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Remembering Campo Mata

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S: Remembering Campo Mata Pamela Portwood

FC: Remembering Campo Mata | Pamela Portwood

1: Remembering Campo Mata | Pamela Portwood

2: Remembering Campo Mata is copyright 2012 by Pamela Portwood. "Growing Up in Campo Mata" is copyright 2012 by Pamela Portwood. "The Mosquito Cloud" is copyright 2012 by Gregory Leigh Lyons. "Our Memories of the Mata and Mata 4 Camps, 1952-1953" is copyright 2012 by Stanley King and Carolina Hoggard King. Copyright to the photographs remains with the original photographers. Published by Mixbook 2012 | Thank you to all of my friends from Campo Mata who provided photographs and contributed texts to the book: Jodee Schmalhausen Caceres, Jo and Harrell Carpenter, Jean and Tom Crawford, Alex Fuller, Mitzi Gibson, Matt Hearne, Walter Hoffman, Stan and Carolina King, Leigh Lyons, Lyn and Sam Lyons, Joe Martinez, Christy Paulsell, Tom Portwood, Ken and Marilyn Quarfoth, Mildred Venitucci and Bob Wied. The Directory of Ex-Venzuela Texpet-ers 1971, edited by Al Perko, Stan King and Ken Quarfoth, and its essay by JM Patterson were great resources for discovering Campo Mata's history and its residents. Thank you to my husband Mark Taylor for his help and support with this project. A special thanks goes to Tom Crawford who originally scanned many of these images and helped me in innumerable ways with the collection. | Front cover: Color aerial view of Campo Mata featuring the outdoor movie screen in front of the community clubhouse Back cover: Aerial view of Campo Mata Flyleaf: Campo Mata and the nearby oil wells | To my parents Alice and Norm Portwood

3: I was born in Houston, Texas in 1957, but I don't remember a world before Venezuela. My parents Alice and Norm Portwood, my older brother Tom and I moved to Campo Mata, an oil camp in the middle of nowhere Venezuela, when I was two. By the time my family moved there, Mata was a tiny town of Texaco employees, spouses, children, local maids and workers – less than 200 people in all. Hedges of red hibiscus separated the houses, and purple, pink and white periwinkles grew everywhere. Beyond the cleared area of houses, community clubhouse, school and golf course was el monte, the wild plains in the state of Anzoategui. In later years, a giant round slab of concrete was poured in the middle of “The Circle,” a circular field surrounded by houses. The slab was emblazoned with a giant Texaco star, proclaiming our allegiance to the birds flying overhead. Orange spigots of gas flares burned on the horizon. As for daily life, there was no grocery, so my mother and the other wives had to drive 30-45 minutes to shop in Anaco, a larger Mobil oil camp. Cases of soft drinks were delivered by truck. A stick always stood beside the cases of Coca-Cola in back of our house. Before reaching among the bottles, I had been taught to bang them with the stick and listen for the shaking sound of maracas in reply. The rattlesnakes liked to lay their eggs in the empty bottles. Snakes were common, and I remember the men in camp killing a snake with a body that was the diameter of an adult thigh. At least, that’s how big it seemed to me as a child. Much of Mata’s social life revolved around the community clubhouse. There was a bar and a giant, covered patio where seats and tables could be set up for parties and events. It seemed that my mother was always stitching up a new costume for a club event. There was Halloween, of course, and Las Vegas Night, which included gambling. My father grew a beard for Las Vegas Night because men without beards were fined, but he hated beards and always shaved it off at the first possible moment after the beard competition. A photograph of Las Vegas Night shows my mother, wearing her homemade cancan dress and fishnet stockings, doing the cancan on the club bar, the ceiling only inches from her head. Another year I remember my mother using air-conditioner filters to make the shining armor for their matching, medieval knights' costumes. The club had a pool and "cabanas," brightly colored, striped, metal roofing sheets shaped like giant pieces of paper bending in the wind. Every Friday night, a censura A (censor rating A) family movie was shown on a drive-in size screen in the yard in front of the clubhouse. We children would go and lie in the grass to watch the movie while the adults congregated under the porch and in the bar. Wednesday night was the censura B (censor rating B) movie for adults. Children weren’t allowed into the B movies although I remember seeing a couple of them from the top of a car hood in the parking lot. The camp was a childhood dream, the small-town life that gave kids an incredible amount of freedom. Meanwhile, the adults played golf or tennis or bridge, drank cocktails at the bar and gave parties – lots of parties. When it came to attending church in the middle of nowhere Venezuela, there were two choices: Catholic or Protestant. Like the other Protestant children, I went to Sunday school at the clubhouse while the Catholics had to drive to Anaco for mass. Easter photos show me at age three wearing a cute dress, holding my Easter basket and looking around, hoping to find another egg in the grass. I am sporting a haircut much like the early Beatles, only shorter, the result of a friend "trimming" my hair. The year I entered the third grade, my family moved to Venezuela’s capital Caracas, a city set in a valley surrounded by the tail end of the Andes Mountains. Other families from Mata moved to Caracas when we did, but it wasn’t the same. Being a tiny enclave of Texaco families scattered throughout a big city, even a Venezuelan city, wasn’t like living in a tiny community where everyone knew each other and kids could run around alone and play practically anywhere. Three years later, we moved back to the United States, to New Orleans, an American oil town. Again a few Mata families moved from Venezuela to the greater New Orleans area, but it truly wasn’t the same as living in Mata. Like many children who grew up as expatriates, I didn’t feel like I belonged in the country where I was born. I belonged in Venezuela, my home. I didn’t feel like an American until I was 19 and | Growing Up in Campo Mata By Pamela Portwood

