8. And yes, I've had similar dreams of my father, where I see him old and feeble,
slipping from a pile of rocky stone slabs, near a shoreline, watching him fall face
forward with a stomach curdling splat. It hurt to see him falling like that,
most likely injuring himself seriously.
After having a countless number of nightmares of him chasing me, threatening
me, and constantly being forced to defend myself, violently,...I start to have
dreams where we speak with each other, in a healthy father and son relationship.
I find it most peculiar that I should respond with such sympathy for any suffering
he experiences.....considering how much suffering of his wrath I was condemned to
Can you imagine,..being the son of a professional heavyweight boxer? Once
in my teens, he placed a tight fist just inches away from my face, threatening,
and I trembled inside. Let me tell you something; after having such a father, you
learn the true essence of fear. Years before this incident,...I watched with
amazement, the sight of my father in a fist fight. He was bit tipsy at the time,
and somehow in a heated discussion with another man,..the diatribe turned to push and
shove. The angered man, after toppling backwards seated in his chair, rose up and
rushed headlong in the direction of my father, who stood his ground,...fists at the
ready,....feet spread just like a boxer in the ring,...and with the grace of a bullfighter,
side-stepped a couple feet and jolted the onrusher with a swift uppercut. That was
the end of that scuffle. Needless to say, I was impressed by his professionalism in
dealing with an adversary. Later he taught me the art of self defense. How to
punch, roll...duck and cover. "Jab, jab, jab. Sooner or later, you'll wear out your
opponet", he would say. He was so right. He taught me well, and many years later,
on several occasions, I had to rely on those lessons. Once he told tell me in my
impressionable youth..."As former President Roosevelt once said,...You should 'walk
softly but carry a big stick', which means that It is not necessary to announce or brag of
one's pugilistic skills, but in the event of someone threatening bodily harm, one must be
prepared to defend oneself successfully". With my father's tutoring...I learned to
fear no one, with the exception of my father, of course. He sure seems like a fine
description of a "benevolent tyrant". He stood 6 feet 3 inches above sea level and
weighed more than 220 lb. I stood 6 feet 1 inch and weighed a meager 165 lb.
All he would have needed was one swift punch to flatten me.
Let me tell you more about him. Well,...at least what I've learned from talking
with relatives in the family. The only history I know about his life,..starts
when he drops out of school because,..in his words,...."I had to take care of my
mother". He quit school after the 9th grade. Then he turned to pro boxing to earn
some money. He had learned carpentry somewhere along the line, so I imagine he
had a lot of "irons in the fire", when it came to earning his living. I heard from
a German pro wrestler friend of his,...that..."Your father went up in the ring against
some big American that came down to Panama from the States". He might have been a
soldier. Don't quite remember that detail. Anyway,...this man gives my father the
beating of his life. And the German said...."Your father had the sense to quit after
that bout. He did the right thing". My father told me later that he didn't want
to end up a punch drunk ex-boxer,..with cauliflower ears. I'm going too fast here.
I would like to tell you about a skill my father has that impresses me to no end.
If you've heard of "The Palmer Method of Good Hand Writing", then you will know exactly
what kind of penmanship my father has. He has what is known as perfect handwriting.
He is an artist in his own 'write'. To this day,....it has helped me to have a few
shreds of love and admiration for this father of mine. Here was a man, big and
strong as a bear,...while having the skill of a great artist. On top of being able
to write beautifully,..I deduce that he loved words, so much, that filling in the
missing words of crossword puzzles, was one of his favorite pastime, together with
playing softball, fishing for sea bass out on the causeway, playing poker and trying
his luck on some lottery ticket. I recall an incident my niece related to me, when
she was playing Scrabble with him one day. He would lay out strange words and my niece
thought he was cheating,...just inventing words. But I had to correct her by saying
how I often sat near him,...watching him fill out crossword puzzles,..and shake my head
in disbelief at the words he filled into the blank spaces. Words I've never seen.
Words that on occasions, didn't seem to belong to the English language. My father
knew tons of words that I will never have to use in my lifetime,.. words that are
not a part of my vocabulary. I think with his writing skill and his love of words,
he could have become an outstanding individual in some highly skilled profession,
if he had been allowed to continue his education. I could add to his resume, that
his father was an engineer,....among the many that were employed with the task of
finishing what the French failed to do,.....and that was to finish the building of
the Panama Canal.
