“Dear Folks”: The Webster Letters from Arabia 1944-1959


“It is used as a slang expression – you do everything and get everything Inshallah!”

The summer and fall of 1946 turn out to be eventful times for Aramcons. Mildred Webster reports on a polio scare and resulting quarantine in Dhahran; Fourth of July celebrations in the camps; the continued arrival of wives and children from America; Arabia’s first American schoolhouse and the formation of the first Girl Scout troop in the Kingdom; and the growing sense of “family” among the Aramcons in Ras Tanura and Dhahran. Sprinkled with humorous descriptions of dances, parties, people and “Ye Olde Inshallah Laundry,” the letters of this chapter also impart interesting Arabian history and vividly convey details of daily living, such as how food was parceled out from the “reefer boats,” the importance of mail from home, the cost of groceries and employing good “help.” They end with a Merry Christmas for all.

These excerpts are from mid-June to December 1946.

East Meets West in Saudi Arabia
East Meets West, 1946. This Aramco company photo shows five-year-old Susan Webster holding the hand of her older sister, eight-year-old Judy, as they face two Bedouins outside the Ras Tanura refinery.

Photo by Aramco provided courtesy of Susan Webster Slavin.

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
June 15, 1946

Dearest Folks:

I started a letter several days ago, but so much has happened in the interim, I just started over.

I debated whether to tell you all about it, when we decided it would make the news probably, so we would let you get it first hand from us.

We had a death Tuesday night from polio, much to the concern of everyone.  The young fellow went to the hospital here with a tummy ache and fever and after careful elimination of possibilities, declared it Infantile (paralysis) Tues. morning.  They immediately sent all children home from school, the swimming pool was drained, no movies, no clubs, no social gathering or groups of over about six people.  By noon he was totally paralyzed from the waist down.  So they sent a plane to Tehran (four hours) to get an iron lung.  (This is what we thought might make it a news item at home and you’d read it.) 

He stopped breathing and a crew of 18 gave him artificial respiration until the lung arrived.  Once in it, he rallied and the color came back in his face, but at 2:15 a.m. he died anyway.

They got Ken up at 4 as all sorts of preparations had to be made.  Bahrain, of course, wouldn’t let them bring him to the cremator so they found the little plat five miles out of town that the King gave them permission to use just a year ago (they wouldn’t permit Christians buried there before).  Ken put a crew to work blasting a place out of rock.  They also built a road out to the place before 4:30.  Fortunately, they had a beautiful steel casket and at 4:30 there was a nice funeral as he could have had at home – flowers and all.

As far as I know, it is the first burial here.  (Several years ago, a white man died of smallpox and he was buried at sea.)

It was such a tragedy.  He was only 26 – and they can’t figure where it came from – however, on his way out here 18 months ago, one of his group contracted it in Cairo and was sent back.  According to the head doctor here, it can lie dormant for years.

Neither Ken nor I ever saw the boy and I really don’t think we are in any more danger than if we were at home.

We are completely quarantined for 10 more days and every precaution is being taken.  There aren’t any symptoms of any new cases and as there is an … isolated type as well as epidemic – there probably won’t be any.

By the time this reaches you, we will be out of quarantine and you always know that we would cable you if anything ever happens to any of us.  We aren’t really any more worried than when we were in the widespread Chicago epidemic area in ’43.  It is just such a tragedy that it happened at all.

My chief problem is keeping the children amused.  No activities of any sort.  And we try and confine any group indoors to not over four.  They can play out in larger groups, but it is too hot most of the day.

Monday, just before all of this broke, I went to the airport to see a planeload off for home.  It was very exciting.  Our littlest traveler was Jackie Hasmer, 2 ½ months, going on home leave with his Mom and Dad.  He’s the second white child born here.  The first is about 8 months old now – 4 on the way – and we have another eight months old who arrived several weeks ago.

Hooray!  Ken just brought news home at lunch that 6 boxes for us are on a boat arriving about the 20th.  I only hope the stuff comes through O.K.  The rest will probably follow shortly.

Guess we will have to risk storing our stuff in the house at R.T. – no sense in bringing it all down here.

The customs have been particularly nasty here lately about holding stuff and taking out records, etc.  We hope we are lucky.  Zoups Fullmer’s piano was practically a wreck.  They held it at R.T. customs for three weeks – a brand new one, too, but they hope they can get it back together again.

D’Souza continues to be very satisfactory and fixes up some delicious dishes.  I plan most of the meals and do the shopping and put my hand in now and then to cook something…

I sent out an S.O.S. for underwear for the girls…Daisy Cooper sent me three pair for Judy today, but all we brought with us is dropping to pieces.

Love to all,
Mildred, Ken and Girls

July 1, 1946

Dear Folks:

Thanks for the panties but don’t send any more until you hear from me.  Think I will have plenty with what we have on the boat.