4: traveling through the Middle and Near East on a college travel-and-study program. Living with families in Morocco, Iran and India, exotic places even for an ex-pat, made me see the many things that made me an American even though I had grown up abroad. Now when people ask me where I am from, I say I’ve lived in Tucson for almost 30 years. In this city of transplants, that makes me a native. If they ask again, “But where are you from?” I don’t have an answer. I never have. Not from the city where I was born or the country where I grew up that I haven’t seen in decades, not from the city where my parents lived for the rest of their lives and not from the city where I have lived for 29 years, where I still live. Not having an answer to the question doesn’t bother me though. I just feel lucky to have grown up in two worlds, two cultures. Over 45 years have passed since my family moved away from Campo Mata. We’ve all grown up, grown older. The Mata parents have retired. The Mata kids have become parents. We’ve spread out all over the country, even the world. We’ve lost some of the people we loved. The thing that has persisted for me, for most people who lived in Mata, I think, is the sense of family from those oil camp days, the sense of a shared past that has transcended time and distance. Postscript One of the wonderful things about editing this book is that I have gotten back in touch with people I hadn’t heard from in decades. I also have learned much about those Mata days and heard some great stories from the people who contributed to the book. I had never heard of the Mata 4 wildcat camp until I read Stan and Carolina King's essay. Walter Hoffman wrote that when his wife Dalia was expecting their daughter Martha Lynn, he was worried about having a car breakdown if they had to drive to the San Tome hospital late at night. He asked my father to follow them if it came up, and sure enough, they ended up driving in a two-car caravan to the hospital after 11 p.m. – with no problems. Jean Crawford remembered that there were holes in the floorboards of my parents’ car. I do remember that blue car and my mother saying that some of the women’s stiletto heels had punched through the rusty metal floor. As a kid, I thought that being able to see the road through the holes as we drove was a great car feature. The Lyons and the Pelaks used to go to a river south of the Orinoco to fish and to hunt for gold. Sam Lyons found a small | Pamela Portwood lived in Campo Mata when she was two to eight years old (1959-1965). She is an interior designer and writer, and she has lived in Tucson, Arizona with her husband Mark Taylor since 1982. The first part of this text is excerpted from a longer essay about Venezuela. | Pamela (Pam) Portwood outside her home in Mata on Easter morning 1960 | diamond in the sand when he was hunting for gold. He put it in a matchbox to save for a piece of jewelry for one of his daughters, but the matchbox was accidentally thrown away. As he wrote, “Es la vida." “Such is life” is a truly Venezuelan phrase like “Mi casa es su casa” (My home is your home). Mildred Venitucci mentioned that there was no TV in Mata. (I didn’t forget that either.) She borrowed a radio from Norman Hicks to hear news of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember playing in The Circle and hearing someone’s mother calling us from her front yard. My friends and I set off running towards her since we could tell from her voice that something was wrong. At some point, I heard her saying that the President had been shot. It was Nov. 22, 1963. Now that memory is a reminder that even though we were off in our own world in Mata, history was being made in the world from which we came, the world to which we would finally return.

5: Campo Mata was one of many camps that Texaco established in the 1940s and 1950s to house its employees and their families near the areas across eastern Venezuela where the company had concessions for oil exploration.

