First Trip to the K.S.A.: Chapter XVIII - Saudi Arabia Here We Come
The next day, February 2, 1956, we left New York Idlewild Airport on the Aramco company plane. That flight was nice, too. We were assigned a compartment from the first, so we had privacy and extra comfort. The weather was ideal all the way, although cold in spots. It was 6 degrees above zero in Amsterdam, where we spent about 24 hours. The canals were even frozen over. The Nored’s girl babysat again while we all went out to eat at an Indonesian Restaurant called “The Five Flies”. Flying on to Arabia in our compartment the next day, we played bridge at times with Peggy & Jerry while Keith & Vicky slept. Flying just didn’t get any better than that. So, it was on February 4, when we arrived safely back in Dhahran, then took a taxi to our house in Ras Tanura.
The kids took up right where they left off, just like they had never been gone. At the house, they played with their record player or went out to the playground to play. However, Vicky rode Keith’s tricycle off and left it somewhere. She also took off her shoes and socks, and we looked and looked, but couldn’t find them any place, either. I would have to get her some more in that size if we couldn’t find them. I could get her something in Al-Khobar, but they wouldn’t be as good. They would both really miss that tricycle, too.
On the plus side, my houseboy came back to work for me the second day we were home. It was really good to see him and have him to do my work, as I had hurt one of my fingers while home. He was glad to see all of us, too, I think. Also, our neighbor, Lynn & Ken Cobb, gave us a dinner party that evening and all our friends came to welcome us back. So we took up right where we left off, too. It wasn’t long before we were playing bridge and “42”, going out to various dinner parties and giving them. That was one thing that kept my weight down to 130 and 1/2 lbs when we returned, and it’s no wonder we got rather restless at times in the States.
Our friend, Dick Frossard, who worked in the Refinery with Oran, had started dating a single, female Aramco employee, May, almost as soon as she arrived in Arabia last year. It wasn’t long before they began to join in a lot of our activities, mostly parties and dances, at first. Later they married and moved in to our apartment building next door, and we became great friends, too, and that lasted a lifetime. Mae also had been doing a lot with a couple of other single girls, Ruth, and Ann Saems. Ruth started going with Woody Woodsides and later married him. Ann started dating a single guy, Frank Serbeniuk, and they became an active part of our group, as well. It would be a very active and different year.
In fact, there was going to be another big company dance on the Surf House Patio on February 23, 1956, so we had a big group to our house for drinks prior including the new ones, as well as Pat & Guy Smyth, Peggy & Jerry Nored, Ken & Lynn Cobb, and Desda & Bill Hale. The Noreds had everyone to their house after. As usual, it was a fun evening.
Pat & Guy were going to be going on their home leave soon, so a round of parties and dinners started for them. The next week Jack & Vivian Hays gave them a dinner party and a couple of the guys, Les Mullins and Dick Kearns had a big wing-ding party. The week after that, I gave a Dessert Bridge for Pat at the Surf House Lounge and a poker party at our house. Before they left, other things were given by Desda & Bill, Peg & Jerry, and Ken & Lynn. They were a pretty popular couple.
Things slowed down for a while after that. Keith went to a birthday party for his friend Keith McPhillimy. I went to a Dessert Bridge, Baby Shower, and we went to dinner at the Persian Room with Desda & Bill and to a show after. Another couple we knew (the ones we had eaten with at Alfredo’s in Rome) Norma & Roy Flink left Arabia for good and our friend, Joe Schmidt, went home on leave but wasn’t coming back, normal happenings for over there, really.
There was a war situation brewing in the Suez Canal area that we were a bit worried about. The English & French were threatening to go to war with Egypt. We had heard rumors about being shipped out, and an American army unit being sent to Saudi Arabia, but both of those were false. The company was going ahead with construction and everything just like we were going to be there for many years to come, and we didn’t think they would bother if they thought they would lose all that in the near future. So we didn’t feel so bad after that, and went ahead with our lives there, as usual. I had really felt safer there than in the States with all the auto accidents, twisters, floods, etc.
The kids really enjoyed the beach now, and we took them there whenever we could work it in. For the first time, they would go out in the water, in fact, they went from one extreme to the other. Before, they were afraid of it, but now, they could even be knocked down by a wave, come up laughing and go back for more. We had to watch them more then, but it was a pleasure to see them getting such a kick out of it. They were both getting brown as bears already.
