My sister, Cris: “Gawd
Steve, I am in hysterics...I remember that leg...I was fascinated
by it....don't forget the buzzard claw that you hung from
the fan which mesmerized me......it would move with the
breeze and I had fears of it coming down and latching on
Cris, “That claw was from a huge hawk that I shot
out of a tree out on the Tia Juana golf course. It took
5 shots from the pellet gun.”
Speaking of buzzards, there were
always buzzards because there was always something dead
and rotting down there. If it wasn't road kill out on the
main highway which never, never was picked up, but instead
was picked clean by the buzzards.
On our trips to and from Lagunillas
I used to watch the roadside cattle corpses slowly but surely
be picked clean and then the hide which was all that was
left on the skeleton would shrink and in about a month or
so there would only be the skeleton remaining.
During the annual dry season the
local free range, tick infested, starving cattle would drop
dead out behind the camp and the buzzards were constantly
feeding -- thank God we had buzzards.
Anyway, Bill and I used to go out
into the school playground with newspaper at noontime and
we would lie down with the paper over our heads to cut out
the sun glare and with a small hole poked through the paper
watch the buzzards slowly but surely circle around us. Of
course there was no rotten corpse to verify what they saw,
but they were curious enough to come into pellet gun range
and we would do our best to knock down any that came low
enough into range for a shot. They would put the brakes
on and frantically beat their wings to get out of range.
We bored of that pretty quickly.
There were the red and green HUMONGOUS
grasshoppers in the palm trees and also the black and orange
striped young ones. The large ones were about five inches
long and when they flew they made a loud whirring sound
and resembled some sort of bird. We had them in the palm
trees adjacent to our house in Tia Juana. My brother and
I tied fire crackers to the big ones and threw them into
the air and as they fluttered off they would be blasted
Speaking of golf and I invite the
old-timers to chime in. There was a golf course south of
the La Salina camp which was kind of barren. This is in
the early '40s. The club really amounted to a shack where
you could get a Polar and that's about it. You played on
a course that had oil wells whose pumping units were connected
by steel rods that ran from one well to another and which
drove the pumping units -- remember. And then before the
Tia Juana golf course there was the Lagunillas Creole course.
My parents played golf at both courses. The Lagunillas course
lacked one thing comment to all modern golf courses -- grass.
The greens were of oiled sand and after you played the "green"
you walked around the green dragging a board with a rope
to smooth the sand and then you played on. The club house
also was a shack and it had and ice cooler with Polar. The
course had obstacles -- goats and snakes.
The goats ate everything that they
could reach and it is true they ate the paper off tin cans.
My parents would play religiously and my brother and I would
tag along -- caddies.
Well, later--Tia Juana built nine
holes and then ten holes and my brother and I used to drive
out into the course at night in my Dad's jeep after rains
and do spins and whatever with the jeep in the mud. Later,
Dad received a letter from the camp boss, Bill Brown I believe,
informing him that he had to do something about his boys.
Anyway, when Tia Juana built the
9 holes I learned something from the Venezuelan kids who
use to caddie for the men. A new word that was similar to
something I knew, “sansabiche”, because that
is what they would direct at us when we had a run in with
them – not infrequent.
And that was golf.
I remember “triki-trakis”
These were composed of a material which resembled a gob
of snot. They could be purchased in sheets of paper for
a “locha” (12½ centavos) and they were
glued to the paper -- about ½ inch in diameter. You
could activate them by rubbing them vigorously across your
jeans or any rough surface and then throw them and the would
sputter and crackle with sparks and smoke. Well, we had
a tap dancing class in Tia Juana (you know where I am going)
and I did not tap dance because it was for sissies. The
class used to dance on the stage at the Tia Juana Staff
School. I used to watch and when the mood stuck me I would
peal off half dozen of the TTs and toss them out on the
stage and as the “whimps” danced their routines
they could hit the TTs with their steel taps and then the
dance would pickup in tempo which did not coincide with
Bats & Such:
Using tennis rackets to swat butterflies
brings other applications of the racket to mind. We used
to have bats in the attic of one of our houses in Tia Juana
and in the evening the things would drop out of a slit near
the front steps on their way to hunt.
One time we had a bat in the house
and Mom said that was it. I think it appeared in my sister's
room. Anyway, I got the tennis racket and stood on the railing
and swatted each bat as it dropped out. The end of the bats.