Everyone is quite happy that the quarantine is over and no new cases.  Guess it was an isolated one as they hoped.

Social activities have started up again and there are all sorts of events planned for the 4th of July weekend, both here and at R.T. – races, games, barbecues, steak fries, a formal dance, swimming meets, etc.  We will take in as a many as possible.

We have night baseball games, bingo and bridge outside at the pool on Saturday nights – all sorts of things going on if you want to take advantage of them.

We had a very successful dinner party last night (formal).  The Underwoods from R.T.  Dr. and Mrs. Alexander (head of Medical Dept.)  Mr. and Mrs. McDonnell (head of the Production Dept.). D’Souza loves the opportunity and did himself proud.  We had cocktails, then dinner.  Jellied consommé, cucumber (they are about 2 or 3 feet long) and tomato salad, fried chicken, peas, browned potatoes and fried eggplant.  Dessert was spun sugar baskets out of brown sugar and baked just like little straw baskets – filled with cut-up fruit mixed with lime juice and topped with whipped cream (canned but good) and coffee.

July 2, 1946

Interruption –

Ken came in, in a hurry, and we rushed down to Al Khobar pier to meet the fast launch with a wife and child aboard arriving from home.  Her husband had to come down from R.T., so we brought them home here, bathed and fed the baby, and finally the daddy arrived.  He’d never seen the baby – she’s 14 months old and darling.  We kept them for drinks and dinner, then sent them on their way across the desert to R.T. – with a new moon to keep them company.  They hadn’t been together in 17 months.

Ken is going to an Arab dinner tonight.  The Co. is having it for his Highness, Amir Saud Ibn Abdulla Ibn Jiluwi, Governor of Al Hasa (our province).  Too bad it’s stag!  No drinking and no smoking either.

The boat with our things is at Bahrain, but will be here soon.  We have 3,600 pounds in 8 crates!  We will just have to keep our fingers crossed about the other, smaller crates.  The customs are acting up, too, so there’s apt to be trouble about duty on records, sewing machine, etc.  Well, I should get in a tizzy about it, but I’m not.  I’ve adopted the Arab view:  “Inshalla” – Allah willing.

One of the men came by last night and brought us stuff from the King’s garden at Al Karj – 12 hours drive away.  We have two lovely cantaloupes and watermelons (he sent one last time with “The Webster Girls” carved on it!)  And it was wonderful.  Also, a bag full of white grapes, bell peppers and two persimmons – and fresh limes, also papaya, and yes, figs, too.  All a real treat.  All the fruit we have ‘till Boat 48 (is unloaded).

Bye now, love to all...

July 10, 1946

Well, we really celebrated the 4th and everyone had a swell time.  We split our time between the two places – felt it was a little more diplomatic!

Wednesday night there was a formal dance at the swimming pool.  They have a floor built there on the grass.  Was quite nice and everyone was out in full array.  I’m so glad I tucked in that one jersey evening dress!

After the dance, our group round the table (we had 12 in for cocktails before the dance) started singing and soon there were about 50 gathered around.  Mr. McPherson (Res. Vice Pres.) suggested we go serenading, so we did.  The new Arabian Minister from America was here – our sweet Mr. Eddy (Colonel Eddy) has retired.  Ken and I stole away about 3 a.m., but the few left went to one house and had bacon and eggs at 4 a.m. 

Next morning we went to a breakfast at 11 – waffles, bacon, eggs and coffee.   Went to the children’s swimming events at 2 (Judy can swim now, and well).  Then who should appear but the Larkins from Sunburst and Lockport (Texaco folks).  He had flown to Cairo to meet her  -- so we had a grand talk fest and then drove them to R.T.  Went to the steak fry and visited until one o’clock.  The girls spent the night with friends and Ken and I slept in our own house.  (At R.T.)

Got up and went for a swim at nine and into town for breakfast.  In the afternoon they had the Turf Club Donkey Races!  It was a scream!  Little Arab donkeys.  They had the betting booth.  The judges’ stand and rack and umbrellas all over the bleachers where we sat.  It was on the baseball diamond and awfully cute.  There are two women’s races and several men’s – a fat man’s race, etc.  One man was disqualified for having a bottle of Tabasco under his saddle.

Oh, yes, I forgot the fireworks on the beach after the steak fry.  We had another good dip in the Gulf, dinner, and came home.

Today is the last day of school and Mr. Whipple is taking all the kids to the movies and treating them to hamburgers and milkshakes at the club.

They have a Junior AEA (Aramco Entertainment Association) and Judy is on the board of directors and they have big plans for the rest of the summer – a regular playground program.

The one red brick schoolhouse is started here.  But we still don’t know what’s to be at R.T.