Oran tries his hand at golf.
By April 1, ours had really turned into a sports minded family. Oran was on the Golf Course almost every day. He had joined the Association and played in all the Tournaments. He came in second in one, which was excellent for a beginner. I went out to the golf course (outer course) one morning and enjoyed it very much, but I didn’t have time to take it up seriously. There was a golf dance on the 5th and a golf barbecue dinner and party after at Jack & Vivian Hays on the 12th, which I did partake of and would enjoy those benefits of the game very much.
An Arab caddie watches as Oran lines up
a shot on the outer course.
The Golf Course, located outside our camp off the main road to the north, left something to be desired, really. It was known as the outer course. As you can imagine, living in a desert, there were no trees, the fairways were nothing but sand and small rocks, and the greens were oiled sand smoothed into a round area with a hole placed somewhere inside that. Water hazards were marked off with a little fence, and each player carried a small square of AstroTurf to place the ball on wherever it had landed in the “fairway”. Later, the quarter mile area between Nejma and the business area inside our fenced camp was turned into a golf course. It was known as the inner course, of course. Diehard golfers seemed to love it, though, and took it very seriously.
The Spring Bowling Leagues had begun on April 7, and, as I’ve said before, that was my game. I bowled in the mixed Scratch League every Monday night and Oran in a Scratch League every Tuesday. We bowled together in a Handicap League on Saturday nights. Also, our new school gymnasium had been completed and a badminton tournament was in full swing. I entered the Women’s Singles and the Mixed Doubles and either played tournament matches or practiced several nights a week. It wasn’t difficult as we lived right next to the school.
Besides all the sports activities, there were other social get-togethers for the next couple of weeks. There was a Dinner Party at Ken & Lynns, a Bridge Luncheon for Marge DeSantis and Blanche Myers at the Surf House, a dinner at our house for Vivian & Jack Hays, with Peggy & Jerry Nored, Vic & Maurine Reis, Lynn Cobb and Robert Helms, and a dinner at the Noreds.
On April 26, Oran played in another golf tournament. His foursome included Dick Frossard, Erica Gates, Peggy Wagoner, and himself. He took our movie camera to record that occasion, and I couldn’t believe how windy it was out there. The girls wore long, very loose pants, and they were really flapping, but he also got some good shots of what the golf course looked like. Seeing is believing. Oran continued to play softball, as well. There was even a picture of him, “at bat”, in a game between the oil operations and administration teams in the May 2 issue of our weekly paper, Sun and Flare.
On May 4, my partner, Roger Hornsby, and I played in a Mixed Doubles Badminton Tournament and won. My name was mentioned in the Refinery Ramblings section of the May 9 issue of the Sun & Flare about winning that. We were beginning to feel like celebrities.
The footlocker from our shipment came by air, so we received it on May 14. If I had known it would get there that soon, I would have packed differently. It contained mostly winter clothes, which I no longer needed. After another 5 years in that country, I may learn how to pack for it. We hadn’t heard anything yet about the rest of our shipment.
I gave Keith a big birthday party on May 22, 1956, when he was 4 years old, and he was really thrilled and excited. There were 12 kids besides Keith and Vicky. I served them individual cupcakes with each child’s name on it, ice cream and lemonade. Oran took pictures, naturally. We got him a really nice, big, four-motored toy airplane, which he had been wanting for ages. He was getting very interested in airplanes of all sizes.
By the end of May, the weather was beginning to get pretty hot, so Desda Hale, Lynn Cobb and I decided to go to the beach frequently. We took Keith & Vicky and they always loved that. At other times, just Lynn & I went and she pushed her boy, Mike, there in the buggy. We were just down the beach a ways from the Surf House, and the company photographer, an Italian named Alberto, saw us, so came down with his camera to take advantage of the opportunity. We didn’t mind, of course, and even obliged with some cheesecake poses, which we purchased later.
He took pictures at company functions - dances, women’s parties, luncheons, meetings, etc., and was well known by all. Alberto had taken over from Ilo “The Pirate” Battigelli, who came to Arabia in 1945 with other Italians after World War II to build the Refinery and do other craft work. Ilo left in 1955 to settle in Salisbury, Rodesia. He became famous among Aramcons of that time period for his photographs of the people of Arabia, Bedouins, the Arabian desert, villages and the sea. We all have some of his photographs to treasure.
