We’d had supper and imbibed a few with Rita and a gang of her – now also our – friends and were on our way to a club, recommended by the guys. A number of Rita’s friends are gay and call her their ‘Fag Hag.’ Wicked humour abounds, they know everything, we’d been to the ‘in’ restaurant of the moment – ‘ooh, you need to book well in advance, but I know the owner’ type of place – and were on our way to the ‘in’ club. Much hilarity in the rented car.
I was driving and Aitch was directing, her being a Cape Town local. At an intersection she said, “Go straight,” which elicited an immediate chorus of “NO!! Gaily forward! Gaily forward!” from the guys.
Former Apache resident Rebekah Cooksey (about fifteen to twenty years after me, I guess) wrote “Top 10 Things Heard This Weekend in Apache, Oklahoma” after a return visit to her hometown. Her blog now seems to have disappeared, but I got these extracts from it.
Small town Oklahoma defined my early life. My hometown was Apache. Population: 1500. Our school was so small we had no class electives; My class pictures between kindergarten and 12th grade included all the same people, generally in the same position.
I am the youngest of seven kids; Dad was a minister, Mom was a nurse. I think at one point we were actually below the poverty level but I have such great selective memory that period is all kind of blurry. I do remember being laughed at because of my clothes and wishing that we could live in a mobile home because some of my friends lived in them, and their homes were nicer than ours. While I had good friends (whom I still keep in touch with), I always knew I would move away because there really wasn’t anything there for me.
Those of you who actually read my blog (thanks, Mom!) know that my family and I went to Apache Oklahoma this past weekend to attend the annual Apache Fair.
Going to Apache is always a bittersweet event for me. Growing up in this small town of 1500 people was mostly a frustrating experience, and I spent my junior high and high school years plotting my escape. But even after almost twenty years of being away, I am tied to this place by my memories, my values, and my dreams for my own children — because the kind of town I ran from is exactly the kind of town I’d like to raise them in (but hopefully with a larger population by a factor of 10).
Why bittersweet? Going back reminds me of the many wonderful things about being raised in a town where everyone knows everyone, where the same families have farmed the same land for generation after generation, where the values are so traditional that Home Economics is a required course for girls and Ag Shop (agricultural workshop – welding, woodworking, leather tooling) is a required course for boys. But, it also makes me sad, because many of the store fronts are boarded up, the family-owned businesses have been replaced by Sonic and Dollar General, and the landscape is dotted with barns falling into themselves, rusted cars and vans, and, in general, signs of the struggle of the lower-middle class.
The best way to describe it, I’ve decided, is ‘Mayberry’ meets ‘Sanford and Son’, with a Native American twist.
So, in a lighthearted way, I’m going to attempt to share with you some of the highlights of the weekend. Again, while this may appear like I’m poking fun – well, OK, it will be poking fun – but remember, I grew up here, so I’m allowed. I’m laughing with my fellow Apacheans, not at them.
Do you feel that breeze? There was a lot of controversy over the installation of one hundred and fifty wind turbines southwest of Apache because of the blight on the landscape. Not surprising: when you have been living with an unobstructed view of the Wichita Mountains for years, and suddenly someone proposes to build wind turbines across the horizon, that’s bound to put a bee in your bonnet. But the Slick Hills (as the foothills of the Wichitas are known) supposedly have some of the best wind in the USA. The Blue Canyon Wind Farm now produces the energy equivalent of powering 60,000 cars on the road. Now with gas hovering just under $4 a gallon, I don’t think the residents mind so much anymore.
We actually didn’t stay in Apache for the weekend; instead, we rented a cabin in Medicine Park, a tiny tourist village about half an hour away just outside the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. If you can desensitize yourself to an over-abundance of junked out cars, scrap heaps, and crumbling mobile homes, Medicine Park is quite a cute destination and the natural beauty is astounding. Definitely worth a weekend trip from Dallas-Fort Worth. But my mention here is just about the one-lane bridge that goes across the river in Medicine Park and joins East Lake Drive with West Lake Drive. You don’t see many of these anymore.
In Medicine Park we found what must be the actual model for Tow-Mater from the animated movie Cars. Also in Medicine Park, we were amazed that the most beautiful real estate in at least a 200 mile radius is used by a waste water treatment plant is astounding to me. With a view of the Wichita Mountains, Lake Lawtonka and the surrounding hills, anywhere else this plot would be turned into million dollar homes (or, adjusted for Oklahoman prices, maybe $250K homes). Seriously, it made my heart sad to see the $32.5m facility sitting smack dab on top of the best view in the area.
