First Trip to the K.S.A.: Chapter X - First Home Leave

Colleen Wilson boards in Dhahran
Colleen and Keith board the plane that will
take them on their first Home Leave.

Before we knew it, it was March 21, 1953, and we were arriving at the Dhahran Airport. To say we were excited would be an understatement. We had to bring a ton of stuff for Keith, 12 bottles of sterile water and powdered SMA milk, a supply of disposable diapers, which we could get then in our canteen, the snowsuit and a lot of changes of clothes, but it was worth it. We visited with other Aramcons as we waited to board the TWA plane, including another young couple with a new baby. We told them about making recommended arrangements with the airlines to be seated at the very front of the plane with just a wall in front of us. It had extra room and Keith could sleep on the floor in front of us.

So, you can imagine our surprise and upset when the other young couple was given that seat instead of us. When we complained, we were told their baby was younger than Keith and the extra crew got the other side, so it didn’t do any good, not even when we told them I was pregnant again. So, we sat in the middle of the plane, held Keith on one of our laps for the 12 hr. flight on to Rome, Italy. To say we were upset, especially me, about this would be an understatement, and before we got there, was concerned I might have a miscarriage.

It was not a good beginning for our trip, but fortunately we had made plans to stay in Rome three days. Liliana & Bill Williams were on the same flight and had invited us to meet and have a meal with her parents there. After our 12 hr flight, we checked into the Hotel Mediterrino, #605, went right to bed and got some much needed rest, that night and into the next day. After that, everything seemed to be all right. I didn’t have any more problems, so we went about our planned activities.

Colleen and Oran Wilson at Alfredo's Ristorante
Dinner at Alfredo's Ristorante with (bottom center clockwise)
Roy and Norma Flink, an unknown couple, Alfredo, Bill and Liliana Williams
and Oran and Colleen Wilson.

That evening we went with the Williams, Norma & Roy Flink and another man from our flight from Arabia with his Italian date to the Ristorante 'Alfredo' At Augusteo. The owner, Alfredo, was the real King of Fettuccine Alfredo and served his signature dish to all of us from his gold silverware, very impressive. It was so nice to be sitting down in a “real” restaurant again, so I did my best to relax and enjoy. It was a fun evening.

Outdoor Bathroom
Bill Williams experiences an
outdoor hammam.

The next day we went around Rome with Liliana & Bill, and they showed us different fountains, the Coliseum, Vatican Square, the Spanish Steps, even an outdoor sidewalk bathroom for men. It barely covered and hid their bodies, while you could clearly see their legs and head, interesting. We were having a very nice time so far. Keith was sleeping and eating very well and was a little angel. We were all in good health.

On our third day there, March 24th, we met Liliana’s parents at their apartment. While the men stayed there with Keith, Liliana, her mother and I went to the local market, picked out fresh food for salad, a roast and ingredients for spaghetti sauce. Her mother cooked while we did a bit more site seeing and resting. Then we went back for a meal. There was wine, of course, spaghetti and sauce, and salad. By that time, I was full, but the main course, roast with vegetables was also served. I couldn’t believe it but did my best to do it justice. It was delicious and, Liliana's parents were the gracious host & hostess, and had made our stay in Rome a very special event.

Streets of Geneva
Bicycles outnumber the automobiles in
Geneva's streets.

We rested in our hotel again later, and the next day flew on to Geneva, Switzerland. It just took 4 hours. We especially loved Geneva. It was a wonderful place, and the Alps were so beautiful. Our hotel was right on Lake Geneva and the tour boats were docked just across the boulevard. At the light on the corner, the street was filled with an assortment of tiny cars and bicycles. There were almost more bicycles than anything else.

Colleen Wilson poses on bridge
Colleen Wilson prepares for a
day of shopping in Geneva.

At that point, a bridge went across the lake to a main shopping area of the city. I had decided to do some shopping there for things I needed to wear and for an Omega watch. So, we went over there, and after going in a few shops, I selected a red jacket with a plaid, red and black skirt, and a black sweater, all wool, of course. That outfit served me well all the rest of the way home. Back at the hotel, we made arrangements to go on the train the next day to a ski area, which happened to be in Megave, France.

Colleen and Oran Wilson on Megave
Oran and Colleen Wilson pose
before a dramatic backdrop.

The next morning, we had breakfast in the glass-enclosed restaurant of our hotel looking out over the lake, and watched the sunrise from behind the mountain, a spectacular sight. A special, English speaking, childcare facility had been highly recommended by other Americans in Arabia, so we took Keith there before catching the train. It was a 2 and 1/2 hour ride through a snow-covered valley between the mountains, so was lovely and interesting. Megave was a quaint, alpine-looking, small village where we found a ski rental shop and the tram to take us to the top of the mountain with no trouble. The tram was large, completely enclosed and comfortable and provided breathtaking, scenic beauty that we had never seen before. The problem was when we reached the top; we still had to climb a distance on a well-used path to reach a small house on the ridge of the mountain. It wasn’t too easy, especially carrying skis, but we joined the only other couple, and some newly weds from Australia, and made it with little trouble. Of course, I was not going to ski, as I was pregnant.

