“Something inside me sings when I am setting off on a journey, and the sight of a road stretching ahead makes me inexplicably happy. Whether it’s due to curiosity or a desire to run away, I’m not sure. I like to come back to places, too, and am now at home in three continents. Some people feel they belong nowhere. I feel like I belong everywhere.”
Barbara Acquah: Folk singer, traveler, Friend.
Panama and Beyond
Letters from Cuba, from the Panama Canal Zone, and by steamship to and from Panama, 1907 to 1914.
Now available from Amazon–also the e-book (with fewer illustrations)
We were cleaning up the last debris from my mother’s estate sale, packing the last mementos in our van. An elderly gentleman with an interest in local history had purchased a box of newspaper clippings; why we set the box out for sale instead of dumping it in the recycling barrel, I don’t know. This gentleman–bless him!–came back with a manila envelope.
“Here’s some papers you might want,” he said.
Those papers included my grandfather’s journal from 1914, when he left Panama after seven years’ work on the Canal.
In boxes from an attic cubby hole, I found the letters:
Will told some of his experiences–which are quite equal to a novel–wild enough, some of them–but he likes it all and is not ready to settle down–and I can quite appreciate his pleasure–it’s being “broke” in Texas…hard riding and hard working to make time on contracts–men stories, rough stories…From Cousin Mabel, in Cuba, to her mother, in Massachusetts, February 1907.
To look down from the deck where the foam from our prow swept past, the sea was just the color of your rinsing water when you have got in a good dose of bluing and it is streaked with soap suds…Charles Potter, on the way to Cuba, to his wife, Ellen, March 1907.
You should have been here to see our hard-times ball New Year’s Eve–times were too hard to give a prize, or I’d have had it. I made a suit out of two gunny sacks,…then I had a black and a white shoe with sox to not match–my collar was studded with nails to keep them from throwing me out…Will Hobby, in Panama, to Cousin Mabel, January 3, 1910.
From Will Hobby’s Journal, on the S.S. San Juan, 1914:
Swift & Co., the Chicago packagers, find it pays them to maintain a wholesale agency here from which they dispense great quantities of oleomargarine and lard as also many other canned products, and their hams, clothed fittingly in a tight black suit, conspicuously branded, dangle from the ceiling of many a grocery store. Swift & Co.’s agent here, a very courteous English-speaking young man, I greatly enjoyed meeting.From Will Hobby’s Journal, at the port of Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Here we saw the warship, Momotombo, sole representative of Nicaragua’s naval strength and glory, a little old steamer–now stranded on the beach. Here also we saw the U.S. Cruiser Denver…she is a fine-looking ship, getting a little out of date perhaps, as warships go, but still powerful. She is cruising in these waters as a sort of “muffler” to the superabundant political effervescence of that country… Her steam launch called at our gangplank with invitation to “come aboard,” and the party from the San Juan who responded were most courteously shown over the ship.From Will Hobby’s Journal, at the port of Corinto, Nicaragua.
The Momotombo, flagship of the Nicaraguan Navy, participated in a spat–hardly significant enough to be called a battle–with El Salvador in March 1909, although one fallout was a rumor that the United States and Mexico had an agreement that Mexico would annex Guatemala and Honduras and the U.S. would take Nicaragua and El Salvador!
The following year, 1910, the Momotombo participated in a more friendly event. The U.S. Nicaraguan Expeditionary Squadron, flagship U.S.S. Albany, celebrated Washington’s Birthday at Corinto, with cutter races, boxing matches, and a sack race which Private Ambrose, U.S.M.C., won.
All ships of the squadron, the Nicaraguan Momotombo and Angella, and two German steamers, were full dressed. At noon, ships of the squadron fired a 21-gun salute which was answered by 21 guns from the fort at Cordon Island and the Nicaraguan army barracks in Corinto.
Panama, steamships, and family letters are history…
The time travel of Debby’s THREE TALES is fantasy–
- God took the elevator. He left his penthouse suite, pushed the elevator button, and descended to the lobby. He chatted with the cleaning crew and the doorman. He left instructions at the registration desk and walked out the front door…
2. Lois Detering left this manuscript tucked in a book, where we found it a decade later. God comes incognito to the streets of–I assume–New York.
3. When thunderstorms gathered and the children fidgeted like cattle, the watch dragon tugged at his chain and trumpeted the approach of a stranger. His fiery breath barred the path until Ben ordered him back to his post and allowed an old woman with a bundle of rags to approach the door…
Author excels at creating very visual scenes, which smartly invite the reader into the story. Setting is richly painted, with sensory details adding to the experiential nature of these stories.
The second story stands out with wonderful imagery and terrific dialogue. Author has a nice instinct for creating voice, and for adding personality to characters via their movements. We get a nice sense of place in the third story, realistic timing, and the sensory in the savory stew and the hay mildewing.Judge, 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.