6: Campo Mata | The Texas Company (later Texaco) bought the land in Venezuela for Campo Mata in 1943 although the oil camp was not established until the 1950s. The company also had a wildcat camp called Mata 4 that was located 30 km from Campo Mata. Mata 4 was open from 1952-1953 until drilling for the oil well was completed, and then all of the employees and trailers were moved to the main camp. The company also moved some of its employees from other Texaco oil camps to set up Campo Mata. The camp's first residents lived in trailers, and then in metal Parkersburg prefab houses. When the extent of the area's oil reserves was clear, permanent houses were built in the camp. In 1962, there were 33 families housed in Mata as well as several families living in transitional trailer housing. The camp ultimately included a community clubhouse, swimming pool, golf course, tennis courts, outdoor movie screen, bowling alley, school, mess hall and employee offices. The wives in Mata typically drove to Anaco (a larger Mobil oil camp) to shop. Mata residents also had to drive to Anaco to fly out to Caracas or Maracaibo, Venezuela's major cities, and from there fly to the U.S. Through the years, many Texaco families moved to and from Mata, Caracas, Maracaibo and Texaco's other oil camps in Venezuela. Some families returned to the U.S. after living in Mata or headed off to other Texaco bases throughout the world. Texaco closed Campo Mata in 1970 and moved its offices to Anaco. Some of the field personnel maintained offices in Mata's warehouse although the rest of the camp was empty. In the late 1970s, Texaco donated Mata to a charity. The camp has since been reopened as a Venezuelan community.

7: Families living in homes in Mata in 1962, according to this camp map: Alonso, Blackwell, Carpenter, Carrigan, Caston, Chacine, Chatoff, Comby, Crawford, Davies, Ewell, Gatenby, Graham, Hampton, Hancock, Hardeman, Hearne, Hicks, Hoffman, Lyons, McAllister, Morris, Paulsell, Pelak, Portwood, Purcell, Quarfoth, Raul, Schmalhausen, Shilling, Tondo, Walsh, Wied and Weiss. Several families also lived in the transitional trailer housing.

8: Mata 4 Wildcat Camp | The derrick at Mata 4 stood 207 feet from the floor to the crown black, making it the tallest derrick in Venezuela in 1952. | Mata 4 camp with the rig, eight trailers and The Wash House (on the right) with clothes hanging on the line. The X marks the King's trailer. | The front of the King's trailer in Mata 4 with tables and chairs set up for a barbecue | Rear view of the King's trailer, which was balanced on cement blocks, 1952-1953 | Carolina Hoggard King | Stan King

