CHAPTER 10: "There is a rumor of a big stir-up out here!"  Another job change and more responsibility for Ken Webster, the family’s first local leave, the opening of the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, the continued expansion of Aramco in all parts of the Kingdom, and worldwide headlines for a former company secretary who swims the English Channel.

Dhahran Main Gate
Dhahran’s main gate, early 1950s.
Photo courtesy Judy Webster Bauer.

During the summer of 1950, war breaks out between North and South Korea, resulting in the acceleration of the Cold War.  The turmoil in Palestine continues.  And overall, the world seems a menacing place in many corners.  But to Americans living and working in Saudi Arabia, global conflicts seem far removed from their comfortable suburban lives in the midst of the desert.  Aramco’s growth and prosperity continue and the company’s investment in the infrastructure of Saudi Arabia – and the education of its people – moves full-steam ahead.  (The company also agrees to King Saud’s demands concerning “profit sharing.”  Beginning in 1950, Aramco agrees to pay the government 50 percent of all income from oil.) In October of that year, the Websters enjoy their first-ever local leave, visiting Beirut and the Holy Land.  Mildred Webster writes a very lively report of the journey, excerpted here and illustrated with her own color slides. This chapter features excerpts from August through December 1950.

Dhahran
August 11, 1950

Dear Folks:

Aramco again breaks into the news with former stenographer Florence Chadwick swimming the English Channel in record-breaking time.  She was the leader of the Aquacade [Aramcocade] in 1948, which was such an outstanding success here in the Fall Swimming Pool Season.

(Editor’s note:  Florence Chadwick had come out of ‘nowhere’ to set the new women’s record for swimming the English Channel, beating out a young American woman named Shirley May, who had become a sort of “media darling” for her past attempts.) From Time magazine’s issue of Monday, August 21, 1950: “Somebody else had gone into the water a few minutes before Shirley May, but nobody had paid much attention. She was also an American, a professional swimmer named Florence Chadwick, 31, from San Diego, Calif. There had been almost no build-up for her at all. Florence had not been able to pay for the trip and training expenses, so she had taken a job as a secretary with the Arabian American Oil Co. The company had paid her way abroad; Florence had kept in practice with after-work swims in the Persian Gulf. Florence's plan for conquering the Channel was fairly simple: just to get in and swim "as fast as I can." Her father, a retired San Diego policeman, and Trainer Henry Gunter agreed. They had watched her win the 21/2-mile race at La Jolla, Calif., ten times in 18 years; they thought she had the power and stamina for the Channel grind. For the first hour, Florence swam fast —60 strokes a minute—to get away from the inshore current. Then she settled down to an eight-kick, 32-beat pace, broken only by pauses for lumps of sugar four times an hour. At 11:30 a.m., her father, following in a trawler, chalked a cheerful message on a blackboard: "Only three more miles to go." …Those last three miles were the toughest for Florence. Much of her protective grease coating had washed off. The Channel water was numbing, the currents and choppy water off the Kentish coast had reduced her stroke to arm-dragging agony. Just 500 yards from her goal, Florence was cautioned to rest a bit. "Don't worry, I've got it made now," she shouted back. The last-minute half-pull, half-paddle up the rocks cut gashes in her hands and knees. But she scrambled ashore. She had swum the Channel in 13 hours and 20 minutes, faster than any woman had ever done it. The old record: 14 hr. 31 min., set in 1926 by Gertrude Ederle. "It's my lucky day," said Florence Chadwick.” —Source:  Time magazine’s free online archives.

Former  Aramcon Florence Chadwick circa 1950
Florence Chadwick, circa 1950. She spent
some time as an employee of Aramco
(as a steno) and directed the successful
“Aramcocade” water ballet show in Dhahran
in 1948. Both Judy and Susan Webster were
among the young girls featured in the program.
Chadwick not only broke the speed/time
record in 1950, two years later she became
the first woman to swim the English Channel
both ways. Photo from San Diego Historical
Society, courtesy the Internet.

No special activity this week.  Mildred had some coffees for 50 or so, and we had ten in for dinner last Saturday. This Thursday next we are having a cocktail party buffet for two of my office personnel being transferred to Ras Tanura and to welcome four new ones.  Will also work off some obligations at same time. . .

[A] returning home-leaver brought this political joke to us.  Hope you haven’t heard it:

Dear Mr. Anthony:  I am a sailor in the U.S. Navy and the main support of my father who is an epileptic and my mother who has syphilis.  My older brother is in prison for murder and my younger brother is being tried now for rape.  My two sisters are prostitutes while their husbands are in prison for rape and arson.  I am going with a girl who is working in a house here at the Base, and as soon as we have enough money saved up and my enlistment is over, we want to get married and have a house of our own in Detroit.  My question is, do you advise I tell her before we are married that I am a Democrat?

Love, Ken

Aramco  Students at Recess
Aramco schoolchildren at recess on the playground,
Dhahran Senior Staff School, circa 1950.
Photo courtesy Patricia Dale Watkins, pictured in the
center wearing dark pants rolled up to the knee.

(Our new boy, Francis, is good.  He is a Christian Indian...Machmoud will be back in about two months. . . . Tomorrow I go to a coffee in the morning then we go to dinner that night with the [F.W.] Moores [President of Aramco].  They are such a nice homey couple.  They have a 12-year-old daughter, too.  They will be leaving in a little while.  We hear a lot of war news, but no one seems alarmed as far as we are concerned.  There are new wives coming out every plane.  We feel certain that in any event of necessity we would all be evacuated in plenty of time.  In case of total war, guess it wouldn’t make much difference where one was . . . We are all so proud of Florence Chadwick.  She really is a wonderful swimmer.  We plan to go on local leave in October – weather will be better then for travel.  Love, Mildred.)

 

DhahranAugust 19, 1950

Dear Folks:

Aramco  President, F.W. Moore
F.W. Moore, president of Aramco,
circa 1950. His twelve-year-old
Judy and Susan Webster. Ken and
Mildred Webster entertained the
Moore family in their home several
times. Photo from the Internet.

We didn’t get the weekly letter written yesterday, as the day was a bit involved.  In fact, all last week seemed on the busy side.  The Moores (Company president and his wife) left this morning for the States and so, of course, there have been a lot of last-minute parties.  We had a Department party here Thursday night for 28 people – with buffet. Turned out very well and all seemed to have a good time.

Friday Judy and Susan took Ginger Moore (the president’s 12-year-old daughter) and two other girls to dinner at the Dining Hall and on to the movies.  We went to the cocktail farewell party for the Moores out at Davies’.  Came back and the girls were here making fudge – then played Canasta.

We had a big surprise – Gladys Underwood came in Wed. night and the cable didn’t get here, so no one was there to meet her.  Bob [her husband] was out playing Duplicate.  Her ship was doing so much maneuvering around between ports and it was getting hotter and hotter – so she got off at Madras and flew over to Bombay and on up the next day.  It is nice to have her back, but didn’t expect to see her until September late!

The girls are enjoying their vacation but it will be over the 2nd.  Judy [is] practicing hard for the water show the 7th and 8th.  Susan is taking swimming lessons in a group.  She swims very well now but her form wasn’t too good.  She likes it so much. . .