I was glad I had been able to lose even more weight for the beach photos and the new round of parties we were about to have because Desda & Bill Hale were leaving on vacation. My scales showed 124 lbs. then, 10 less than when I left on my vacation. On May 30, there was a party at our single friends, Ann Saems Portable, 5-J-A-3. Before I could go there, though, I had to play the last ladies singles badminton tournament game for the championship. So, I went to the gym without much enthusiasm, which was soon evident, as I was being trounced badly. But I finally got my act together, came from way behind and won. So, I would get a trophy for that and a plague for the Mixed Doubles Championship.
I felt much better and went on to Ann’s party in a very good mood. It was already in full swing, and so was Oran. So he told a new single guy who had gone to work in the Refinery, John Barnes, to see to it that I had a good time. We discovered that we danced well together, so ended up doing that most of the night. Those single people really knew how to party.
The very next night, we went with Desda & Bill Hale to a dance at the Italian Club at the Air Base just outside Dhahran. That was sure different and fun. We went with some friends of theirs, Barbara & Dick Currins, who lived in Dhahran camp, then back to their house to an after party before returning to Ras Tanura. Then there would be dinner for Desda & Bill at Ann & Bob Gulovsen’s, Peggy & Jerry Nored’s and our house, a party at Jim Bevis and Les Mullins, a desert bridge for Desda, another trip to the Air Base Officers Club for dinner and Bingo and a Beach Picnic before they left on their home leave vacation.
The beach picnic was on June 15, at our favorite picnic table and grill. Jerry Nored and I had to check out the table by dancing on it. It’s a wonder we didn’t break our necks or something. Others there were Peggy, of course, Ann & Bob Gulovsen, Lynn & Ken, ourselves, Jim Bevis, and John Barnes. Before eating this time, we did something new. We played softball. We marked off bases and home plate, and the first base was the edge of the picnic table. No one ever got past that, but we all had a turn at bat and tried. That was not easy, running in the sand, but fun. Oran took movies of all of us, and that was funnier to watch.
Afterwards we sat around the table, chatted, ate, and generally enjoyed the afternoon and early evening. The girls were all in shorts and I was a blonde. I had decided to try my hair like that for a while. It was a nice change, and everyone seemed to agree that I looked better that way - especially Pat.
There were a lot of kids' birthday parties, Keith & Vicky went to about that time, besides Keith’s. Susie had hers on June 16, Steve Smyth had his fourth on June 27, and Bruce Tyler had his fourth on July 9. We got Keith & Vicky all dressed up in pretty, blue outfits and took pictures with presents before taking them to the parties. They were almost as active as we were.
The company would have a buffet picnic on the patio of the Surf House to celebrate the 4th of July. Oran was on the 3 to 11 shift, so I went with Pat & Guy, who were back from vacation. While we were in line filling our plates with food, the photographer took our picture, and it showed up in the next Sun & Flare - more publicity. The next night Pat & Guy fixed their delicious Mexican meal and we went to a dance afterwards on the Surf House patio. Oran was able to go to that.
Our birthday (Oran’s & mine were on the same day), July 26, was coming up soon, so we wanted to do something to celebrate that. But there were already a couple of conflicting activities that night, so we planned ours for July 16, when Oran would have his days off. We cleared some of the furniture out of the kids’ room, decorated it with crepe paper, Japanese lanterns and balloons, and put a record player in there so we could dance. The kids spent the night with some friends. There was plenty of good food for the 30 guests, and a good time was had by all.
We got a roll of movie film that we had taken while we were home on vacation, so we showed that and the Christmas ones again to ourselves, the kids, a neighbor and our houseboy. Some audience, huh? Keith & Vicky were thrilled to see all of their relatives again and kept naming the different ones as they appeared on the screen. They wanted to go back and have another Christmas and walk in the woods with their grandparents. Keith mentioned their names quite often when he remembered bits about our home leave, so I didn’t think he would forget them. We showed the movie every now & then to make sure.
