Letters Home: Flow
Flow illustrates small moments that create an amazingly rich life in an environment with many restrictions, a bit like these times in a very different way! In reading about our first month, March 1959, in Iran I am struck by how our parents “go with the flow”.
This quilt is made from both commercial prints and hand dyed fabric. The designs are fused, machine stitched in black, embroidered and then quilted. Pieces are joined with a border of hand dyed XXOOs, as every letter ends with “hugs and kisses”, or “much love”. Circles throughout the piece continue the theme of flow, as do the meandering straight stitches which connect them. The quilt began with a sketch, a selection of fabrics, and a tentative plan. As it developed it asked for adjustments and evolved into the finished piece.
In making this quilt I revisited my childhood, learned more about my parents as 30 somethings from a new vantage point, experimented with new techniques, upgraded my sewing machine, and refined my skills, responding to conditions, and creating a flow of my own.
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The first days….
March 9, 1959
First off, if you did not receive the two page letter from us please let us know and we will send a copy to you. We have been told that only about 25% of the mail leaves the country unless it is on this V-mail type of paper. They cannot steal the stamp from this. We hit the jack-pot yesterday and you hit the airplane. A letter from both families. Sure was nice.
I am living the life of a lady. Even have a fairly good sun tan in less than a week. The food here is “out of this world”. From 7 ‘til 9 they serve breakfast. The best and sweetest tangerine juice and very good coffee. Also eggs any style and Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes. Lunch is 11:30 ‘til 2 and starts with soup (always red, even asparagus – must get our shipment so I can spell), then a choice of two main dishes and a lovely dessert. Coffee and teas are served in the lobby afterwards. Tea is from 4-5 with little sandwiches and cookies, too. Dinner is from 7 – 9, we start with soup, next a fish and potato and veg course, then the third round is meat or chicken with more potatoes and veg, then last a very good dessert. Coffee is again served in the other room. We have made arrangements for the children to eat at six. We have a drink while they sip (slowly) a “spot of tea” then we bring them up and put them to bed and then have our dinner. They seem to go right to sleep so we will keep this routine. If we don’t gain too much weight we will be doing good.
The Riverside Guest House, where we are now, is right on the river. At this point the river is ¼ mile wide and we can really see the people in Iraq walking around. We found a house today. I have not seen it as yet but at lunch Herb was telling me about it. The walls are about a foot thick and it has central air conditioning. We have two bedrooms and one bath. It is an old place but one of the best as far as coolness in the summer and warmness in the winter. We could have had a very modern pre-bag built, but they are hard to heat and to cool. By the way, I have an electric stove. You should see it. A nine inch square pan will fill the oven and the top looks like three hot plates. That’s the very best there is. Hope that I have a good cook.
Herb finally saw the office today. He is full of itches wanting to get to work. But no one is in any hurry so he has been sitting most of the time. In two days he finished “The Ugly American” and really enjoyed it. Now it is my turn, I’m half way through it and can hardly put it down.
Took Bobbie to school today. We met the principal, Mr. Danby. He is very English and served tea at 9 AM. Had trouble but got it down. A cup of coffee would have been so much better. We also met the second grade school teacher, Miss Brolly (English too). The class has about 30 pupils. Americans make up about half of the class and the rest are English and French. The Dutch have a school of their own because their standards are different from the rest. The class work is based on the New York schools, but slightly ahead of them. I was told that the children from the East Coast have no trouble falling into line but that the West Coast children usually go back a grade or have a great deal of work to catch up . Anyho, Bobbie starts school on Saturday. She has one week of school and then two weeks vacation for New Years and Easter. She can hardly wait.
Don’t really know what day it is — the date this was started was really the 10th and after the third paragraph it is the 11th. I’m going to finish it today too. We are going to make carbon copies of all our letters so if you have a question just give us the date and we can look back and see what we wrote. Also, please address envelopes printed in all caps as that is the only way the Iranians can read English.
