For early Aramco employees and their families living in Dhahran, sometimes alongside grandparents, growing luxuriant gardens was a major pastime.
Amid East-coast Saudi Arabia’s desolate terrain, Dhahran, barely two or three miles square, stood out, a green exclamation in the endless tan.
Even by the early 1950s, Dhahran’s camp forest of imported, multinational trees had grown large and leafy, throwing a broad relief of shade over the community. With its wide, verdant streets and tidy rows of simple, rectangular, ranch-style houses, green with hedges and other foliage, the camp resembled a well-watered, lower-middle-class suburb in Arizona or Texas, where in fact many of the early oilmen had come from.
The only sign anything might not be completely benign was a 12-foot-high, chain-link fence that encircled the town of 4,500 or so souls and guarded its gates. Only those with an Aramco badge were allowed to enter. But in truth it didn’t really occur to us that the fences and guards might indicate potential danger. They just became a normal part of the landscape, like the bright red Aramco company vehicles with white Arabic and English numbers on the side. Once you entered the sanctified interior of our little town, all serious worries and unpleasantness seemed perpetually marooned outside. On the Dhahran side of the fence, a modest utopian paradise thrived.
We lived in comfortable if plain duplexes and detached single-story, single-family homes. Company-supplied residential furniture was typically mid-century style — clean, spare, and blonde. The living was easy in Dhahran in the early days.
Then, in 1958 Aramco TV began broadcasting and families began to cluster around their little television sets to watch Ozzie and Harriet, Perry Mason, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke and Superman.