Grounders, Calypso and Mama
by Melody Scott
The grandstands are teaming with hecklers and
cheerers-on. The cool, sea breeze swirls around the stands and up through the
bleachers, bringing with her the aroma of hot buttered popcorn and freshly boiled peanuts
from the concessionaire stands, sprinkled with blooming Lady of the Night and the
Hibiscuses lining the edges of the ball park. Mom swings, she hits and everybody
goes crazy wild, jumping off their seats, running and jumping up and down the green
weather worn bleachers. "Go Mickey, go." "Boy, that gal can hit anything,
and catch everything from a slida to a hoppa." Mickey to her friends, Mama to me,
grew up in the Commission Silver City of La Boca Town, Canal Zone. In her late
twenties, she was one of the best short stop on the Red Tank Community Softball
Team. Mama's voice was as melodious and as generous as her heart shaped hips and
healthy thighs. Dear Mama. I remember how she used to bounce me on her lap and sing a
nonsense rhyme she made up just for me and that I simply adored. I used the same
nonsense rhyme with my kids and to this day they love it; at 25 and 28 years I can still
get a smile out of them when I sing it. On several occasions my daughter has sang it
to our nieces and nephews. My daughter has my mother's eyes, big and as bright
burning coals that sees right thru your soul.
Mama was a great cook. I remember lots of parties BMGS (before Mama got saved.) Parties or Nite-a-fun, as they were called back then, were communal, downstairs affairs. Our house, like all the others in our neighborhood of Gamboa front-street, was really an apartment. One of twelve apartments in a two story, oblong, clapboard building. Each housing unit had a kitchen, a bath, a bedroom and a family room, screenwire covered windows in the kitchen and the front room. There was one stairwell for every four families, two families per floor. The roof was a red corrugated, galvanized zinc. Like most tropical houses, the building was raised, built on stilts to avoid insects and moisture, and the downstairs area was paved with concrete. To fix up the downstairs for the party, friends and neighbors went into the nearby jungles, which surrounded the edge of every town, including ours, to chop down and bring back tall palm tree branches. The branches were then tightly knitted together, and lined up in-between the stilts, cordoning off the downstairs area belonging to several families, if not the whole building's, for the fete. Next, a canopy of red, green and blue Christmas lights is criss-crossed, strung from the ceiling and lit. Then, the loudspeakers are connected and the music is turned on, filling the air with calypso drums and the Mighty Sparrow, Miriam Makeba, the sultry tunes of Etta James or hot local groups like the Gay Crooners, Spanish hits by Roberto Ledesma, Benny More, Celia Cruz and others; announcing to all, in case they didn't see the palm tree branches, that, "tonite is a bounce at building 314". Upstairs my mother and her friends cook the food in our tiny kitchen. Meanwhile, back downstairs, the men help my dad and brothers setup chairs and food and drink tables in a corner of the dance floor. Mama'd have three or four stoves going at the same time, in three or four apartments; running between apartments checking on everything. At party time, there'd be all kinds of food and drinks: fried rice, white rice, Spanish rice, chicken six ways to Sunday, mouth watering stuffed fried fish, ceviche, fiery cod fish cakes and pigs feet souse; mauby, ginger beer, soursop, nance, sorrel, sodas, draft beer and Rum. Like I said, Mama could cook, but she could also dance. By night fall the rhythm flowed like lava, with plenty bump and grind, buckle shining music to last until the morning. I'd be fast asleep long before the bacchanal ended; but, not before seeing her cut the rug.
Our school break was during the dry season. During the school break, the Civic Council funded a Fun and Activities Program for school kids to keep us occupied and out of mischief. My mom was a volunteer and taught cooking and crafts classes and chaperoned us on beach and sight seeing trips. To this day I love to cook and so do both of my kids. I still enjoy doing craft projects too. Unfortunately, sight seeing didn't go over well with my kids; but, I have hope in their future. A couple hours a day, Mama cleaned, cooked and catered parties at homes in any one of the gold-backed towns of Balboa, Diablo and Curundu. On days when I wasn't in school she would take me to work with her. Their houses were spacious, brick, air-conditioned mansions like the homes on TV. While she worked I played with the children my age even though I couldn't understand most of what they said.
My mother was a generous woman. Content to cook for a grieving friend's nine-night, help a seamstress friend sew sequins on a wedding gown and veil for somebody's girl, sit with a sick friend or organize the program for a tea because the funds needed to be raised for a good cause. I remember my Mama's hugs and loud, sloppy kisses. I don't remember her actually saying I love you, but I do remember feeling loved; unconditionally. There was no shortage of discipline; as loving as she was. My mother had a look that could make Sleufoot stop dead in his tracks and think twice before heading towards any mischief. She used it often enough on me that she very seldom found it necessary to spank me. I still miss my Mama. Merry Christmas Mama.
December 22, 2001