9: Mata was The Texas Company’s main camp and 35 km down a road was the Mata 4 wildcat camp. This road started at Mata as a blacktop road with huge chunks gone from the surface. Then it turned into a new gravel road with a very high center, which was a must during the rainy season. At the end of that road sat the Santa Fe Company drilling rig where they were drilling for The Texas Company. There was a native “ranch” house (mud walls and hard-packed dirt floors for a family with three little children) and eight trailers. Each had a cement patio and an awning. One was empty, a guest trailer. I don’t know if these new trailers were Santa Fe Co. or Texas Co. trailers. At that time, this derrick was the tallest in Venezuela. It was 207 feet to the crown block. There were four crews. There was a native driller, four floor men, a derrick man and an American diesel mechanic, which made seven to the tour. And there was an American supervisor, Mr. Rhoddy. You could walk to the derrick from camp – it was close, but not too close, and it was NOISY! Located not far from the trailers was a cement slab with a tin roof – no sides, all open, with one washer. It was the kind with the ringer. We had a tub or two for the rinse water. Nothing like what we have today. Located a few feet from this slab was a one-line clothesline. Mrs. Rhoddy assigned each woman a washday. The women of the camp referred to this slab and washer as The Wash House. The Mata 4 drilling began in August or September 1952 during the rainy season. So you got your wash hung on the line early as the rain would come in around 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. These seven women who lived there really welcomed the dry season. But as you can see in one of the pictures there was only one road, and it went by The Wash House. In the dry season, the dust would fly off that road onto the wet, hanging clothes. It was terrible if a vehicle drove by! I can still hear my aunt getting all worked up when she looked out the trailer window and saw all that dust blowing toward the clothesline!!! I believe the road was oiled after a lot of griping. We didn’t have a great amount of vehicles coming out there, but when we did, we would run outside to see who it was. There was only one kid in Mata 4: Buddy Miles and his wife’s two-year-old boy. I don’t know if there were any kids in Mata. There was no school at that time. There may have been some little ones, but I don’t think so. I was an 18-year-old girl living with my aunt and uncle. Life for me (and probably for all of the others) was Monotonous, Lonely and Quiet, and I experienced a lot of homesickness. We had no radio, no magazines, no books – nothing. So it was great to go to the Moriche “club” in Mata. The “club” house was certainly nothing to write home about, but it was always loud and lively. It stood alone, more like a good-sized hut. A greater treat was to go to Anaco to Grady’s. It was owned by an old American who had lived there for who knows how many years. I think back on how clean that kitchen must have been. But we always liked to eat there. There weren’t really any other choices. It was fun shopping in Anaco, El Tigre and El Tigrito. Puerto La Cruz was like visiting a big city! Well, finally in 1953, Mata 4 was finished. A DRY HOLE. All the trailers were pulled, one by one, back to Mata camp. I have no idea where that rig went. But somewhere nearby for the Texas Co. By then, I had a job in the geology department, earning some money!!!, typing some letters but mostly well reports. I typed the word “fluorescence” all the time and always misspelled it. At that time, Mata camp consisted of two houses, the Moriche “club” and office building and a separate building for the geologists. This building had one room. I guess the P.E.s (petroleum engineers) had their own building (one room), too. Nothing was very large. There was a mess hall, some trailers for non-company workers and several back-to-nature houses for just about everyone. Texas Co. had two steam drilling rigs and had drilled a few, very prolific, oil wells. Johnny O’Dowd was the district geologist. Dejay Shriner took his place when Johnny was transferred. The other geologists were Tony Petullo, Sam Brown and Stanley King. Between the Mata and Mata 4 camps there were probably 16 women, wives of the employees, and all from the States. When we were still living in the Mata 4 camp, I answered a knock on our door around 8:00 p.m., June 1st. There stood Tony Petullo and a new geologist, Stanley King, who had been there for about three weeks. Tony had brought him out to Mata 4 to “see” the well. Geologists were always looking for a cup of coffee. Asking the driller where they could find a cup, he pointed to our trailer and said, “The pot’s always on over there.” That’s how I met Stan, and six months later we were married in Maracaibo in 1953. Some of the people we remember working for the Texas Co. in Mata are Harry Whiting, Tom Carroll, Dutch Boudreaux, Sam Pees, Ed Diebold (brother of Roblecito’s Joe Diebold), Lou Dunn, Walt Hoffman and Walt’s dog, Dynamite. | Our Memories of the Mata and Mata 4 Camps, 1952-1953 | By Stanley King and Carolina Hoggard King

10: From LIFE magazine: Sunday barbecue and croquet in suburban setting provide amusement for American oil families who live in own colony at Mata, Venezuela. Steel prefab house with air-conditioned bedrooms was sent from U.S., belongs to party's host, Texas Petroleum Company Engineer Joe Kiker (foreground, back to camera). Also at the party are Joyce Hardabeck (in orange dress) and Jean Crawford (kneeling in blue, plaid dress).

11: Bob Hardeman picks up his ball on Mata's golf course. The rough nearby is a fiery pit. | From LIFE magazine Vol. 42, No. 26, December 23, 1957 As part of a Special Edition "America's World Abroad"

12: At Home in Mata | Luis Venitucci jumping in the camp pool (above). The metal cabanas around the pool were designed and built by Tom Crawford and Strawberry Hancock using metal roofing sheets from the camp warehouse. | The Portwood's first house | The Lyons' second house

13: The bachelor trailers | Metal Parkersburg houses. Sign in front says "SN Portwood." | The Hamptons built a loft clubhouse in their carport for their kids and friends. | Mike Martinez (in foreground) and Les Nemeth planting a hibiscus hedge around the Martinez yard while Joe Martinez, Keith Bingham and Jeff Bingham watch

14: A Community of Friends | Joe Mendoza, Lyn Lyons, Sam Lyons and Nancy Mendoza | Bob Schmalhausen and Carmen Guevara in Anaco after Campo Mata was closed | Jo Paulsell (center) and Strawberry Hancock | Unidentified man, Jim Shilling, Mary Anne Shilling, Bob Wied, Mary Lou Wied (standing) and Jo Carpenter