Dick & May had purchased a jeep and discovered a new beach area about three miles down the road outside our camp going to the terminal. It was on the Tarut Bay side of the Ras Tanura peninsula, on calmer water, most of the time, and easily accessible from our camp. So we planned a beach picnic and swimming get together with them, Pat & Guy Smyth, Ann Saems & Frank Serbeniuk, and Aim and Bob Golovsen, and went there on July 20. We all loved it right away. It wasn’t crowded. We were the only group there. The water was calm & clear and felt wonderful to swim and play in, except for the small rocks on the sandy bottom and an occasional sea urchin with prickly skin that you might bump into. Guy tried to do some snorkeling, but came up soon, sputtering. I don’t think he ever quite got the hang of it.
We inflated rafts and all the women started floating around on them. Oran was taking movies. The others started a game of “King of the Mountain”, in chest deep water, with the women on the men’s shoulders, pulling or pushing the other to make them fall over. It was quite a struggle and a serious “tug-of-war,” with Pat & Guy the last to be standing. I’m glad Oran was taking movies, as I could just continue floating around watching. The whole event was good fun, and I knew we would be doing more of that.
Our houseboy, Britto, left on vacation the end of that week, July 25, and was I ever lost for the next three months. For the past month, I had been sharing him with another family, Vivian & Jack Hays, and would do the same when he got back. We had decided I could do some of my own work then, and you know what, it felt pretty good for a change. I would still miss him, though.
The next night, our actual birthday, July 26, there was a party in the portable of another single, female employee, Francine, who was going with Fred Von Bieberstein, at the time. It was a going away for Robert Helms, who worked in the Refinery with Oran, too. Jack & Vivian had everyone to their house after, so we really did a lot that night.
Oran poses in front of the Refinery.
I thought everything was going very well, but about a week later Oran told his immediate boss that he was fed up with shift work, and he thought he would lose his health if he had to work it any more. Surprisingly, they gave him a transfer to the Engineering Department as an Inspector, with a straight day job, more money, and a chance for advancement. The first three months would be on a trial basis; however, as he had no experience or training for this type of work, but we were confident that he could do it. He would start there as soon as the Hydroformer was back on stream. They were having their yearly inspection of it at the time, so it wasn’t running. Oran would help start it up again, and that would be in about 3 weeks.
Robert Helms, John Barnes and Burl York
join Oran for a photo in the Refinery's
Since he wouldn’t be working in the Refinery anymore, he wanted to get more movies of it, and the guys he had worked with. He took the camera there again and had his current crew all climb up to the first platform surrounding a tower, line up there for shots, then climb back down again. On that shift, there was Robert Helms, Burl York, John Barnes, Roy Boyd, and an Arab they called Bull. He then took some long shots of the Flare, Persian Gulf, the desert, the camp, other towers in the Refinery and the tanks.
We didn’t do much for awhile after that except go to one other beach picnic, play bridge a couple of times, play badminton several times, and go to a movie or two. Sometimes there was so much happening we didn’t have time to catch a breath, then there would be a lull with nothing much going on and we were in that lull right then. Of course, we were going through one of the hottest, most humid spells we had ever seen over there. That may have had something to do with it.
On August 14, we finally got our shipment from our home leave, and everything was there and unbroken, so we were extremely lucky. The things we bought really improved the looks of our house. We were very pleased with our choice of things, especially the two floor lamps. Everyone raved over them. The kids were as happy with their toys as when they originally received them, and we had all the neighbor kids around for several days after.
Perhaps I spoke a little too soon about not doing much. Shortly after that, we took up a new sport, water skiing. Dick and May Frossard acquired a boat, so we went out with them, whenever possible, to the Tarut Bay beach area to swim, picnic and water ski. They taught us how, as we had never even tried before. It wasn’t as hard as it looks, but it’s scary, at first. I got up and going the first time I tried, but made a number of attempts after that before I could do it again. It took Oran several tries, but he was soon looking like a pro. We loved it, and thought it was a lot of fun.
Several people owned boats, then, large enough to be kept in the water, so the company provided a place at the Terminal end of the Peninsula to keep them. At least two others had large boats in those days, Frank Gates and Lincoln Eckburg. Later the Tarut Bay beach area was turned into a Yacht Club called Sandy Hook, and more facilities were provided as more and more employees acquired personal boats. But in those early days we pretty much had the place all to ourselves, and we took advantage of it often.