We are all delighted that Florence Chadwick made the Channel and we weren’t too surprised.  She is the one who taught Judy and the girls all the stuff in the Aramcocade –and holds the world’s backstroke record, lacking ¼ of a second.  I mean she lost by that margin for the Olympics.

Our new cook is very good and I am glad we took him.

[We] had several babies this week and one wee one that didn’t make it – too bad.  Our infant mortality rate is very low, but we sure have plenty of babies.  In fact, two middle-aged women with big children have just discovered they are expecting and are furious.  Must be something in the climate!

Well, I don’t seem to have written much of interest, but didn’t want to let the time get by without writing – we are all well.  Ken has slimmed down a bit.  I’m getting fatter by the minute and the girls are growing up.

Bye now.  Best love to all of you,

M&K.

Dhahran
August 25, 1950

Dear Folks:

Our new theater opened last Sunday and it really is very swanky – seats 650 and has lovely leather seats – powder room – stage with dressing rooms for plays, etc.  Two riyals (45 cents) for adults and one riyal for under twelve.

Ken has just moved his office from the first to the second floor of the Ad[ministration] building and has a very nice layout of several offices and a large general office.  He keeps quite busy but isn’t under such a driving pressure as before – and am I glad!  He looks very well and with working on the yard over each weekend keeps his ‘figger’ pretty well. . .

I would rather all of you who want to send a box concentrate on the kids as we have to pay duty on almost everything.  They always need barrettes for hair, paints and such, jacks – Judy is getting pretty grown up now, though.  Lynn will bring back or send out with their things some clothes for us.

. . .I guess I told you one of our wives is the daughter of Secretary Johnson <strong>(Editor’s note:  U.S. Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson of the Truman Administration)</strong>, didn’t I?  So, I have decided as long as Kay stays out here there is no cause for us to be worried!

The Stapeltons won’t be back until December.  He [Vic Stapelton] is being sent to Harvard on a special three-month course – three men from here who are in the States are going.  There will be more to follow.  Wonderful idea – hope Ken gets sent, but that is just my wishes.

Allyn and Lynn are practically packed and ready to leave [on Home Leave].  We are having them for dinner tomorrow night – it is their anniversary.  Then the 2nd we are having 18 for buffet dinner as a farewell party for them.

We plod along but the time goes pretty fast. We have been back almost 11 months and still haven’t decided abut returning next tour or not, but will have another year to make up our minds.  We will be back next July probably anyway. . .

Guess I am nearing the end of my paper so bye now.  We look forward to all your letters.

Love, Mildred.

Dhahran
September 8, 1950

Dear Folks:

You probably haven’t had any mail from us for two weeks.  Last week we didn’t get the letters written and the mail from the week before we believe went down with the TWA plane disaster out of Cairo.  All that week’s mail was lost.  Terrible thing – there were no passengers from Aramco, but three Army men from the base here.  (Editor’s note:  This was Trans World Airlines Flight #903, named “Star of Maryland,” which crashed on August 31, 1950 near Wadi Natrun, Egypt.  It was en route from Cairo to Rome, caught fire, turned back for an emergency landing, but crashed and burned.  All 55 people on board were killed.  Source: www.planecrashinfo.com.)

Well, Allyn and Lynn are on their way and should be either in the Holy Land or Damascus today.  We put them on the plane Tuesday morning.  They were fortunate to be able to take the Gazelle out from here.  There is a new airport in Beirut and when they have Company business passengers out of here, the two big Co. planes stop there.  We are hoping we will be as lucky when we go – it is much more comfortable than in the small local planes. . .

There is a rumor of a big stir-up out here, but that remains to be seen.  Nothing stays the same here for very long – always something popping. . . Ken keeps busy and if I do say so myself he has done a marvelous job on this transportation deal.  He really has straightened that department out.  We are curious to see what comes next.

Our four little pullets are beginning to lay now and when it gets a little cooler, I think we will be getting 6 eggs a day.  I really don’t think stateside chickens could survive the summer here.  These are much bigger than the average chicken . . . so think it is a matter of diet.  They are much bigger than the three regular hens we have.  Susan takes complete care of them.

Love to all, Mildred.

DhahranSeptember 13, 1950

Dear Folks:

Gee, I am tired – but guess Ken is a lot tireder [sic].  We worked out almost all day in the yard.  Planted flower seeds and got some more space in the garden ready to plant.  Gardens are very discouraging here.  I planted some a couple of weeks ago and the birds or something ate it off as fast as it came up and nothing is left but a few radishes. Used up all my good seeds, too.  I’ll cover this new stuff till it gets a chance to grow.  The birds are very bad, but after it is up a certain amount, they don’t bother so much.

Susan has had a little black donkey to play with since yesterday – will have to let it go tomorrow but she sure has had fun these two days with him.  She also has a new baby bunny.  Seven chickens and two cats complete our menagerie.

I am enjoying bowling again, but don’t ever expect to be a whiz at it.  There is a group of us that go ever so often – about three times a week.  1½ riyals a line and we usually play three lines a time.  Some of the girls are very good. Ken used to play a lot but doesn’t have time anymore.

Love, Mimi

DhahranSeptember 16, 1950

Dear Folks:

Back at the old stand but with little news today.  No letters from anyone at home this week, so nothing to answer. Did get a letter from Allyn and Lynn from Beirut today, advising they did get the boat okay last Tuesday and were looking forward to a fine boat trip and good food. A week of the Middle East food apparently did not appeal to them.

We are due to go to Beirut [on the] October 24 plane and wish we were going to Switzerland or Rome, but the round trip fare would be something like $1,500, plus hotels and meals, and I prefer to save my floos (Editor’s note:  “money”) and spend it in the USA. . .

This is the second year that Aramco has sent fifty promising [Saudi Arab] employees to Beirut for summer school. They just arrived back and are loud in praise for Aramco and the Beirut University staff. It is such a plan that is changing this entire country by letting a few see how the other people live.

Promising Saudi  Arab Employees
Promising Saudi Arab employees were sent
by Aramco to Beirut for higher education, part
of the promise the company kept to King Saud
to use oil profits for education and the overall
advancement of Saudi Arabia – with the
ultimate goal of creating a highly educated
Saudi Arab workforce. Photo from the
Aramco Handbook.

Sent Sister, by a friend, a Photostat copy of July [1950] issue of McGraw-Hill Digest, as the cover picture is of Judy and Susan and the article ARAMCO IN SAUDI ARABIA is very good. Sister, please send one to each family for us.

July 1950  McGraw-Hill Digest
Cover of July 1950 issue of “McGraw-Hill
Digest,” with photo of Susan and Judy Webster
standing in front of the Ras Tanura refinery on
the cover.  This is a variation on a similar photo
taken in 1946, which was used in other articles
about Aramco, including a spread in Time
magazine. Microfilm archive scan from the
Salisbury University Library, Maryland.
Used with permission.

Judy is spending full time in swimming pool practicing for the show, “A California Blond in the Court of King Neptune” which will splash in Sept. 21 and in Dhahran Sept. 22 and 23.  ‘Tis said – “Woven into the psychiatric wanderings of the California Blond are some gorgeous water routines, bewitching music, graceful diving and seasoning of comedy and humor.”We don’t know for sure, but feel you folks are missing some of our letters due to a plane crash in Cairo. . .

