Smorgasbord Letters from America – 1985 – 1987 – A new baby arrives and I meet Debbie around the pool.


We lived in Houston Texas from January 1985 to January 1986 and most weeks I wrote home to my parents about our adventures. We traveled extensively during those two years including to Hawaii as we want to make the most of our time there. It is now early July and something I had been in training for was about to get to the finish line. My friend Vicki was having a baby and with her husband Kelly out of town in Louisiana most of the week, I have been going to her Lamaze classes with her and was to be her birth partner if Kelly could not get back in time.

Where I have found photographs from around that time, I have included.

2nd July 1985

Dear M & D,

That was the week that was! Early Sunday morning, I got the long awaited call and it was off to the hospital with Vicki and Kelly. Thankfully he was home for the weekend, and it was really lovely of them to think to include me in my role as assistant coach. It was a very long day, particularly obviously for Vicki! Her mum has been here for the last couple of weeks, and we would take turns being with Vicki all through the day in the labour room and finally at 7pm she went into the final stages. At 7.34pm. Megan Elizabeth was born and was a whopping 8lb 10oz… considering that Vicki is only 5ft 2inches, that was some achievement.

It was certainly an experience at the hospital. Here the whole family comes along and sit in the waiting room, it was absolute mayhem but great fun. There were five deliveries before Megan was born, so there were about 20 people in various stages of nail-biting, chain smoking, hand-wringing and jubilation. Having been and out to the labour suite every couple of hours or so to spell Kelly and Vicki’s mum, I was a nervous wreck!

Kelly stayed to cut the chord and Vicki’s mum and I left them together, waiting in nursery admissions until Megan was brought through 15 minutes later. She is beautiful and it was a real privilege to be invited to be there at her birth. Vicki is obviously sore and tired but we shall be bringing them home tomorrow.

They are going to leave for Shreveport later in the month now that the baby is here and I shall miss Vicki very much. She was my first friend in America and I hope that we don’t lose touch. She has been so kind and when David has been away, she and Kelly have always made sure I was okay and invited me out with them to dinner or the movies. Two lovely people.

Vicki and Megan Elizabeth back home.

David was busily putting together quotes on Sunday and was probably happy for the peace and quiet!  He went to Kansas yesterday morning and back that evening. Thankfully he can catch up on his sleep as he is off on Thursday which is our first July 4th celebrations. I will tell you all about them when I write next time.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have met some other girls at the complex. Susan who is German and whose husband has a similar job to David and travels most weeks, and Debbie, who is a high school teacher. She used to be a tennis coach, so we are going to start playing soon which is great. I think we will get on very well. She has the same sense of humour and enjoys wine too!

Debbie and I who would become best friends over the next 18 months.

The goings on in the apartments have got very steamy, and poolside gossip is rife! If only the victims of our discussions knew that every move was being noted they would be scared to death, especially the married ones! David calls us the ‘coven’, but it makes life a lot more interesting than some of the soaps that they have on television. I tend to listen more than contribute, as I am behind in the scandal.. but that really does not excuse me does it!

By now you will have received my letter telling you that there is a possibility that we might come home in January. We won’t know until September but we do hope to be here at least another year. There is so much to see and we might not come back again. What we have seen is amazing. Geographically it is very diverse with deserts and mountains to lush forests and plains. The cities are pretty astounding too, with skyscrapers that take your breath away. We might have buildings that are several hundred years old in England, but architecturally, these buildings reach up to the sky in glass and steel.

Texas is very flat around the Houston area but this is a huge state,  we have done some exploring ahead of your visit and we are going to take you to San Antonio which has a river and is much greener. Also it is a must visit for you Eric… we are going to take you to the Alamo…. I hope that will be a highlight for you.

Anyway… nearer the time we will let you have an agenda of things we have planned. Bring your appetites, portions are very generous here.

love to you both.. Sally and David.

You will find the other Letters from America: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/letters-from-america-1985-1987/

Thank you for dropping in today and I hope you will join me next week for another of our American adventures.  Thanks Sally

 

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Smorgasbord – Letters from America 1985-1987 – First swims, Alabama-Coushatta Reservation and adventures with the ice-maker by Sally Cronin


Welcome to the next post in the series Letters from America 1985 -1987. In retrospect I have managed to find some of our photographs taken during the two years that I would have shared with my parents later. They came out for a month in the November of 1985 which was wonderful.

You can find previous posts in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/letters-from-america-1985-1987/

First swims, Alabama-Coushatta Reservation and adventures with the ice-maker

Hi M & D.