9. After working for a few years as a carpenter, my father managed to find a better
paying job, working in the ship yards as a boilermaker, during the second world war.
When the recession came, soon after the war ended, my father lost his job. Luckily he
had the foresight to buy a small, two and a half acre plot of land out in the
country-side. I was 8 years old at the time, with my older and younger brothers.
We lived temporarily in an apartment out in the suburbs of Panama City. Pueblo
Nuevo, was the name of town. Pueblo Nuevo is Spanish for new city. We had to
move away from the Canal Zone, after my father lost his job. As an unemployed
American citizen, my father lost all privileges to use the services within the
American Sector of the Canal Zone. We couldn't buy food in the Commissary, nor
any items sold for American dollars. We were not allowed to rent an apartment.
I presume this is what is known as "Planned and Controlled Economy". There
existed no unemployment within the borders of the Canal Zone. The Canal Zone,
with all the existing military bases was under the guidance of a Washington D.C.
appointed Governor. So, as an American citizen, if you lost your job, you were
no longer qualified to live in the Canal Zone. Most Americans who lost their
jobs, simply returned to their respective states in the homeland of America.
But it was not easy for my father to do this, since he became a naturalized
American citizen, born in Panama. He received naturalization through his
full fledged American father. His mother, on the other hand, was a British
Commonwealth citizen hailing from the land of Jamaica. So neither my
grandmother, nor my father, had any established home state in America. Home
for my father and mother was Panama City, in the Republic of Panama. That
explains why we "headed for the hills", after my father lost his means of income.
And there out in the country, in the relatively new town of Alcalde De Diaz, we
built our home and managed to survive, "living off the land".
We grew a lot of fruits and vegetables, raised American Rhode Island Red
chickens, (What great egg layers they were ! Never seen the likes of such
huge eggs since then. Eggs so large that many a times we'd find both an
extra yoke, or, an egg within an egg !)....we had only one goat, one pig and
house pets in the form of dogs and cats,....and of course we had other uninvited
guests plaguing us, and the only way to get rid of them, was to spray them
with DDT, which didn't help that much really. It just kept the hordes at bay.
Hordes of what? Those damned cockroaches of course! (--------this big!--------)
We grew on the land, the typical tropical produces of orange, lemon, lime,
banana, avocado, corn, yam, cassava, okra, papaya, guava, mango, cashew,
pineapple, breadfruit, sugar cane, and peanuts.
The eggs we changed into meat. Dad would take the eggs and sell them in
town. With the money, he'd buy meat, rice, macaroni, sugar and flour. The
flour he would take and bake the world's greatest cinnamon rolls.
One day, out in the country, I went out on a hunt for large fresh water
crabs. I needed a pair of gloves, a metal bar to pry up large stones and a
bucket. Running through our property was a small creek. It ran wild only
after a hard rain. Most of the time it was a peaceful little creek with a
variety of fishes we named ourselves. One looked like a bus with windows
on the side, so we called them "bus fish". Guppies were guppies so we had
no need to give them names. Another fish had a yellow dot near the dorsal
fin. Since it moved so swiftly zigzagging through the water, it was
difficult to keep on eye on the fish. Thanks to the yellow marking, it helped
to keep an eye on it. That fish we named, "lightning fish" since the yellow
flashed through the water like flash of lightning.
On this very special day, I set out to hunt as many crabs as possible.
I must have walked at least two miles up the creek, turning over any stone
large enough to hide a crab underneath. When I had enough of them I returned
proudly and presented my catch to Benny. For the first time I was able to
help provide our evening meal for the day. The sensation is hard to describe.
If you help an elder to cross a busy street, if you save someone from being mobbed
by a gang of ruthless attackers, if you do something heroic, there is a tingle
in the spine that lets you know that you've done something really good. No one has
to tell you what you've done because you simply feel it at the back of your neck.
I was so proud that evening as we ate our meals, knowing that I had helped to provide it.
This is one of the daily pleasures a parent experiences when feeding their offspring
with a meal, cooked with the added ingredient of love.
