New Friends New Families

It was amazing and heartwarming how Apache welcomed me. The town, the school the Rotary Club. Right from when I landed in Oklahoma City I was made to feel at home.

I had four immediate Rotarian families in Apache:

  • Bob & Carol Crews with Rob & Jennifer
  • Don & Jackie Lehnertz, whose adult kids had left home
  • 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, and 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 state – to Paris, Texas – I learned 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 in person and know their grandma’s maiden name 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 ’73 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, the prize goof-off subject! 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 yearbooks! I had ’72 back in South Africa – 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 Rotary gave us 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 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. That feature pic at the top is from 15yrs later when I visited Apache on honeymoon: Jay, me and Robbie At Jim n Katie’s new place outside town.

Jim let me drive a tractor and Ole Red, the WW2 Willys Jeep. But on the farm! Sober!

Old Red

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 we’d have a pattern: We’d sing America the Beautiful, pledge allegiance to the flag, ask about what everyone had been up to the past week and ask a medical question of old Doc O’Connor who would reply – every single time – “Not that kind of doctor”. 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. Well, watched some Mexican fellas do it anyhow. I sprayed something on Jim’s lands. I drove in Walter & Pug Hrbacek’s (or was it Gene & Odie 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’. It was like this, but in Walter’s barn, not at the church:

Ball with Jesus_Testicle

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.

Travel

I got taken to Paris Texas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, the Wichita mountains, many surrounding towns – even Boone! Lawton, Norman, Anadarko for catfish, Lake Ellsworth and Lake Lawtonka, Fin & Feather on Lake Tenkiller, Muskogee, etc.

Out of state I went to Shreveport Louisiana, Cobleskill New York, Dubuque Iowa, Red River & Taos New Mexico, Las Vegas Nevada, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, to Colorado, to Utah, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin – eighteen states in all. And we drove on parts of the famous Route 66 back from Vegas.

Then Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Lake Superior, Quetico National Park (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 on an amazing trip: The Pattersons took me to Shreveport LA, where Larry & Ginny Wingert fetched me in a VW Bug and drove me to Cobleskill New York; Where Dottie & Dale Moffett and Sherry Porter fetched me in another VW Bug in which we drove through Canada to Dubuque Iowa, from where Don & Jackie Lehnertz drove me home to Apache.

How amazing is all that for a 17 / 18 yr-old from a small town?

Road Trips USA 1973.jpg

I played football and track for school and basketball for a Rotary pickup team.

scan0052.jpg

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 and smiling in my second school! I was on my best behaviour in the latter and not my best in the former. That’s life. 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. Sadly, memory fails me as far as names go. Another one was Jim Stanton from the lil school, who took me to a rock concert. And I wrote an apology-of-sorts to Rick Hulett too!

I Believe I Can Fly

Colonel Harold 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 as I soared high up above the take-off point like a bird.

What a year! Thank you Apache!

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Red River New Mexico 1973

It’s summer and we’re off to Granma Merrill Patterson’s cottage outside Red River New Mexico with Jim n Katie Patterson. Last year’s Rotary Exchange Student to South Africa from Ardmore OK, Dottie Moffett comes along thanks to Katie’s generosity and insight! Whatta lady, Katie; and whattgal, Dottie!

Granma Merrill's Cottage outside Red River
RedRiver NewMexico 1973 Dottie-001

Jim had a birthday. From the size of the fire it looks like it was a big ‘un!

Katie makes Jim a birthday cake!

There were five jeeps: the Patterson’s Old Red, the Hrbacek’s Old Green, the Payne’s Old White, the Mindemann’s semi-old White and the Manar’s New Blue. We explored the dirt roads and mountain passes in the jeeps with ice-cold Coors and bloody marys in hebcoolers tied to their tailgates.