Just received your letter, the first one to the new apartment, and it only took six days which is great. Sorry to hear about Norah and her collapse, as you say, thank goodness she wasn’t driving at the time. Perhaps she will give up the car now as it could have been very dangerous for others too.

My weight has dropped enough for me to venture forth into the pool. Although only the second week in March the water was about 24 degrees and lovely. We went in on Sunday and I have just had another swim. I plan on making it my daily routine for an hour and am really looking forward to it. The air temperature is very hot (for those of us from rainy England) and I have to remember to put sun screen on my back when swimming for an hour so that I don’t burn. But I am going brown which is wonderful. One of our new friends said that most people don’t swim until the evening because of the sun, something about mad dogs and Englishwomen go out in the midday sun!!

David is in San Francisco this week. He has some initial meetings set up and if anything comes of them, I will go next time. Last week we had another trip to Dallas and stayed at the Hilton (it was only two dollars more than the Holiday Inn so hang the expense!). We had dinner with a Scot and his wife who work for another part of the company, and it was very enjoyable. I must say that after the hire car, David’s new one is a joy to drive and I could seriously get used to automatic and cruise control. Especially with miles of highway ahead of you.

On Saturday we had a great treat. We visited the Alabama – Coshatta Reservation. They are woods indians rather than plain’s indians so no horses. It was a lot of fun. You pay six dollars and there are three tours, two by bus (open and flung together) and one my miniature steam train all through the reservation. On your ticket you also get a tour of their craft village and a war dance exhibition which was very exciting. We had lunch in the cafe, burger and buffalo chips! I always thought that referred to buffalo dung… but these were particularly delicious. I treated myself to a pair of silver and turquoise earrings which were very inexpensive.

We chatted to some of the guides and they were so welcoming. It is admirable that they are keeping their culture alive and are making a living from tourists. We found out that there are two tribes who are descended from the Creek Indians and originated in Alabama before being forced off their land in the 1830s. They migrated into Texas when it was Spanish and in after the war with Mexico, we found out that Sam Houston protected them. They traded with the white settlers to the area and they have lived on the reservation since then.

David arrives home Thursday and I am picking him up at the airport. By the time you arrive in November I will be able to find my way there blindfolded. We have at least four different routes dependent on time of day and traffic, and we can make it in twenty minutes.

I am glad your weather is improving too, won’t be long now before you are out on the roof garden with your tubs. I could do with some of those on our balcony, but not knowing if we might move in the next few months to Washington, I have contented myself with buying some indoor plants. At the end of our balcony is the utility area where the washer and dryer live. Washday is a pleasure, just pop it in and when dry it’s almost unnecessary to iron it.

I must admit after my initial wariness about the dishwasher (I was used to having ‘hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face with mild green fairy liquid!), I am now a fan. I use all the plates and cutlery, load them up and hey presto! They are certainly a labour saving nation, but who am I to complain if I can go and sit by the pool rather than wash dishes by hand. All kitchens in the apartments are equipped with an enormous fridge/freezer with automatic ice maker. It takes a while to get used to the bang as it releases the ice, and the first few days we didn’t know how to switch it off. Ice cubes coming out of our ears.

Anyway that’s it for this week. All our love as always… look after yourselves. Sally and David.

©sallycronin 2018

Thank you very much for dropping in and I hope you continue to enjoy our adventure in Texas and trips we made around America during our time there.

Smorgasbord – Letters from America 1985 -1987 – Birthday, New Car, Galverston and Houston Zoo


Welcome to the next post in the series Letters from America 1985 -1987. Last week we went on a road trip to Dallas and an encounter with a creepy crawler common in Texas… and another post on our Driving Test.

You can find previous posts in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/letters-from-america-1985-1987/

My first birthday in Houston was my 32nd on February 13th and a lot of things came together around that time as we found both our new home for the next two years in the Chancellor apartments, Parramatta Lane. Here is my letter to my parents announcing the good news and sharing a photo of our new car on February 23rd 1985.

Dear M and D,

Just dropped David off at the airport on his way to Kansas, We now have a new car, a Mercury Marquis which is a 3.8 litre version of the Granada and is pretty swish. Very easy to drive and has all the bells and whistles including the cruise control that I told you about in one of my earlier letters. I wondered why you could see drivers on the freeway with their bare feet hanging out the window.. now I know!

As you can see from the above address we have found an apartment. We move in on Saturday. It has two bedrooms with bathrooms en-suite and a large living come dining area. It also has a balcony overlooking a wooded exercise area with the pool opposite. It is on the second floor and quiet.. Having been in this temporary apartment for the last month right next to the children’s pool and play area, it made us realise that it might be a better position away from the public parts of the complex.