15: Jim Shilling, Lyn Lyons (holding Melissa Lyons) and Mary Anne Shilling | Unidentified man, Po-Po Orsini, Alfredo Arevalo, a draftsman and Tom Crawford (in background on right) | Bob Wied, Dord Hampton and Eileen Hampton | Lynn Hearne (on right) | Ted McLean (standing)

16: Carolina Hoggard wearing her engagement ring before marrying Stanley King in 1953 | Shirley Hearne (on right) | Sam Lyons, Lyn Lyons and Rudy Marker | Joe Kiker (on right)

17: 7th Tournament of the Industrial Oil Workers of Bowling. Bob Paulsell (on left) | Jo and Harrell Carpenter | Ted McLean, Vicki Comby and Jo Paulsell | Eileen Hampton (on left) and Bob Schmalhausen

18: Mitzi and John Gibson | Harvey Comby (on left) and Ted McLean (in center) | Beatrice and Hector Alonso | Gino Venitucci and Mario Gibson | A Party for Every Occasion

19: Margaret Hancock, Dottie Hoffman, John Caston and Tom Crawford (in foreground) | Jim Carrigan | Art Gilliam with his wife and Alfredo Arevalo (in background) | Dottie Hoffman, Ramon Henandez (Castro Ron), Margaret Hancock and Lyn Lyons | Tom Crawford, Margaret Hancock and Warren Pickle

20: Po-Po Orsini (in center) and Norm Portwood (on right) | Norm Portwood playing poker on Las Vegas Night | Alice Portwood doing the can-can on the bar on Las Vegas Night | Mata's Playboy bunnies and their husbands: Carole and Lloyd Davies, Ann and Bob Schmalhausen, Margaret and Strawberry Hancock, Tom and Jean Crawford

21: A Sadie Hawkins Party | Norm Portwood (on left) and Alice Portwood | Strawberry Hancock | Pat Dailey | Alice Portwood | Preacher Bob Schmalhausen and Daddy Alex Fuller are presiding over the shotgun wedding of Ann Schmalhausen, dressed as man, and Jo Ruth Fuller.

22: Dancing | Wanda and Gil Nelson | Jo and Harrell Carpenter | Jose Casanova and Carole Davies | At Every Party | Margaret Hancock and Tom Crawford | Wanda Nelson

23: Lloyd and Carole Davies (on left). Strawberry Hancock and Ann Schmalhausen (on right). Jo Ruth Fuller in the background. | Strawberry Hancock and Ann Schmalhausen | Tom Crawford and Mary Lou Wied | Ann Schmalhausen and Jose Casanova

24: Alice Portwood | Keith Hoffman | Mary Lou Wied | Margaret Hancock | Jo Paulsell | Portraits | of Mata

25: Norm Portwood in the field | Bill Morris | John Gibson | Alex Fuller and Jo Ruth Fuller (center) | Jean Crawford with her first litter of puppies

26: Walter Hoffman | Stan King with the company car | Marilyn Quarfoth | Ken Quarfoth | Carolina King

27: Sam Lyons with his children Leigh (Greg), Melissa and Janelle celebrating Melissa's first birthday* | Mike and Garnet Martinez, their son Joe (Joey) and Bruce Laidlaw (in front) | Mata's | Ann Schmalhausen and her son Bobby | Families | Jean Crawford with her children Mercedes and Frank | *Mata-era nicknames are indicated parenthetically the first time that someone’s name appears in the book. Subsequent references use the person’s current preferred name.

28: Bob Wied with his sons Bob (Bobby) and Bill (Billy) | Mildred Venitucci with her son Luis | Jo Paulsell with her daughter Christy | Daryl, Dord and Eileen Hampton (on left). Eydie, Jodee and Bobby Schmalhausen (on right)

29: Alice Portwood with her daughter Pamela | Karen Hampton (lower left), Lujack Ewell, Bill Wied, Bob Wied, Daryl Hampton, Jodee Schmalhausen and Eydie Schmalhausen | Ann Schmalhausen with her children Eydie, Bobby and Jodee

30: Outdoor Living | Bill, Mary Lou and Bob Wied | Mitzi and John Gibson | Sandra Steadham and Howard Nelson | Dottie Bingham watching Jeff Bingham, Keith Bingham and Joe Martinez play-ing in a stream near Mata

31: Frank Crawford, Howard Nelson, Daryl Hampton and Steve Nelson (on horse) | Andy and Amy Pelak | Dord Hampton (on right) launching the boat | Local musicians