This is really a slim note, but will do better next time, love to all, and be writin’ you next week.

Ken.

Dhahran
September 23, 1950

Dear Folks:

Yesterday was ‘Id al ‘Adha, or rather the first of the three-day start of the pilgrimage part or ceremony of the “Festival of Sacrifice” of which I have told you in past letters.  This holiday starts on the tenth day of the pilgrimage month, DHUL HIJJAH, when the pilgrims enter the GREAT MOSQUE, and circumambulate the KA’ABAH, and then slay a ram, a he-goat, a cow or a camel, in the vale of MUNA in commemoration of the ransom of ISHMAEL with a ram. . .

Saudi Arab Mosque
A Saudi Arab mosque, 1950s.
Photo by Mildred Webster.

I spent the morning spading the garden, or rather about twenty-five percent of it, and will hope that Brahim will spade the rest by end of next Friday.  We pay him 36 cents a day for about two hours and he does a fair day’s work watering the shrubs and trees, raking up the lawn, etc., weeding flower beds, etc. . . I had to wear shoes to spade with, as my feet are not yet hardened to that extent. About noon when Mildred and I actually planted radishes, lettuce, spinach and carrots, the ground was so hot I had to put my sandals on again.  We plant many things about three times, such as lettuce, radishes, carrots and beets, and are glad to have them, although the urgency is not as bad as before, as we now have many such things in the freeze locker and good brands of canned vegetables. They always taste a little better from the garden and I for one am glad to spend a little time with them to have that fresh taste.

Tonight is the last of three showings of the annual water show or Aramcocade, and Judy can then start to again eat when we do and get a little more sleep at night.  It is a grand water ballet and show, taking about one and a half hours and has many humorous parts . . . Our Judy is getting some valuable experience as well as fun out of such things, and they are one of the reasons she doesn’t want us to leave here.  Lots of people drove in over 50 miles to see a performance and I suspect that almost all of the 2,200 American employees and 1,800 wives and children will see one of the three showings.

First eight months of 1950, actual average production was 510,313 barrels, with August being 585,831.  This compares with last year actual average of 476,736. WE have had a number of days when production was in excess of 600,000, but the average is what counts.

Sam Shultz’s daughter, Frances, married an American of Lebanese decent and will live in Beirut until further notice.  None of you know Sam except Mother, but he is a Pennsylvania Dutchman who worked with me in Port Arthur and has been here with me for almost two years now. (Editor’s note:  The Shultzes and the Websters were very close friends and traveled together with their children in Europe many times during their years in Arabia.) Some families don’t want to send their daughters to Beirut to school or college for fear they might meet and marry in same manner.  We met the groom and he is very nice and his Mother and Father have been in USA since 1912 and 1900 respectively and are therefore practically Americans.

Temperature was high of 106 and low of 76 with few humid days.  Summer is definitely going out and soon all days will be less than 100.  Will write again soon.

Love, Ken.

Dhahran
November 24, 1950

Dear Folks:

. . .I am working over half my time and soon will most of it at a location almost 200 miles away up the Gulf at Ras El Misha’ab.  It only takes an hour and 10 minutes by DC-3 (C-47) and I have been commuting, so far.  I leave home at seven thirty, the airport at eight, arrive Misha’ab office at nine thirty, leave Misha’ab five to five thirty and arrive home at six thirty to seven.  Just like working in New York office and commuting from Connecticut.

I am heading up the purchase of some $8,000,000 in Automotive and Construction equipment now surplus from $225,000,000 Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Job, recently placed in operation, and there are many details in appraising value, arranging overhaul, loading on barges for transportation here, and planning the organization to take over this location and run the camp for at least another year.

Map of Trans-Arabian Pipeline System Map showing location of Trans-Arabian Pipeline System, which was completed in 1950.  The pipeline transported oil from Aramco’s Persian Gulf operations to the Mediterranean Sea, where it was shipped to European nations. Graphic from the Aramco Handbook.

Mildred could go with me, but there are no schools there yet, but maybe Allyn and Lynn will watch the kids a few days at a time, so we can spend time together.  I’ll probably stay overnight several times per week, but don’t want to be like a traveling salesman and away from home very much. . . I am still as active as possible in Transportation here, but leave many details to Alec MacKenzie, my assistant.  All part of the game here and it will, as usual, all come out in the wash as to why.  I shall spend two to three days each week here in Dhahran anyway.

Love, Ken.

Dhahran
December 1, 1950

Dear Folks:

. . .Wednesday I visited the Aramco pump station, Nariya, about 75 kilometers west of Misha’ab. The pump house itself is a huge affair, and the windows are of green glass to remove the glare from the sun.  There are five pumps for crude oil, four being needed to pump the expected maximum of 330,000 barrels (almost 14 millions gallons) per day, and one is a spare. There is the fanciest control room I ever saw, and all electric operation of the valves, which are all sizes, including 31-inch. There are three 1,000 kva generators, a 100-ton air conditioning unit, a distilled water generator, treated water facilities, etc. . . Around the station are small shops, offices, firehouse, storehouses, commissary, recreation hall, seven family houses, two bachelor houses and Arab dormitories. The station has to be self-sustaining as there is nothing to be obtained except from here [Dhahran] or Misha’ab. The seven families, plus possibly fifteen other Americans, with about 100 Arabs, will operate and maintain the station except for major work when additional forces will be sent there.

July 1950  McGraw-Hill Digest
A portion of the Trans-Arabian
Pipeline, circa 1950.
Photo from the Internet.

I have completed all my pioneering days and do not care to be in such a small community, but there are plenty of people who want to go. At Misha’ab now there are about 350 people, but by next March I expect there will only be about eighty or less, which will make a small community and be fun for a while, but Mildred and I prefer Dhahran for the remainder of our stay in Arabia.

I have completed all my pioneering days and do not care to be in such a small community, but there are plenty of people who want to go.  At Misha’ab now there are about 350 people, but by next March I expect there will only be about eighty or less, which will make a small community and be fun for a while, but Mildred and I prefer Dhahran for the remainder of our stay in Arabia.

(Hi, Beverly and Pop – If you can get the book “Red Flannels and Green Ice” by Arthur Pocock, I think you would get many a laugh out of it.  He lives out here and the book is very funny.  We enjoyed it so much.  We know him, but not very well.  I think he is underway to write a new one now – I’m not sure, but think he wrote this one after he came out here. . . (Editor’s note:  Published by Random House, “Red Flannels and Green Ice” was a humorous account of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Greenland Patrol during World War II.)

I’ve been doing a lot of sewing, mostly fixing.  I have been able to let out several of my things and so can manage.  Bought one from a friend and sold some of mine.  I had one cocktail dress made in Beirut by Madame Loula, a French dressmaker.  It was fun having the experience and it really is a good-looking dress.  There are lots of them up there [dressmakers], but this is one so many of the girls from here go to. . .

Christmas is all too close.  I asked Judy about books and she thought she would like “American Girl.”  Some of the other girls take “Seventeen” and she really isn’t quite old enough for it – but will be soon.  Susan thinks she would like “Jack and Jill”.  (The Curtis Publishing Co., Independence Square, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.)  I think it is a very nice idea and they would love to have them.  The only one they get now is “Children’s Activities” and Judy is [too] old for that now. . .Ken says why don’t you shop around a bit and see how much a television set would cost – of the kind you would like.  We are so out of that sort of thing we don’t know prices – and let us know about it. . .  Best love, Mimi.)