Ken has been elevated to position of Manager on this job and it will be ticklish to send him back to R.T. in the same capacity as before.  (He was assistant manager.)  He is over Bill Cooper now and was under him before.  We will have to wait and see.  Elmo Fullmer definitely needs an assistant here and everyone wants Ken to stay – but they are also short in R.T. and need him there.  It doesn’t matter to me.  I like both places.  I was planning on the nice new house up there, but if we are kept here they will find us a place to live. 

The housing shortage is bad.

Boat 48 has been in and gone – without our things!  They took off the “reefer” cargo – so we have fresh apples, oranges, grapefruit, celery, lemons and cabbage.  Our meat is rationed in that we get tenderloin steaks, one to a person every other week now, rib roasts every other week and the same on chicken.  In between, there’s good hamburger beef and lamb stew, pretty good mutton chops and leg, fish, good but high, and several canned meats such as Spam, Vienna sausage, corned beef, bacon, ground ham, etc.  We certainly don’t complain.

Also get cheese and eggs and plenty of canned butter.  It’s an Army product and must have some sort of preservative, but tastes good and keeps well.  It comes in five-pound cans.  Also can get Snowdrift.  But lots we can’t get, too.

D’Souza still takes good care of us and goodness knows, I don’t know what I’d do without him.  Hardly a day goes by that we don’t have lunch company – everyone from R.T. heads for here…

Our Time Magazine never did come through from N.Y. – but we now get it delivered from Cairo.  There has been a regular TWA weekly flight established, but until further notice, address the mail the same way.

Dhahran Girls in Saudi Arabia
Dhahran girls: This photo shows several of the little girls living in Dhahran, circa 1946-47. Back row, from left, Judy Webster, Nan Cooper, Patty Dale, Alice Fullmer (shading her eyes with her hand). In front of Alice is Gracie MacPherson. In the front row, second from left, is Mary Pat Singelyn and fifth from the left is Susan Webster. The other girls are unidentified – the editor encourages readers to tell us if they recognize anyone

Photo courtesy Alice Fullmer Jandt.

July 21, 1946

Dear Folks:

Swimming lessons started at the pool for the kids today, part of the Aramco Entertaining Association (AEA) summer program.  The teacher is Bernice Hogg, “Kiddo.”  She came over with us.  She is a wonderful athlete and looks less like one than anyone I know.

Judy has learned to swim like a fish…but she needs to learn “form.”  Even Susan is enthusiastic and so here’s hoping she’ll learn, too.

Thursday morning they had quite an event up in R.T.  A boat docked right there with several wives aboard.  They came through the South Pacific, 54 days of travel, but had a grand time.  It used to be the favorite route here, as you made so many interesting ports.

There are so many new people in R.T., seems strange, and more on the way.  The houses have been painted – all different colors.  Ours is pale green, very pretty.  Sidewalks are in and it begins to look like any other sub-division at home.  We still have no idea when Elmo Fullmer will be back we still don’t know how it will affect our status.  The boat isn’t back yet with our things.

We went to a delightful dinner party Wednesday night.  An older couple, Captain and Mrs. Ike Smith.  He’s been a sea captain for years and is head of the Marine Dept.  They are both from Connecticut.  The dinner was lovely – beautifully served and with finger bowls – even here.  We are very fond of them both.  She has ever so many lovely things.

We are supposed to decide about home leaves soon.  Ours falls due in April.  If we went by boat, we would arrive sometime in May and be home June and July.

We are having a rare treat tonight – frozen fresh broccoli from home... When the airstrip at Al Khorj is finished, they hope to fly in vegetables from the King’s garden.  We maintain it for him – 7 Americans to oversee the job, but it takes a tremendous amount of food to feed his entourage.  I think there are 2,000 people in the summer palace.

Best love to all…

July 30, 1946

Dear Folks:

Boat #48 is in.  It arrived back at Ras Tanura last Tuesday – but goodness knows when they will get all the stuff off and then it has to go through customs.  It is just as well in some ways – I am not going to bring all that stuff down here and then take it back.  Too much work and too much danger of its getting stolen.  So maybe they will know more about what we are going to do by the time the question arises. 

I like it down here, now, and it is better for the children right now – there is more activity for them.  I would hate not to get to use that nice house up there (in R.T.), but it is only a house after all.  I am more concerned that Ken gets what he wants out of the shuffle.  The rumors have it that they all want him to stay, but it remains to be seen.  Elmo Fullmer isn’t back yet, but it can’t be long now.

The housing down here is very hard put to take care of the new ones coming in, much less trying to find room for us.  I am sure our house we are in now will go back to the Burleighs (who are on leave) unless they don’t come back here at all.  They were supposed to go to Jedda (pronounced Jitta), but nobody knows anything!

