Home is Where the Heart Is

"Home" is defined as "the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household". The question I would like to ask is, is "home" really where you lay your head down to sleep at night or is it something you create and carry with you wherever you go? I, myself would say your "home" is something created through life experiences and carried forever in your heart. It is always changing, evolving, and unique to each person.

Recently on a homecoming trip to Panama, this concept of "home" became even more evident to me. As I traveled the country retracing much of my childhood, I realized that not only is Panama a large part of my "home" it is even a greater part of my father's. This can be seen through his many paintings capturing almost all aspects of Panama and its people.

The best way to understand how my father developed his vast appreciation for Panama and its people is to trace our family history. My grandparents, Howard and Josephine Sprague met and married in Brooklyn, New York. During The Depression they met a man by the name of Alwyn DeLeon who told them about this foreign land where jobs were plentiful - this place was Panama. Trusting this new found friend, my grandparents packed up their belongings and their young daughter in 1938 and moved to this foreign country. My grandfather was hired as manager of Standard Oil Company at Mt Hope on the Atlantic Side of the Isthmus. Later that year, my father was born in Colon and named Alwyn William Sprague after Alwyn DeLeon.

During my grandfather's time at Standard Oil he spent time traveling to inspect the pipeline leading from one side of the isthmus to the other, walking through jungle, learning the language, and respecting the country they now called "home". Although he enjoyed his job, he decided to go to night school and learn accounting. Soon he was hired by The Panama Canal Company and began his career working for the U.S. Government. Starting in the Customs Division he soon found himself in the Bookkeeping Division. Because the Canal Zone was developed to support the various departments of the Panama Canal Company, my father and his family moved to the town of Balboa located on the Pacific Side of the Isthmus where my father spent most of his life.

Many Zonians (Americans living in the Canal Zone) knew very little about Panama, it's culture, and most importantly its people. This was not true about my grandfather. He was insistent that his children always respect the country where they lived. Although he worked in the Administration Building as an Assistant Chef of Auditor, he also worked for The Star and Herald as their bookkeeper. He traveled into the city often to not only work on The Star and Herald books but to visit Panamanian friends. He truly loved the people of Panama and he passed this down to his family. The depth of his relationships with his Panamanian friends was clearly expressed when years later his obituary was published on the front page of The Star and Herald, being the first and maybe the only American who was honored in this way.

Beginning at a young age, my father spent many hours at the ferry station in La Boca (the mouth of the Pacific side of the canal) fishing with the natives. He saw fishermen go out in pangas (native boats) to catch fish with nets and he witnessed ships come and go through the canal. These early childhood experiences developed a love, respect, and admiration for a way of life much different than his own. A life that he still to this day captures in his artwork and stories told through his two published children's books, "The Mahogany Tree" and "Windswept".

It is interesting to see how family shapes and creates not only how you see the world around you but also the development of character, talent, and a sense of being. As we grow older we look to the past to see how we became who we are today. According to my father, his family on his mother's side were all artists - musicians, composers, jewelers, painters, and sculptors. Knowing this, it isn't surprising to see the amazing talent of not only my father but his siblings. In a family of four children, each has developed a strong artistic talent. Joanie - Fashion Design, Al - Fine Art including painting, drawing, and sculpting, Bob - Fine Art including painting and stained glass, and Terri - furniture decoration (painting on furniture). Although all are artistic, my father and his brother Bob (known as Roberto in Panama) used their experiences in Panama to create paintings reflecting the world they grew up in and loved.

Today, my father's paintings grace the walls of The Panama Canal Authority Administration Building (ironically on walls and hallways where his father worked many years ago), in hotels and companies throughout the city, in Embassies worldwide, and more importantly on walls of collectors around the globe who want to show others just exactly what their "home" is all about.

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