This item was graciously contributed by Cris Sleightholm. While I don't have any personal information about her, her brother Steve has also contributed to this site quite extensively and more information about the Sleightholm family can be found in his postings.

We're all greatly indebted to her for sharing this story with us.

 

 

ANN SLEIGHTHOLM's MEMORIES OF LIFE IN THE OIL CAMPS of EASTERN LAKE MARACAIBO IN THE 1940's and 50's

Ann Sleightholm - late 1940's

My Mom, Ann Sleightholm, told me a few stories of her early years in the camps of eastern Lake Maracaibo, and I will share some of them as I can best remember.

She went down with Dad, which must have been right around 1940 (as the birth of Bill followed soon after her arrival). It was quite an adjustment from the bustling life as a nurse in New York City!

“Her first house was a Quonset hut minus air-conditioning (we did not have air-conditioning until 1962) and she told me the heat was almost unbearable. Dad was a drink hand and spent his afternoons after work with his buddies at the club winding down and drinking. Most of the wives down there were new and they quickly learned that unless they preferred sitting home alone, they best join their husbands and quickly became drink hands too.

The first couple of years for the wives were a challenge and they quickly bonded and drew upon the limited resources to make do. Mom's next house was the old Lagunillas style house set up on blocks…these later were risen up on stilts. Walls did not meet up with ceilings as to allow circulation of air, along with the usage of ceiling fans, so private bathroom moments had either one of my parents sitting out on the steps so as not to be offended by 'noises'. Black and white movies were shown and it is from them that people were kept current with news of the war (WWII), and what was going on in the US. Magazines were occasionally available, and the ladies would keep and eye on the fashions and try to reproduce them with their old Singer sewing machines. Mom and Dad played golf fairly frequently, and it is my understanding that Mom became quite a good golfer (when I was young, and Steve needed a reprieve from me being his shadow, I would follow my parents as they played).

It was around this time that my parents decided that the daily club routine became tedious, and decided to begin exploring the monte. It became a daily drive. They set off in the Jeep (they always had a Jeep with a winch on the front) and took every back road they could find, often times having to winch themselves out of stuck-in-the-mud scenarios. Mom also learned to hunt with a shotgun and she and Dad took turns shooting the plentiful game…Mom could not bring herself to shoot deer, so she primarily shot quail and white-tailed dove. It was during those years that their love of chasing storms developed. Very few of their friends partook in these drives, preferring to continue their hanging around the club drinking routine. I can't remember the names of the towns they would pass through, but they were primitive. On several occasions they stayed overnight and the conditions were deplorable. I believe that it was the outings that fomented a special bond between my Mom and Dad that lasted for life.

Food shopping for the wives was done at the commissary and the selections varied each week, sometimes plentiful, sometimes scarce. Local meats were so tough and stringy that Mom used a pressure cooker for years to tenderize the meat. Bread was homemade, as the local bread was not of good quality. Local fruits were plentiful, potatoes blew up in the oven, and the ever present bugs thrived in the flour, sugar (little red ants), cereals, rice, etc. Mom became a pie maker, and Dad's friends (Paul Naut [sp]) loved to stop by after work for a piece of her pie! She baked pies and took them to her friends, even drove to the other camps to deliver a pie. Once a week we would drive out to the egg place which was somewhere out behind Ciudad Ojeda and fill her basket with eggs, and hopefully make it back to camp with a minimum of cracked eggs. Any new clothes to be had either waited till the yearly vacation to the states, hand me downs, or sewn by hand. Mom did not buy local clothes or shoes as Venezuelan quality was non-existent. Virtually a make-do situation. Furniture was brown or blonde wicker and provided by the company.

Trips to the states were either on the Clipper planes which terrified Mom as the sides of the planes would buckle when landing in the water, or by ocean liner. I remember her telling me how they rolled in the seas and the cabins were stifling as the portholes allowed little air movement. The countdown for each vacation began upon return of the previous vacation and the excitement would mount as the months turned to weeks turned to days to hours for the next departure. Launches were the standard mode of travel to Maracaibo, to be replaced by the ferry, to be replaced by the bridge in the early 60's. My birth in Lagunillas in 1949 was due only by the fact that the launch was not going fast enough and Mom would have never made it to Maracaibo.

Fortunately, the wives had maids, allowing for more time to do the cooking, sewing, child rearing and socializing. Spanish was learned quickly. Around the late 40's wringer washing machines were available, reducing the drudgery of the washboard. Clothes were hung out on the lines and wives chatted with each other across the yards. Blow outs in the lake were common, and as the early derricks were close to the camps, the prevailing winds would blow the oil over the freshly hung sheets dotting them with oil specks. By the early 50's, Mom and Dad were living in Tia Juana, and the Simms were one of their best friends. They would follow us to picnic spots out in the monte that was accessible with their car. Fried chicken, Parker House rolls, potato salad and cupcakes was the favorite for these picnics, sometimes though it was BBQ, and Mom's sauce was the best!

The 50's was a definite improved change over the 40's. My parents were settled into their routines, friendships were deeply rooted, and child rearing was the agenda for the day. Supermercados were replacing the commissaries, and the Venezuelan government was allowing goods from the United States to stock the shelves alongside the Venezuelan goods. Meat was available from Argentina and the quality was a definite improvement…the pressure cooker was put away. SEARS opened up a store in Maracaibo, and more house wares were available. Local clothing quality still suffered and continued to be purchased in the US. Air travel improved, and ocean liners were now air-conditioned. Polio outbreak was the main fear. Fortunately, most of us were inoculated during visits to the US; however a few children came down with polio. Blowouts continued to pepper the clothes lines, but were fewer in occurrence. The new clubhouse was built with a restaurant, Olympic sized pool, magazine store, bar, and outdoor movie screen.

However, it was during the 50's that the stresses of life down there started to become evident. Wives tripping out (modern day language for breakdowns), husbands' drinking more, family violence, separations, etc., not quite the idyllic life…on the contrary, it was downright difficult. The choice to live in Venezuela and raise a family was often fraught with nerve fraying decisions and these choices often led to mini-breakdowns.

I once asked Mom if she enjoyed her life down there, and she told me that the early 40's were best. I asked her if she regretted her decision to marry Dad and go down there to a lifestyle completely alien to what she was accustomed to and she replied 'not at all'.

I wonder if any of you readers can recall your parents' memories and (wonder if) they are similar to my Moms'.