The Swiss Alps

The view from the mountain ridge was out of this world. How do you describe standing on the top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps? Breathtakingly beautiful was an understatement. Awe-inspiring panorama, a view of crystal, clear, blue-sky meeting and caressing the snow covered earth. Pristine stillness, a calm, silent, restful peace. We could see both sides of that mountain, and beyond the cavernous of air in the valley below, was the famous Mt. Blanc of France.

Since the house at the top was closed, and there were no other skiers around, we surmised the season was about over, but there was plenty of snow, so we walked to a big log nearby. Oran, of course, had never even been on a pair of skis before, and he sure didn’t have any experience being on a mountain like the Alps, but being young and foolish, he was going to give it a go. The man from Australia was going to try, as well, so he put a skis on the ground, raised one foot to put it on, and before anybody could do anything, the ski took off down the mountain on its own. As we sat there in shock, we could hear the unmistakable sound of the ski hitting various trees and things on its way down. It was really still up there, and sounds carried a long way.

Even after that, Oran got his skis on o.k., stood up and took off down the mountain himself. Soon he was out of sight and the remaining three of us left, just sat there awhile, and then began wondering what we should do, stay there and wait for his return, or go back down the mountain to the village and hope he showed up. Just about that time, we saw him trudging back up the mountain with his skis slung over his shoulder. That was a relief. He told us it didn’t take him long to decide he was out of his element and dangerously going too fast, without any control, so he just sat down and was able to stop before hitting a tree or skiing of a cliff.

We reversed our route and went back down the mountain to the big tram, which was still running, fortunately, then rode on down to the village. It had been an experience, and really fun, but we were lucky. The Australian was able to settle with the ski shop over the loss of his ski in time to catch the train back to Geneva. We were pretty wiped out, so, after saying goodbye to the Australian couple, we just picked up Keith, who seemed really glad to see us. We were glad to have him with us again, too, and he seemed all right. We had a meal in the hotel and went right to bed for the night.

The next morning, March 27, 1953, we had breakfast again in the hotel restaurant overlooking the lake, but got up too late to see the sunrise. I still wanted to buy a watch, so we went back across the bridge to an area that had several jewelry stores. I looked in several and finally found a gold and diamond watch I really wanted, but it was $400.00. We had been spending a lot already and had just started our home leave, so I settled for a plain, pink gold Omega for $100.00. It was authentic and bought in Switzerland, so I was happy.

That evening we caught the plane again, and after another 4-hour flight, arrived in Paris, France. We were planning to sightsee during the next day, but couldn’t do much because of rain, and it was really cold, at least to us since we weren’t used to it. We did bundle up and took a walk to see the Eiffel Tower when there was a little break in the weather, but that was all. Besides Keith was starting to get sick, had come down with diarrhea. We thought, or hoped, he would get all right, but he just kept getting worse. We left Paris that night at 7 p.m., made a brief stop in Shannon, Ireland, then flew on across the Atlantic, arriving in New York City at 8 a.m. on March 29th.

Keith did get some sleep on the flight, but was still sick, so after we checked into our hotel we had them call a doctor to come see him. When the Doctor found out what our situation was, he told us to have Keith rest, eat applesauce and drink weak tea, only. So we asked the hotel to help us clean and sterilize his bottles, fill them with weak tea. We didn’t try to do anything else in NYC that time. We had already purchased, and arranged to pick up, a new 1953, Super Oldsmobile “88”. So Oran did that the next day, and we left NYC to drive to Texas.

Keith was fussy, didn’t like the tea, but did sleep some. We had told a fellow worker in Arabia, Perry Kiggins, that we would stop to see his parents in Wheeling, West Virginia. It was on our way, and we felt like they might help us clean and prepare Keith’s bottles, so we stopped. They were very helpful and sympathetic, and tried to get us to stay with them until Keith got better. But we were so worried, and just anxious to get him home so my parents could help get him well, so we just kept going.

We had to make one other overnight stop to rest and clean up Keith’s bottles again. The motel let us use their kitchen for that, thank goodness. The rest of the drive home, Keith just laid quietly in the back seat, didn’t eat or drink much of anything, poor thing. We were really worried. I hadn’t planned to bring him home in that condition, and we would have done things a lot differently if we had it to do over.

Anyway, on April 3rd, we finally arrived at my parents home in the piney woods of East Texas at Turnertown, between Henderson and Tyler. My folks came out of the house to greet us, and I handed Keith to mother and said, “here he is”. He’s sick and we’ve done everything we know how. I hugged them both and told them how glad I was to be home, after two and a half years. Inside their house, my sister, Jerri Sue, aged 11, walked in the back door. I took one look at her and just broke down and started crying. It was just then I realized how long I had been gone because of how much she had changed, and probably because of the whole, traumatic trip, too. My brother, Bill, aged 9, was right behind Jerri but hadn’t seemed to change so much.

Mother told me I looked heavy and asked if I was pregnant again, so I had to confess, I was, another surprise. But she did what I expected her to, nursed Keith back to good health in no time. Before too many more days passed he was eating from the table, drinking his formula and some regular milk, didn’t have diarrhea, and was the fat, sassy, healthy little boy we had left Arabia with. We were so relieved and happy.