One night it’s partytime in town! The wicked metropolis of Red River! Jeff Manar drives us there in New Blue. He’s 14, but its summertime, its a holiday town, this is the wild west, no cop would ask, surely? And anyway Jeff doesn’t look 14. He looks, like, 15. At the smoky dance under the loud music in the wonderful vibe in a big barn, we meet a petite girl who asks me n Dottie how old we are and doesn’t believe we’re 18 so I show her my passport: 1955. I ask how old she is and she laughs and shows us her ID: 1946! She’s 27! She looks 16. She’s tiny. She’s dancing on her own having fun, free as a bird! Probly high as a kite? A real-life hippie on the road in the USA. I’m smitten, and I think so is Dottie!

She tells us where she’s staying and says we should come and visit.

The next day Jeff drives us out in the blue Willys Jeep to where she’s staying in the tiny village of Arroyo Hondo in a communal adobe house. I’m really looking forward to seeing her again. I’m like a puppy. We ask  a housemate, a guy on the porch who is watching the Watergate hearings* all day while filing down a Ford flywheel one tooth at a time to fit his Chevy and then hit the road again one day. Coulda been his Chevy flywheel to fit his Ford, of course. He just told me, I didn’t see the car. There’s a sweet herbal smoky smell about the place.

Arroyo Hondo adobe.jpg
Summing like this, but right on the street

“Sally? (or was it Cathy, or Janis? True love fades) Oh, she hit the road. Hitched off to California early this morning to go catch a rock concert out there”.
Oh! Darn. My heart broke, but I was fine a few seconds later.

Off to Taos and the Taos Pueblo where Dennis Hopper hung out.

Taos Pueblo, New Mexico

Hopper starred in Easy Rider, filmed here and elsewhere in 1969:

Taos NM - Easy Rider.jpg

Hummingbirds at the cottage; Walks in the Sangre de Cristo mountains; Drives on the jeep tracks, Fly fishing in the streams:

At Granma’s cottage, Red River
Heb coolers filled with ice, Coors & bloody marys
Dottie Moffett & Jim Patterson, Sangre de Christo mountains, NM
Dottie Moffett & Jim Patterson, Sangre de Christo mountains, New Mexico

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* The Watergate hearings were on TV from May 17 1973 to June 27 1974, broadcast live during the day on commercial television; Some 319 hours were broadcast overall, and 85% of American households watched some portion of them. They led to President Tricky Dick Nixon’s resignation on 9 August 1974 a step ahead of being impeached.

I Saw Joan Rivers Live . .

. . . in Las Vegas in 1973 ! Whoa! Can that be true? Joan Rivers Zapiro

She was 40yrs old already – and she was delightfully rude. She and Petula Clark were double-billed at Caesar’s Palace:

joan & pet 1973

Hollywood Reporter – August 1, 1973 – Bravo Sid Gathrid of Caesar’s Palace for giving the summer crowds one of the freshest, brightest and most entertaining bookings of the year in the lady stars Petula Clark and Joan Rivers. Destroying the old hand-me-down Strip myth that two females are artistically incompatible and or have ineffectual drawing power, Pet and Joan’s opening string of standingroom-only crowds found the duo irresistible. There’s a delightful mix-up of interplay of the stars’ talents; Petula does comedy bits and Joan sings! The “raid” on the other’s forte only adds to the evening’s abundance of style, polish and charm.

Songs Performed: Color My World / You Are the Sunshine of My Life / Don’t Sleep in the Subway / Beatles medley: Something / Penny Lane / All You Need is Love / You and I (from Goodbye Mr. Chips) / I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love / Your Cheatin’ Heart / You’ve Got a Friend / I Don’t Know How to Love Him (from Jesus Christ Superstar) / What the World Needs Now / Downtown

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I went with wonderful Oklahomans Jim & Katie Patterson (magnificent host family) of Apache Oklahoma and very special lady Dottie Moffett of Ardmore Oklahoma (who had been a Rotary exchange student to Cape Town the year before).

RedRiver NewMexico 1973 Jim Katie RedRiver NewMexico 1973 Dottie