DHAHRAN
October 20, 1950

Dear Folks:

Read in the news that Greenwich, Ct. charges $2.00 for shave and haircut and I just had one for thirty and a half cents, plus six and a quarter tip.  That will be one difference when we come home to live.

Our Girl Scouts just sent off individual bags to Palestinian refugee girls, containing clothing, toilet articles, etc. They then had a candy sale at the theater and made almost a hundred dollars.  The candy, of course, was made and donated by the parents.

First nine months this year, the average production was 519,605 barrels and month of September averaged daily 594,871. . . it isn’t too difficult to envision 1,000,000 per day if the world market can absorb it.

Last week there were six babies and this week only one, but the “Stork” club across the street is always containing evidence of near future additions to the baby crop.  There is no fear of not meeting our forecasted quota.

Read an article last week on the permits to allow Trans-Arabian Pipeline Co. to cross the Lebanon.  “Sixty-seven square feet of thumbprints – over 1500 of them on a scroll 40 feet long – were needed to seal the agreement with Lebanese tribal chiefs which allowed the pipeline to cross their lands on its way from Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean Sea.  The manner of handling this agreement was in compliance with Islamic law, which was an effective instrument of justice while Europe was still in the Dark Ages and America an uncharted wilderness.  Its precepts, derived from the Koran, have guided all activities of the Faithful for the last 12 centuries.  More than just a law code, it forms a comprehensive philosophy regulating an entire mode of living, a way of life.”

Although each Moslem country is governed by Islamic law, not all of their legal codes are identical.  Varying interpretations of the Koran by scholars have led to the development of four main schools of thought, each with its own national adherents.  Saudi Arabia, along with Yemen and Afghanistan, practices what is generally agreed to be the “purest” form – the one most distinct in character from Western systems.  One of the leading legal concepts of this form is expressed in the famous proverb, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”  In former eras, this rule was taken literally – if someone killed your brother, you had a legal right to kill his brother.  In the last hundred years, however, it has been applied with increasing substitution of less grave penalties.  Jail sentences, fines and damages settlement are no considered proper satisfaction for many wrongs.  It is interesting to note that if a person’s car were stolen here and became involved in an accident, and if stolen through the owner’s carelessness, the owner is liable for the civil damage suit AND a charge of criminal negligence.  Also, it is noted that a rich man pays more for satisfying a judgment than a poor man, and a poor man winning a suit is awarded a greater amount than a rich man would [be].

More than 5,000 pieces of mail a day are handled in our mailroom in the New York office.  Ten times a day couriers leave on their gathering and distributing duties.  Starting at eight o’clock in the morning and working until six at night at top speed, they process mail from the six continents, for Aramco and its affiliates operate in almost every part of the globe.  Every five days mail pouches arrive and depart from New York aboard our two DC-4’s, the “Camel” and the “Gazelle”, which provide one of the main channels for Company correspondence.  Equal in size to the postal facilities of a small city, the thousands of pieces of mail a day add up to an impressive nine tons per month.  Here on this end we have three main “post offices” called “mail centers” as the only post offices recognized in Saudi Arabia are those run by the Saudi Arab Government and the USA Airbase.  Mail is distributed by us to distant field camps and the farthest at this writing is 950 miles.  Some mail goes by car and most by plane.  Four times weekly we have mail to and from Beirut, 1,100 miles from Dhahran.

That is about all the news from here.  We are all well and happy and hope to leave for vacation on Tuesday, [the] 24th.  It might be delayed one week in order to let us ride the Camel or Gazelle, and when we are sure, we shall let you all know.

Love, Ken

(Hi – Tomorrow is Stateside Mail. Perhaps we shall have a letter. I’ve been sewing like mad – all the winter things for the three of us [the girls] had to be fixed for our trip. I’ve been fortunate in being able to fix mine – mostly just lifting skirts and letting out tucks!  Susan went on a Scout breakfast hike yesterday and is still out now at a beach picnic. She’ll really be pooped when she gets in.  Bye now.  Love, Mimi.)

Editor’s note:  At this point, the Websters left for a three-week vacation in Beirut and the Holy Land.  The letters resume with a brief one from Mildred while wrapping up the last of the trip at the Hotel Normandy in Beirut, then continue with a full report on all they saw and did on their first local leave.

Editor’s note:  At this point, the Websters left for a three-week vacation in Beirut and the Holy Land.  The letters resume with a brief one from Mildred while wrapping up the last of the trip at the Hotel Normandy in Beirut, then continue with a full report on all they saw and did on their first local leave.

Aramco's Flying Camel
One of the Aramco company planes, “The Flying Camel,” in the foreground.  It is believed that the aircraft behind her is “The Gazelle.”  This photo is from the early 1950s. Photo courtesy Judy Webster Bauer.

 

Mildred  Webster’s Handwritten Letter from the Hotel Normandy
First page of Mildred Webster’s handwritten
letter from the Hotel Normandy, Beirut,
November 8, 1950. From Ken Slavin’s
collection of Webster papers.

Beirut, Lebanon Hotel Normandy November 8, 1950

Dear Folks:

As you see, we are still in Beirut.  We expected to leave today, ending our vacation.  But a cable came telling Ken to wait pending a meeting here, so here we are!  As of today Co. expense, though.

I’m sure I have mail in Dhahran but am so anxious to know everything is O.K.  We’ve had a wonderful time and have really ‘done’ this whole area. I’ve bought a few things – Christmas gifts for the girls – had two pair[s] of shoes and a purse made – the ready-made ones are for European feet!  We are dickering for a rug or two – ones we want for future use at home. They are beautiful – some of them – but you have to go slow and haggle to reach a price.

We all are a bit weary of hotel life, but I like it up here so much. It’s a pretty city [and] right on the Mediterranean. Right now the weather is perfect.  We had dinner with friends last night – have been to lots of different sorts of restaurants. French is the predominant language but you can manage with just English, too. Judy and I have fun practicing our French, but mine is a bit feeble!

There is a steady stream of Aramco people through here so we’ve seen lots of people. I lost an inlay and part of a back tooth, so have two dentist [appointments] today. A very nice Lebanese, Dr. Attyyah. He graduated from the American University here and had two years at Northwestern, Chicago. The average young Lebanese is a very alert, smart person. Their schooling is much more advanced than American schools. . .

Ken finds time heavy on his hands – said if he could only find a lawn to mow he’d feel better. Of course, I’m perfectly happy wandering about in the shops and suks. I love my topaz ring and necklace – they are very lovely. I want to write a “travel letter” about all the places we have been, so I’m waiting until I get back to Dhahran – and the typewriter.

We don’t know how much longer we will be here. Probably till Monday – this is Wed. We’ve been up here two weeks but out on trips most of the time.

I am about to go out with a friend to find her some drapery materials. There are millions of cubbyholes selling every and anything. A little Arabic and French will get you by. I bought American nylon girdle and bras – more expensive, of course. Beautiful sweaters and materials. I’ve rambled on through this talking meanwhile with a family (Lt. Col. in Navy) on their way to Teheran, Persia, to live.