It has been HOT and I don’t mean maybe.  Our AC down here isn’t or wasn’t very good, but as of yesterday they cut in the new power from RT and it is much better today and will get better as the days go by.

They hope to put AC in the kitchens with this new power – didn’t have enough before.

The high last week was 118.  I am taking salt tablets along with most everyone else in Camp.  The men have to take them when they are out so much.  I didn’t think I needed them, I am out so little actually, but had a few days of feeling sort of pooped and Ken thought it might be salt – so I take three a day now and surely can tell the difference.  Some can’t take at all, they make them very ill, but they don’t bother me.

I don’t know how people used to live in places like this without AC.  But I know there are lots of places at home just as hot.  It doesn’t seem to bother the girls at all.  They don’t take salt either, but both eat lots more of it on their food than I do.

Yesterday started Ramadan – the 28 days’ fast – and I feel so sorry for the Arabs, Sudanese and Somalis.  They can’t eat or drink anything from sun up till sun down.  They aren’t supposed to even swallow their own saliva, if possible.  The King lets them work 6 hours a day and the Company tries to make it as easy for them as possible.  Some of them take advantage, but the others are really sincere.  So many families have Sudanese and Somali boys and it makes it hard on them, too.

We had another baby in Camp today.  That is three so far – all boys.  It had to be Caesarian, weighed 7 pounds and all is well.

We’ve all been waiting for it.  There are two more on the way – that I know about!  This is a swell place to have them, with our good medical facilities, good help and plenty of it, so you could just enjoy your baby.   No! I’m not working up to any announcements!  I’m too old.

Both camps are growing so fast.  Doesn’t seem possible that just a few months ago Gladys Underwood, June Schott and I were the only women in RT and Judy and Susan the only children.  There are 22 wives there now and numerous children  -- and more on the way.  They expect 30 children for school there by October and there will surely be more here than that.  The new schoolhouse is under construction here now and will be ready by October.  But not the one in RT – but they will provide a place, just the same.

It is a swell place for children.  The climate seems very healthful.  The days are so free and easy and they can roam pretty much at will.

The Arabs love children and they would never be in any danger from them and every Sahib in Camp would protect them with their lives.  In fact, they get so much attention the only bad feature is that they get spoiled.  You can’t keep them on a schedule.  It is light until almost 10 p.m.  They sleep late in the mornings.  And so it goes.

The teacher here is a fine young fellow and very conscientious.  (Mr. Whipple.)  They are supposed to have three more teachers on the way – making two for each place.  (RT and Dhahran.)  You almost have to take (the kids) everyplace with you – we do leave the girls with D’Souza occasionally . . . He takes good care . . . and before they go to bed he plays with them and colors and draws pictures.

Will have to (close this letter) soon.  The first show is out at 8:45 and I want to be home when the girls get there.  I promised them a milkshake at the Club tonight.

I’m delighted with Judy’s swimming progress . . . Susan doesn’t take part but, at least, she has lost all of her fear of the water and plays around in it up to her chin and in a tube goes all over the pool.  I still don’t think I will ever be able to really swim, but do have a lot of fun trying every day.  We play water volleyball a lot and that is good exercise.

Don’t forget to write. Letters are really something out here.  Last night, Zoups and I walked down to the PO and they were sorting out the mail, so we perched on the curb along with the rest – just like a little country town waiting for the local train to pull through.  Those men were sure happy, too, to get wajid mail.  It is just that sort of thing that decides whether they will stay or no, too.  Poor Charlie didn’t have a letter from his wife for 4 months – then got a cable saying the little girl was sick.  He is quitting in October.  I really feel sorry for the (guy) – and someone should shake her till her teeth fall out.

We had another death – a man found dead from (a) heart attack in his bed one morning.  The second in our little cemetery.

Trouble with getting laundry back on time…Yesterday I noticed a sign on the little “call and deliver” shack:  Ye Olde Inshallah Laundry, ‘Inshallah” meaning “Allah Willing.”  It is used as a slang expression – you do everything and get everything Inshallah.  The good old sense of humor is still working way out here!

Toodle-oo…Fia Monalah … and all that sort of thing.

August 4, 1946

Dear Folks:

After practically forgetting my birthday, I had a very nice one…up in Ras Tanura…Ken bought me three little brass Arab coffee pots at the ‘Suk’ there – they come in sets of 6 and are graduated in size.   But the other 3 of this set were gone.  They’re awfully cute and I’ve been wanting some.  Yesterday afternoon I received a beautiful cake – all inscribed, etc., “With compliments of the Mess Hall.”  I felt quite flattered.  And last night Ken served champagne before dinner and we had people in afterwards – all very nice.

Arab Coffee Pots of Saudi Arabia
Miniature, graduated Arab coffee pots like these were a gift to Mildred Webster from her husband, Ken, on her first birthday in Arabia, August 1946. (She turned 40.) Here, a set of pots is displayed with embroidered Arab caps. Photo courtesy Ken Slavin, from his personal collection.

