Recently I’ve been fascinated with the “Top Ten Tehran Memories” lists people have been posting on the Tehran American School (TAS) Facebook site. Like so many whose parents worked in Iran between 1954 and 1978, I too have happy memories of my childhood in Tehran. But my memories are so different from the ones I’ve seen posted that I began to wonder whether we even went to the same school.
In a way, we didn’t. If you were an American student in Tehran in the 1950’s your school was called the American Dependents’ School. It opened in 1954 with 94 students in grades K through 6. By 1956 it had a seventh and eighth grade, but no high school until 1962.
So we were a younger cohort as well as an earlier one. Not until the sixties were amenities like the Ice Palace, Ray’s Pizza, Hilton Hotel, and the Dizin ski resort added to the scene. Tehran was smaller in 1956, a city of 1.5 million people. There were no high-rises. Cars shared the streets with horse-drawn carts, heavily-laden donkeys, and even a few camels. Jube dogs were everywhere, but that’s a memory we all have.
When my family arrived in the summer of 1954 we stayed at the Ritz Hotel in Ferdowsi Square until our rented house was ready. We had two rooms on the fourth floor, one for my parents and one for my younger brother and me. There was one bathroom per floor, no swimming pool, no elevator, and no air conditioning. But I was eight years old and not experienced with what to expect in a hotel. I only remember that people were friendly and the food was good. (I’m lucky to have all my mother’s letters written in Tehran between 1954-1958 to help confirm my memories from an adult viewpoint).
The Officers’ Club and NCO Club provided social activities for American military families and families of U.S. government employees. A few years later, the American Club opened, giving more of us a place to see movies, swim, and enjoy burgers and fries. But most of our social life took place at each other’s homes, organized through notes and invitations passed out at school, since few of us had home telephones.
So what are my Top Ten Tehran Memories? Oh there are so many more than ten! I came up with twenty-three, but I’ll stick with the theme and stop with ten.
- Now Ruz: For us the New Year’s holiday began when the Navabees, our neighbors across the kucheh, built three bonfires in their driveway and invited us to join in jumping over the fires at sunset, followed by Roman candles and a few sparklers for the kids. The thirteen-day holiday ended with picnics organized by students and staff who worked with my dad at the University of Tehran. They went all out, with hammocks, badminton, games, and dancing, and of course good food and hot tea from brass samovars.
2. The smell of fresh sangak baking in stone ovens on the corner of our kucheh off of Pahlavi Road, where my little brother and I waited for the school bus. Delivery men carrying stacks of sangak on their heads as they rode their bikes around the neighborhood.
3. The day we went skiing at Abali and were motioned over to one side to clear the slope where the Shah and Soroya were skiing. We kids watched for a little while and then kept on skiing on our side of the slope while Dad took pictures as fast as he could.
4. Snow flurries at the Easter sunrise service in April, 1955, at Park Amani.
5. Ordering school clothes from the Sears catalog in July. The time both my new shoes arrived for the right foot. Going back to school in September and seeing other girls wearing the same dress.
6. The time our ab umbar (water storage) tank overflowed and flooded the pantry where our canned goods were stored and all the labels came off. Weeks of meals with a “surprise side dish” because we still had to use all the food in those cans.
7. Doing homework by the light of kerosene lanterns when the electricity was off. Grabbing my clothes on cold winter mornings and running into Mother and Dad’s room to dress by the warmth of their space heater.
8. “Nature hikes” into the hills behind our house, hoping to discover a waterfall or catch a lizard.
9. Long summer days playing solitaire and imagining the stories as I listened to Broadway recordings of Oklahoma, Carousel, and South Pacific on the record player. Long winter evenings playing board games and listening to The Lone Ranger, Dragnet, and The Shadow on Armed Forces Radio.
10. Parties! Pool parties, farewell parties, welcome parties, birthday parties. Handwritten invitations urging everyone to “bring records” because we all wanted to hear the latest rock ‘n’ roll hits. Slumber parties on the roof, sharing secrets and ghost stories on warm summer nights.
And so many more! But it would be cheating to add things like making our own cola with syrup and a seltzer bottle or what we did when the school burned down. Not to mention the exciting day in 1958 when a German department store opened with escalators and elevators and everything. But that was the beginning of a new era.