Bye now and best love, Mimi

View of the  Hotel Normandy
View of rear of Hotel Normandy, Beirut, Lebanon,
circa 1940s. The Websters stayed there during
their first local leave in the fall of 1950.
Photo from the Internet.

Dhahran November 17, 1950

Dear Folks:

We arrived back from our vacation Wednesday night – having been gone 23 days. I want to try and tell you all about the many things we saw.

We went up to Beirut by Company plane – the Gazelle – one of the two C54’s that make the big hop. Once in a while they have to let off Company passengers for business in Beirut and so we were able to snag a ride instead of going up on the regular Co. flight there in a smaller plane and one that they call the Milk Run, as it stops all along the pipeline at the various stations.

We were there by noon and all checked in at our hotel. We started out right after lunch to do all the many errands for ourselves and others. Everyone has a million things to have done when someone goes to the city. So, we left watches to be repaired, prescriptions for nine pairs of eye glasses – only one for our own, for Susan – bought material, etc.

Next day we spent doing the same and that night went to dinner with some friends who are transferred up there and have a lovely apartment.  It was fun seeing old friends as they had in some others to see us, too.

 

Beirut is a very lovely city – right on the Mediterranean and with the most gorgeous flowers and trees.  It reminds us a lot of Lisbon.  Most everyone lives in apartment houses – there are some lovely villas on the outskirts, but all rooms open onto balconies in all types of buildings and they live outside most of the year.  It is a colorful, noisy city and a bit on the dirty side in spots.  500,000 people and you still see some of the very bright native costumes, but they are people from outlying districts.  The town is right at the base of the Lebanon mountains and the scenery is lovely.

Thursday morning we left at 7:30 with our guide, John Ghourie, a Lebanese – and driver with a lovely Chrysler 7 passenger car to go to the Cedars.  We drove up the Lebanon Mountains from sea level to 9,000 feet through some very picturesque villages and some with such interesting histories – past all the fashionable and beautiful summer hotels.  Everyone, even the poor, go[es] to the mountains in the summer.

We arrived at the Cedars of Lebanon at about noon and walked up the slight incline to the last remaining stand of the beautiful Cedars.  There are only 50 of them left and they are tremendous.  The oldest one in the group is 2,000 years old.  You will recall in all your Bible histories and in your Middle Eastern history mention of the cedar wood from these trees. . . After a delicious Arabic meal we started back – and just down the hill we took the girls through a grotto.  We stopped in Tripoli again on the way back . . . on down the lovely shore drive to Biblius where we went through the old ruins there of the castle and the port of the Phoenicians.  The pilings of this port are of the cedar wood and are still good.  It has great Biblical history – and of course all these places were occupied by different nations through the centuries.

Cedars of Lebanon
One of the historic Cedars of Lebanon. At the time of the Websters’ first trip to Beirut, only 50 of these ancient trees remained. Photo from the Internet.

All along the coast we saw the beds were they get salt – rock terraces very shallow which they fill with seawater and let it evaporate. We arrived back in Beirut at 6 PM – very weary but having enjoyed every minute of it. I wouldn’t advise anyone squeamish about mountain driving, however, to make the trip – nothing but hairpin curves the last few miles. The industry of the country used to be mulberry trees for silk worms and that was where your silk came from. With the discovery of rayon it ruined all that and now bananas take the place of the mulberry – first bananas we had seen growing.

Old Beirut de l’Etoile-Le Parlement
Old Beirut de l’Etoile-Le Parlement. Photo from the Internet.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday we spent doing other shopping and visiting with people. We know quite a few up there with Tapline. Also visited the American University and the American Community School where our children go to school after the ninth grade here. There were 35 to go up this year. They are in new buildings which Aramco and Tapline were instrumental in having built. The courses are very steep and the kids were working like mad. No less than 3 hours [of] homework every day. I will have to admit that foreign schools – even under American supervision – are much more advanced than the average American school. Judy will either go there or to Switzerland. The Co. supplies transportation free for two trips a year to school in Beirut. Quite an item out here.

Arab Airways  Poster
Arab Airways poster, circa early 1950s.
Image from the Internet.

Monday morning we left by Arab Airways for Jerusalem. It was a little 6-passenger, two-motor plane and the trip only takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. English pilots. We arrived in Jerusalem airport about 11 where our guide, Antonio Nassar, met us with a nice car – took us through customs and swished us to the Azzahra Hotel. It is run by Arabs – but not the kind we have here. It was very clean and attractive. We had fine accommodations – with a lovely balcony across the front overlooking the garden where we ate most of our meals.

Azzahra Hotel
The intimate, 15-room Azzahra Hotel as it
appears today. The Websters stayed here on
their first visit to Jerusalem during local leave
in the fall of 1950. The 100-year-old building,
initially built as a private home, was turned into
the first hotel in East Jerusalem in 1948.
Photo from the Internet.

The British were in Jerusalem for 30 years and everyone you meet speaks English. . . we were sorry we hadn’t planned to stay a week at least, as it was so very nice and clean – perfect weather, etc., besides being so interesting. But, we didn’t know just what we were getting into when we made our plans. The barbed wire division is right in the middle of the city, dividing the old from the new. (Editor’s note: This division happened during the Partition of 1948.) All of Israel is visible – but we didn’t even dare to try and cross – it can be done but we could not return to Arabia with an Israel visa on our passports. Some went through on Religious Pilgrimage passport visas, but we couldn’t.

Chapel of the  Ascension
Entrance to the Chapel of the Ascension,
Jerusalem, 1950. Construction of this church
was funded by several nations and is purported
to be the spot where the Virgin Mary ascended
into heaven. Photo from the Webster travel
slide collection.

So we started off by car. Our first stop outside the gates of Herod –and of the city into the Valley Jehosophat and up the side of the Mt. of Olives was the garden of Gethsemane. It is a small garden beautifully kept and with about 12 of the old olive trees that have been standing all through the years. They are grotesque and gnarled into queer shapes and some still bear olives. It is beside the Chapel of the Ascension, which was built by money from all nations. The original pillars are inside and the larger church as been built around the old . . .

Garden of Gethsemane
View of the Garden of Gethsemane, with Old
Wall in background, 1950.
From the Webster collection.

Then we went out and across the cobble or stone road, which Jesus rode on when he rode the ass into the city. Standing there you see across the small valley the city of Jerusalem and the old walled city with the old gates through which [Jesus] passed. . . Right across we went down into the chapel to the Tomb of the Virgin Mother. Almost everyone lived in caves in those days – except the very rich, so most of the Holy places are in what were caves and then the churches were built over them. Back into the car and a long ride through the Mts. of Jericho – up then down into a barren valley and up again on the other side to Bethlehem.

Garden of  Gethsemane
Another view of the Garden of Gethsemane,
1950. From the Webster collection.

All is very arid and rocky, however the rainy season was about to start and they say it gets green then. We drove through the fields of Boaz on either side of the road – up past the Church of the Nativity and through the village to the other side from which we could get a wonderful panorama view of the whole thing. Then we went back to the Church of the Nativity and through all of it.

Road to Bethlehem
The road to Bethlehem from Jerusalem,
1950. Photo from the Webster collection.
Church of the  Nativity
The Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, 1950.
Photo from the Webster collection.

