Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives – Letters from America 1985-1987 – Adventures in the USA – April 1985 – Brazos Bend State Park, Anaconda’s and Doggy Bags. Sally Cronin

Last week I shared the letter I sent to my parents about are first visit to New Orleans and our adventures.. bring on the cocktails...1985 – Easter in New Orleans.

This week I get up a little too close and personal with creatures who terrify me in Brazos Bend State Park, Anaconda’s and Doggy Bags.

17th April 1985

Dearest M & D.

I hate to say this after your lousy Easter weather, but it has been 80 -90 degrees this week! We have been down to the pool most evenings for a last swim of the day and taken plastic glasses of wine with ice!  Lovely way to spend an hour or so until the mozzies arrive.. as they say, everything in Texas is bigger and better….and the mosquitos here are no exception, big as bats!

At least you sound as if you had an enjoyable time with most of the family there, who I trust are all well. You sound very busy Mollie and no doubt the conservatives will now be celebrating their success. Just let me know when you change your address to Downing Street.

I have heard very good reports about 42nd Street the musical. Penny’s mother-in-law went to see it as her god-daughter is in the chorus. She said it was excellent. The live entertainment here is mainly restricted to the bars, however you only have to drive on the freeway to be entertained by cowboys and bikers.. all for the price of a new rear bumper.

We had quite a lively weekend. On Saturday we went to the Brazos Bend State Park about 90 minutes from the apartment, fully intending to go for a healthy walk. The first stumbling block for me was the numerous snake and alligator warning signs. ‘Do not feed or approach alligators’ As if I would! Halfway into the park we had to avoid a wriggling monstrosity in the middle of the road (thankfully we were still in the car). David said is was only an itty bitty frightened baby snake (he is the master of the understatement). I sat rigidly as he drove around excitedly pointing out all the lovely long paths leading into the forest!

He suddenly realised that I was in a comatose state and drove me away again nearly running over a black anaconda making its way across the road. (Slight exaggeration) but it was leaving the park and so was I. Luckily David is very understanding – snakes scare me rigid. Probably all the times I was screamed at by my nanny in Ceylon as a toddler whenever I explored anything that crawled or slid in my vicinity.

On Sunday we relaxed by the pool and then went out to the Mexican restaurant we enjoy, Pappasito’s Cantina with some of our neighbours. When you come to see us in October we will introduce you to quesadillas and fajitas. Bring large appetites as you will need them. Over here if you cannot finish your dinner (most times as the portions are so generous) you can ask for a doggy bag ( I do feel bad about lying that we have a dog at home!). The server will wrap up the rest of your dinner in cartons and put in a carrier bag and off you go. It beats eating cereal for breakfast the next morning as long as you don’t mind a bit of chilli!

David flew to Washington on Monday until and I am picking him up at 9.30 this evening. He is then home until next Wednesday which is great. My ankle is much better and swimming every day has certainly helped… but not sufficiently to permit to take a hike in the Bravas River park anytime soon!

Love to you both and I will write again soon.

Sally and David


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 – Road Trip Atlanta-Houston and BBQ Cookout 1986

When I was given the folder of my letters to my parents when my father died in 1996, I was amazed that he had kept them for ten years. But so pleased that he did. We tend to remember the major events, and we had plenty of amazing experiences in those two years of living in the United States, but it is easy to forget the everyday…

By the pool Monday 10th March 1986

Dear M & D

It is a cloudy day but 65 degrees so I decided to write you letter by the pool instead of in the apartment. Sorry to hear you have had the flu Mollie, and hope it is much better by the time you read this.

We set off from Atlanta at 11 a.m last Monday and were intending to stop at Pensacola in Florida that night and then again in Mississippi on Tuesday night. However, you know what it is like!!! We felt quite fresh, and decided to push on and stop when we got tired, and at 3.30a.m we arrived back in Houston! 780 miles which is not bad. We took it in turns driving, 2 hours on and 2 hours off and stopped each time for a break and either a coffee or something to eat and it worked well.

We have spent the rest of the week recovering and getting sorted after nearly ten days away, and thankfully David has not had to travel.


This weekend was spent at our first BBQ cookout. We went up to Debbie on Friday night to Conroe where 80 teams were competing with their sides of beef and secret recipes.The smell was amazing and all thoughts of being good flew out the window. Impossible to try everyone’s BBQ but we learnt from our friends that the pits with the longest queues where well known for the quality of their meat.. and some of those sauces were hot, hot….

We met some really great people including some real cowboys who were fascinated by our accents. Eventually I was forced to give a rendition of Molly Malone to the owners of one of the BBQ stands, although I think they lost a few people out of their queue!


That evening.. with very full stomachs, we sat around a campfire and drank wine, comparing notes and enjoying the music.. In good country style, guitars were dug out of the campers and there were some great musicians and we enjoyed a good singalong. I have discovered I like country music since we arrived here and hearing it in an authentic setting does make a difference.

Yesterday we went back at midday and sat in the sun, but it was very windy  with dust blowing around all the time and I spent most of the day sneezing. When we got back to Houston late afternoon, Debbie and I had our first tennis match of the season and I was in bed by 9.00pm. When she finishes work today we are off to play again… the exercise is working..

I am so happy with my new car, it is great and it is so good to be able to go out shopping during the day rather than wait for David to come home from work. I don’t want to leave it behind if we move back to the UK at the end of the year and we are looking into how I can import it.

Walter sends his love and he has done something very constructive. He has given up his weekends to work in the apartment office which means he lives rent free. We are delighted for him and he seems to be very settled with his latest girlfriend.

Hopefully in the next week or two we will hear from the attorney about changing my status so that I can work too. Although he is not hopeful.. Until David has a firm job offer they are unlikely to change by Visa, but always we know things will work out for the best.

Time to get back inside and prepare chilli for some of the guys who are coming over to catch up on our trip and the BBQ weekend.

Love from us both…. S & D

©Sally Cronin

The images are from Pixabay as mine are packed away in the attic…..

You can catch up with the other letters from America:


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:

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


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!


Other photographic memories in the directory