Jack and Vivian Hays with their three children and Colleen Wilson with Vicky and Keith on the pier at the Terminal.
We had been entertaining quite a bit, also. I gave one dinner party for six and another for 12, including Oran & Myself. I served Lasagna both times. It was really nice using my new dishes, the coffee maker, silverware, and T.V. tables. It made things a lot easier. Since Britto was on vacation, I was using Pat’s houseboy, Tony, whenever possible.
The Hydroformer inspection and startup was completed, so Oran started his new job in the Engineering Department on September 19, 1956 and liked it just fine. He came home every day for lunch, which I wasn’t too hep on, but he was also home every night, which made up for it. We were able to slip in an occasional dinner out at the Persian Room, a dance or a bridge, as well as our beach activities.
Colleen, Vicky and Keith on one of the Navy
ships that patrolled the Persian Gulf.
Other people had discovered our Tarut Bay beach, so the company decided to give an outing there for everybody in camp on Friday, September 21. It generated a lot of interest, so everyone who owned boats and skis brought those. The company brought out big umbrellas, beach chairs, tables, and lots of food from the dining hall to go on the tables. Everyone we knew was there, as well as all the kids. We were there with Pat & Guy, May & Dick & Erica & Frank. People were swimming and water skiing, playing games in the sand, eating, etc. It was a beehive of activity.
I didn’t participate that day, but Oran took his turn at water skiing. When he fell, he was pretty far out in deep water, but he told Dick just to go on back and let someone else ski and he would swim back to shore. He was an excellent swimmer, but soon discovered the tide was coming into the bay from the narrow opening at the end of the Terminal and was carrying him further up into the bay away from the shore, and keeping him in deep water. He stopped swimming then and just floated to conserve his strength. He knew eventually he would be in the shallow water at the top of the bay, but didn’t know how long before that happened. It was a pretty scary situation.
Everybody else had been so busy with everything we didn’t think about him for awhile, but finally did, and started searching the water. Finally, someone spotted him way off in the top part of the bay, so Frank Gates jumped in his boat and drove out to pick him up. He still hadn’t reached shallow water, so was really glad to get that boat ride. The rest of us were grateful he knew what to do and didn’t panic. That made everyone aware of the dangerous tide situation in that area after that.
But that wasn’t the end of our outing that day. Dick & May decided to give one more boat ride to someone, so took Pat & Guy, their son, Steve and our son, Keith. The rest of us stayed on shore with the others. It was getting late so things were winding down. A lot of people were going home, and the company employees started packing all their stuff for the return to camp.
We were beginning to worry about Dick’s boat, as it was getting dark and hard to see that far out on the water. Everyone still at the beach was searching the horizon of the bay, as Dick didn’t have running lights on his boat. Then someone saw what they thought was a light across the water, so Frank Gates jumped in his boat and went out to it. To the rescue again, he soon returned towing Dick’s boat, much to the relief of everyone.
His motor had stopped and they had been floating helplessly. After trying repeatedly to start it, he set a towel on fire, and that was the light we all saw from shore. Dick told us later that Keith kept asking the questions over & over, “What’s wrong with the boat?”, “Why don’t you start the motor?” Dick jokingly said, “If he had asked that one more time, he was going to throw him overboard. We have joked and laughed about that together over the years, but it wasn’t a laughing matter for any of us that night.
Oran’s new job had generated some more social functions. We were invited to dinner on September 24, to the home of Oran’s new immediate boss and wife, Paul & Elizabeth Merian. Then a week later, we had them to dinner at our house. Erika & Frank had the Frossards, Smyths and ourselves to their house for dinner on the next Saturday. Then we were invited to the home of Oran’s big boss, William Boucher, in his new department for “Cocktails & Dinner” a couple of weeks after that. I was really beginning to feel like we were getting up in the world. It looked like changing jobs was going to have its rewards.
We weren’t going to give up our beach outings, though. The weather was beginning to cool off nicely, but we knew the best would be around for a couple of more months, at least. On Friday, September 27, we drove to Al-Khobar and purchased a brand new Land Rover Jeep (Hard Top). It really wasn’t very fancy, but for Saudi Arabia, it was the most practical thing, especially since we were doing things with boat owners, and going on so many picnics and swimming parties. It was made of aluminum so wouldn’t rust in the humidity. I even learned to drive it, and I drove around camp some, but left most of that up to Oran or one of our male friends.