32: Journeys | Hunting for gold and fishing in a small river south of the Orinoco River | Group from Mata waits for the ferry to cross the small river south of the Orinoco River about 150 miles from Mata. | Texaco's PBY float plane flew supplies into Tucupita (a Texaco oil camp) in the 1940s and early 1950s. When Texaco was building Campo Mata, employees flew back and forth between Tucupita and Mata on the PBY plane. Later Texaco switched from maintaining their own private plane to using commercial airlines out of the Anaco airport. Photo by Houston Floyd. | Mercedes holding Kyle, Jo Carpenter, Jo Ruth Fuller, Alex Fuller and Becky Fuller (in front) in Cumana 1964 | Beyond | Mata

33: Lyn Lyons painted this bucolic scene of the Guanipa River, a small stream located a couple of miles from Campo Mata, in the early 1960s. Families would fish in the river for caribes (piranha) with wire lines. (The caribes could bite through a normal fishing line.) | In the days when traveling was a dress affair, Tom, Jean and Frank Crawford departed West Virginia to fly to New York for passports and then to fly on to Venezuela. | Tom Crawford remembers building the pipe structure in the background to pump water from the river to a nearby drilling rig. | Kelly Schmalhausen, Mercedes Crawford and Bobby Schmalhausen

34: Mata's | Craig Shilling | Catarina Venitucci | Bob Wied | Linda Hancock | Christy Paulsell | Children | Eydie Lynn Schmalhausen

35: Bill Wied and Luis Venitucci | Frank Crawford (on left) and Linda Hancock | Jodee Schmalhausen and Christy Paulsell | Joe Martinez, Laci Nemeth and Lynne Mendes celebrating Laci's first birthday | Frank Crawford (right) and Linda Hancock

36: Jean Crawford (on shore) and Margaret Hancock (in chinchurra) watch Mercedes Crawford and Mitch Davies playing in a stream near Mata | Frank Crawford and Steve Hancock | Lujack Ewell, Bill Wied, Bob Wied and Pat Carrigan | Pamela Portwood and David Blackwell in front of the Portwood's blue car with the holes in the floorboards

37: Craig Shilling, Pamela Portwood and Ted (Teddy) McLean Jr | Eydie Schmalhausen, Rita Borne, Dana Van Beelan, Virginia Shriner and unidentified girl | Kelly Schmalhausen | Bill Wied

38: Alex Fuller Jr | Bob Wied | Karen Hampton and Bobby Schmalhausen | Dana Van Beelen in the Schmalhausen's backyard

39: Eydie, Bobby and Jodee Schmalhausen | Bob Wied, Tom (Tommy) Portwood (holding his dog Wampum) and Jim Shilling | Bill Wied, Ted McLean Jr and Bob Wied | Pamela Portwood (tall girl in foreground)

40: Parties and | First birthday party for Catarina Venitucchi (in stroller) | Lujack Ewell, Bill Wied and Pamela Portwood | Bobby Schmalhausen, Jodee Schmalhausen, Kelly Schmalhausen, unidentified girl and Eydie Schmalhausen | Celebrations | for the Kids

41: Cathy Slaton (standing in center) and Bob Wied (kneeling on left) | Bob Wied and Sandra Steadham | Bill Wied (on right) at a dance | Steve Hancock doing the twist

42: Jodee Schmalhausen (in center) and Christy Paulsell (on right) | Kids and Costumes | Janelle and Leigh Lyons (wearing crowns). Their mother Lyn Lyons (in white) is watching them. | Bobby Schmalhausen

43: Lujack Ewell | Luis Venitucchi | Mata's mariachi band | Joe Martinez in Halloween costume above and as Zorro on left