Then my brother and I and a few of
our friends used to take rides in back in the monte behind
the camp in the evenings -- just passing time and there
used to be a fly catcher bird that we called a one-eyed-bat
that sat on the edge of the road and you could catch its
eye in the headlights of the jeep as you approached it.
The bird would fly up just as you got on top of it and low
and behold another form of entertainment was developed where
first we tried to hit the things by sticking our legs out
of the side of the jeep as be bore down on the bird and
tried to hit it with our shoes as it lifted off, but that
was too difficult and there was some risk to leg damage
and that brings us back to the tennis racket which we used
with great success.
They Stole My Bike:
Reminds me that my brother, Bill,
had received a brand new English racing bike for his birthday
and he came home from a ride and instead of putting it away
in the maid's room left it parked in the driveway. Not more
than 15 minutes went by and the bike disappeared with the
whole family in the house. Dad and he got in the jeep and
drove about the camp looking for it, but it vanished.
On one of our vacations when we lived
in one of the two houses in Tia Juana adjacent to the dike,
thieves crawled under the fence at a drainage ditch near
the house and broke into the maid's room and stole many
of my father's precious tools. He was extremely angry as
over the years, he had helped himself to them from Creole
-- white collar crime. I still have tools with Creole etched
on them. That's another story.
The next vacation Dad hammered 2/4's
across all the doors and the windows to the maid's room
before we went on vacation. That deterred any further thefts
of his stolen tools.
Earthquake & Other Happenings:
I remember one hail storm, the earthquake
and the guy who would drop by the club selling shrunken
heads, bows-'n-arrows and blowguns with poison-tipped darts.
One of the walls in our house cracked
from the earthquake. Dad was in the shower when it struck
and it knocked him off his feet. He said he was lathered
with soap and consequently spun around on the bathroom floor.
He was prone to exaggerate a bit at times.
What about water spouts that would
come into camp and blow things around?
Then there were the blowouts and
the oil would be carried over the camp by the winds and
you, clothes, cars and anything left outside would be covered
with black spots.
Once oil intruded into the intakes
of the fresh water wells in Tia Juana and the water from
the taps in the house was loaded with black oil. It took
quite a while for the oil to be flushed from the lines.
I remember the black oil stains left in the bathroom sinks
in the morning if the faucet dripped over night.
We lived in Tia Juana at the time
of the occurrences.
During Perez Jimenez's rule as dictator,
the use of car horns was banned throughout Venezuela. The
reason why, well, one of the Dictators cronies, a General,
had purchased a freighter load of rubber-bulbed “ugah”
horns from Italy and he wanted to sell them at a premium.
So the government passed the no car-horn regulation.
I remember Dad had his “Ugah”
horn attached to left-hand mirror of our jeep and he would
squeeze the rubber horn when he wanted to pass, etc. I loved
the old “Ugah” horn.
We used to pound the side of the
jeep and I recall as people pounded the sides and tops of
Kind of surreal when you think of
I recall in the late '40s and early '50s going to the movies
in Tia Juana and carrying your personal pump flit gun to
fend off the mosquitoes and that was what almost everyone
did - adults and children. The flit guns were loaded with
During the rainy season, you could
hear the flit guns going throughout the movies. I was one
of those who ran behind the "DDT" foggers and
I know it was DDT because my father knew it was DDT and
he would advise us to stay out of the fog. So much for his
I also recall seeing the numbers
on the native shacks which had been sprayed. The numbers
were preceded with DDT.
Hallacas were considered a delicacy
in our house. Each Christmas season Mom and Dad would find
a local woman who had a good reputation of preparing “safe-to-eat”
local foods and who would prepare the most mouth-watering
It was kind of a ceremony at the
dinner table to place a steaming hallaca on your dinner
plate, cut the string and then unwrap the banana leaves
revealing the little masa filled treat. Oh, were they just
mouth watering. Dad would make a ceremony of opening the
banana leaves and placing his fists on the table while holding
his knife and fork, say YUUUUUMMMMM!!!!
Mom used to fix any leftovers with
fried eggs on top and I can visualize them as I write this
and somehow the smell of the boiled banna leaves wafts gently
through the room and I think I hear Mom call, “Everyone
come to the table now,...dinner's ready!”...