Life in the Center of France
In terror, in the hospital. My stomach hurt terribly, my mother's look of concern. The stiff military doctor, the mean nurse who took blood from my skinny arm. The stupid gown they handed to me, my mother helped me undress and put in on. By now I was crying, bawling, sniffing and choking away tears running down my face. Terror! What happened to me? Why do I hurt. No answers, only questions, where had I been? What was I doing? How did it happen? I knew none of those, only that it hurt and I was here and I felt the risk and fear all at once. operation? Did I hear that too? Why? What's wrong? I hate this hospital, I hate these doctors and nurses. My mother tries to comfort me, my father isn't there, he is at work at Ft. Clayton somewhere and I am here. Tucked into a bed with crisp white sheets, so cool in the Panamanian heat and humidity. They all leave us, my mother and I, alone in the white room with the white metal bed and the white, crisp sheets covering me. "Mother, what are they going to do?", she replies "operate". I scream "Nooooo!" and flail at the bed, the sheets. Crying, wailing, screaming, the nurses return. They have tape and gauze by the roll. One holds down my legs while I punch her in the back and struggle to stop them. They are rough hands that have done this before, my arms are next taped apart onto the rails of the bed, I am spread-eagled onto the white sheets, in terror, I cannot move out and away. My mother strokes my head and pets my arm to console me. The nurses leave once again. Tears flow, I bawl like a baby but I'm not a baby. I'm afraid and everything that has happened here has made me more fearful. I'm in terror. "Get me out of this!" I say to my mother as she strokes my forehead. "You have to control yourself first," she says in the soft tone she sometimes uses to convince me of something or the other. "When are they going to operate?" I ask sobbing uneasily. "In the morning," she replies. "Let me go!" I scream, "let me go!", I don't want to be operated on!" She eyes me and says nothing. I cry on, it seemed like hours and fell asleep. I awoke and the large clock on the wall said 2 am. "Mother", I said looking around the room. "Mother?" No one answered, she was gone. I cried myself to sleep once again held in place by the angry tape to the bed under the crisp white sheet.
Nelson Lute was a giant to me. 6' of quiet power in the house. I could tell he loved my mom and I as he bounced me on his knee and rewarded my wonder of him with toys he made by hand. He carved animals for me to play with out of the native woods he chopped from the jungle across the street.
He took me with him to work at the General's kitchen where I peeled potatoes and carrots and chopped vegetables. He laughed with me and at me at times and rarely got angry at me. With my mother he grew to be different. He often carved his animals in the rattan chair in the living room of our casita and my mother, always neat and prim about the housekeeping, feined him to stop which he never did. They argued the argument of the sexes as I learned, two people in a disconnect, going different ways without knowing it. I suffered their fights and angry outbursts. I ran to my friend's casita across the street to escape but could clearly hear anyway. Kindly Ms. Woods would bring me inside and feed me cookies and milk and she wouldn't allow me out until it quieted down. Sometimes Father would rush down the stairs, jump into the jeep and disappear into the night and I would return home to a tearful Mother afraid of what this meant. The next day came quickly enough with Louise making breakfast and visits by the geckos amidst thew squawking of the parrot. Life was seldom boring.
Father knew several men who worked at the Canal locks and took me on a tour with them to see how it was all accomplished. I rode in the little "donkey" shuttle that pulled the boats and ships along the way. He marvelled at everything mechanical and was an excellent mechanic in his own right. He loved making things and using them, screwdrivers, wrenches, a wood lathe and all it's knives and tools which he used to make a set of matching livingroom lamps for my mother.
The war, of which I knew little, was over. Father came home to stay. This is the father that I would have as my own, undivided by the "damned war" as he called it. He rarely talked of the war, where he went or what he did. My questions, "How many men did you kill?" "Where were you all that time my Mother was alone?", "Did you kill any Japs?" went unanswered. That was his quiet familiar way.
I sat on Father's knee while he whittled away with a knife he had made, at a small bock of dark wood, "mahogany" or "Palo Rosa", he called it, periodically sharpening the blade so it would work easier. My mother sat in the easy chair beside us reading a Photography magazine. The chips piled up on the floor below us.