At 2AM July 3, 1955, my parents and I, a 8 month-old, arrived at the seaside airport down the mountains from Caracas. It had been a marathon: driving up to NYC from DC, where they’d had two months of orientation training, leaving the car at loading docks, and taking our 10 pieces of luggage to the Pan Am Strato Cruiser for what turned out to be a 12 hour flight. Despite her exhaustion, Mom sat down to write to her parents, a habit that would continue for Dad’s entire Foreign Service career.
All day today we’ve been just congratulating ourselves on having arrived, after so many weeks of planning and working toward that end. Hotel Potomac, Caracas, July 3, 1955
A day later, on Venezuelan Independence Day, she set down in another letter about how the American Independence Day seemed to be done in Caracas. She was an outsider, sharing her observations with perhaps more enthusiasm than she could yet feel.
Yesterday was the Ambassador’s reception to celebrate the 4th. Bob went and had a good chance to meet many of the local Venezuelan press and radio people. The other Embassy people were very nice, including a young fellow named Al Hanson who is a trainee for this type of work. The big formal dance was last night, but we passed it up; baby sitting problem most of all but we didn’t mind just being alone. From what we hear of the amount of work to be done, it is good that Bob has this period without worries. Mr. Butler has told Bob not to worry about starting the job till we are settled and feel at home. Isn’t that a fine thing to do? We know we’re going to enjoy this stuff very much. Caracas, July 5, 1955 [Note: the “nice young fellow named Al Hanson” would become a life-long friend: Alan Hanson’s 1988 interview with Dad about his career in USIS is a treasure of information and insight (it’s on the website of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training), and Al and I are now in touch through the serendipitous connections of letters to the Palm Beach Post (local USIA retiree Alvin Perlman’s letter about Foreign Service Day led to my letter about being raised in the Foreign Service led to a letter to me from Joan Mainzer who spent many years in Venezuela and who now lives just 20 minutes from me and who knows Al well through the network of former Caraquenos. If I just lost you, here’s the simple path: writing stuff down takes you the most wonderful places past, present and future.)
By the following year, our live-in maid Josefina had become a part of our home, in large part to care for me when Mom had Foreign Service Wife duties during the day and social networking duties in the evening with Dad. She was in her first trimester of pregnancy with my sister, but the stomach muscles she’d honed while teaching and performing modern dance must have kept her waist small enough to still fit into a maid of honor dress from Minnesota: Did I tell you we are going to the 4th of July dance? Great fancy doings and at last I’m breaking out the raspberry red dress from Mary’s [Caldwell Mudge] wedding.” Caracas, July 2, 1956
A year later, Mom was no longer the newest arrival among the Foreign Service wives, and her perspective on the events at the Ambassador’s Residence reflected her understanding of the job. The reception was a big success. Mrs. McIntosh had a huge tent covering the inner garden at the Residence with good protection from both the sun and rain. We went up at 9:00 to get ready with things like arranging the receiving flowers. So many of the government bigwigs send gorgeous flower pieces and it is a job listing them (for thank yous) and then finding the proper place in the house. That in itself is an art, as the most important people must have their flowers displayed in the most important spots …Then there was constant work on sandwiches. We had each made 100 small, closed ones and they had to be arranged on the trays for passing, and later in the day they were cut in half to make enough to go around.” Caracas, July 1957
By our last summer in Caracas, the event had mushroomed: “Well, the 4th of July is nearly upon us and that means preparations for the big Embassy reception. This year our part has been to help make 2,200 sandwiches; the new Ambassador’s wife has been considerate of our pocket books and furnished the fixings. This thing is really done on a big scale, you know. There are some 8,000 North Americans though only about 1,500 show up as it is held over the noon hour; hate to think how many would come if it were at night.” Caracas, July 2, 1958
Mom was in the last generation of Foreign Service wives who assumed they’d be unpaid helpmates to their husbands. I think connecting the women to each other in this type of assignment built a community among them. Mom recalled that no one had a telephone so planning and carrying out what was asked of them meant spending time in each other’s homes. By the time we left, both Mom and Dad felt the Embassy group was as close as family. I think Al still feels that way.
Tomorrow is Venezuelan Independence Day. The story continues….