It was amazing and heartwarming how Apache welcomed me. The town, the school the Rotary Club. I had four immediate families:
- Bob & Carol Crews with Rob & Jennifer
- Don & Jackie Lehnertz
- Danny & Mary-Joyce Swanda with Robbie, Kent & Dayne
- Jim & Katie Patterson with Mary-Kate & Jimmy
I had twenty Rotarians willing and eager to teach me America the Beautiful ( I have sung it on road trips ever since – my kids look at me weird), and show me around Apache and Oklahoma and beyond on their trips, business or leisure. On my first trip out of town – to Paris, Texas – I learnt to greet strangers. Being of faraway English, Scots and Dutch extraction I was insular and reserved. You had to formally meet four of someone’s family before you could say hello to them. Well, in Paris Texas I missed the first greeting and even the second. Surely strangers weren’t saying ‘howdy’ to me!? Then the penny dropped: They were and Why Not? I have greeted people ever since. I get a lot of funny looks but what the hell, ignoring people is not on. I no longer have to meet someone’s grandpa before I say ‘Hello’.
I had a new senior class which would graduate soon, and then I’d join the ’74 senior class after the summer. They took me in and – besides English and American History, which were compulsory – let me choose the easy subjects (I was even in Annual Staff!). And they bought me a class ring – how’s that? I had said no thanks, so they secretly chipped in and bought me one!
Few people are lucky enough to be in three high school senior years! (I had ’72 back in South Africa as well – in the southern hemisphere we do it right – we start in January and end in December of the same calendar year!). Then I joined the Apache senior classes of ’73 and ’74 for half a year each.
Robbie Swanda, Jay Wood and David Lodes showed me the ropes. As a seventeen year old I couldn’t drive back in the RSA (and we were under strict orders NOT to drive as exchange students!) but in the USA Robbie & Jay could. And I could be a passenger in their blue Ford Mustang and green Chev Camaro. Once Jay even made the mistake of letting me drive. Bad. Again, I am sorry Jay and you were amazing the way you forgave me! I was better in the passenger seat. You know: beer.
Jim let me drive a tractor and Ole Red, the WW2 Willys Jeep. But on the farm! Sober!
In Canada that summer Sherry Porter made the mistake of letting me drive on a Friday on the way to a TGIF and I wrecked the rear fender of her red VW Bug. Thank goodness I hit a great big fullsize Dodge pickup with a fender the size of a cowcatcher on a steam train and didn’t leave a mark so we could drive off without guilt. You too were amazing the way you forgave this African-who-wouldn’t-learn, Sherry! I was better on the back seat. You know: beer.
In Rotary every Tuesday (I think it was Tuesdays) we’d have a pattern: We’d sing America the Beautiful, pledge allegiance, ask about what everyone had been up to and ask a medical question of old Doc O’Connor who would reply “Not that kind of doctor”. Every time. (He was a dentist).
I became a farmer – A certified Future Farmer of America and I can still hear how Schneeburger would say EFFIFFAY. I welded a cattle feeder on an axle and drum with birdshit welding which fell over in the first little breeze. I went to hog shows. I planted peanuts in Fort Cobb (or watched some Mexican fellas do it anyhow). I sprayed something on Jim’s lands. I drove in Walter Hrbacek’s (or Gene Mindemann’s) airconditioned cab in his harvester (or tractor?) with an eight-track tape overhead. I took part in the catching, de-horning, castrating, branding and inoculating of the bull calves, then in eating the produce and washing it down with beer. Mountain oysters.
I learnt to type – Peaking at a blistering nineteen words a minute with ten mistakes.
I got hauled up in front of Mr Brown with Jay & Robbie and cowered as he read us the riot act for some misdemeanor, and then listened in wide-eyed awe as Jay said “You’ll get over it!” as John Brown turned bright puce.
I got taken to Paris Texas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, the Wichita mountains, many surrounding towns – even Boone!, Lawton, Norman, Anadarko for catfish, Lakes Ellsworth and Lawtonka, Fin & Feather, Muskogee, Shreveport LA, Cobleskill NY, Dubuque Iowa, Red River NM, Las Vegas, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (drove Route 66 on the way back), Colorado, Utah, Bryce Canyon, Zion NP – eighteen states in all. Then Montreal, Toronto, Lake Superior, Quetico NP (canoed on the Lake of the Woods and got eaten by 40 million mosquitos) in Canada with Niagara falls on the way. Saw the Mississippi where you could throw a stone across it. How amazing is that?
I played football and track for school and basketball for a Rotary pickup team.
Somehow the teachers in Apache were all wonderful and friendly! Why is that, when the teachers in my first senior class were not so enamoured of me? OK, let’s be truthful, I was a bit hard-to-take in my home school and very co-operative in my second school! I was on my best behaviour in the latter and not my best in the former. Sorry, Harrismith teachers! Colonel Dennis, Virginia Darnell, Bob Schneeburger, Dan Chandler, Jeanne Setzer, Billie McDonald and L’Roy Campbell were all very good to me – as were all the others (memory fails me as far as names go). Another one was Jim Stanton from the lil school, who took me to a rock concert (I wrote about that further down this blog). And I wrote an apology-of-sorts to Rick Hulett too!
Colonel Dennis taught me how to fly – in theory – in night classes. Many years later I flew solo off a mountain in a paraglider. I’m glad I paid attention in his classes. It was stunning. And the Colonel’s knowledge really did help – I knew what was happening. I soared up above the take-off point like a bird.
What a year! Thank you Apache!