The same holds true here. The approximate place of the birth was in a cave which was part of the inn and part of the cave was for the cattle. You go down with lighted tapers to the small area below. There is the small spot dedicated to the place of the birth and you kneel down and light your candle from the candles inside and place your hand on the spot. When a few steps around the side and down is where the manger was and where he [Jesus] was laid so the warmth of the breath from the cattle would keep him warm as there was nothing to wrap him in. These candles we brought back and are to be used on Christmas Eve. . . we went across from the Church to a shop where we bought some mementos – also bought the girls and me a lovely Crusader jacket each. They are lovely. Susan’s is dark red velvet, Eton style, with heavy gold thread embroidery. Judy’s green velvet and mine is black – all with gold, however mine is fingertip and I will use it for an evening wrap. They all have pouch bags to match. Ken bought some Masonic things. We visited the Crusaders Cloister and the Milk Grotto – then were on our way back.

Inside the  Church of the Nativity
Inside the Church of the Nativity, 1950.
Photo from the Webster collection.

[Next] morning we made the tour of the Old Walled City. We drove to one of the gates and walked the rest of the way . . .then over to the big open square around the Dome of the Rock – but we had to report to the Surete first for permission to go through the area. (Editor’s note: “Surete” is a French term for “security” or “civil police force.”) The Dome of the Rock or Solomon’s Temple dates from 685 A.D. but was destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt in 1099 by the Crusaders – retaken by Moslems and restored to a place of worship—Most of the very center about the rock is still from that time. It has changed hands and been changed through the years, but many of the tiles, marbles and decorations are intact. This is the rock where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son and this is the spot where Jesus sat as a boy of 12 answering the questions of the sages of the time. It all has great Masonic significance but I don’t know all about that. Ken was allowed to touch and do things that we were not. It is such a magnificent place you simply cannot describe it. Even the rugs in the outer area are over 100 years old and were sent from Turkey – hundreds of people must walk over them every day – barefooted or with felt slippers over their shoes, as we did.

Mosque of Omar
View of Mosque of Omar, from the First
Station of the Cross, Jerusalem, 1950.
From the Webster collection.

Then [on to] the smaller Mosque of Omar – the Jews have bombed this area and I didn’t know why, but they visit the Wailing Wall – which we went to next – to pray that the present temple will be destroyed and the Jews can set up their King and rebuild the temple just for themselves. The Wailing Wall section was very crowded and very narrow streets. People still live in several floors below the streets. All the streets are narrow and are of rough stones as in biblical times all through the walled city.

View of the Old City
View of the Old City, Jerusalem, 1950. Photo from the Webster collection.

Next we went to the Dolorosa (Way of the Cross). You start at the chapel where the stone pillar is that Jesus was bound to and flogged – and from there you go to the 14 stations of the cross all through the streets and on to the top of Calvary and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was a long way and we had been walking for hours. I was ashamed that I was so weary I could hardly drag the last way.

Via Dolorosa
Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross), Jerusalem,
1950. This is the section that weaves past the
palace of Pontius Pilate.
From the Webster collection.

The Holy Sepulchre is very large . . . you go down into the cave where Jesus was buried. (ALL these spots are approximately, you must realize) . . . and you light your taper at the altar built over the place. These tapers we also have to burn at Easter time. . . then up narrow stairs through rooms and rooms to the spot that was Calvary and there is the cleft rock and also one that is supposed to be the one that held the cross. The interior of the church is lavish with solid gold pictures, etc., and all have priceless tapestries and tiling and gifts from all over the world. It seems sort of unreal at the time – as if you were dreaming you were there. Afterwards, we went across the street to a shop where we bought some things, among them some rosaries of olive seeds and crosses, which were taken back to the church and blessed by the priest for our Catholic friends – they give you the certificates, too. Back to the hotel and lunch and a little rest.

Entrance  to the Church of the Holy Sephulchre
Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sephulchre,
1950. Photo from the Webster collection.
View of the  Holy Sepulchre
View of the Holy Sepulchre, inside the church,
1950. Photo from the Webster collection.

We left the Walled City through the Damascus gate . . . [on to] a Carmelite Convent beside which a beautiful new church is being built over a spot recently discovered. It is the cave where Jesus came after the resurrection and called his disciples together and taught them the Lord’s Prayer – Drove on to Bethany where we visited another place recently discovered and still being worked – Lazarus’ tomb and the House of Martha and Mary . . . on up the Jericho Mountains and down into the Valley to Jericho itself – a busy little village with wonderful oranges and fruits – also the site of a tent city of 100,000 Arab refugees. We went on to the River Jordan through this fertile valley, backtracked to Jericho and out to Elisha’s spring, which is still the main water supply of the village – and saw also the walls of Jericho where they are tumbled down. . Then on our way to the Dead Sea – It is 42 miles long and 12 miles wide and is 1,300 ft. below sea level. Fortunately, we were there in cool weather, as it is 140 degrees in summer. We went wading in it and Judy brought back some water and stones. . . history has it that Sodom and Gomorrah [are] under the sea.

Inside the Damascus  Gate
Street scene inside the Damascus Gate,
Old City, Jerusalem, 1950. From the
Webster collection.

Then the drive back – you pass on the road and the site of the Inn of the Good Samaritan. It is a police building now, but they say there has always been an inn of some sort ever since the time of the Good Samaritan. Back to the hotel and dinner and fell into bed. Next morning Ken and I wanted to go back to shop and the lady in the hotel took the girls to a refugee school for girls to which our Girl Scouts sent “Friendship” bags. Each girl made one and filled it with necessities – toothbrush, paste, soap, etc., as well as some frivolous things – then they collected $130 and through channels we heard of this particular school so decided to send out our things to them instead of to the Beirut Refugee centers, where they would be practically a lost cause. In the shop, Ken bought me a beautiful topaz ring and necklace – also a very old gold belt from Turkey. It is the end of the tourist season and also the end of the Holy Year and you can get things very reasonably. I am so thrilled with them. Our plane left at 11:30 and we were back in Beirut for lunch, tired but very happy and very much impressed. We would like to go again and have more time.

Market Scene
Market scene in the Old City, Jerusalem, 1950.
Veiled woman speaks with Arab man smoking
a cigarette. From the Webster collection.

I forgot to tell you about one of the most interesting things! On our way back to the shop in the Walled City, we saw a procession that will never be seen again and hasn’t been done for 2,000 years. The Catholics believe that the spirit of the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven when she died, but that her body was buried. After all these years, the Pope sent out word through the world that it was decreed that her body had also ascended when she died and the day was the feast of that occasion. So, we saw the procession there in the city down those old streets. There were representatives from all the schools – all the convents and monasteries, people of all ages and types and at the last the Bishop in his scarlet gown and long, long train – right behind were 8 girls all in white who carried a platform with a 5 ft. statue of the Virgin sent from Rome for the occasion. It was celebrated all over the world, but was very effective in that spot. (Editor’s note: The feast day recognizing Mary's passage into heaven is celebrated as The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Roman Catholics. This doctrine was defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950 in his Apostolic Constitution, “Munificentissimus Deus.” The new dogma was celebrated worldwide on November 1, 1950, including the procession witnessed by the Websters in Jerusalem. Source: Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia online and Time magazine’s free online archives.)