I remember when the blinking red stoplight was installed at the main intersection when I was in junior high in the early 80′s. It seemed like no time at all had passed before the light burned out. No one seemed to notice, really, and it took years before it was replaced. Clearly progress has been made because the town’s only stoplight was blinking when we drove through town.
Rattlesnake Festival – Our little town of Apache is host to one of the largest Rattlesnake Festivals in the USA. The Apache Rattlesnake Festival was created by some local townspeople (one of whom was my high school best friend’s Dad) back in 1986, and features guided snake hunts, contests for the longest/heaviest/ugliest rattlesnake, an ever-growing flea market/craft fair, and a carnival. Last year, they had 60,000 people come through for the 3-day event, and Discovery America was there to film it. Pretty good for this small hometown.
Livestock Fairs – One of the big attractions of the Fair is livestock judging. Most FFA students have animals that they show at fairs such as this for prize money and bragging rights. This night was cattle judging night, so Jack and Luke got plenty of opportunity to see cows. I think this was the first real “Moo” they had ever heard, poor things. Usually it’s me trying to sound like a cow when I sing Old MacDonald.
Glimpses into Me — By Rebekah Cooksey on August 20, 2008 Blog: MyKindOfMom – ‘Fraid Rebekah’s site has ‘gone off the air’!
Mt aux Sources, winter 1998. Sheila organises a gang to summit the peak. Lots of people. Sheila can organise!
Ann Euthemiou brings two strapping nephews as sherpas to haul her four-poster double bed and duvet up the chain ladder.
I hand out my special paklightna snacks at all stops on the way up.
Once up the chain ladder, Sheils insist we camp in the most exposed spot on the escarpment, where howling gales lean our little dome tents at 45° angles. Aitch went to bed before me to stop the tent from rolling away! I had to brave the gale a while longer to finish the Old Brown sherry. Late at night Doug n Tracey Hyslop fight off imaginary ‘intruders’.
Next morning we find out why Sheil had insisted on the spot: That’s the sunrise view from our tent. Hmm . . OK Sheila, but what if it had been cloudy!?
On top I collect reciprocal snacks from all and sundry who carried heavy packs up all the way up, while I had lightened mine.
Chilly, windy, glorious mid-winter morning.
Peering down at the Tugela Falls – one of the highest waterfalls in the world:
Here’s what the falls look like in a fly past by some enterprising glider pilots:
It might not have been on this trip, but on a trip up to Mt aux Sources I saw an interesting fly hovering at a flower. I had a good look, memorised him and went searching the internet. Here he is (or a close cousin):
I found a wonderful site – an Aussie Michael Whitehead who does research in Australia and in South Africa. He has some beaut pics of proboscis flies like this one – called Prosoeca ganglbaueri.
When the new boy moved in I experienced times of being firmly relegated to 2-IC, second-best, sidekick, supporting cast – in Aitch’s life. Me and TC had to step back as she fell deep and hard in love with Matt. Here’s when she found and chose him:
He was not glossy, so we called him Matt.
Then he grew. And his coat became glossy on the expensive vet’s food Aitch fed him. He was at the tail-end of the docked-tail era.
This was back when these dogs were our children (prior to adopting two of the longer-lasting, more expensive, less appreciative, two-legged kind!).
I found Matt on the freeway late one rainy night. He was probably after an intriguing new smell which enticed him out (he hadn’t wandered before). He was a growing boy, after all! Hit by a car on the M13 when he went loping off thinking “Love Is In The Air”, he was dead. His collar with our details on it was still attached.
We shed tears. I dug his grave. We buried him in the garden.
Then we got a lawyer’s letter and the guy who hit him sued us for the damage to his car. He was entitled to do that, and we paid. Felt crappy, though.
True love – Aitch & Matt; Matt about 1989 to 1991.
At SabiSabi River Camp Trish broke the ice and got the “Seven Habits” weekend going when her loud peal of delighted laughter allowed everyone to relax, forget stuffiness and start relating as equals. Colin Hall wrote to her afterwards:“Your contribution was so special so wholesome so special – you may never know just what magic you made. We really wanted you here!”
Colin was then CEO of Wooltru and had the “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” franchise for SA. He wanted to adapt it to African conditions, as it used references to American farming practice and Colin wanted to allude to the African bush and the lessons it could give us. He needed the OK from the Covey top brass, so they sent Roger (co-founder of the Covey Leadership Center – now FranklinCovey Co.) & Rebecca Merrill to assess a trial run. As it was a trial, Colin invited people to participate, and it didn’t cost us a cent! As he would say: YeeHa!!
