Fourth of July in Panama

I suspect the Covid-19 threat has nixed a lot of holiday plans: family picnics, cabins on the lake, evening fireworks displays at the ballpark or on main street. My family never did much to celebrate the fourth, back yard stuff mostly with a few family members and friends. As this year’s holiday approaches, I think back to my favorite.

 It was 1956. I was visiting my cousins, Margaret and Katherine Whelan in Ancon, Panama Canal Zone, courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard. I was a first-class cadet (senior) on our summer training cruise. Having relatives there led to my getting an unusual 48-hour pass.

I must tell you, the Zonians, as Americans living in the Canal Zone like to call themselves, know how to celebrate the event. It is a big deal! Every Zonian wants to renew their patriotic ties to the “upper 48.” The ladies took me to a great party at a grand hotel, large crowd, great dinner, big dance band, magnificent fireworks—the whole nine yards. I expounded on the event in a chapter in my book, “The View from the Rigging: Memoirs of a Coast Guard Career.” My uncle Fenton Whelan and his brother Joe helped build the Canal. Fent stayed in Panama after construction, married a Panamanian and had four children.

So now you know why I’m interested researching Panama for my next writing project; a historical fiction piece centered on the building of the historic canal.

Need research help on Panama Canal

Do you have a relative or friend that worked on Panama Canal?

If you have stories, written or remembered, of what working and social conditions were like in the prime building years 1904-1914, I’d love to hear from you.

I’m particularly interested in atmosphere and social acceptance between American workers and native Panamanians.

I am working on a historical fiction piece. I have researched technical data, but missing the personal touch.

A. J. Cronin, Master Storyteller

Do you have a favorite author? One whose books have been on your shelf for a long time? One that you’ve re-read several times? One that rekindles your enthusiasm for writing?

 A.J. Cronin, considered one of the greatest storytellers of the twentieth century, and an early favorite of mine, has adorned my bookcase since the tenth grade. I was recently moved to relive Cronin’s “The Northern Light.”

I love stories. I love to hear them, read them, tell them, and write them. I enjoy kind words from friends and reviewers who have singled out my storytelling, in both my memoir and my novel, as a highlight of my work. They have moved me to revisit Cronin.

I read him differently now. For inspiration, yes, but I also find myself studying his, plot, structure, language, character development, and story line. In a broad sense, I want to know what it is about A. J. Cronin’s writing that makes me always say, “There’s a book I really enjoyed.” It could have been “Keys of the Kingdom,” “the Citadel,” “The Green Years,” or “Song of Sixpence.” All great books of the Scottish Doctor, and all still on my shelves. “The Green Years” is next for me–a wonderful story of what grandfathers are for.

So, writers—do you have a favorite author you read for inspiration? Maybe a different author for different genres? How has their writing influenced you or helped you improve your craft?

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The Awakening Spring

I promise this first blog of my revised website will say nothing about COVID-19.

You’ve read and heard enough about that without my take on it.

I’m unable to enjoy a walk on the Pitt-Bradford Trail much anymore, but when I did, I enjoyed watching the war of the seasons unfold. I’m a few weeks late with this, but here’s my thoughts on the Awakening Spring.

A dark oasis of spiked pines pokes above the sea of maples and poplars on the surrounding hills. The subtle hues of green will soon be ocean swells protecting the valley like a comforter. Stark grey sticks reach skyward, straining to be like their green sisters, to remind us of a harsh winter not long gone. Small openings offer a glimpse of flowering cherry and apple trees; they are teasers for the summer yet to come.

frog in a pond

I sit awhile in the gazebo. Fallen trees that did not survive the winter lie beneath the water of a shallow pond like underwater sea serpents. A twiggy branch stretches above the water, a precarious perch for chickadees. A slab of trunk breaks the surface, a sun porch for turtles and frogs.

Daffodils and Dandelions

I cheer for a cluster of daffodils, their yellow stars standing tall, lording it over the dandelions, which have sent but three scouts looking for spring on the soccer field. Hurray for the daffodils!
Alas, within a week, I fear the brave daffodils have lost the battle, reduced to furled rusty blobs. A vast horde of bad boy dandelions, now in formation on the east end of the soccer field, stand ready to advance to their brother scouts scattered the length of the field. The wars go on.
But they know not what awaits them–the grim reaper, John Deere, who in another week will slay them by the thousands. Ha! Revenge.