10. My first love. Saint Saens music, and the violin virtuoso Paganini, took hold
of my heart and to this day, the grip is still firm. And I agree wholeheartedly
with the philosopher F.W. Nietzsche when he states precisely,...."Without music, life
would have been a mistake." So true! When I first heard the music, first being
introduced with a few poetic lines from Kahlil Gibran, I was sold on the meaning
of classical music. Listening to the romantic music of Saint Saens, life all of
a sudden made beautiful sense. I understood that with the sorrows of life, playing
the "blues", helped to soothe, to heal. Life became tolerable, thus hopeful. My
love for classical music coincided with my first tormenting epileptic seizure. Not
only did I crash to the ground from losing my equilibrium, but also all hopes of ever
leading a normal life fell into that bottomless pit which I experienced with each attack.
Surely no one would ever love the looks of a man, seemingly gone crazy with violent
spasms of the classical grand mal epileptic seizure. If I myself found it hard to live
with the threat of helplessly falling in a fit, who would tolerate my being? It wasn't
until I heard that others too, even such great figures as Frans Schubert and Albert
Schweitzer, suffered the nauseating experience, that I was able to console my concerns
about ever having the chance to live a normal life. They proved that a normal life,
even the life of an outstanding individual could be had, in spite of such a handicap.
Without that knowledge, I doubt it seriously, if I would have felt it worth the bother
to live. I was never-the-less cast in permanent depression, which has followed me
to this day, haunting me wherever I go, with each new person I meet. I'm always
faced with the problem of when to declare my neurological predicament. I've managed,
somehow to overcome my initial fears of being ostracized for being an epileptic.
Already discriminated for my color, I now had an additional burden to bear, both
inherited from birth. I was ten years old, and in love with the violin, full of hope,
thanks to the glory of music. It has been my saving grace. Without music, these
words felt from the heart, would not have found their way into this print. Teach your
children the healing power of music, the art form that has saved us from self destruction.
Without music, where would all the defeated souls, all the broken hearted, all the
dismayed ones, find their way back, with enough inspiration to seek anew, a more
My love of music provided me with a few kickbacks of sorts. When you take an
instrument in your hands and decide then and there that you want to play the
instrument as it can be played, then you have to apply two qualities. Dedication and
discipline. You first set your goal of becoming, as it was in my case, a good
violinist, hopefully some day equipped with the same skills of other great musicians.
Paganini being the best, then it was only natural to use him as a source of inspiration.
But to be a Paganini, you have to have some talent, ("Talent is 98% hard work and 2%
skills"...Pablo Picasso). You must then apply yourself diligently each day to
disciplined practicing. You have to put aside several hours each day to practice,
practice, practice. The amazing thing is that when you love what you are doing,
there is no such thing as hard work, even if you are bleeding at the finger tips.
The time needed to learn a musical piece, is not measured. You pick up the
instrument, stare at the musical score, not having the faintest idea what the
collection of notes sound like in their entirety. It is no clearer than a
waste-basket full of rejected scraps of paper containing incoherent scribbling.
Then before you lay the instrument down at the close of day, the song is in your head,
and on the tips of your finger. The next day you play the piece from start to
finish for your music professor. He is satisfied and rewards you with yet another
piece to learn. This goes on and on, until one day you realize as you sit in
an orchestra, playing third violin, in a national symphony orchestra, that you are
a violinist, helping to bring to life a classical piece of music, for a large
gathering in the concert hall. You may not be playing as the violin soloist, but
never-the-less, you are within the sounds of a vibrating symphony, interacting
in real time. The experience is exhilarating. Now there is one other
ingredient of character building that I haven't mentioned yet,...and it was perhaps
equally important as the character building quality of dedication and discipline.
Bravery! I had to be brave. Not to pick up the instrument and draw the violin
bow across the strings of the violin, but to return home alone, on a jam packed
bus, for a 30 minute ride into the darkest of night. The minute I stepped off
that bus, late at night, exhausted from a day at school, plus another hour with
the music professor, I was alone, surrounded by a black wall of silence, 360
degrees, without a street lamp to unmask whatever lurked in the dark. Out comes
a flashlight from my pocket, and a narrow beam of light is my solace. With it
I slice into the pitch black of night, allowing me to see the beaten path, my only
guide. I follow the path for about 400 yards, and sigh with relief when I see
the burning light of a kerosene lamp in the window of a very familiar house.
