I was going to ski – we would have called it snow ski! – for the first time in my life. Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan mountains in Colorado. We’d be catching a bus from Oklahoma, driving there and staying at the lodge. Jim Patterson was taking me on a host-Dad and Son special treat. In the previous summer (1973) he and Katie had taken us on a steam train ride nearby – the Durango to Silverton narrow gauge railroad.
My pic of the Animas River out the train wndow:
As the day approached we watched the snow reports with bated breath. Nothing. No snow. The day before we were to leave the bad news came: Trip cancelled. True to form Jim looked on the bright side – he always did! – and invited me to join him in drowning our sorrows as he opened up the big heb cooler full of beer he had packed for the trip!
I’d had a wonderful and unforgettable year. The end was kinda overwhelming. There wasn’t enough time to see everyone and say goodbye and – mostly – thank you, but all good things do come to an end and there I was on a plane to New York.
I flew to JFK Airport in New York on a Monday in December and asked for a flight to Johannesburg via London. I’d flown to America via Rio and I fancied flying back across the Atlantic ‘the other way’.
‘Sorry you can’t. Your ticket is non-transferable, and the next SAA flight is via Rio on Friday’. My folks had paid for my ticket on a shiny new Barclaycard and had put it over 12 months, so one last payment was still outstanding.
Ooh shit, four days in NY with no money. Well, about $25. I got $25 a month allowance in Apache from the Rotary club. Seventeen South African Diederiks Ront it was back then, and sixty cents (R1 = $1.42).
I put my suitcase in a locker, put a quarter in the slot and took the key. Hopped on a bus to Grand Central Station ($2) in Manhattan to look for the SAA offices.
At SAA’s Manhattan street-level office: ‘Sorry, can’t help you’. Hey asseblief man! ‘OK, we’ll try’.
Back to JFK airport to sleep on the floor (the damn benches spitefully had armrests for each seat so you couldn’t lie down on them). Fitful sleep broken by a huge sit-on vacuum and polish machine that roared up at 3am. ‘Move along there’, said the cleaner.
Tuesday I did the same locker-bus-SAA office run, but now I was rather peckish so I strolled around Manhattan looking for something cheap to eat. I found a burger for $3. Not cheap in ’73, but that included as much beer as you could drink, so I thought OK. Big glasses, though, so I could only drink two. Wandered the Manhattan streets with a nice beer buzz going.
Wednesday I did the same locker-bus-SAA-hamburger-with-beers run but this time when I go into SAA at the end of the day they told me ‘Good News, you’re free to go!‘ To celebrate I booked into the YMCA so I could have a shower. $11 for the smallest room I have ever slept in.
Looking for the ‘Y’ I ask a man in the street for directions. He picks up my suitcase, says ‘Follow Me!’ and walks off briskly. Less than half a block later he thumps my case down, points at the ‘Y’ and says ‘That’ll be two dollars!’ I told him Dream On, I’m on the bones of my arse. Here’s sixty cents and that’s tops! He pocketed it and went off whistling.
Thursday morning squeaky clean on the bus back to JFK and I took the first plane to London: Air India. I grabbed a discarded newspaper lying on a bench before I boarded. Settling into my seat I read: “Air India has just been voted ‘Worst Airline in the World’ – Again”. The cabin crew were on strike and admin staff were doing cabin duty. Grudgingly. Service was non-existent.
A much older lass I met on the plane – she was probably all of thirty – felt sorry for me as we’d had nothing to eat on the flight. On the way out of Heathrow she bought me a cold pork pie. Best pie ever!
I was on my way to meet a friend Don Inglis who once lived and wooed in Harrismith and was working in London for a year, so he knew the place. Turned out he had a rugby match that day, playing for some Saffer team against the London Irish, so we scurried around Buck House circle and somewhere else where someone lived or died or married someone, and headed off to Wimbledon for the game in his little Austin something – with five rugby okes squeezed into it.