This place sounds quite swinging (in the nicest possible way). They are having a Hawaiian Evening soon which made David’s eyes light up!!! However, he is fairly resigned to the prospect, as it will give us a chance to meet our new neighbours. (I will have to go out and buy him a brightly patterned cotton shirt to wear.. that will really make his eyes light up!)

With George Washington’s birthday yesterday, we had a nice long weekend. On Saturday we went exploring up to Lake Conroe, north of Houston. We discovered a wealthy resort on the lake with enormous houses and a marina. We would have given our eye teeth to rent one. They are about 3,000 a month or more but fabulous.

Sunday we went to Galverston, south of the city, on the coast. We walked miles along the promenade, full of machos on rollerskates! It is obviously the pick up place…. We had lunch in a hotel on a pier over the Gulf of Mexico, I had a shrimp platter which turned out to be huge king prawns. Nothing like the tiny things we call shrimp in England.

Yesterday we went to Houston Zoo, the sun shone and it was about 75 degrees and beautiful. It is free to go in and we spent three hours walking around the park and were very impressed with it all. We followed this with a belated birthday dinner and after a very hectic weekend I was in bed by 10.30. No stamina at 32.

 

David is away now until Friday but has left me the new car as I need to buy things for the apartment. It is unfurnished, but when we walked around their show flat, I mentioned that I would like identical set up for our apartment. They are being very obliging and transferring it all across to our new place. Normally it would cost 180 dollars a month to rent the furniture but I managed to negotiate it to 105 dollars. I am obviously getting the hang of things!

Thank you for the photographs and everyone looks in good spirits (whisky and water no doubt) Once we are moved in I will invest in some photo frames.

Will write again in a week. Love from us both as always.

©sallycronin 2018

I hope you have enjoyed my trip down memory lane…….I would love your feedback as always. Thanks Sally

 

 

Smorgasbord Letters From America Extra 1985-1987 – The Driving Test Texas Style by Sally Cronin


At the same time as I was writing my weekly letters home to my parents, I was also writing articles on various events that took place or about places we visited. I wrote this piece about the dreaded driving test that we had to take to enable us to buy a car and get insured. We both had full licences from the UK but had to give this up and obtain a Texas licence… This was 35 years ago so both the test and some of the then rules of the road are likely to have been changed. One of these was a written test which was not introduced into the UK until some years later.

The Driving Test Texas Style by Sally Cronin

From the date of arrival you have 30 days to apply for and take a Texas driving test. Within a week we had obtained a copy of the Texas Driver’s Handbook from the Department of Public Safety. Very similar to our own Highway code, but differing in several important areas such as in road signage and right of way when driving. Several pages are devoted to the various responsibilities, and penalties for failure to comply, and at first glance they were intimidating. We needed to be totally sure of all the different elements as we would be completing a written test which we had to pass before undergoing a practical examination.

Signs and signals are basically the same as in the UK, but one thing to watch very carefully , is that it is legal in Texas, and most other states, to pass on the inside, and to even turn right at a red traffic light if your road is clear. In the UK it was illegal to undertake, and whilst you still would check before moving into an inside lane, in the US you needed to be almost paranoid in attention to your rear and side mirrors.

At least we had enjoyed three weeks of driving practice in David’s temporary company car before the test, and we spent considerable time doing our homework. Both of us had driven for several years and were only too aware of our bad habits!.

The morning of our test we drove to the Department of Public Safety with some trepidation, unsure of what to expect. We had already filled in our application forms and stood in a long line waiting to be seen. An eye test is conducted at the counter and both thumb prints taken. You are then given two sheets of questions and told to sit in the examination area. Thank goodness we had done our homework, although the questions all had multi-choice answers, which meant you had one in four chances of getting it right, there was no room for guesswork. After completing the questions it was back in line and the papers were marked.

Thankfully we both passed having asked more than 14 questions correctly, but were told that they were booked up for the day on the practical tests and we needed to come back in the morning for ours.

Having had another nervous night’s sleep, we presented ourselves at the DPS as soon as they opened at 7.30 a.m, to ensure being first in line. Our tests were booked one after the other from 8.00 am. although it was 8.30am. before David was called over by a police officer.

When David returned 20 minutes, later I was waiting by the kerb for my turn, and as he got out of the car he shook his head at me. He had failed, but he didn’t have time to say anything, as the trooper indicated for me to take the driving seat. I was already nervous, not knowing quite what to expect and quite frankly, slightly intimidated by an armed policeman sitting in the passenger seat. He introduced himself as Officer Rodriquez and told me to drive to the rear of the building, where I was told to reverse into a coned off parking space and parallel park. This was almost a disaster as I was so nervous; you could have got a taxi to the kerb.