We are all invited out to dinner tonight. Ruby and Charlie Draper – he is Gulf from Texas. A very nice couple. I think every Gulf man here has come to see us and one couple from Springfield came over yesterday afternoon. A very friendly group. A man whose name Herb can’t remember has invited Herb and me to dinner at one of the clubs tomorrow. It is fun here – we get a Nanny to baby-sit when we want to go out and the cost is on the company. We give a small tip to her but her job is just to take care of the children in the guest house. Don’t know but think I’m about out of paper.
Love from all of us — It’s 6am your time. Weezie
Fire, fixings, flowers and coat hangers..oh dear!
March 25, 1959
Dear Mom and Dad,
We know now that the first letter sent got through so I’ll try again with regular Air Mail. You really “went for broke” in postage with the Easter cards. We are saving the ones for the children until Easter morning. Thanks for all of them – a touch of home in this land so far away. The news paper clippings mean a lot too – anything about the Shah, unless it is very good, is kept out of the papers here and cut out of magazines sent into the country. The clipping about the fire was real close to us as we saw it from the Guest House. We had been out for dinner that evening and took a taxi home about 11. As I stepped out of the taxi all I could see was a bright red sky – lost my voice – so reached for Herb to show him as the noise of the explosion reached out to us. It was a big one and one life was “finished”. When anything has ended – light bulb burnt out, store about to close, out of bread, etc. it is finished. Anyhow, we went up on the roof of the building and watched the flames for about half an hour and Herb took a picture – hope it turns out.
Lots of thank yous (know what I mean). First off for the fun we had at the Latin Quarter. I’ve flashed the matches around here and been envied. We really did have a wonderful time and have grand memories of our last night in the States. The flowers were lovely and it thrilled the girls to have their first “store boughten” ones. We have saved the ribbon and pins for their scrap books. My flower is still in the bedroom – a little worse for the wear now, but I still have it and look at it. And Mom the letter you had waiting for us – well it took me a few days to read it — couldn’t see through the tears. It really meant more than “all of the tea in China”. Say no more.
Thank goodness for the KLM flight bags. That is what you take to the store to bring your purchases home in. They hold enough so that I only have to shop once a day. Fun! Maybe in a few weeks I’ll be able to stock enough ahead to skip a day. Food here is very dear. The staff stores are well equipped, but most of the foods are from 30% to 150% more than home. A jar of peanut butter cost about $1.25. Bobbie is learning rather rapidly that she cannot have a peanut butter sandwich every day. Really it is a treat when she does. When it comes to buying meat, I’d just as soon eat eggs for the next two years. Most of it is frozen and looks terrible. It really tastes very good when cooked. After I get used to this place I’ll find out where to buy the native meats and then it will be a little cheaper. We had pork chops the other night and four medium size ones cost about $2.15 – the two pound Danish ham was $4.00, but it did two dinners and ground made lunch one day. These lunches are for the birds. With Herb here every day I really have to plan a meal instead of just handing out a glass of milk and a sandwich. Much to the disgust of Eshajh, we do have sandwiches. He would much prefer a hot dinner at noon and then in the evening have the works – soup, fish, meat, salad and dessert. It’s not for us.
We bought an electric roaster (have to get a transformer before we can use it). Really it was a bum steer when we were told to put all kitchen appliances in storage. Could use every one of them and really be glad to have them. Oh, well. Can’t change now. It is a Westinghouse about two years old — maybe three, with a baking rack, a broiling rack and two pyrex dishes (about loaf size) – cust us 2300 Rials – 75 Rials to the US dollar, you figure the price.
The flies are wicked – I’ve killed about twenty since starting this letter and the house is still full of them.