44: The Mosquito Cloud | By Gregory Leigh Lyons | I grew up in Campo Mata, an oilfield camp in the middle-of-nowhere Venezuela, not very far from the mighty Orinoco River. This was in the 60’s. We didn’t have TV, so most of what we did as kids we did outside, and most of what we did outside had something to do with El Monte, what some folks call the jungle. It was a perfect place to grow up. Looking back, I did lots of things that people would consider dangerous. Now I call them adventures. One thing we did a lot was fish for caribes in the river. Most people call them piranhas, but caribes is what the locals called them. They named them after the Carib Indians, who were cannibals and were supposed to be pretty fierce. I guess they left a big enough impression to have the Caribbean Sea named after them too. Anyway, if you were fishing by the river, you were smack-dab in gator and anaconda country too. Little kids like me were perfect lunch size meals for those critters. Of course there were all kinds of other biting, chomping, stinging animals around: sharp-clawed ocelots, Africanized killer bees, hand-sized tarantulas, strangling boa constrictors and finger-sized biting ants. But the worst of them all were the mosquitoes. Mosquitoes were a big nuisance but, as a kid, I never did understand why my parents were all fired up worried about them. They said that they carried all kinds of diseases. We’d always be getting shots and vaccinations at the clinic to put all the anti-mosquito disease medicines in our bodies. Those weren’t the only shots we got. We got shots for tetanus and small pox and polio and all kinds of things. We even had to get a gammagobulin shot – whatever that means – and it really hurt. But it wasn’t even the worst of them. That award went to the rabies shots. If you got bitten by some crazy mammal, and it happened all the time, they’d stick the needle straight into your stomach – and they’d do it five times! Mosquitoes were everywhere. It wasn’t so bad during the day, because it was usually as hot as the dickens, and they mostly stayed hidden under leaves in the mango trees until it got cooler in the evening. The problem was that it was also when all the humans liked to get out and do things – things like go to see a movie at the outdoor screen at the golf club, or go to a party in the backyard of someone’s house, and there was a party almost every night it seemed. So, to fight back the blood sucking menace, we had the mosquito truck. The mosquito truck came out just about every night. It was just a normal pick-up truck, but it had this loud machine in the bed that put out a humungous white cloud of mosquito killer. It was like a great big huge can of bug spray on wheels. I don’t remember where it was – maybe on the machine, or the side of the truck – but I remember the big sign surrounded by skulls and cross bones, and lots of X’es. The sign had just three letters: a “D”, another “D”, and a “T”. I remember asking my parents what DDT meant. My Dad told me, but all I remember was that it was a word almost as long as Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, which everybody knew was the longest word in the world, so it must have been the second longest word in the world. He also told me that DDT was the ingredient that killed the mosquitoes, and most any bug. He said it could even kill a kid like me, if I got enough of it in me. When he told me that, I knew I was a goner. You see, Billy and Todd and me were the only members of a super-exclusive, no-girls-allowed-ever club called the Machacas, and we spent a lot of time chasing the mosquito truck on our bikes. We did lots of other cool things as Machacas: we jumped the river on our bikes, had secret meetings in our tree house in the mango tree in El Monte, hunted critters in the jungle with our sling shots – all kinds of things. But one of the things we did the most – because it came out every evening – was chase the mosquito truck on our bikes. And our mission was to hide in the great big white cloud of DDT so that the driver couldn’t even see us in his rearview mirror. We were really good at it. All I knew for sure was that we Machacas were all going to die on our backs, with our legs and arms all curled up, and black X’es over our eyes, like big dead cockroaches. He didn’t know it, ‘cuz I never said anything about it, but my Dad had basically told me that I was going to die. There was no doubt about it. I had gallons of DDT in my body, to go along with the gammagobulin, tetanus, small pox and polio medicine. I wondered if it would all mix together and turn into TNT or nitroglycerin. I started worrying that I might blow up the next time I ran over a bump with my bike.

45: Leigh (Greg) Lyons hunting for gold in a small river south of the Orinoco | Leigh Lyons fishing on the river's shore | The next evening, after barely moving around the whole day for fear of exploding, I went outside without putting on any bug repellent. I was going to check something out. If I was really so full of DDT that I was going to die like a bug – or blow up – the mosquitoes probably wouldn’t get near me. They’d know if I was a walking can of Raid. So I stood out in the middle of the back yard, in my shorts and no shirt. It didn’t take long. Pretty soon I was being bitten all over my body by a cloud of buzzing mosquitoes. I was never so happy to lose so much blood. I wanted them to suck as much of it out as they could, so my body could start to make some more new blood to replace the contaminated blood. When I showed up at school the next day I looked like an alien from outer space. I had swollen, scratched-up bumps all over my face and neck and arms and legs, and each one of the bumps was covered in pink dabs of Calamine lotion. Funny thing was, when Billy and Todd showed up they looked just like me. I was pretty sure that we were all going to live. We never chased the mosquito truck again. | Gregory Leigh Lyons and his family moved to Venezuela in 1958 when he was five weeks old, and he lived in Campo Mata and, briefly, in Caracas for about ten years. “The Mosquito Cloud” is a work of fiction based on his recollections of Mata. Avery McShane, his first novel about the dangerous and action-packed adventures of an American kid growing up in the middle of Venezuela was published by Bloomsbury Children's Books in 2012. For more information about Leigh and his novel, visit www.averymcshane.blogspot.com or www.gleighlyons.com.