We are feeling very badly today.  Ken brought news at noon that young fellow, friend of ours, killed himself last night at Ras Tanura.  I talked to him Friday afternoon for about an hour, trying to console him because his girl – a steno up there – had broken their engagement the week before.  They were madly in love and I was astounded that she had called it all off.  Well, from that, or something, he couldn’t take it –and hung himself with a belt.  They found him in his room this morning.  The funeral is tonight, down here.  I just feel sick about it – and I’m sure the girl will be brokenhearted, even if she didn’t want to marry him.  She’ll probably go home.

I’m having company this afternoon – and also have to play for the children’s singing group from 2:30 till 3:00.  Part of the summer program.

Our things are in the Customs at R.T. and should be through in a day or so.

The girls are fine and seem happy…Ken is terribly busy – still no word about Elmo or about us . . . they are so strapped for key men who really know what they are doing.  It is hard to tell what they will decide to do.

I am reading a very good book, World of the Arabs by Edward J. Byng.  Historical and interesting.

No particular news.  Hope all of you are well.  Write often – we really appreciate your letters.

August 15, 1946

Our things went through the customs last Saturday and were delivered to the house in Ras Tanura that afternoon.  We spent about two hours Friday evening drinking coffee (with saffron in it) and vile and very hot sweet tea – cup after cup with Selim Uffendi, the Arabian custom man up there.  He did give us precedence and (took) our things first in view of the fact that it was our second trip up to receive things.

The records came through fine – one broken Rhumba record, my favorite of course, and one album, the one I cared the least about.

It was terribly exciting to see our things after all these months, especially to get some summer clothes and shoes.  I’m sure there was no pilferage and they only opened the trunks and one crate at customs.  I’m so anxious to get it all settled, but don’t want to unpack it all until we know what we are going to do.

Guess what?  Susan can swim!  I was amazed, for she wouldn’t even get her feet off the floor.  Then suddenly one day she said, “Watch me!” and there she went face under the water and doing a cross between a frog and a dog paddle.  But swim she does and it is a beginning.  Judy dives nicely and cavorts all over the pool.

August 22, 1946

Dear Folks:

I still have to stop and think to realize we are so far away and in a foreign country.  I have read some very interesting books about Arabia and it has a surprising history.

We have had several social events since my last writing.  The dance last Thursday night, “Under the Stars” at the swimming pool gardens, was a huge success.  We had an Italian orchestra from the Airport and that was wonderful.  ‘Tis an old gal’s paradise – there are so many more men than women you get a swell rush and get home with your tongue hanging out.  And since I never got enough dancing at any one time in my life, it is fine with me. It was a trifle warm, but no one seemed to mind. 

Grace McPherson (wife of resident V.P.) had a dinner party for Gladys Stapleton’s birthday – formal and 20 guests.  A truly lovely party.  Hilarious, too, as we each had to bring silly gifts and what is more, write a silly jingle to go with them.  We had champagne and lots of fun.

Elmo Fullmer is leaving the States next Monday to come back, so we should know soon what we are to do.

It isn’t anywhere near as cheap as we thought to live out here, but even so, we can save a lot more than we could ever do in the States in the same length of time.  Ken would like to come for another contract and then we would have a good nest egg.  My grocery bill runs between $140 and $170 a month.  Our rent is $75 and laundry runs about $2.50 a week.  D’Souza costs about $35 – and that doesn’t take care of any other incidentals.  Our medical bills are very small.  An office call or house call is 75 cents.  And our recreational things, movies, swimming, taxis, buses, etc., are all free.  Cleaning isn’t too high . . . We manage.

Most of us go to the commissary early in the morning while it is cooler – and to the post office – stand and visit – I go swimming some mornings and then stay in the house as a rule from lunch on – so the heat doesn’t get me much.

I had a nice gift the other day – a little bucksheesh for mama – a man who handles the canteen buying – under part of Ken’s departments – went to Bahrain to shop and brought me an adorable pair of brass ash trays from India – shaped like “oomphie” slippers.  They’re so pretty and I was delighted.

We have our radio – it’s a Hallicrafter – very intricate – but good – I don’t really know how to handle it yet.  There are 12 knobs and 2 buttons – but is powerful.  I have a BBC program on now – reception isn’t as good down here as in Ras Tanura.

Our all-time high, so far, this summer was 119 – but I haven’t minded it at all.  October will begin to get cooler and it isn’t bad at all through the wintertime.  I think I will walk over to “Zoups” and help out with the children – five at one time is a handful.

