Finding Peace of Mind at 93 in Penonomé, Panama

Name: Syble Boatright, Tony Boatright
Age: 93
From: Whitesburg, Georgia
Living in: Penonomé, Coclé, Panama

My husband and I built our home in Whitesburg, Georgia, with our own hands in 1950. It was my intention to live there until I died. But life’s not always so predictable. I never expected that, at the age of 93, I’d end up living happily in Panama.

I am healthier here in Panama. My arthritis medicine is no longer necessary, and all the fresh fruits and vegetables make my diet better, as well. I do not believe I would still be alive had I stayed in Georgia.

About a decade ago, my son Tony was thinking about moving to Panama. He visited a few times before going to stay for a year. He always was the adventurous one. Using a wheelchair never slowed him down. But I still hoped he would come back to Georgia.

Winter was a difficult time for me after my husband died. Living alone in that 11-room house got depressing. Tony asked me to leave the cold weather and come visit him. I resisted. At 88 years old, I was not flying three-and-a-half hours to Panama.

During a family Thanksgiving celebration, though, we called Tony and he suggested I travel down after Christmas. Everyone encouraged me. I had the time, the money, and no good excuse for not going. I agreed to spend January and February in Panama.

Panama. Oh, my! The vibrant green countryside took my breath away. Looking down the cliff into the river from his dinner table and listening to his plans for adding a large porch was enchanting. Gardening in January! I lived in shorts and tank tops, making flower beds for my son.

Going to the grocery store was amazing. So many things were like the stores in Georgia, yet with surprising differences. Tony laughed, because my favorite restaurant was the grocery store cafeteria. (I liked it because I could see the food to pick out my dinner.) The fact that $4 to $6 consistently paid for both meals was stunning.

One day two ladies arrived to collect for his garbage service: $36 for the entire year. His monthly bills—electricity, water, cable TV, internet, private mailbox, and car insurance—all totaled less than $300. My winter gas bill alone was higher than that every month.

Winter in Georgia was harsh that year. Tony talked me into staying two more months. I didn’t realize that it would be a life-changing decision.

The longer I stayed, the more I began to see why he loved this country. I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, yet the people were all so sweet to me. Countless times, after my babbling to smiling people, Tony would remind me, “You know, they probably didn’t understand a word you said.”

It didn’t matter. I was happily expressing my feelings, and their smile in return made me happy. My life here was wonderful.

One evening Tony decided to have a serious talk with me. “Mom, when you get to the point where you don’t feel like you can stay home alone anymore, I want you to come live with me. If you need help, we’ll hire someone.”

He nodded to all my protests, saying, “This is just something for you to think about.”

For two days I mulled through my thoughts and emotions. Then I made a decision.

“Tony, I’m going back home to sell my house in Whitesburg. When you come up in September, I’m coming back here to live with you. The family can come visit us in Panama.”

Tony built me a three-room apartment, with my own porch, on the corner of his house in 2014. It is private, secure, and allows me to be independent. A small heart attack in January 2018 slowed me down a little. I’m happy to say that I do not need assistance yet, but it’s comforting to know my son is always there, if I need him. While I never intended to move from Whitesburg, my move to Panama has given me more than I ever expected. I found peace of mind for the rest of my life.

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