46: Bill Wied (on left) | Steve Hancock (on left) | Tom Crawford taking Scouts to Guanipa River on a camping trip | It's a Boy's World

47: Frank Crawford and Bob Wied showing off their catch of peacock bass | Steve Nelson, Mel Hoffman, Bob Wied and Steve Hancock | Bob Wied and Andy Pelak (in back) with Boy Scout troop Standing: Jim Shilling, Tom Portwood, Howard Nelson, Steve Nelson and two unidentified boys Kneeling: Alex Fuller Jr (on left) | Hanging a chinchurro hammock

48: Easter Celebrations | Christy Paulsell | Pamela Portwood and Patricia Laidlaw | Karen Hampton, Pamela Portwood, Daryl Hampton and Tom Portwood | The Easter bunny at the clubhouse

49: Felices Pascuas | Janelle Lyons and Santa | Christmas photo of the Comby kids: Kit, Alicia, Dani and Donald | "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" - Jodee and Eydie Schmalhausen | Christmas card from Venezuela

50: Back row: Teachers Alex and Jo Ruth Fuller, Jaylene Rankin, Sherry Horton, unidentified boy, Howard Nelson, Linda Hancock, Jim Shilling, Tom Portwood, Alex Fuller Jr, three unidentified girls, Principal Harrell Carpenter, Sandra Steadham, unidentified girl | Mata Technical Camp School 1964-1965

51: Jo Ruth Fuller's second grade class 1964-1965 | Alex Fuller Jr, Howard Nelson, Sandra Steadham, Jim Shilling, Principal Harrell Carpenter, Sherry Horton, Tom Portwood, Linda Hancock and Jaylene Rankin | Alex Fuller's class | Sylvia Matheus' class

52: Kindergarten | Kindergarten teacher Margaret Hancock. Pamela Portwood and Luis Venitucci (holding hands) | Christmas play with Santa and his elves | Boys' baseball team | Nativity scene in the Christmas play | School Events | and | The jungle gym

53: Campo Mata Reunion - 2010 | Held in Conroe, Texas in 2010. Back row: Matt Hearne, Lynn Hearne, Harrell Carpenter, Carole Davies, Jean Crawford, Bob Wied, Alex Fuller Jr Middle row: Mildred Venitucci, Bob Schmalhausen, Shirley Hearne, Alex Fuller, Jo Alice Carpenter, Mary Lou Wied, Tom Crawford, Mercedes Crawford Jones Front row: Mitch Davies, Carol Charlett, Ted Charlett, Bill Wied, Jodee Schmalhausen Caceres

54: Bob Schmalhausen and Harrell Carpenter | Matt Hearne, Mildred Venitucci and Shirley Hearne | Mary Lou Wied and Mildred Venitucci | Bill Wied, Alex Fuller Jr, Terri Wied and Alex Fuller

55: Tom Crawford and Bob Wied | Jodee Schmalhausen Caceres and Jo Carpenter | Bill Wied, Lynn Hearne, Matt Hearne and Jean Crawford | Joey Fuller and Mercedes Crawford Jones

56: Held in Montgomery, Texas in 2000. Back row: Carolina King, Stanley King, Joseph Bristow, Carole Acker, John Bjordammen, unidentified woman, Mark Richards, unidentified man, Bob Wied, Bob Paulsell, Harrell Carpenter, Frank Crawford. Second row: Sally Ann Bristow, Wanda Nelson, Lynn Hearne, Jo Alice Carpenter, Tom Crawford, Alex Fuller, Pamela Portwood, Norm Portwood, Gilda Nelson. Third row (seated): Unidentified man, unidentified woman, Shirley Hearne, Jo Ruth Fuller, Jean Crawford, Mary Lou Wied, Terri Wied, Alex Fuller Jr. Front row (kneeling): Kimberly Crawford, Mercedes Crawford Jones, Becky Fuller, Joey Fuller, Heidi Wied, Bill Wied, Christy Paulsell | Celebration of the Fuller's and Crawford's 50th Wedding Anniversaries - 2000

57: Alex and Jo Ruth Fuller | Back row: Tom and Jean Crawford | Bill and Terri Wied | Becky Fuller and Mercedes Crawford Jones | Tom and Jean Crawford

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Pamela Portwood
  • By: Pamela P.
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  • Title: Remembering Campo Mata
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  • Published: over 4 years ago

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