At the ground the players huddled in a cold shed to change and noticed they were a couple of boerkies short could I play? Sure, I said, but only half the first half, then I had to catch a tube to Heathrow. Thank goodness – it was sleeting outside – Don said ‘Rather don’t risk missing your flight’. So they ran out onto the mud with one blade of grass every ten yards without me and start puffing out steam and shoving some fat Irish blokes around. Between scrums Don shouted out which tubes and buses I should catch and I left before the halftime whistle to head south after a year in foreign climes. I was very much looking forward to getting home.
Once in the air the SAA koffie poppie gave me lip when I ordered a third beer so I was feeling at home while still thousands of kays away.
Diederiks Ront – South African currency the Rand; Diederiks was the finance minister
So the year ended and I went home. I was amazed and surprised and delighted and wow’d – all at the same time – when two months later at the School of Optometry in Johannesburg the 1974 Apache High School Annual arrived in the post with this in it:
As a sad postscript to my reminiscing about this wonderful year, I found out way after the fact that Dottie Moffett Butler died unexpectedly at her home in San Diego, California, on Wednesday, July 5, 2006.
I also learnt that Dottie was born July 8, 1955, in Daytona Beach. At the age of seven her family moved to Chickasha and then, several years later, moved to Ardmore. Dottie graduated from Ardmore High School.
During her junior year she was a Rotary Exchange student to South Africa. I met her after that when she was back in OK in 1973. She returned to South Africa to earn her bachelor’s degree from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, where we met up once when I traveled to Cape Town in my mother’s borrowed car as a student in Johannesburg.
I found out she had gone on to earn her master’s degree in psychology from East Central University in Ada. Her obituary read: As a psychologist, Dottie was a compassionate and caring counselor whose gift for helping others through difficult times will long be remembered. Dottie is survived by her husband, Dr. Harrison Butler, San Diego; her mother, Dorothy Moffett McCall, Durham N.C.; her sister, Dale Moffett, Cary, N.C.; two brothers, David Moffett and his wife Mary, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Denny Moffett and his wife Mary, Tulsa, Oklahoma, as well as several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her father, Dr. J. Denny Moffett Jr. (I see her mother Dorothy McCall passed away more recently in 2014, aged 88 in Durham N.C).
Remembrance services for Dottie were held in San Diego and on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, where Dottie and family had vacationed. (This information was provided by Haigh-Black Funeral Home).
Devastated. Too soon! Dottie was a very special lady. I knew her only for a couple years, in Oklahoma, in Cape Town, and on a trip through Canada with her twin sister Dale and her very good friend Sherry Porter, but she was unforgettable – her heart, her sincerity, her joie de vivre, and that wonderful laugh!
Dottie in Montreal 1973
(PS: Dottie’s Dad, Dr Denny Moffett sent me a book on the Wichita Mountains and the Native American people. I must find it).
My camera in America in 1973 was an Olympus Trip 35. I really enjoyed it. Now – decades later – I went finding out about it from UK and USA websites written by old camera enthusiasts.And hey! It seems it was a winner!
UK – For anyone who wants to take well exposed, sharp pictures with a fixed focus lens, I would recommend the trusty old Olympus Trip 35, metal bodied with a multi-coated Zuiko lens promoted so successfully by David Bailey in the ’70s – a camera capable of producing pictures indistinguishable from those taken with a top professional 35mm camera. We’ve had ours since 1978 and it’s still working perfectly.
The good news is that you can still buy one secondhand in near perfect condition from most photography shops for around £30 and you won’t be disappointed.
The focus ring is marked with symbols on the top of the ring – a head and shoulders to indicate 1 metre, two figures to indicate 1.5 metres, three figures to indicate 3 metres and mountain peaks to indicate infinity.
USA – The Olympus Trip 35 is a fully automatic exposure 35mm film camera introduced in 1968. Olympus made over 10,000,000 of them through 1988. It’s an inexpensive, lightweight camera with few adjustments. I bought mine at a thrift shop for $5 in 2007 with a dented filter ring. The date code says it was made in 1974.
The Olympus Trip 35 has an internal Galvanometer and selenium cell. It operates completely without batteries. Its light meter and programmed automatic exposure system are solar powered!