What we didn’t know was a whole bunch of notables had also been invited. We were the minnows there. Captains of industry, politicians, struggle icons and rising business people in the old and new South Africa were there. It was September 1994, the New South Africa was five months old, everyone was optimistic and it seemed the world was our oyster.
When the group first gathered, all strangers, all important and all wary, we were given one of those ice-breaking group exercises where the answer seems impossible, but very obvious when explained. Like many others, Trish didn’t “get it”, but unlike them when it was explained she let out a peal of delighted “Oh no! You fool!” self-deprecating laughter which broke the ice in the best way possible. She was the darling of the bunch from then on – and revelled in the limelight!
Colin Hall wrote:“Your contribution was so special so wholesome so special – you may never know just what magic you made. We really wanted you here!”
Other comments she got were:
Thanks for your ‘ubuntu’ – Daphne Motsepe
I’m glad we were thrown into this struggle together! Love always – Monhla Hlahla
Your spontaneity is very refreshing – Div Geeringh
Its a great experience and you’ve both added terrifically – Judy Gathercole
Trish, was great being around you. Keep the soft core intact – Sej Motau
Its been great with you. Keep up the laughs – Khumo Radebe
It was a pleasure to guide you driving blindfolded – Anton Moolman
Best wishes for the future as we strive to implement the 7 Habits – Sheila & Lungi Sisulu
A great experience! Valued your team efforts at “Go Getters!” – Gaby Magomolo
A quiet, telling comment came when Gaby, sitting next to me said words to the effect of, ‘Only when we have established ourselves’ when Henri, tearing up, spoke emotionally of ‘Letting go the past.’ Some clear-eyed sense amongst the blurry-eyed sentiment of 1994.
It was some experience to watch you behind the wheel coming down the bank! – Grant Ashfield
. . into Deepest Darkest America, we go kitted out in readiness . .
Eight weeks; Yep, lo-ong leave; Seven destinations in the USA and one week in England;
I got these details from Aitch’s diary
FLORIDA – Miami airport – 3rd March 1988; Fly on to Orlando, Florida – Sheraton Hotel Disney World Epcot Centre Rent a car and drive east to Merritt Island – sparrows and mosquitoes Kennedy Space Centre
Fly back to Miami and rent a car Titusville (Town Motel $28.90 for the room) Biscayne Nature Reserve Florida City (Town Motel) Everglades – Long Pine Key; Mrazek Lake; Mahogany Hammock
Flamingo Lodge in the Everglades
On Saturday, 12 March we drive to Big Cypress along the Tamiami Trail and on to Everglade City – The Rod & Gun Club – 2 nights
CALIFORNIA – San Francisco, California – Tuesday, 15th March
Aitch said “I want to see an American city, not just nature reserves! so we walked , bussed and rode trams in the city of San Francisco, wearing flowers in our hair. Stay in a Howard Johnson’s Motel, where I use the phone book to enquire about hiring a camping van. It’s more expensive than a small car and motels, so . . we hire a Ford 351 cubic inch V8 RecVee from Western RV Rentals! The first night near Escalon we sleep in a parking lot – maybe illegal, but free!
Yosemite National Park We walk to Mirror Lake Badger Pass Ski Resort Wawona Rail Creek Camp in Wawona campground (pay $6 in a box – honour system) Maraposa Grove Paso Robles Atascadero Santa Marguerita – Campground ($8) Rinconada Santa Marguerita Lake Los Osos; Baywood Park Morro Bay Cayucos Beach San Simeon Los Padres National Forest Plaskett Creek camp ($8) – Van loo overflowed – Big clean up delayed departure! Carmel town Sunset Beach KOA camp ($20.95, ‘all amenities’) Santa Cruz Natural Bridges Park Halfmoon Bay We return the RecVee – and pay $59 damage for a fender scrape in Yosemite! Ouch! Total $679 for 7 nights – more than car hire + motels, it’s true. But much more fun!
Hired a car (from Snappy!) and drove around San Francisco – Lombard Street, Chinatown, over Golden Gate bridge to Muirwoods Rec area & beach Marin – Fountain Motel Downtown San Francisco – Macy’s, Sears, JC Penney – Aitch finally saw a few shops! I bought a telescope – not a good buy! Slept in the airport; Aitch wrote postcards;
WYOMING – Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Tuesday, 24th March (via Salt Lake City) Toyota Tercel 4WD – I loved it! Antler Motel ($28 for the room); Dinner at The Blue Lion (delish. Aitch: “Like St Geran”) Breakfast at Vernet Cafe Wilson (saw a Dipper underwater!) Dinner at Anthony’s Turned back before Teton Village – road blocked due to thick snow on the Moose/Jenny Lake road; Yellowstone south gate closed!