Before we left home we joked about the people here doing everything tomorrow. Well, the day after we moved into the house, Eshajh came to me with the water spout from the kitchen sink in his hand. He had tried to clean around it and it fell off. We had no phone at the time so he went next door and called the repairman. This was about ten am on Thursday morning and they stop for the weekend at eleven. Well, a man came out on a bike – walked into the kitchen and agreed that the sink was broken. Then he left. About a half hour later he came back with another man and the two of them looked again and said yes it was broken and that they would come on Saturday and fix it. Eshajh raised the roof with them and wanted to know how he could cook and do dishes without water – finally they agreed to work some men overtime to come fix it for us. They left, and in about an hour a big truck pulled up out front and three men got out – one opened the gate, one carried a big machine (I think for threading pipes) into the yard and the other watched. Then they drove away and a few minutes later a whole slew of men came. They took the entire tap out – knocked the tiles off the wall and pulled the drain boards off and laid them on the floor. At this point the kitchen was a mess and only the drain pipe was standing on the whole wall. Well, finally after three hours they got it fixed and drove off. Then Saturday morning they came back for all the tools. It took ten men to carry them all away. As before one man could only open the gate – others could carry them to the truck, but not put them on it, so there was a man to put the tools on the truck and one just to watch. About an hour later another man came to see that they had gotten all the tools. Boy I hope we don’t have to go through this again soon.
Do you want to hear another one? The door to the kids room had a broken hinge. They are all metal doors. First a man on a bike came and said it was broken. Later another man on a bike with a hammer came and agreed but could not fix it. Then a big truck and lots of men came. Four men came to the house – one opened the door – two supervised and the last took the door off the one good hinge, carried it outside where another man took it from him and carried it out through the gate and laid it on the sidewalk. This is where Herb came home for lunch and doubled in laughter. On the truck was a big welding machine, and right there in front of the house they fixed the door and went through the routine of who can do what to get it back in the house and hung. If nothing else, this place is good for laughs. We wanted a picture, but didn’t have the nerve to run out with a camera.
Back again – Herb was home and we have had lunch. He gets in about one and has to leave at 1:30 – we eat hearty but fast. We had roast chicken last night so the kids cleaned the bones at lunch and Herb and I had lettuce and tomato sandwiches. Iced tea for the big people and chocolate milk for the kids. So far we are using Carnation powdered milk – 27 rials per box that makes 3 quarts. Big naval oranges for dessert and boy are they good.
Hassin has been working in the yard and one flower bed is planted with carnations. This is on one side of the front door. In the middle of the front yard is a small round garden and he has planted that too, but I don’t have any idea what flowers are in it. In a few more months it will be too hot for flowers and vegetables. We have been told that there are two growing seasons here – plant in Sept. and if the frost does not get it first, you will have nice things. The other they plant in Jan. or early Feb. and if the heat does not set in too early you get a good crop. With two chances a year we should get something.
The Caslers came over last evening – before dinner – and brought us the biggest head of cabbage that I have ever seen. Mom, it was bigger round than the biggest bowl to your mixer. They also brought two large heads of endive from their garden. We had a couple of drinks with them and also invited them to come Saturday evening to help play Easter Bunny. They want to dye eggs for themselves but most of all they like the idea of hiding the jelly beans (thanks to Mrs. Hursh). We bought paper and glue the other day so we can make some kind of baskets for the kids and I want to find a new toy for each of them. They are slightly bored with the few they have. Can’t say that I blame them – I want my things from home to come, too. We did get notice that our first shipment sailed from New York on the 16th of March on the SS Elin Horn. It sure sat on the docks for a long time, it was sitting there when we left on the second. We will sure have a ball when it gets here.
Herb and the children went to Sunday School last Friday. A bus picks you up at the front door and takes you to the church. There is an adult class run by the minister. The reason for my staying home is that Eshajh was late and I didn’t have time to dress. Anyhow, on Palm Sunday we all went to the evening service. Every Sunday the service is at 7:30 PM – so 8-½ hours away – if you go to 11AM we are church at the same time. The service is basically Presbyterian except one Sunday a month when an Anglican Priest comes in to follow the English prayer book and have communion. On Easter there will be a 9 AM service. It is a pretty church, nothing like we would have at home, but for buildings here it is very nice. The minister is a very charming man, married, with four children. It did seem odd but very nice when he said prayers for the heads of Iran, Great Britain, Holland, France and the U.S., in that order. He said later to me that he had put the best one last.