I was then directed to leave the car park and proceed onto the main road. As in England, signals and checking mirrors are of vital importance, and I made sure to look as if I was aware of both.The rest of the test was conducted around a nearby housing estate where the speed limit was 20 miles per hour. Several right and left turns were involved and the officer told me to “Stop”…..which I did immediately having checked my rear view mirror and slamming the breaks on. Officer Rodriquez peeled himself off the dashboard and turned to glare at me…. “As smoothly as possible”  Clearly not the Emergency Stop that I had expected as part of the test then!

He then made me reverse up the road for 50 feet and around a corner until told to stop. I had convinced myself that I had now failed after nearly sending him through the windshield; the rest of the test passed in a blur. We finally arrived back at the test centre and parked at the back of the building. Officer Rodriquez was rapidly writing on a pad which he then handed across the seats for me to sign. Then amazingly told me to go and pick up my temporary licence. He got out and left me holding the portion of the test and shaking from head to toe. The maximum points that can be deducted before failing the test was 30 and I had 26.

After locking up the car I went into join David in the centre where he had booked a retest for the next day. Apparently he had failed by going 22 miles per hour in the 20 mile zone.  I took my test results to the counter and had my photograph taken which was horrendous as you can imagine; I have to live with that for the next two years on my licence as a reminder of the day. Not so bad when you only have to show occasionally, but it is now my official form of identification and I have to show every time I write a cheque in every store I shop in.

David returned the next morning and passed his test thankfully, but the amusing thing was that it turned out I was one of a very few that had passed the day before; most in line commented that they hoped they did not have Officer Rodriquez again!

©Sally Cronin 1985

I have to say that my terror of driving passed, but my fear of bumping into Officer Rodriquez when out in the car, meant that I was a law abiding citizen throughout the next two years. I eventually clocked up over 50,000 miles as we explored both coasts and across central America on our adventures.

I hope you have enjoyed this adventure and look forward to your feedback.

You can read my Letters from America in this directory:https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/letters-from-america-1985-1987/

The story of two horses – Midnight and Satan – A true story!!!


A number of people have mentioned that they wanted to hear the story of Midnight and Satan after I did a teaser in my last Memories are made of this…1989.. Here is the paragraph concerned followed by the story of two horses.. Midnight and Satan.

We flew into Houston after the eleven hour flight and stood in line with 400 other arrivals waiting to pass through passport control. An announcement came over the tannoy. ‘David and Sally Cronin welcome to Houston, your friends are waiting outside for you.’ This is what happens when you have a friend working for one of the airlines!!! Sure enough we passed through the doors to be greeted by a whole crowd with two stick horses bearing the names of Midnight and Satan. That is a story for another day! That day is here!

Since I would like to prove my horse-riding credentials I offer herewith a photograph in evidence. I would also like to add that my skill as a horsewoman was combined with an ability to catch fish whilst in the saddle!!!

sally wedding day 1980By the time we had been in Houston for a year we had become part of an amazing group of wonderful people, mostly living in our complex in Parramatta Lane. If you have been following my memories series for the years we lived there, you will have gathered that most weekends involved quite a bit of partying. This included frequent mass migration to I-45 and Papasito’s Mexican Cantina, where several pitchers of margheritas and plates of fajitas were consumed.

It was probably after the consumption of tequila that it was proposed, that since we were in Texas, we should pay homage to the cowboy and go horse riding.  Remember this is thirty years ago and I may not get all of the details correct but hey… why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

Our lovely friend Patty took it upon herself to organise a group booking for a ranch on the outskirts of the city. We rolled up on the Saturday morning in several vehicles; bright and early, more or less eager to take on the role of cowboy for a couple of hours. Patty has a very refined accent and I guess that the cowboy who took the booking thought that we were all a bunch of greenhorns. A line of genuine western dudes greeted us as we alighted from the vehicles; removing their hats and smiling in greeting.

#Beware smiling cowboys!

Innocently we moved forward in a protective gaggle and were introduced to the horses already saddled in preparation for our ride. David had some experience of horses. Whilst studying for his degree in Plymouth he and his friends hired horses to trek on Dartmoor. Trek horses tend to generally be well behaved and predictable although David found that some also decide when they have had enough, returning to the stables; whether their riders are ready or not!

Other of our friends in the party were fairly novice but several were very experienced. The cowboys distributed the horses according to our estimated riding ability and since we were the most inexperienced they saved two horses specifically for the English rookies. Enter Midnight and Satan!!  They looked pretty wild to us as their eyes rolled in anticipation, but we were assured that they were the quietest horses in the stables. Everybody else was mounted and waiting for us to do likewise. Not wanting to hold the proceedings up, David and I hoisted ourselves into the saddles; watched by an audience of smirking cowboys.