Courage my friend, courage will carry you the distance, when you feel that most
uncomfortable feeling of being surrounded by the unknown. When you do not know
the shape of life that can come forth from the unknown, in all the darkness that
is surrounding you, with your imagination willing to play tricks on you, an
unexpected element could very well scare the daylight out of you, while you stand
there with your darkest fears. But with the aid of courage, you'll conquer some
of your fears. I learned that already at the age of 10. There is another helpful
advice which I will assume you've heard,....that "the only thing to fear is fear
itself". You can believe me when I say that I'm well prepared to face even the
11. In Sweden, there is the expression; "life artist", which simply means that just
about everything you do, everything you set about to do, you do with the intention of
doing your best. And it is possible. You can certainly wash dishes artistically.
There is the pile of dirty dishes and you'd like to see them all clean and
ready for another round of meals to hold. When you finish washing the dishes
and look at the final result of glistening dishes, you could very well experience
the satisfaction of knowing that they couldn't have been washed any better. You've
washed your dishes artistically. You've done your best. Taking pride in the
things you do, will carry you a long way in life. Doing one's best, can't be beat.
Even when I make a shelf for my CD's, the final result, in my opinion, is a work of art.
I even sign my name on the back of that shelf. "Constructed by Carl Toothman
June 1999" And why not? I made it with love. I did my best to solve the problem of
constructing a piece of furniture to hold my CD records. First I design the shelf
taking measurements that will accommodate a few hundred records. I saw the wood,
nail the pieces together, with a touch of glue here and there, and paint the
final results. It is functional art. So; you don't have to be an "artist" to
create art. Anything done with desire, even with love, is without a doubt,
a work of art. All that I've done in life,....I've done because I had within
the desire to express myself in one way or another. When you take it upon yourself
the challenge to make something, to do something, you can trust that the greater your
desire, the better will be your results. And if you just love what you are engaged
with, then the final results will be most satisfactory or a great work of art.
I've seen entertainers from China balancing and twirling a set of dishes; twirling
them on long sticks of pine, and I watch in disbelief, but there it is. Juggling
and balancing acts are an age old art practiced for thousands of years. One can
go far with dedication, diligence and hard work in the form of practice, practice
and more practice. My beloved violin taught me that lesson.
Another great lesson I learned from a lowly peasant, a "bushman" who was hired
by my father to cut the grass around our home out in the country. Wild grass grew
fast and had blades of grass sharp as razor blades. If you went after the grass
with bare arms, you'd come away after a days work in the field, with many cuts
bleeding from the countless number of times the blades of grass slipped over, under
and around your arms. Well, I happened to be helping this man sharpen his machete
with a spinning grinding stone which was kept in motion with a handle. During a
conversation I had with the man, I asked him what he did, besides cutting grass.
The answer he gave, remains with me for the rest of my life. He replied using the
slogan heard on the radio by all who listened to the local radio station. The
slogan is written on the boxes of a laundry washing soap. Incidentally, I have
to translate since the words I spoke at the time were in Spanish. The name of the
soap was Ace. But for the sake of translating what he meant, I will change the name
to "Do". His reply to my question was; "I am like the soap Do,....I do everything."
From that day on, my life was shaped after his idea, after his ideal, after his way
of life. I did the same with my life. And I do believe in the end I will be more
satisfied and filled with the feeling that I have had a good taste of life's many
different flavors. Very early, I tried stamp collecting, I was interested in polished
stones, all sorts of playing marbles fascinated me, played all the games children played;
hop scotch, jax, marbles, hide-and-seek, bingo, cards, dominoes, chess, checkers,
scrabble, Go, jump rope, dodge ball, and using a spinning top to hit pop bottle tops
shaped to fly like a flying saucer when hit by the spinning top. I tried everything.
I never specialized in anything. I knew I would never have one great skill. Instead,
I'd have many different interests, but I felt the rewards would be greater in the end.
And I believe I made the right choice. I can meet just about anyone and have an
interesting discussion and talk about many different things in science and art.
Anything I do not know, when engaged in a conversation dealing with something beyond
my sphere of understanding, will soon become at least, second hand knowledge before
the day has ended. Since my interest are many, and learning is a pleasure, I never
have a dull moment.
Nature is diversified, so why not try to be a part of this multitudinous? Being
specialized in one field, limits one in the total experience of living. If you
are going to specialize for the sake of being acutely accurate in your field of interest,
then at least take on another interest as a hobby to soften your robot-like existence.