It has been very gay and colorful around here the past week. Our Palm Sunday was the Iranian Now Ruz (New Year). They call it their happy time. The children all get cakes and the adults exchange flowers. They have gay parties that last half the night and all the families get together. Our gardener even brought me a bunch of flowers – he must like us. All the public buildings are decorated with crepe paper and colored lights. Maybe next year we rent our outside Christmas lights! It really looks quite pretty and the streets are mobbed with people.
Herb and I hope to go to the Bazaar this weekend. We have not been there yet and want to get an idea of what there is and also to buy some fabric to make drapes. Ruby Draper has said that I may borrow her machine until mine gets here – so I will have a place to sew. It will be nice not to live in the middle of the yard. From what we can gather you can purchase darn near anything in the bazaar. The prices there are a little cheaper than the staff store for food. Naturally if we send our cook they are still cheaper. It seems the highest price is for the Americans – we must look rich – if they only knew. We have to get the children taken care of for the day we go – they tell us that we should never take a child there. It seems the people here send their children begging and even scratch their eyes to make them bleed so that you will feel sorry for them and give them some money. Don’t know what it will be like – but we are very anxious to see for ourselves. Better stop for now and walk these little monkeys. Bobbie has been reading this over my shoulder.
I’ll give Herb a little space here and probably think of a million more things when space runs out.
Hi, I’m not too sure of the million ideas that Weezie thinks she might have. From reading the above, my only comments can deal with her horrible spelling. I am still circulating from one office to another learning a little bit more about the rather complex organization that runs this refinery and our lives. You never could dream up such a nightmare if you really worked at it. Simply, there are too many people building too many empires. I believe that this place would run twice as well on only half the number of people. The standard answer is, of course, that we have more than the refinery to operate. The big problem appears to be that too many places are expected to do the same basic type of work with the net result that no one does anything. So much for that tirade.
Really, we seem to be getting a little organized at this point. The most stupid mistake we made was not bringing wire coat-hangers with us. I don’t know how many we just left at home, plenty. We do have some coming in the sea-shipment, whenever that arrives. We have now managed to borrow about twenty so are beginning to get a few of the things hung up. Still have a long way to go, but will have quite a race to see who can fill the closet space first. So far I’m way out front since I brought about a dozen wooden hangers right in the baggage with my suits on them. Before you get the wrong impression, do not send us any hangers, we don’t know what might happen trying to get them in here. The customs regulations are very strange. I have been investigating the regulations concerning the shipment of pictures. Currently you cannot send out Kodachrome for developing without a lot of red-tape. Then you may not get all of the pictures back. They are very much opposed to pictures showing the standard of living of the lower classes. The standard answer is “this is not Iran today”. Probably we will have our pictures taken out of here and sent to London for developing and then on home. If you get a roll that has not been developed, that will be pictures taken on the way over. Please have it developed, and we will pay you for the cost. Actually we would prefer to have them sent back to us so that we could catalog them immediately rather than trying to reconstruct in about two-years. However, if I’m going to lose pictures, then I will take the least of the two evils. We will let you know definitely what course of action we take before things start on their way.
I too wish to thank you for the very nice time we were shown in New York just before we left, and for the help that was so generously given in helping to pack the house on the preceding weekend. By now, all of that seems to have been a long time ago. The indoctrination to Abadan comes very quickly. Everyone has been most pleasant and helpful so far. It remains to be seen how long this pace will be maintained. As yet, we are taking it quite easy in making friends and getting out. The pace will quicken soon enough,and we are not too sure that we want to get too deep in the rat-race with some of the people we have met. Most of them are very nice, but many do not have children and therefore are very free to come and go at anytime.
Love, Herb & Weezie
Letters Home is a collection of letters written by our Mother (mostly) and our Father ( sometimes), that chronicles their life overseas, with two, then three, then four young girls. The letters were written to their mothers and are full of daily life, unique challenges, and humor. As we live in uncertain and challenging times, it seems fitting to share.
Browse through more Letters Home and the art quilts inspired by our parents adventures.