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A remembrance of life in the Colony by Catherine Austin Thomas, who lived in the Colony from 1931-1948.

Long ago and far away, I was born the second child to Nellie Wilson Austin and John Fuller Austin, Jr. on July 8, 1927.

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Grace, Catherine and Juanito Austin in 1934

I was born at the ASARCO Colony in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. I do not remember much about that colony because we moved to Chihuahua when I was only four years old! In Avalos I found my Eden. This was the American colony for ASARCO, at the lead smelter about eight miles from Chihuahua City.

We first lived in both sides of a duplex which was next to the L. B. Harrison family. Uncle Larry and Aunt Elsie, as we called them, had adopted Syble Bonnell who was a niece of Mrs. Harrison. She was my sister Grace’s best friend. Oh how they loved to tease me. My earliest memory was when they called me from Syble’s house and had my Nani put me up to the phone that was high on the wall. I was so scared of this magical instrument I was crying.

From those days a part of me has remained in the colony. I tell people I grew up in Paradise—so it was to me. All of the children in the colony played from after breakfast until bedtime, stopping only for meals. We played children’s games, teenage games, and as it would follow, adult games. I was blessed to have parents who loved one another and who loved us dearly. In fact, until J. K. Hardy divorced his darling wife, Celia, I knew of no other divorce. At about that time, Dorothy and Bill Bradford had their marriage unravel.

As we lived in an area about the size of a large city block which was surrounded by an eight foot high adobe wall with broken glass shards on the top and one gate to the outside world which was always guarded by an armed guard, we found our fun in simple games. On the grounds of the two-room school house we would cross the teeter totters and play for hours. We played prisoners base and kick the can and loved to be very competitive with marbles.

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Marble Shooters


Some of the kids became very good shooters. We would jump rope for hours on end. One Christmas I received a game of Pollyanna. I played this game so often that Pollyanna soon became my nickname! Stilts were another favorite of mine. We were able to have them made at the plant and the footrests were 24 inches high! The best time with them was after the gardens had been watered when we would go into them with our stilts and see who could sink the deepest and still remain standing when we pulled out. This always brought notices from the manager asking our parents to keep the children from further damaging the gardens in such a way!

At different periods in my childhood, I had as many as five cousins living in the colony. They were all from my Grandmother Wilson’s family. Since they were all younger than I was, they were not a part of my gang.

Some of the games we played have had long lasting and worthwhile benefits. Tennis and swimming were among those. Bill Lust and Bill Harris have recently been inducted into the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame in Waco, Texas. Manuel Bremer was the winner in the swimming contest for speed after age 65. he had put together enough kilometers at his club in Mexico City to circumnavigate the globe (400075.0 kilometers). The boys in my age group, Frank, Charlie and Manuel Bremer, Bill Maxwell, Jimmy Leasure, Jim Myers, and Bill Martin were swimmers without peer. They also knew how to get our towels into the swimming pool. After the towels were wet the boys would snap them on our bare legs. I remember how this would sting so badly. We complained but nothing would keep us from the swimming pool!

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Kids at the Pool

We went to the pool at 9:00 a.m. when the lifeguard opened the door and stayed until noon. In my family I was expected to be dressed and ready for lunch no later than 12:15. The company whistle blew at 12:00 so we knew what the time was. At 2:00 we would be back at the pool for another three hours. My genetic background is all English, so I have suffered the consequences of cumulative sun damage. I did not know this when I was a youngster spending so much time in the sun. However, knowing what I know now, I would not have changed a thing!

At the Club, we had two bowling lanes. The pins were set manually. The boys would talk us into setting up the pins for them with the promise that they would then set them up for us. Many an evening we would be left with no boys to set up the pins!

As we became teenagers we had crushes on the boys—one at a time. I was so mad about Billy Martin at one point that I could hardly see straight. I have always been sad that he died before I could tell him how I adored him.

All of the young men who were American citizens volunteered for service in the U. S. during World War II. We were very fortunate to have lost only one young man—Richard Harris. John Seaver served in the British Navy.

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Avalos Smelter School

Our two room school served us well. My father who was always interested in the education of his children, was the voluntary head of the school. He hired the teachers and was able to find very good and responsible young women from the Eastern schools as that was where he had studied at MIT. He chose the curriculum, with the help of an educator in Connecticut. He instilled in me a love of learning and to this day I love to study and take classes. I loved our little school and have only pleasant memories of it. However, in 1939 the Mexican government would no longer allow an outside professional to work in Mexico if a person residing in the country could fill the job. And so my sister, my brother and I went off to the States to school, coming home whenever we had a holiday and for the summer.

When my group of friends, Heather Seaver, Anita Maxwell primarily, were teenagers, we started going to the Casino in downtown Chihuahua on Sunday afternoons to the informal dances. The boys from the Colony did not go because they were not members—we went because girls were not required to be members. The dancing was wonderful and there was always a full orchestra. Some of the wonderful Mexican young men would come to the Colony in the evening to visit us. We just talked and flirted by the cars—no heavy breathing in those days.

By now our interest in childhood games was diminishing. I sometimes helped paint the empty egg shells for the Easter morning hunt.

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The Austin Family - Juanito, Nellie, Catherine, John and Grace

Our parents had saved shells for several months and had many to paint, fill with confetti, seal, and store for hiding. On the Fourth of July there were races, a very large barbeque lunch, and swimming competitions. At night the biggest celebration was for adults—a dance at the Club with a full orchestra.

Every year we would go back to Connecticut to visit my father’s family. I adored my grandfather and we had a special bond between us.

My life has been truly blessed. Since I graduated from the University of Texas and married Wilton E. Thomas, I have traveled the world and and been on every continent. We have four wonderful children and their spouses who have given us eleven grandchildren. Tom and I have been married for 63 years and remain very active. As long as I live, I will tell people I grew up in Paradise.