time our kids were little, in the 60's, that the Commissary had a good toy section for Christmas, at least. Some people ordered their children's school clothes from the catalog and I think that was a good idea.

Ron told me that the trees were delivered when he was a kid---and when we lived in Balboa Hts. the last few years, they delivered our tree, but it wasn't anything special.

I do remember standing outside the old airplane hanger at Coco Solo waiting for the doors to open so we could go in and select our trees---they were in fairly good condition then but turned brown fairly fast once in the air-conditioning. When the hanger doors opened, a great fragrance blew out, and people rushed in but I held back, as I had my two small children with me and didn't want them trampled. Suddenly the entire hanger was a mass of waving trees in the air! I would have missed that sight if I'd rushed in, too.

I remember that day so well because usually Ron went very early and got our tree, so I never went. Very early dry season or the tag end of rainy season, a nice breeze from the Bay, and rain puddles all around.


~~ Linnea

One Christmas when my son was small, my father was visiting and he took my son to get our tree. My father was standing in front of a pile of trees and a lady climbed right up an over his back to grab her prize tree.

At this time, the trees were displayed in an old hangar in Coco Solo near the Coco Solo Post Office. Egar shoppers stood by parked cars and waited for the hangar doors to open while sipping fresh ground coffee from the coffee plant at Mt. Hope.

The commissary in the early days conservatively bought one goose at Christmas and one pumpkin at Halloween. One year I was lucky enough to procure the pumpkin. Unfortunately, none of us knew how to carve a pumpkin. The day was saved when I found the directions in my son's Books of Knowledge. The following year we had our own pumpkin patch from seeds saved from the commy's one and only pumpkin.

One year my son decided to grow wood roses. What a job that was! On a bright, windy day in the dry season the hundreds of previously yellow blooms bursting from green pods turned into "wood roses." The few times it did rain, the plant vines had to be covered by plastic as they were attacked by mildew. I still have one of those wood roses tucked away for posterity.

Frances Coffey
Lolita Packard's memories have me "a - reminiscing" (o.k. - you try to spell it.) I believe it was the Christmas of '42 when the Christmas trees arrived at the commissary after Christmas. They were a real bargain @ 10 cents per tree all sizes. I don't think any were sold unless to be used at the various bon fires.

In reference to the gang tree robbers, the problem was to find a way to hide the trees until burning day. Some original ideas were on the roof of a house or (most popular and easily accessible) the maid's bathroom; much to the dismay of the maid and the fire department.

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