One woman just arrived here, by boat, with twins 14 months old and walking – and a five-year-old.  I think she is brave!  It is no small job with small children and twins.  They are named Claudia and Cynthia.  Cute?  We have three (births) coming up here – and one in Ras Tanura – but no one knows about her yet.  One just went home with a new boy…all the children born here since the war – three of them – have been boys.

Our lady doctor – Virginia Singleton – just returned from a trip to Riyadh, the King’s palace, to treat his favorite wife.  She met the King.  Had a very interesting three days there and the Queen gave her a beautiful string of pearls.  She had to wear Arab costume all the time – and the little princes wanted her to sing “Rum and Coca-Cola” all the time!  (Editor’s note: “Rum and Coca-Cola” was a popular American song, recorded by The Andrews Sisters.)

There are over 2,000 people in the palace – lots of them slaves.  Some were captured as children of 5 or 6 and are assigned to a royal child until they reach a certain age, then the slaves are given their freedom, 1,000 roupees and allowed to go back to their homes – mostly in Oman or Yemen or Kuwait – those three provinces are the only parts of Arabia he (Kind Saud) did not get.  But they are scared to death he will rise up and do it yet!

Love, Mimi

P.S.  We drove down to Al Khobar (7 miles) to the pier last night.  Took Zoups and her children.  Ken got a fishing boat so we went out on her for about an hour – had a crew of 3 Arabs – was fun and the kids were all thrilled to death.

September 16, 1946

Dear Folks:

It has been officially announced that we are to remain in Dhahran.  A man has been appointed to fill Ken’s position in Ras Tanura.  So, here we are, but knowing nothing more about what title or where we are to live.   We have an idea about the job, but it can’t be discussed or announced until after the October board meeting in San Francisco.  As far as the Field is concerned, it is all settled.

We surmise that Elmo will be Mgr. of General Services and Ken will be Ass’t. Mgr.  – but la de la – you don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.

I hope by my next letter we will know where we are to live here and will be getting settled – six months and still not settled!

October 6, 1946

Dear Folks:

Goodness, there are so many new people now.  There are 36 families in Ras Tanura and about 60 here.  And more on the way.

We went up to Ras Tanura Thursday night . . . a nice quiet evening with the Underwoods . . . just talking and catching up on the general news. . . the water is perfectly gorgeous now, big breakers and booms, booms, booms.  I just love it.

Every time we go up we think how much we hate to leave it all.  Of course, we can always go up weekends, as we have been all summer – we could stay with any number of people.  When I get back down here, it is fine.  But there definitely is ‘something’ about the place that this one doesn’t have – a different something – the general keynote there is complete informality – sort of a wandering in and out of places – open house all the time, etc.  Here there are several advantages, too, and I don’t mind at all – especially since things look so good for Ken – but we do love Ras Tanura.

We did buy another rug, a Sheraz – we have another one we bought when I first got here.  They are made in Sheraz, Persia and I like them better than many of the more expensive ones.  I don’t like the harsh colors in the really fine Persian ones.

There are things brewing – a general reorganization program – so we are waiting until the board meeting in San Francisco October 22nd to find out what’s what.

I heard some interesting history about this place the other night.  The Sheikh of Bahrain – Kalifa – has parchments in his family that have been handed down for hundreds of years.  And in the history is the record of the days when all this territory was a large and continuous date grove for miles along the shore.  And the site of Dhahran was once a large city of several thousand people.  Also, it was the Mecca of olden times and the sacred black stone was here about 6 miles out of Dhahran.  John Rogers (Vice President of Bechtel McCone) was here last night and he has seen the parchments – also the Sheikh’s stables of Arabian horses.  He says there is one (horse) in the stables there that is the most beautiful he has ever seen and he apparently has seen all of them all over the world.  The finest ones are in America now.  He says the ones Ibn Saud has are just a bunch of tick-infested racks, except for one pretty good one, and he has several hundred.  They do not take proper care of them or feed them right.  They aren’t used for anything anymore since the Arabs don’t go out on desert raids, like they did in olden times and before Ibn Saud made them stop.  He (Saud) prides himself that he has stopped the tribes from fighting among each other.

King Saud has five airplanes now and borrowed several more from the Company to take his family on the “Haj” – no crawling on their hands and knees – even to go to Mecca.

It is shamaaling still and the dust is bad.

Toodle-oo.  I am pretty sure we will be home in the Spring, instead of the Fall.

Best love to all, Mildred, Ken, Judy and Susan

P.S.  There is a real shamaal reported due this afternoon – so we will see one for the first time.  They are supposed to be like a blizzard, but of sand.

October 14, 1946

Dear Folks:

The reefer ship got in and heavenly days, did we eat last night!  It was out of this world.  Filet mignon steaks – POTATOES – we haven’t had any for weeks and weeks – fresh celery – cabbage slaw – fresh carrots – and for dessert, sliced apples and oranges with lemon sauce – all fresh.

