May 28, 2015


This is one of my all time favorite letters. 

Letter written 59 years ago, by my Mother, JoAnn Catherine Arosemena Rodewald, addressed to her family in Iowa (Mom and brother, Kermit) and her sister in Colorado, Arleen and husband Walt and daughter, Christy. 

The original letter is typed, (I still have her typewriter at home). The letter was sent from Ancon, Canal Zone in Panama to her family in Rockwell City, Iowa. The post mark date is July 19th, 1956. My Mom was 28 years old. 

In July of 1956, Ana is two years old and Roger is 4 months old. They traveled from US to Panama by boat. My Mother grew up in Rockwell City, Iowa, a very small town and these are some of her first impressions of Panama.  Her family was worried that living conditions in Panama were primitive, hence the details shared about hot and cold water, the appliances, the super market, bugs, etc. 


Panama City, Canal Zone
July 4th, 1956

Dear Mom, Kerm, Arleen, Christy and Uncle Walt: 

Am making a carbon copy to send to you both at the same time so that is why the above heading. 

Received your most welcomed letter last Sunday eve, the first night we slept in the house. Prior to that we had been staying at Linda Vista the home of the Arosemena's. We had much difficulty getting our car out of the port of Colon. Finally they ended up charging us $354.25 to ship it here.  Previously they had quoted us the price of $90. Quite a big blow to our bank account.  Now at least we have the car so we can get around. I still have to get my licensure for here in the Canal Zone and for Panama both. We have run into a lot of red tape as only the government can give,as Kermit can vouch for having been in the army personnel department. Is really quite exhausting at times. 

The party Father and Mother Arosemena gave for us was a terrific success. About 225 people attended. All the doctors of Panama and the Canal Zone. The Govenor of the Canal Zone, all the ambassadors of all the various countries, and many of the family and friends. I am enclosing a picture of the Ambassador and Mrs. Harrington of the United States and us which appeared in the paper. Also we appeared in the news reels of Panama. These I never saw. We hope to get prints of the pictures for our album. Was an awful lot of food and an open bar. Was from 6-9 and all the guest left by eleven. Was quiet exhausting to say the least to shake hands and try to remember just a few of the names. I can just imagine what a president goes through with a thousand hands to shake in one evening ! Rog and I jokingly say it was our debute to Panama. 

Our stop in Haiti was interesting but all I can say is, it was colorful but extremely DIRTY. We rented a cab and toured the city of Port au Prince for 2 and one half hours. We had tourist guide with us. This was the only way we could go with the children. There wasn't very much to buy of anything. I got a mahogany salad bowl and 8 small bowls with serving tongs to match. We were so glad to return to the boat and clean food again. I will send you something from Panama when I have time to find a nice gift. 

The Caribbean Sea was quite rough the last two days and nights. In fact the last night we slept very poorly. Few people became sick, but a few things toppled to the floor in our stateroom and broke.  Made the voyage interesting, but we were glad to get to Panama. Ana loved the swimming pool as it had salt water in it and she really kicked. 

The Arosemena's, Aunt Dora Arias and Uncle Dick were at the pier to meet us. They really raved over out children and were so glad to see us all once again. Took about 1 and half hours to drive to Panama City as we docked at Cristobol (Atlantic Side) and Panama City is on the Pacific Side. 

Our house is big and airy. All screened and very cool. Especially at night. By the way when you have time can you send of the blankets. House has 3 floors and is a duplex situated side by side. Another Doctor lives next door from Texas. Horros I just found out I have the Carbon Paper in backwards !!!!!!!!.;.,------

We live in what is called the fish bowl. Alot of the same type of houses in a circle and being they all can look at each other with such huge windows it is called the fish bowl. 

We do not have much furniture as of yet but am going with Mother Arosemena to see a mahogany dinning room set tomorrow. Has a table to serve up to 16 people with six chairs and buffet or china closet to match which I prefer. Is quite expensive but in this climate you have to have buy solid furniture. She is giving us her old furniture from her living room to use for a while until we have enough money to get some of our own. Have Rogie's crib and chest and Ana has a mahogany twin bed with a night stand to match. We have an old bed which was refinished and has a matching chest. Our plate glass mirror just fits above it so it has come in handy already. Our refrigerator comes tomorrow and have been using an ice box until then. The cycles of electricity are only 25 here in the canal zone so we have bought only a used  one and then shall get a new one when we leave the Zone someday.  

We have one ground floor, our garage store room, maids rooms with bath, laundry and clothes lines under the house. On the second floor is the kitchen, breakfast room, huge dinning and living area and a huge porch. One third floor is a huge porch to be Roger's study, three bedrooms and a bath. Have three huge closets and a lined closet so I am quite pleased with this place. The houses are not new but are clean and the yards are all done for us so we can't complain. Have hot and cold running water also and a lovely huge Westinghouse stove with a wonderful oven. I am accustomed to the electric stove already. 

Now anytime you want to come MOM we shall have a room available for you as long as you like. We have a tropical climate which you will not mind I am certain as is cool at night and you sleep like a log as of the fresh air. They spray with a huge truck for the bugs you are aren't even bothered by them. 

I can't use my toaster or electric clocks with the electric current as such but everything else works well. Make fresh grapefruit juice every night. Takes just three for one quart down here. 

I have employed a Jamaican maid who speaks only English and is extremely good to help me and is good with the children. She does all the laundry and ironing, dishes cleaning with me and helps a lot with the children. She gets room and board and $35 per month. She is so very clean and cleans well. I still do all the cooking and shopping for the house.  I have to go quite far to go to shop in the commissaire (like a huge super market) and cannot always take the children along. Especially Rogie. She is always here and knows what to do for them so thusly I don't have to worry. I am quite pleased and she seems happy and we treat her very kindly as some of the people don't treat their help in such a fashion. She really works like a first assistant and we do well together. After the dinner dishes are finished the evening is hers. She visits with the other maids around here so is not running around. She has two grandchildren of her own so she does know about children to some extent. I feel fortunate to have an older lady as some of the younger girls around here are horrible. 

We have made many friends already. Of course most of them are Doctors and their wives but we enjoy them a lot. All are near my age and have a couple of children also. 

Rog is doing at least one surgery every day and more that one other days. He is so happy and pleased with his work already. He is on call for surgery every other day so we can't go out much. He and Jimmy Martinez. No surgery can be done with out one or the other being there. 

I plan now to go to work in August if at all possible. They don't want wives to work with their husbands in the operating room so I don't know if I can be in surgery. I am going to ask for obstetrics otherwise. It only takes us 3 minutes to walk to the hospital so it quite close. 

It really has been raining a lot as it is the rainy season but is showers off and on every day but is dry in 5 minutes. Quite a change to the climate in Iowa.