We were home for about 2 and 1/2 months, April, May, and half of June, and took advantage of that by seeing a lot of our relatives; my sister and husband, and their two children, Jolene & Bill Zoller, Johanna & Paul; my brother, Ben; Oran’s 3 sisters, Mattie Bell Attaway, Hattie Lee Pannell, Ola Mae Wailer, and some of their families. Two sisters of my mother and some of their family even came down from Tulsa, Oklahoma, while we were there. We were proud and happy to be able to show our little guy to them, and they seemed pleased with him, too.

Keith learned to walk while we were home and we celebrated his 1st birthday on May 22, 1953, with Grandmother and Grandfather Renfro at their home in Turnertown, Texas. Jerri Sue and Bill were also there. He received no special gifts on that day, but was purchased toys and gifts all the time we were in the United States.

As well as enjoying my mother’s wonderful home cooking and, good old Southern and Tex-Mex meals we could get, we did a lot of shopping to send things back to Saudi Arabia in a shipment we were allowed by the company. There were clothes to be purchased for the next 2 years, especially for Keith, who would be growing and changing so much. We bought a footlocker for those to go in.

We also bought a new automatic washing machine, a Howdy Doody plastic swimming pool for the back yard, a pair of table lamps for the living room, and an assortment of other things for various parts of the house, and, last but not least, were an assortment of dry and canned goods we could not get in Arabia. Claude Adcock, who managed the Franklin grocery store in Turnertown, helped me pick those out and packed them for us for the shipment.

It had become evident while we were home that I was expecting again, so all the women I had known at the Turnertown Baptist Church (the same ones were still there) gave me a baby shower. There was no way to know at that time whether I would have a boy or girl, but they proceeded as if it would be a girl, so everything I received was pink. I didn’t know what I would do if it had turned out otherwise, but perhaps they had a divine revelation. We hoped so. Mother thought I was going to have twins because I had gained so much weight.

Looking back, I feel like we really imposed on my parents’ hospitality and expected too much help from them, as young people are inclined to do at times. But we felt very welcomed and loved, and appreciate so much everything they did for us. They were the greatest, so I was more reluctant than every to leave them again for another 2 years. But the time finally arrived for us to return to Saudi Arabia. It was decided that Oran would drive our car back to NYC to turn it over to the next owner, also coming from Arabia on their home leave, so he left on June 17, 1953. His trip was O.K. except for a smashed fender in Memphis and generator trouble in Ohio. He had to drive 24 hours without a break from Ohio, though, but it was nice and cool.

My parents drove Keith and I to Dallas to catch a flight to NYC on June 20th. Our trip was O.K. too, for the most part. Keith went to sleep as soon as we got up in the air and slept about 45 minutes. When he woke up, I took him to the lounge, but because there was more noise there he got scared, and it took me another hour to get him over that. Then he ate and was in a most playful mood. I had a hard time keeping him in the seat, but he went to sleep again about 8:30 and at 9:35, we were landing in New York. It was a relief when Oran was waiting at the bottom of the stairs as we got off the plane, and we went immediately to the hotel to get a good night’s rest.

The next morning, June 21, we went out to breakfast, came back to the room and napped again. Then it was time to get ready, pack and leave. We went back to the airport and our plane left New York Idlewild Airport about 5:30 p.m. Shortly after take off we fed Keith, dressed him in pajamas and about 7 he went to sleep. We fortunately got the front seat of the plane this time, which has more floor space than the others. We fixed Keith a pallet on the floor, and he had room to spread out, turn over, and move around like he always did, so he slept wonderfully. He had already gone to sleep when they served the evening meal, so the trip was a peaceful start for Oran & I.

When we landed in Gander, Newfoundland, Keith woke up, but as soon as we took off again he was asleep. The next stop was Orly Airport in Paris, France. We were making good progress. It was 1 p.m. Monday. So far, the trip had been very nice, and Keith had not been too much trouble. In fact, we had to wake the little monkey up to feel him and get him ready to get off the plane. We had gained so much time that by the time we got to Rome, it was dark again.

There we were told to expect a 2-hour delay because of engine trouble, but it was fixed in about 1 hour, so we took off. Keith went to sleep again, but woke up in an hour or so, and stayed that way until we landed in Athens. When we took off again he slept all the way to Cairo, Egypt, through that stop, and almost all the way to Basra, Iraq, which is just a 1 and 1/2 hour flight from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

When we stepped out of the airplane there, I thought we were in a blast furnace. The temperature was around 110 degrees, and they were having a sand storm. By the time we went through customs, got transportation and drove the 50 miles to Ras Tanura, I felt like I had been through more than on the entire trip from New York. The weather in Ras Tanura was very nice though, no sand blowing, and much cooler because of the Gulf breeze. When we got there, it was 5:30 p.m., so it wasn’t too long before we went to bed for the night. We had found our house in wonderful condition too, very clean and everything in ship shape. It made a nice home coming after all.

French landmarks visited by the Wilsons
Here are a few of the French landmarks visited by the Wilsons during their time in Europe.

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