by Louis J. Barbier (BHS 57’)

When I was growing up in the old Canal Zone, one of the events that sticks in my mind like concrete are--"Los Carnavales en la Central." As a little kid living in Lacona, my Dad, started the annual tradition in taking my brother and I to see "Los Carnavales en La Central." Yes, it was fun getting in costume and going down to see the magical floats and "Las Comparsas". The drums, the beautiful ladies in Las Polleras, and those pesky "Diablitos" pulling pranks on all those gullible watchers of the colorful festivities. After my first "Carnaval"..........I was hooked. I looked forward to them like waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Yes, they were a fun time for me.

All year long we would get ready. It started in the mid summer when my, Dad, would place a mail order from Sears & Roebuck in Chicago for back to school clothes and all those things he could not get at the Panama Canal Company Stores. My dad would always order for my brother and I some of those Roebuck blue jeans and colorful western shirts. He would ask what shoes I wanted and I always would say, order me some cowboy boots. The Cowboy outfit would come for Christmas. You know the two 44’s with gunbelt, Plainsman Bowie knife, chaps, vest, BB Red Ryder Winchester rifle, some other accessories that all Cowboys had to have to ride the range and keep those doggies moving.....

Well, the weeks would past and the new school year would only be a mere few weeks away. My Dad, would then put a tracer on the shipment. Sears advised that

it would soon be in the canal zone. That the SS Ancon had our shipment. My Dad would order 95% of the stuff not available in the Canal Zone from the states. Since most of this stuff was bulky and heavy it would come by water. That is how it was done back in my day. Air Mail was left for writing letters on that tissue paper use for aerograms. We thought the Air Mail rates were high then, but most letters were dispatched back to the states to our friends and relatives on 6 cents postage. Things have change. So have the "Los Carnavales."

With only few days before the new school year would start at Cocoli Elementary School a huge brown box would appear in the middle of the living room like magic. Between my brother and I .......we had hit the mother-lode of spanking new clothes for the first day of school. Were we ready? You "Betchum"......I had my Cowboy Boots and I was read to do some riding on "Old Smoke". He wasn’t a real horse, but he was my horse that I use to run-skip-hop across the plains and hills of Lacona chasing all those mean desperadoes that roamed our town looking to rob our bank. I had a 24 hour watch on my piggy bank.

I had constructed my horse with the help of my Dad. He had used the Jig-saw to cut me a horse head which I had painted black and attached it to an old broom handle. With an old letter belt attached to a ring on the neck of my horse, I could

put it over my shoulder thus freeing my hands to use my Colt Peacemakers or bring my trusty Red Ryder Winchester Rifle into play. We also found that by attaching a small wheel on the back end of our broom handle "Old Smoke" could really run like the wind.

When we formed a posse, Dennis would bring his dog that looked like a cross between a Lab and I don’t know what. The dog was so friendly that it didn’t mind

being used as a pack mule. Of course, sometimes it would spot a cat and would leave us and taking all our Jell-O and Cocoa Mix to places unknown. Then we had to forge and eat off the land by climbing Mango trees, getting cashew nuts, bananas, purple flowers that when you sucked on them held a very sweet nectar. Of course our posse always kept our pockets loaded with Ritz crackers, jaw breakers, gum, M & M’s, wafers, and whatever else we could carry in tracking the bad guys.

Our posse was made up of about 5 to 7 little kids. One of them was Virginia (I won’t mention her last name, so as not to embarrass her.....) She was a regular Tom-boy. But she was strong and could carry her own weight. I would also carry my Dad’s old Army Surplus Binoculars with case. They were huge but Virginia loved to carry them. So, she was a key member of our posse.