They sent 15,000 pounds of potatoes from America and each family gets 25 pounds – maybe a little more after it is all parceled out – give you some idea of the magnitude of the project – and over a thousand men have gone home – construction men.

We will get more canned potatoes but this is the second shipment of fresh ones and they came through fine.  We have eggs now, too, and there are all sorts of frozen fruits, but they haven’t been put out yet.

We had two real shamaals last week. It sure can blow a lot of sand.  Looks just like a blizzard with sand instead of snow.

So many families got their things on these last two boats so they are all happy.  Ours have been here so long without being opened, I find I’m not too excited about it.

We went to Ras Tanura to a party and dance…they are converting old Bunkhouse 14 into apartments and the last four boys in it threw a party.  It is one of the original five bunkhouses that were first erected – they and a water tower were all that was there when Ken arrived.  The invitations read, “THE HOUSE BREAKERS BALL” * OR * WHO KNOCKED OUT THE WEST WALL * BRING YOUR OWN AXE * DRUNKHOUSE 14 * ANYONE REPORTING THIS SOCIAL EVENT TO THE MANAGEMENT WILL BE REPORTED TO THE MANAGEMENT*  It was very clever – and we went on to the dance from there – it was a football dance – informal – and lots of fun.

I have a Rhumba partner up there who is from South America and a professional.  It is marvelous to dance with him – any kind of dancing – but just as we were getting underway, after he had changed the orchestra so we could have a Rhumba, some old sister came and took him away from me – darn it . . .

Saturday morning SCHOOL STARTED.  Happy day – such excitement around here.  Susan was up and dressed at 6 o’clock.  Came and woke me with tears in her eyes – she couldn’t get her new shoes on – they were only stiff, so we took care of that tragedy.

Aramco School Days in Dhahran Saudi Arabia
School days in Dhahran: One of the first teachers in Dhahran, Mary Leonardini, on a field trip with some of her students. From left, Judy Webster, Ann Howely, Mary Pat Singelyn (on donkey in back), Miss Leonardini, Pat Hills and Ann Barger (on the donkey in foreground). –
Photo courtesy Judy Webster Bauer.

The school is ever so nice – not big.  It is red brick – two classrooms and office – lavatories and storage room.  They will add on to it right away.  The new teacher had it all so attractive – the first American school in Arabia – and she had one wall in each classroom filled with beautiful Arabic display:  costumes, chests, coffee pots and everything else pertaining to the country.

Susan came home very enthused – she learned to read two words that morning.  I believe she is going to be just fine and she seems quite ready to work.  Judy is thrilled, as usual – there are three first graders – three seconds and three thirds – in one room.  All the rest in the other.  There will be two teachers when the other one gets here.  She is on the way.

Two days later…

We unpacked dishes yesterday – seven barrels of them – and there was only a broken jelly dish and one old everyday saucer.  Not bad.  However, there were only 11 cups to the new dishes.  I think that is a wonderful percentage, don’t you?  Some had as many as 56 pieces broken.

Saw the new baby last evening – first girl born here – she is a beauty, 10 ½ pounds and 24 inches long.  Looks like the average three months old baby.

We are all fine and keeping busy and now that school has started we are into the old routine – early to bed, etc.  Susan’s writing starts out to be as nice as Judy’s was.  They really have a very nice teacher and she is also very attractive – (Miss) Leonardini -- a tall brunette, about 30-ish, heavy coronet braids and a good figure.

October 29, 1946

I really have been on the go a lot . . . it doesn’t take long to get yourself involved – but if you don’t mix in the things here and get out with people, you certainly couldn’t take up the time well.

The Women’s Club is up to its ears getting ready for the huge old-fashioned Bazaar to be given December 7th – I am on the committee for that and also will have the white elephant booth with another girl . . . and on the nominating committee for the new officers.

(We) are giving a tea this Sunday for all the newcomers here – there will be 90 with the stenos and nurses.  The place is surely growing. 

(W)ord has come from Scout headquarters to go ahead and organize a Scout and Brownie troop out here.  They have been waiting for this word for almost a year.  So they are very happy about it.  So, you can see the children will get all the trimmings, too.

Thursday afternoon they will have their services and organize the first Girl Scout troop in Arabia.  (Editor’s note:  the induction ceremony was conducted early the next year, 1947.)

First Girl Scout Troop in Aramco Saudi Arabia
Clipping from “These Pleasant Days,” the Aramco annuitant publication, 1976.
Courtesy Judy Webster Bauer.

Sunday night we gave our first dinner party since we got out all the dishes and glass wear – so went to town!  D’Souza got a friend in to help him serve and clean up and he certainly put on a meal fit for a King.  There were 8 of us – Gladys and Bob Underwood from Ras Tanura, Dr. and Mary Alexander, Sue and Bill Farrand (they were the honor guests), Ken and I.  It was formal – as almost all dinner parties here are.


