As I settled in the seat of the Delta Air plane en route to Texas and the Gulf I read in the newspaper that I’d scooped up where someone had abandoned it, that the one thing I did NOT want to be doing was flying over Easter.
When is Easter? I asked the stewardess. ‘Tomorrow’ she chirped brightly.
Change of plan Aitch, I announced: We’re going to Oklahoma instead of the Gulf. I explained and showed her the newspaper (airport congestion, overbooked flights – us on a cheap Delta pass). Aitch had been dreading going to Apache: ‘They’ll all know you and I won’t know anyone and I’ll feel left out and . . ‘
But now she had to face her fears. As soon as we landed at Dallas-Fort Worth we booked the next flight to Lawton Oklahoma, heading back north instead of carrying on south. There was just enough time if we scurried. Aitch decided she’d skip the loo and go once we were airborne. Mistake. It was a narrow little propeller plane like this, two seats a side, a narrow aisle, no airhostess, no loo. Ooh!
We landed in Lawton after dark and she made it. We set off further north for Apache in a rental car. Apache: My hometown for a year as a Rotary exchange student in 1973. Arriving on the Patterson’s farm outside town we saw a ‘yuge’ SA flag waving from the flagpole! Jim had borrowed an oversize flag from the SA consulate in Houston to welcome us!
Jim & Katie Patterson, the loveliest couple in the whole of the USA were just the same as ever!
They welcomed us with open arms to their beautiful and comfortable ranch house and it was as though we hadn’t been apart for fifteen years (during which time I had received exactly two letters from them. ‘Well, Peter’ said Jim with his crooked grin and twinkling eyes, ‘We didn’t want to flood you with correspondence’).
Katie took Aitch on a night drive in the pickup looking for owls. Both girls were suitably lubricated plus they took extra stocks of their tipple. They had the windows down and were hooting weird owl calls and hosing themselves. When they returned they were laughing uncontrollably, leaning against each other for support. They had seen a possum snuffling around and Aitch was fascinated – she always LOVED the little night creatures. Katie followed it offroad into the fields, keeping it in the headlights. When it stopped she manoeuvred so it could best be seen and whispered to Aitch “Shall I kill it?” She was surprised at Aitch’s distraught look of horror. Then she twigged: “No, no, not the possum! I meant the engine!”
They collapsed laughing when they both “saw it” and were still laughing helplessly when they got back home where Jim and I were watching ‘the ballgame’ – Basketball I think; OU I think.
One morning I woke up to breakfast in bed. It was 1st April, my birthday – thirty three young today – and Aitch delivered a tray of goodies!
Jim n Katie arranged a lovely barbecue poolside and invited my best mates from high school back in 1973. Jay Wood and Robbie Swanda had made the year unforgettable and here they were again, also with wives now; Robbie wearing the Optometry rugby jersey I had given him in 1984 when I visited after kayaking down the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon.
Jim even unwrapped the Caddy convertible from its winter covering weeks earlier than usual and presented Aitch with the keys. She drove as far as the gate and then said ‘I think you must drive now Koos.’
All I got was this old tractor that I had driven for Jim back in ’73.
OK, in fairness, he also gave me the keys to the Chevy Suburban you can see in the background with the door open. Which was so much fun I missed the Rotary meeting! Now THAT was embarrassing! Unforgivable! Everyone was forgiving / understanding (‘well, you ARE on honeymoon, after all’) but that REALLY was a major gaffe! Damn! Fifteen years later and ten thousand miles away I have ONE meeting to remember and I forget it! *blush!!* We were out in the countryside looking for a Vermilion Flycatcher and I just clean forgot. We did see a lot of birds that day.
Well, our five day trip to Apache stretched to a week. Wherever we went all I got was an elbow in the ribs as the local inhabitants shoved me aside and crowded around Aitch. Every now and then one would mutter over his shoulder at me: “Now you look after this gal, boy! Y’hear?” Aitch’s dread of going to “my” hometown had turned into a reluctance to leave “her” hometown!
After ten days I sat Aitch down and said “Now listen girl, we still have things to do, places to go and people to meet. We can’t stay in Apache forever!” She was having a ball, reveling in the attention and she and Katie were getting on like a house on fire. I suspect on all their jaunts when they would breeze off in the Lincoln saying “Ya’ll stay home and watch the ballgame, y’hear?” that Katie was teaching her how to manage me and telling her how she managed Jim. Aitch obviously soaked up the lessons! It was Katie who had asked me as a seventeen year old back in 1973: “Peter, who do you think chooses the marriage partner?” Following my confident (wrong) answer she put me straight, telling me how, when Jim arrived for his first day of work at the bank in Oklahoma City she had turned to her friend and announced “I’m going to marry that man!”
So it was very reluctantly that Aitch agreed that I could book for the next leg of our extended honeymoon.
On, northwards, to Ohio to see Larry.
PS: I forget if it was on honeymoon in 1988 or after the Grand Canyon trip in 1984, but I needed a haircut and went to the local barber, Rotarian Oscar Caldwell. He and his wife Sonia ran the shop. I had dodged them back in 1973, letting my hair drop down onto my shoulders. Their son Dallas was in my second senior class (I did three matrics: HS, second half of one in Apache, then first half of the next one in Apache).
Oscar and Sonia (both pronounced Oh! – Oh! scir and S Oh! nyuh) were full of beans and shit and could stir.
I walked into the barber shop and said to him while he slaved over some oke’s scalp – in my best Okie accent – ‘I have a complaint! I had my hair cut here in 1973 and I’ve never bin satisfied!’
He stopped snipping, stared at me over his specs, eyes widened and he said “Peedir!”
That I remembered. What I hadn’t remembered was a prank I played on Oscar back in 1973. Sister Sheila recently (2020) returned the letters I had written the family back then.
Oscar loaned me a projector to give a slide show and I asked if he wanted it back tomorrow. ‘No,’ he said, ‘That’s too late.’
I said How’s midnight tonight? ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’d prefer 4 in the mornin’.
We left it at that. I gave my talk. With me was my good Apache mate Robbie and fellow Rotary students Eve from Durban and Helen from Zim. We went back to Robbie’s house and jol’d. Then at 3.15am, we drove out to Oscar and Sonia’s farm outside town in Robbie’s Mustang. I knocked persistently and Oscar dragged himself to the door where I said Hope I’m in time! I thought you might be wanting to show some home movies?
He blinked, gulped, then fell right in: ‘Yes, Yes,’ he says ‘I did. Come right in.’ He led us in shaking his head muttering ‘This Boy’s Alright, isn’t he?’
He and Sonia then insisted we sat down and proceeded to show us way too many slides with total bullshit commentary : ‘This is a picture of Mars taken on our second trip there . . ‘
Robbie and I were hosing ourselves, Eve and Helen were falling asleep. Sonia then announced it was actually Oscars birthday, so we sang him HBD and left after 4am!
Remembered thanks to a letter written in Oct ’73!