Moran Junction to Jackson Lake Sleigh ride at Teton Village – see a white grouse in a tree Kelly (NE of Jackson Hole)
WASHINGTON – Seattle, Washington (via Salt Lake City) – Sunday 27th March 1988 Puget Sound San Juan Islands We hire another all-wheel-drive Toyota Tercel and drive north to Anacortes – San Juan Motel Ferry crossing to Guernes (Guemes?) Orcas Island Capt Cook’s Resort
Drive up Mt Constitution until snow blocks the road Walk around Mountain Lake East Sound Doe Bay Resort – stay in a rustic cabin (very rustic! but its cheap, Aitch!) called Decatur; lovely hot tubs overlooking an icy bay, where ‘suits are optional.’
Back on the ferry – 30th March; In Seattle we handed back the little Tercel – our 2nd-best vehicle on honeymoon;
OKLAHOMA – Fly south to Dallas / Fort Worth, planning to go to the gulf; But we change our plans and head back north to Lawton, Oklahoma – 30th March; This because the newspaper said: ‘You don’t want to be flying over Easter’ and we asked our air hostess ‘When’s Easter?’ and she said ‘Easter? That’s tomorrow;’ We drive to the farm outside Apache – Apache Oklahoma – 31st March; Only Jimmy there when we arrive after dark; Jim & Katie arrive – 4yrs since my last visit; 15yrs since I stayed with them;
Jim gives me the Chevy Suburban 4X4 keys – ours to drive – our best vehicle on honeymoon!
1st April, my birthday – Breakfast in bed!
Lunch with Granma (Patterson)
Mary Kate arrives from OU
Big family gathering at Plantation Restaurant in Wichita Wildlife Reserve, near Meers. We drive past the old Patterson Ranch;
Jim gives Aitch the Cadillac convertible keys – hers to drive!
Tuesday 5 Apr – We take the Cadillac convertible to town to the First National Bank of Apache’s drive-in window Lawton to the drive-thru liquor store Porter Hill Clung’s Store
I forget to go to my Rotary meeting! Damn! That really was a bad slip-up! BIG BAD!! We were searching for a Vermillion Flycatcher and I forgot!
Jim and I settle in front of the TV to watch a ballgame. Oklahoma U playing someone. Katie and Trish decide that’s way too boring so they load up on Bloody Marys internally and in a hebcooler and drive off in the night looking for owls. They spot a possum and tail it in the headlights. It shuffles onto the dirt road in front of them and Trish is watching in awesome wonder when Katie asks, ‘Shall I kill it?’ Trish is horrified and gasps ‘No!’ and Katie, seeing what she’s thinking exclaims, ‘Not the possum! The engine!’
They collapsed with laughter as they repeatedly regaled us with the tale when they got home, giggling and unmanageable.
OHIO – Fly away!! Lawton/Dallas/Ft Worth/Little Rock Arkansas/Cincinatti – Akron Akron, Ohio – Friday 8 April Dave “Z” picked us up and took us to his condominium and fed us (Larry busy) On to Larry’s beautiful old home on North Portage Path Cuyahoga River State Park (Quarry area) Shopping at a great Deli Larry cooks delicious steaks and he and Trish hit the piano. They ask me not to sing so loud;
Cleveland Lake Erie Supper at a French restaurant on Larry; Home to liquers and piano and song; They ask me not to sing so loud; Bed 2am, rise 5.30am
MASSACHUSETTS – Boston, Massachusetts – 13 April – we rent a car and drive on the busiest highway to date – thru Boston in traffic Hingham (stay in motel $39) Cohasset Cape Cod
Daniel Webster Inn for supper Sandwich (stay in Country Acres Motel $33) Wellfleet Bay Orleans Meadows Motel ($35) Back in Boston its late and we have to return the car so we stay in the most convenient place, a Ramada Inn ($89 for the room! Most expensive night in the USA)
Boston/ JFK New York/ London – 18 April 1988
Last flight: Our 30-day Delta pass expired, but we still had a free return ticket we got for giving up our seat on an overbooked flight earlier on; So we use it to get from Boston to JFK
On to England: A week in England on PanAm – to Heathrow, then to Paddock Wood in Kent where Val & Pete Excell, oldtime friends of Trish from Cape Town, host us; Then they take us on a road tip to Cornwall, through Dartmoor to stay with Mel Spaggiari’s folks Den & Mary Blewett on their farm outside Bodmin. Where we saw a newt and a hedgehog!
Then home – HOME to our Marriott Road flat in Durban.