If you are a rocket scientist, learn to play a musical instrument, for the sake of balance.
Don't give up your humanity for the sake of perfection. Any person can become a robot in
behavior, but a robot cannot become a human with feelings. And let me tell you, we
are very special in our cellular life. We have many emotions connected to all our senses.
When you realize this, and not take your biological life for granted, you will reap the
rewards that our nature has in store for us.
12. The four years that my father was unemployed, we lived out in the country, my father
drives us to school each day, but the evenings I stay in the City of Panama for my violin
lessons, I have to ride a bus back home. My lessons were in the evening, so it would be
late in the night when I'd return home. One evening after my lessons, I had 20 minutes
or so before the bus was to leave, so I pulled out a fishing line that I carried with me.
On the waterfront, where the water wasn't the cleanest, one could never-the-less catch all
kinds of fish. Blowfish, catfish, and on occasions a small shark. I clambered out on the
remains of the foundation of an old building. It was quite risky, but all I had in mind
was to reach a place that seemed ideal to drop a fishing line. There were a few other
youngsters in the vicinty, fishing and I heard from one of them; "You are brave!" Thinking
back, when I realize the risk I was taking of falling in the water, fully clothed with
shoes, I certainly would have had a rough time getting back up out of the water,...since the
area where I was fishing,..had no easy way to reach the shore. There were steps that led
down to the water, but it was more than 50 meters away. I could have drowned quite easily
if I had fallen in the water. I was either very sure of myself, and brave, or a damn fool
to be risking my life like that. That incident was to follow me the rest of my days. So
many times when I needed courage to overcome a difficulty, all I had to do was remember the
words...."You are brave!" One such incident happened when I had returned home for a visit
to my parents in Panama, when I was living in Sweden. The visit was long and I was able to
experience the "dry season", as we all call it. No rain for about two and a half months.
I felt very invigorated by the warm weather and I decided to do some training to prepare for
an upcoming track meet. There weren't many sport arenas in the Canal Zone sector which is
under American control. I needed a track field to do some daily jogging. I chose to use
the training grounds of my alma mater located in the Canal Zone sector. So, I set off not
giving it a thought that I was doing anything illegal. One of my former sports trainer
from my school days, saw me training on the field, came over and asked what I was doing on
the grounds. I explained the situation and he replied that I had no rights to be training
on the grounds. I was no longer a student, and I was no longer living in the area. He
was apparently going by the rules. I refused to go along with his restrictions. I felt
that I had my rights since I had busted my gut during my school days, bringing glory to my
high school with my track and field accomplishments. I considered myself a former school
champion. We argued a bit and then he threatened to call the police and have me removed
from the grounds. I had nothing against his calling the cops. They came, packed me in
the car and we drove away to the police station. The policemen I recognized from my school
days. We chatted friendly and I felt no hostility from the officers. When we arrived at
the police station, another sports trainer from the school, joined me, to explain what had
happened, and he sounded a bit apologetic and I sensed, a bit embarrassed. I was asked what
I intended to do. I was, during this questioning, standing in the courthouse, before the
police chief. Another acquaintance from my school days, but he wasn't about to give me any
special treatment. Instead, he was acting a bit tough with me. I didn't fear him one bit.
I told them that I would go back out to the field and train again, and if that was breaking
the law, then I asked them to place me in jail right then and there. The chief got real
nasty and asked if I knew of a certain Dr. so and so. The name I can't remember today.
I replied that I didn't know, but I understood that he must have been someone who could make
the lives of people miserable, that he was perhaps an expert in the arts of applying torture
to impudent types. I just waited until he was finished with his covert threat to throw
me at the mercy of this torture Dr. I looked him straight in the eyes and said in a cool
and calm fashion, "Will you please arrest me." Everybody was silent for a few long seconds.
The trainer spoke up and said....."We don't want to go that far. We will have to drop the
charges and complaints." He understood I meant every word I said. The day after this
incident, a strong earthquake hit Panama. I was back out on the field training, and school
boys who had witnessed the whole thing, I would imagine, must have wondered.
Hopefully somewhere in some office, they were re-writing a rule that I had broken. If,
I had been accepted when I tried to enlist in the Army, back in 1960, I'm sure that with my
courage and foolish bravery, I would have been torn to pieces on the battlegrounds of Vietnam.
Continues Anita's Child
April 7, 1999
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