Crowded Street Scene
Crowded street scene, Jerusalem, 1950.
From the Webster collection.

…After we returned to Beirut we spent the day going to Damascus . . . then to see the tomb of Saladin. There are some 260 mosques in Damascus. We only hit the high spots but saw enough of the city to satisfy us. We went to the Brocade factory and, of course, I succumbed and bought a piece. . . There are 9,000 threads of silk and gold and sliver, etc., in the looms in each piece. It is fascinating to watch them scoot the shuttles back and forth. We also bought an inlaid box for which work the place is famous. . . .drove down to Sidon . . .Sea of Galilee . . . We were all ready to come home when a cable came for Ken to remain for some meetings and so we had an extra week, which we spent in shopping. We bought two perfectly gorgeous 9 by 12 matched Kerman rugs. Something we hadn’t the least notion of doing, but ran into a good deal. We brought them back with us and love them. I didn’t even want any before! Also, two smaller ones we shipped to the States. We seem to have blown ourselves – but have something we can have forever and a good investment to boot.

Ken Slavin as an  Infant
Ken Slavin (the editor) as an infant, 1961,
relaxing on one of the matched Kerman rugs
the Websters bought in Beirut in 1950.
Photo by Mildred Webster.

This was our first local leave and to say the least, we had a wonderful time. Whether we ever go again remains to be seen and it isn’t likely we would go back to Beirut again, anyway. I’ve written this at one sitting and so there are many mistakes in typing – but wanted to get it all down while it was fresh in my mind. The girls go back to school tomorrow and we settle down into the old groove again. Ken has been assigned a busy project and so will be on the run. Bye now and love to all of you – hope you have enjoyed reading all about our trip. Love, Mildred

New York Times  Article
New York Times article reporting that the new
Trans-Arabian Pipeline (Tapline) opened on
December 2, 1950. It was 1,068.2 miles long
and cost $250 million to construct. Article
courtesy New York Times online archives.

Dhahran December 8, 1950

  Dear Folks: …[W]e are soon to have dinner when Susan comes home from the double feature Westerns and Judy returns from a football game at Ras Tanura. Snappy weather here is football weather, although the coldest so far was 52 and a high this week of 79. I spent Sunday and Monday in Misha’ab plus Wednesday. Also on Monday went to Qaisumah, a pipeline station 160 air miles north of Misha’ab, to inspect some equipment we are contemplating buying. . . I had expected to take the “Milk Run” daily C-47 plane, but weather in Beirut delayed past darkness its arrival and it wasn’t going to stop at Misha’ab, so took the Navion, a three-passenger. While flying to Qaisumah and back there was little to see on the ground except desert sand, the pipeline and road alongside it, an occasional nomad’s tent every 50 to 100 miles, numerous herds of camels, the largest one having over 125 animals, numerous camel trails (for caravans, we guess) that stretched for miles in a straight line from coastal towns or villages to some westward towns possibly Riyadh, and very infrequently a car or truck. . . Returning Wednesday night, we made an unusual stop at a place called Abu Hydrya, to pick up a drilling foreman whose car had broken down in the desert. He had walked ten miles to an Exploration Camp, then radioed Misha’ab to have the plane stop, and we made what we call a “taxi stop” and picked him up. We didn’t stop the engines, and then plane only came to a stop, waited three minutes, and started again. We could not do our work here half as well if we didn’t have radio and plane service. Our District Manager at Ras Tanura often visits a Geodetic boat offshore, and arrangements are made by radio telephone and then he is picked up at his front door on the beach by the ship’s helicopter. He returns the same way. . . While were buying our rugs in Beirut, one merchant told us this story and said it was true. His father bought a four by five foot remnant of old carpet from a poor man on the street in Damascus for a few gold coins, not wanting it, but just to help this poor man. Some years later, J.P. Morgan and party were in Beirut and asking for old rugs, meaning several hundred years old, and the merchant remembered this remnant. He showed it to Morgan and noting the look on his face, asked $10,000 for it. Morgan said OK, and took it with him along with many others. Some months later ther merchant was invited to attend a Morgan showing of all his art collection but couldn’t go, so sent his New York Representative. Upon arriving at Morgan’s, the latter noted that the “piece de resistance” was the remnant and the learned judges at this gathering valued it at $50,000. The merchant’s representative cabled this information to the merchant, who rushed to Damascus, and after searching for several weeks, found the old man who had sold him the remnant. He asked him if he had any more of the rug. The old main said, the rug used to be 30’ X 90’ and I have cut pieces from it for selling, etc., over the years, and just a few days ago used the last piece to mend his saddle bags. Who won? Last night was [the] annual Woman’s Club Formal Dance, to which we went and had a fine time. To bed at one, up at seven (first time) and final time up at nine for all as Sunday School is held on Friday. Hobby Farm to see the horses, ride around the camp, visit from some Construction and Transportation people for some answers which took three hours, watered the lawn, fixed the rabbit hutch so they can’t dig out, mowed Allyn’s lawn, checked garden which has onions, lettuce, radishes, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, chard and others up and looking fine. The eggplants are doing the best and are wanted the least. We are debating our vacation date for next year, as don’t want the girls out of school too long. Actual eligible date is October First. First thoughts lean toward July First departure so will return by October First, keeping girls out of school month of July end of school term, and month of September first month of new term . . . Love, Ken

Dhahran December 15, 1950

  Dear Folks: We are beginning to wonder what has happened to everyone. No mail from you for over two weeks. Did any of you except Uncle Albert receive the Travel Letter, about our trip, which I wrote the 17th of November? We did have a letter from Uncle Albert written Nov. 26th. Actually, that is the last we have heard from anyone – except a bank statement and note from Alice. . . The weather is wonderful – nothing at all suggestive of Christmas. I got the tree out today and the decorations – will have to get them up or it will be time to take them down! We will have a few in for early dinner on Christmas Eve – but have to break it up early as that is the night the Messiah is being given. Judy is singing in it again and so we will go, of course. Judy and Susan are both singing in the Carol group on the 20th and Susan this Sunday night in the Women’s Club group, the director of which has a singing class for children under 12. I have been making robes all week but have them all finished now. There is something going on every minute. Both girls go to school an hour a day to make up work they missed [while we were on local leave]. Susan has dancing lesson once a week -- we have a very good French ballet teacher. Judy a piano lesson besides all the other stuff. They don’t have much time to fool around. We had a very sad accident today. A 12-year-old boy was killed in a car accident. They lived at Abqaiq and I didn’t know them – but the boy died after they brought him in here in the ambulance. It’s hard to understand why these things have to happen – and they could always happen to any of us. This is the first child to die or be killed out here except a [Down Syndrome] baby 9 months old – and they knew it would die. Ken . . . is running around between here and Misha’ab. I don’t like it for he is away too much. But it is quite a job and an honor to be asked to handle such a big project. He’s the guy what can do it, too!

Dhahran Senior Staff  School Cheerleaders
Dhahran Senior Staff School cheerleaders,
early 1950s. Photo courtesy Patricia
Dale Watkins.

