Gamboa, What a Great Town
By Nina Kosik 

You really thought you had done something if you "made" a green light to cross, and what a thrill and a half to be on the bridge when the train crossed (could cause night terrors because there was a whole lotta shakin' goin' on). In the late 40s, when I lived there, there was a wooden landing making a right angle towards the Chagres. To get there we had to climb down from the bridge. I guess it had tie-ups on it for the various Canal water craft -- I was too young to look at that stuff. I do remember, however, doing a lot of playing on that structure and using it as a launching pad to the river -- god, we were stupid. Once, a friend tripped and fell, impaling her chin on an upturned (surely rusty) nail. She's alive and well as far as I know, thanks to Dr. Blanshaft.

Our Girl Scout Shack was a Quonset hut near the school (behind the Civic Center) and once our leader (Mrs Ryter) took us for a hike (for a badge) across the bridge to the Hildalgo's (to the left of the light). I think we also earned a botany badge that time, too. In any case, when the troupe went back, another girl and I didn't. We were hanging around to get a look at handsome Bill Hidalgo who, if he even knew we were alive would have patted us on the head and sent us home. In any case, Mrs. Ryter was frantic when she counted noses and was missing two. We wandered in -- and were kicked ouf of Girl Scouts for a week (one meeting).

I spent time out there back in the late 1940s for 4th, 5th & 6th grades in that lovely little school. Mrs Vera Jones had all of the fourth and half of the fifth and Helen Starr had the rest of the fifth, all of the sixth and was principal as well. When I moved up to fifth, I was put in with the new principal's group (Jean Lemoine) and the sixth graders. Ann Field Kirrane (via Zone Link) tells me Miss Starr ended up in Cocoli where Ann "had" her. 

We used to roller skate (four wheels with a key) under the school -- all closed in now. Recess was a baseball game ("Scrub") with only a bat and ball. Statesiders tell me they called it "Workups". Sometimes we'd play baseball in the tennis court when we were short of players (and the fence would usually assist splendidly). I still have a 25-cent piece size scar on my left knee as a result of colliding with Ronnie Bauman to catch a fly ball. Of course, we all wore dresses and when the wind blew or whatever, we'd get hoots from the boys, to wit: "I saw your panties, I saw your panties". Jeez.

The pool was another great place. Coach Henry Grieser was presiding there then and the Red, White and Blue Troupe was still active. I can name most of the kids in the well-known picture taken when Coach retired. It was normal to be a part of the troupe as my grandmother Van Clief and my mom, Emma Brown, had also been members as well as my aunt Helen (Van Clief) Leves. In fact, aunt Helen was the littlest and somewhere there's a famous photo of her diving off one of the cranes -- Atlas? Hercules? I used to have a black, one piece, wool suit and once ripped it thoroughly jumping off the lift-up "gate" to the office. ("I saw your .... " was heard throughout the land)

The other "swimming hole" was the inlet where the The Army had donated some barges and they had been sunk so the boats could tie up. We used to dive for golf balls to resell at the Golf Club. One day "everyone" was down there and I couldn't cross the water-filled hold  because there was a thick rope coiled on the left side and Jeff Goodin fishing on the right. Of course, I jumped. Of course, I didn't make it. When they hauled me out, I was covered with blood from barnacle nicks and my nose skin was hanging, literally by the lower corners. I had apparently cracked the skin but not the bone and held it on 'til I got home where my step-father put a band-aid on it. I also hit who-knows-what under the water and ended up with a huge V gash on my left thigh -- to the bone (scar still visible). Well, there went my chances for Miss America. We knew there were alligators in there but we splashed around so much we were never bothered. However, we had been told over and over again never to venture out into the Chagres because of the current but more importantly because of the hyacinth. When an adult is trying to scare you, describing getting caught in one of those is a real convincer.

I lived on Jadwin Avenue in the last 2-family up-and-down on the corner where the street goes down to meet Ridge Road. There's a small, triangular yard but the back faced the jungle. Our gang used to sneak under the fence, cross the tracks, play hide and seek among the cement blocks that were laid out there, then head up into the jungle on the hill..

I once found a really pretty kitten up there and took it back to the house to keep. My stepfather blanched, picked it -- and his hunting rifle -- up and headed back up. I was too young to know that mama had not abandoned her baby and might have come back while we were all there (or I wouldn't be typing this).

Our neighbors were all bonafide Zonians: Lyla Lou Womack, Sally Marvin Banton, Coila & Jeff Goodin, Billy-David (sigh)-Lloyd & Lynette Henderson, Sandra Morency & sibs, Jackie (Dunn then) Fearon & sibs, Eileen & Edmund Bleakley, Charlene Collums, Steve Herring, Winters ("Butch") & Allison Hope, Billy Campbell, Bobby Shirer, Sonia & Herbert Spector, etc., etc. Great ring-a-levio games, called in to dinner when the streetlights went on. Everyone used the back door to go into each other's house as the front door was for company -- and no doors were locked.

The commissary was divided into silver and gold in those days, as were all the other facilities and we received the nickels and dimes left in old commissary books as allowance. 

The Civic Center was there but it was used for meetings and other grown-up things as well as for dancing class (I can still do a sailor's hornpipe tap dance thanks to Ana Ehrman (Doris & Henry's mom)). The Catholic Church was on the long road beyond the ball park where it curved twice -- once to along the jungle to Ridge Road and just before that up the hill to Jadwin Ave. Protestants had only the Union Church and I went to Sunday School in the theater where Mrs Ryter presided (mother of Virgina, Margaret & Don).

We were forever having "wars" with the Ridgers -- have no idea why and can't for the life of me remember any actual confrontations.  Jimmy or Kenny Morris would remember. Wonder if we just "geared up", talked ourselves out of it, then went on to something more "fun".

During the school breaks, the boys had various sports leagues -- the best I remember was baseball with Coach Gergani leading them -- divided into A, B, C, D & E Leagues and playing against other towns -- we went there, they came to Gamboa. All games were well attended. John Magee tells some great stories about Coach Gergani and Gamboa D-League. And the summer recreation programs truly did keep us all busy. I still have a pair of bookends I made one summer (one thick and one thin (for the bottom) pieces of wood nailed  together at a right angle and a painted-in stencil of a little girl with an umbrella who looks suspiciously like the Morton salt tot)..

No air conditioning, no TV, only 25-cycle electricity. Homework was done by pencil and paper (ball point pens & calculators were a fur piece down the road).

Until junior high, the individual townsites were our worlds. Everything we could possibly want was there -- clubhouse, pool, church, school, theater, doctor, fire station, commissary, and our "best friends". Junior high opened up other things -- traveling on buses, changing teachers, etc., etc. and a little of the intimate "something" was lost Not so amazingly, the friendships developed in each of the townsites has remained with each of us. For me, it is Gamboa and Pedro Miguel.

 GREAT town.