Now guess what!  Ken came home from the office and sprung a something or other on me.  (W)e are going to be sent back to Ras Tanura for about three months!  They want Bill Cooper to come down here in Ken’s job for the experience and, frankly, to let him get some sort of idea what all this end is about for there has been a woeful lack of cooperation.  Please keep that under your hat.  Ken will take Bill’s place up there as Assistant Manager of the Refinery – under Bob King who is Manager.  The job is the second highest up there.

Elmo had nothing but the highest praise for the work Ken has done here and wanted him to know that he wanted him back.  You never know what these things will turn into, though.

I was sunk when I thought of packing all this stuff again, but it means taking linens, dishes, etc. – then after about three months, we will have to bring it all back here.  I hate very much to change the school, too.

Well, that is what I get for marrying an engineer – but guess I can bear up under it – sure is a funny business.

Ras Tanura
December 14, 1946

Dear Folks:

I don’t suppose this will reach you in time for Christmas, it is close upon us now.  Happy, Happy Day – for all – I don’t know what ours will be, because of the strikes. . . (T)he ship with all the Christmas boxes is on its way, but isn’t due until Dec. 22.  The Co. has cabled the captain to make all speed possible and they have placed all the boxes – real trees and decorations, candies, etc. – all on top of the hatch so it can be taken off immediately and cleared through customs.

There are several things underway to make a holiday time for the kids – school plays and parties – a Sunday School program – and a tree.  I have a few things gathered for the girls, but very few. . .

I have more than had all my Christmas.  And wonderful it was.  Ken got me the watch in Bahrain then we went to the Women’s Club Bazaar in Dhahran last week and came home with the most beautiful Arabian chest you ever saw.  It is a Kuwait one – the best ones are made up there – and is just lovely.  It is the size of a cedar chest, about five by two, and is made out of some reddish wood – the whole front and sides is solid carved brass – with enormous clasp of brass, then below there are three drawers.  I never dreamed of getting it – it was brought down from Kuwait just for the Bazaar and auctioned off – Ken got it and I didn’t even know he had until afterwards – I’d probably died of apoplexy!

Kuwaiti chest in Dhahran Saudi Arabia
The Kuwait chest that Ken Webster bought for his wife, Mildred, for her first Christmas in Arabia. Here it is displayed in the Webster home in Dhahran, accented with an Arab tray and coffee pot and a framed one-sheet print of the Koran. Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.

All last week it was really cold.  I didn’t believe it could be so, but it is – the children were in winter coats and several mornings Susan wore her snow pants to school.  But by noon it would warm up a bit.

I want to have a cocktail party before the dance New Year’s Eve – but will have to see how the liquor ration holds out.  We don’t use much of it in between and we are getting extra rations for Christmas.

The day the Tawali came in, everyone went down to meet it. There were several wives and children aboard – they came Pacific and were on the way over 60 days.  But really made some grand stops with a chance to see places.  We went aboard and all over it … A Dutch ship…the children had real bottled Cokes and we had coffee.  The new primary teacher for up here came on (the boat) – they were in a hurry for a teacher, so they sent her out Pacific.  Happy Day!

Some new dining room furniture came in on the last boat – I went down to look at it this morning and pick out the one I wanted . . .  it looks quite nice and much better than the other.  Already, two women have said, “Oh, I’d like to have some like that.”  I don’t know their system, but it is up to someone other than me to decide who gets what – but everyone sure wants the same curlie cues the rest have.   I’d hate to be running an outfit of company houses with furniture furnished.  You can’t please them all.  Rank gets us pretty much the nicest things, but they try to be impartial as far as is possible.

I wish you could see some of the beautiful Christmas tree ornaments some of the girls have made.  It is amazing.  They even took tin snippers and cut up the gold colored peanut cans and made long spirals, etc. There is a marvelous group out here and there always is some one of the bunch who knows a lot about making things.

I ordered the turkey this morning…it doesn’t seem a bit like Christmas -- the weather is so nice and sunny.

This is Sunday, so Susan and her little friend, Gracie McPherson, are at Sunday School.  They have to have it in one of the homes – they can’t use any public places or religious meetings.  Still, they had Mass on Friday for all the Catholics – the Indian boys went down to Dhahran for it – I think it is the first time, though.

December 27, 1946

Dear Folks:  Just a hasty note – someone has offered to take this out by plane – The Christmas boxes arrived today and we certainly had a gala time opening them.  Thanks for all your lovely gifts.  We’ve really had a wonderful holiday.  We have a Juniper tree from Asmara – lots of Christmas cheer and everyone seems happy.  All our love and best wishes for the New Year.

Bye now….Mildred, Ken and Girls.

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