Keith & Vicky went to another birthday party for Bruce Rodarty and Peggy Wayman on October 4. That was 2 days before Vicky’s 3rd birthday. I didn’t give her a party but had a supper for her and invited Pat, Steve, and Valerie. There were the usual cake and presents, of course, and she seemed pleased.
There was another round of parties and dinners for the adults, as well. There was another dance, and Ed Wennesland and R.L. Sweeney threw a party on the fourth. A party was given for Ruth & Joe Mahon on October 11. He had been with us on the Hydroformer Training Program. The next night, Pat & Guy fixed their famous (for us) Mexican Dinner. Most all of our friends were involved in one or more of these, so we stayed very active for the first part of October.
The beach group decided to do something a little different, go fishing. Frank Gates’ boat was best for that, so on October 19 we all drove down to a beach by the Terminal area. While Frank & Dick went to get the boat, the rest of us waited and they soon returned and beached the boat right where we were while loading everything, including us. They situated the fishing rods, the ice chest with water, cold drinks and nibbles on the boat, then lifted each one of us up on the bow and helped us to the deck. There were two swivel chairs positioned on the back of the deck from which to fish. We would take turns.
When everything was loaded, the guys pushed the boat back into the water and we rode out of Tarut Bay through the narrow opening into the Persian Gulf. It was a warm, cloudless day, the water almost as smooth as glass. We put on caps, sunscreen, and got relief from the sun occasionally in the cabin. There was a big, ocean going tanker ship loading at the pier we rode past and a small, Arab fishing dhow went by us in the other direction going back to his village. Oran took movies of all this and us.
Frank took us out a distance away from all that before we started fishing. The men started first, Dick & Frank, then Oran & Guy. The lines were baited, thrown over the back of the boat and allowed to trail in the water for a good distance. When a fish struck everyone else had to reel in until the fish was landed. Dick caught a good-sized Spadey right away. Pat & May & I took our turns with much anticipation. As it turned out, that was the only fish caught that day, but we had strikes, so we did a lot of reeling in. It was interesting, though, but tiring and even with the precautions, we got very sunburned. But I wouldn’t trade anything for that experience of deep sea fishing in the Persian Gulf off Saudi Arabia.
At that point, I thought life couldn’t possibly get any better, and how fortunate we were to be able to do things like that in a place I loved so much. But that was all to change. Suddenly, Oran decided to quit his job, and we were scheduled to leave for home for good on October 30, 1956. What a shock. I don’t know whether it was the war escalation in the Suez Canal, or a new job that wasn’t working out as well as he had expected, or something else, but I had to accept his decision. They asked him to take a leave of absence, but he didn’t even want to do that at the time.
I went around in a daze after that, with a heavy heart, going through the preparations to leave for good, the packing, the business to be taken care of, etc. It was quite a chore to dismantle a home you thought you were going to live in for many years. We did sell most everything, as people could not readily buy things there in Arabia at that time. So there were fewer things for us to actually have to make an inventory list for and ship home. We sold our practically new jeep to Jack Kurtz. Our houseboy, Britto’s, contract would be taken over by Vivian & Jack Hays. He would not return from vacation before we left, so we wouldn’t see him again. That made me sad, but I knew his job was secure and he would do well.
Thank goodness, Desda & Bill Hale had gotten back from vacation, so I was able to be with them again, and say goodbye to all my other friends, too, either individually or at the parties given for our farewell. I would see a number of friends over the years, and I was fortunate enough to return to Saudi Arabia in 1975 and 1980, but that’s another story. I would never forget the special times I had with everyone or the special camp of Ras Tanura.
We went on a couple of more beach picnics, a dance, and a big going away party, but finally did leave on October 30, 1956. The British - French invasion of Egypt had begun and we flew over the Suez Canal on our way out of Arabia. Over the southern Mediterranean Sea we saw some English jets, some of them buzzed our plane, but that was all, and we landed safely in Amsterdam, Holland, then New York City, where we bought a car, drove on to Dallas, and the start of a new life.