We also had our secret hang-out high up in this cliff like area at the edge of the jungle. It was mostly red clay, so we had dug it out into a small cave like in the movie of Joel Mcrea in Arizona Territory or maybe it was in the Duel at Spanish Forks. Well, it was called Fort apache. We held the high ground and could defend it against all attack. Some ruffians who lived on the First Street of Lacona would often come over to our side of town and pick a fight with us. They were bigger kids and one a regular big bully. These scrimmages would often break-out into rock throwing fights. Virginia could really throw rocks. She was very accurate. I wasn’t bad either but all and all she was better. I remember when we had run out of rocks at Fort Apache, and we signaled time-out. We all figured that it was all over, but it wasn’t and as we were coming down off the cliff, one of the big kids threw a rock that knocked Virginia off the cliff. She landed in a heap in the ditch at the bottom. We all thought she was dead. All the big kids high tailed it out of Dodge. Fortunately for all concern it had rain the night before and the ditch had plenty of water and the ground was very soft. Virginia, still got the air knocked out of her. When we scrambled down to check on her, she was having trouble breathing and her right arm was at an usual wrong angle. Worst she had the bone sticking out. The good thing was that it had not broken the skin. All of us being in Cub Scouts knew what to do. I took my belt and secured her arm to her body. One of the guys took off a running to get help. The Fire Station was part of our 12 family house. The ambulance came and later she came to our other clubhouse with her whole arm in a cast. Needless to say that ended further sieges at Fort Apache.

But we planned how we would get those Big Kids and teach them all a lesson. It would be the last time they would mess with us little kids. By now we were in school and being bussed to Cocoli. I had convinced my Dad that the Cowboy Boots needed breaking in so I could wear them comfortably for the next Carnival Season. The Posse had not forgotten what had happen to one of us. So, we planned and studied the movement of the Big Bully. After a couple of weeks we realized he never missed a Friday night show. Who would miss a show in my day, when it took only 10 cents to see the latest movie at Rodman Naval Station Movie Theater. We finally decided that this Friday night after the show we would beat up the big bully. To make it fair only one of us would do the deed and the others would stand by as backup if the plan backed fired. We drew straws. I got the short One! So, I picked my ambush spot. It would be right behind the Bus stop near the Tennis Courts. He would most likely be alone walking up the sidewalk. There were two street lights which we took out with some good rock throwing. The night was perfect no moon and it felt like it would rain before midnight. The show let out around 9:00 PM. I waited behind the hedges. I had my Cowboy boots on . They were good for kicking. The rest of the gang was hiding in the carport of the first tropical quarters.

I waited. It seemed that all the planning had been a waste..........he was not coming home. I was ready to tell the gang , "Let’s forget this and go home." When I spotted the big kid coming my way on the sidewalk. It was pitch black. He would not expect this.......When he passed me I gave a loud rebel yell and jumped him. we went down in a heap behind the bus stop. I was kicking like a mad man and biting like a cat. It was over in seconds. Because when he broke free he took off running. Later we did an after action critique. Virginia’s idea of my dressing up in black like Lash Larue, had made me almost invisible. Of course my Cowboy boots had really ruled the night.

The next day on the school bus to Cocoli, the big kid said, he had been attacked by what appeared to be a wild cat wearing Cowboy Boots. He was asked, "Did you see who jumped you?" "No, but he was biting and kicking like a wild animal." Of course the Posse heard it all. We had taken the oath of secrecy.......Nobody talks! And to this day as far as I can tell nobody spilled the beans. I was starting to get a crush on Virginia when her Dad was transferred to the states. I never saw her again and the Posse kind of went its separate ways.

"Fat Tuesday" was next week. I checked my costume. I was ready. I would be going as a US Marshal of Dodge City, Kansas. My Cowboy boots were really broken in so I would have no problem walking "La Central." So, the day came and my Dad piled us all into the green Willy’s Jeep Station Wagon and we headed for town. We found our usual, in-the- zone, parking by the Ancon Commissary. We felt more secure parking in the Canal Zone, because we knew that the Canal Zone Police would be patrolling and keeping the riffraff away.

So, I left "Old Smoke" in the back seat and we headed for "La Central" via J Street. At the first street vendor my Dad, bought some oranges. I loved to see the vendor peel the oranges by cranking the handle. It would take the rind off without a break. Eating oranges we could see the floats go by with many of the Comparsas making music by beating the drums. Then one had to keep a sharp lookout for the "Diablitos" who roamed around doing pranks. It was all a lot of fun. In later years the big event deteriorated into a large water fight with "agua, agua, agua, dame agua" being screamed by the onlookers. The water trucks being the main event. Not really fun after you get soaked and your costume is completely ruined. Oh, well time marches on.

I’ll always remember those wonderful Carnavales of old. And those wonderful little kids of "The Posse." Nobody really ever messed with us very long. For it was often thought that we could get a message to Garcia and the little black jungle Cat with Cowboy Boots would come out of retirement.