Ken is at the office and I must stop for now and get something to eat. This is my day to cook. We are going to have fried chicken and fresh frozen corn on the cob, etc., and pie or ice cream. The kids just came in from the football game – we won -- the kids’ team playing [the] Ras Tanura school. We have cheerleader[s]…and all the trimmings of the games at home – even pom poms. We send all our love and best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and all the joys to come. Let’s hope the world situation will clear up and we can stop all this fighting. Hope all of you received your Christmas cards – mailed from Jerusalem. Love, Mimi (Mildred is frying chicken so I will add a note or two while awaiting dinner. Judy and Susan are anxious about Christmas, but I think more about the things they are in than the gifts they expect to receive. . . Spent a good part of the day watering our farm, front, side and rear lawns, and then the main garden. . . Susan and our cook planted another garden near the back door and it is beginning to show signs of coming through. . . we wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and hope you are all well and happy. . . Love from us all, Ken, Mildred and Girls.)

Dhahran Friday, December 29, 1950

  Dear Folks: Christmas is over and New Year’s about with us – I for one will be glad. I never did really get into the spirit, even though we had a very good Christmas and everyone certainly seemed to enjoy themselves. I think were in Beirut so late that I had to hurry too much. There were so many things for the children – things they were in and things they attended – that we spent most of that time on that. We had our dinner on Christmas Eve. There were 10 of us. We had to eat early, as Judy was singing in the Messiah tat evening. We all went over the performance and them came back here. It was nice having Allyn and Lynn back with us again. Christmas day was spent with caller or our calling ourselves. There have been many parties, as usual – too many for me. But we always have fun, just the same. Everyone will be really pooped by the time New Year’s is over. The next weekend is a holiday, too – King’s Coronation Day. We had our tree Christmas morning and Allyn and Lynn came up for it. Thanks loads for all the lovely things that either came in the boxes or Lynn brought. We do appreciate all the bother and work that goes into those boxes. They are a nuisance. The girls loved the skirts and sweaters, as well as the other things. They will write you about them.

Christmas Package Plan
Aramco’s “Christmas Package Plan” in the early days was a very involved process that allowed only one package per person and required shipping deadlines in October. According to the four-page, single-spaced typed memo of instructions sent to family members, “If your package does not conform in size or contents, or is not accompanied by accurate and complete shipping documents, it will be returned to you.” Signed by the Personnel Department, Arabian American Oil Company, the memo closes by stating, “Your wholehearted cooperation in participating in this Christmas package shipping service will be very much appreciated by us, and will enable you to provide a ‘Merry Christmas’ for those whom you wish to remember in Saudi Arabia.” Memo from Ken Slavin’s collection of Webster papers.

Judy has grown up so much you wouldn’t believe it. She is 5ft. 3 inches [tall]. I had to let the hem in the green skirt out completely, but it is fine now. She goes to Abqaiq this afternoon to sing the Messiah out there tonight. That will be the end of the singing things for a while! Ken gave me a lovely ivory figure to add to my collection. I have five now besides the eight that are Chinese. The five are from India. Also have some from Africa and other small pieces. The work on all of them is exquisite. The blouse and slip fit fine. I held back one of Judy’s slips and one of Susan’s blouses for future use. Ken was very happy to get the shirts. He hasn’t had any and they will be grand for traveling. Love, Mildred Mildred didn’t tell you she gave me a grand Rolex wristwatch and Allyn and Lynn gave the stainless steel band. Later on an Arab friend gave me a Schaeffer pen and pencil set and from two sources I received from Arabs three purses for Mildred similar to the ones we sent you or took you from India. Numerous friends came in on Christmas Day, including two Christian Arabs from Palestine and one local Arab. I offered them wine and asked if they wanted red or white. The last Arab asked if I had any “Vermouthy.” He drank it like he wanted it, but I wonder if maybe he had heard others talk about it, as Americans normally only drink it with martinis. Vic [Stapelton] gave me a dozen bottles of wine, rum, brandy, Van Der Hum liqueur, scotch and bourbon. That will more than suffice for Christmas and New Year’s and as the price is three times what it used to be, as we now pay customs on liquors, it is a real item. We don’t have the large cocktail parties much anymore, although after the first of the year we may give one to pay back those who have had us. I think my nicest gift was duck for dinner instead of turkey, as we have had so much turkey. There were Long Island duckling from home, and three big fat ones served ten people on Christmas Eve, and lunch for us Christmas Day. Just found that the carbons were in backwards and you’ll all have to hold the first page up to a light to read it, as I can’t possibly retyped it. Also, only four copies available and the Riverside [Connecticut] letter will have to be shown the Norwalk Websters. Sorry. I am still traveling back and forth to Misha’ab several times weekly, and hope to take Mildred there for a visit next week. Sam Shultz has just been transferred there and is arranging to send Anna to Beirut to compete the school year so he and Mim can move to Misha’ab. We were very happy to hear about the evacuation of our boys in Korea and hope that this whole war will soon be over, but it sure looks bad and is causing much unhappiness in the world. We are so lucky to be here and not near there. Starting last October 13th (the first day of Moslem New Year) we shall pay an income tax to Saudi Government of 5 percent of wages exceeding 20,000 riyals (about $5,000) and starting January First will again be included in Social Security at 1 ½ percent of $3,600. We expected the former sooner or later, but the latter was a surprise. It helped the men retiring from here who had not bee at home long enough to be accredited under Social Security regulations. In some cases, it doubled the retiring monthly allotment for individuals. Never the Christmas morning, Never the Old Year ends, But somebody thinks of somebody – Old Times, Old Days, Old Friends. That is an old Christmas card greeting, but it is still true and we thought of all of you and many friends in the old USA. In addition to our tree in the dining room, we strung some thirty lights across the eaves of the front of the house, and had a winker cut them off and on about every ten seconds. Many people spoke of them and thought at first that there was a short circuit. Went to see “The Three Musketeers” the other night and enjoyed Gene Kelly I think as much as when the part was played by [Douglas] Fairbanks, Senior. The manager of Producing and Drilling sent this humorous message to his friends in other departments: “Dear Fellow Workers: Habit and convention have decreed that at this time of the year, we shall deviate from our normal tendencies of exuding sentiments of Brotherly Love, and undying affection toward you and your associates. Although our small Producing Headquarters Group has striven humbly to remain dry-eyed amidst these waves of emotion, we find that we can withstand the general sweep of Schmaltz no longer. With trembling lip and moistened eye, we assure you that we sincerely hope that in the year ahead, we will be able to get along with you more satisfactorily than in the past. If we have given you a bad time in the days departed, we hope we will have less reason for such behavior in the days ahead. Moreover, for the moment at least, we are dominated by the wish that in the year before us, we will be better able to rise above our naturally cantankerous natures, and to a degree, cease to be the stinkers you have considered us in 1950.” A boy and a girl born this past week were welcome presents to two families, and we still expect a few more before the year ends. It will be interesting to see the totals for the year. All in all, we had a grand Christmas and hope all of you did, too. A Happy New Year to all of you and write and tell us about it. Love, Ken

Two Bedouins  With a Camel
Two Bedouins with a camel, in the desert near
Dhahran, circa 1950. Look closely and you’ll
see the second man behind the first—the effect
is like a “two-headed” person. Photographer
unknown – photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.

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Chapter 9
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Chapter 11