Gingerly we coaxed our two seemingly misnamed mounts towards an open gate and a long green field that seemed to stretch almost to Mexico.  To be honest we were not paying much attention to our friends who we assumed were moving in the same direction. That is until we looked behind us to find that they were not even out of the stable yard. In fact the horses were milling around and despite even the experienced riders attempts, not one was heading out.

We however were now in the hands of the western gods and David decided to give his steed Satan a little Irish nudge in the ribs to get him walking… Except he seemed to have hit the Texan accelerator and before he could say – get me out of here I’m a celebrity; Satan was at full gallop down the field with David shouting ‘Stop, stop you b*******d stop.’

I was terrified for him and at the same time being careful not to give my seemingly calm horse any ideas.  Our friends had still not appeared so I was on my own. I gently touched Midnight’s flanks and we set off at a trot down the field in pursuit of my husband who could have easily won a bronc bucking competition. I needn’t have bothered as I saw David returning at speed… and I mean SPEED, and he went flying passed me, hat flying behind him attached by its chin strap, still shouting ‘Stop, stop you b******d stop.’

I turned Midnight to follow and saw that the cowboys were standing around slapping their thighs with their hats and rolling around at the spectacle. Midnight at that point decided to join in the fun and gathered speed. Those who know me well; find me quite funny at times. But when I get miffed it is not a pretty sight. I pulled my horse up and dismounted and led him unwillingly behind me as I watched the drama unfolding in front of me. Satan came to a sudden stop a few yards from the fence. Thankfully David was able to remain in the saddle but it might have been very nasty. I was nearly at the gate by now and the cowboys realised that things were not going according to plan.

They scattered as the wrath of Khan descended upon them using all the anglo saxon and newly acquired Texan words I could muster. It turned out that the other horses had deliberately not been fed that morning and were not planning on going anywhere. It had obviously seemed like a good idea at the time to give us rookies a ride we would never forget.

There followed some discussions with said cowboys who claimed innocence and as an experiment David mounted one of the horses that had refused to leave the yard, despite being ridden by one of our most experienced friends. It would seem that David has a knack, as one touch from him and that horse took off like a Grand National runner as well.  We decided that the Irish accelerator is more superior to the Texan version!!

As you can imagine the story, like fishing tales, got embellished over time with much laughter and tequila.. Midnight and Satan became legends, which is why when we returned to Houston in 1989 for our reunion, our friends brought stick horses with their names emblazoned across them.

I am sure that Satan had the last laugh and I hope had grudging respect for the guy who stuck to him like glue despite his best efforts.. I know I did….

Black horseThanks for dropping by and as you can imagine my preferred horsepower is now under the bonnet of a four wheeled vehicle.

Photographic memories – Texas 1986 – Fishing, horses, and water moccasins


My friend Debbie who lived in our complex in Houston came from quite a large ranch about 50 miles outside the city.  Her father had cattle and horses and she invited me out to spend the day one weekend with her family when David was away across in California.

Her father had cleared a large piece of land and dug out a very sizeable lake which provided water for the surrounding ground and stock. He had also populated the lake with some fish and the kids had grown up using for paddle boarding, swimming and fishing. Being a beautiful and hot summer Texas day when I arrived, it was decided to cool off by getting the boards out and paddling and then jumping (of falling off in my case) into the water which was not very deep. We wore sneakers to prevent gettting caught on any stones and I also wore a t-shirt to prevent getting burned. The family had been enjoying this cool little paradise for years and I threw myself enthusiastically into all the activities.

We then tried our hands at fishing and much to my surprise I actually caught a small bass which ended up, with everyone’s elses on the BBQ.  Throw in a ride back from the lake on a very friendly and docile horse and I was very happy as you can see.

I have a thing about snakes – I think it was probably a result of repeated warnings and shrieks from my amah when I was very young and living in Sri Lanka – There were plenty of poisonous varieties and with the jungle only feet away from the house there were several incursions into the house let alone the garden.  As a three year old my natural curiosity might have got me into trouble so it was instilled in me from that age that they were something to be very scared of.

Shortly after this photo was taken of me astride this patient horse whilst holding up my contribution to supper, one of the younger boys decided to inform me that he was surprised that we had not encountered one of the many water moccasins that inhabited the lake!

I often wonder what this picture would have looked like if it had been taken five minutes later!

Image

Other photographic memories in the directory

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/non-health-directory-photographic-memories-short-stories-poetry/