As I settled in the seat of the Delta Air plane en route to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, 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 already 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 shooting the breeze, drinking cold Coors and occasionally watching ‘the ballgame’ – Basketball I think; OU I think. Someone won, I think.
One morning I woke up to breakfast in bed. It was 1st April, my birthday – thirty three years young today – and Aitch delivered a tray of healthfood goodies. Mental health food, yum!
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 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. Life is so unfair.
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,s “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 friends 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.
PS: I needed a haircut, so took ourselves off to Oscar and Sonia’s barber 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 senior years, or matrics: Harrismith in 1972, then the second half of the 1973 class in Apache, then the first half of the 1974 year in Apache again.
Oscar and Sonia were full of beans and mischief and could ‘stir’ wickedly.
I walked into the barber shop and said to the man 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 for a good while; then his 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 talk. 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 four 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, inne?’
He and Sonia then insisted we sit 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 . . ‘ This (a picture of their farmyard, or of Dallas as a kid) was Paris France on our third 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!
The thick old honeymoon photo album has been discarded in downsizing and selling our home, but not before recording all the photos. Here are the Oklahoman ones:
We sweated in the dust, mopping our brows with dirty red bandanas. The bull calves didn’t like what we were doing, but we had to do it. We wrestled them to the ground, us wranglers, hog-tying their feet before de-horning them and branding them in a cloud of smoke. Burnt flesh smells filled the air. Then it was out with a sharp, clean knife and off with their nuts, deftly. Yep, we castrated ’em. The royal ‘we’ mind you, they wouldn’t let a rank amateur like me do that. Lastly we injected them, and then we untied ’em.
They didn’t like it. They stood shakily, wondering what the HELL had happened (now, if you tell anyone I wrote about a bull calf’s feelings I’ll deny it. Us cowboys don’t do emotion, but I’m setting it down for the record, see). Earlier that day they had been romping in the pastures without a care in the world, and now WHAM! No horns, no nuts, and pain in three places!
That evening we gathered in the barn out near the Hrbacek’s place (near Boone, I think, west or SW of town) for a mountain oyster fry. Copious amounts of beer washed down the delicious deep-fried and battered ‘oystures’, round, oval and all sizes from marble-sized to about a No. 8 pool ball size. Those last calves had obviously been born early – well before the roundup.
At least we were discreet. In Texas the sign where a church was holding a mountain oyster fry shouted: “COME HAVE A BALL WITH JESUS” !
Another cowboy day out on the range was horseback riding with Jim Patterson and his Dad Buck Patterson. Everybody had to call him Buck, nothing but Buck. A bit like my gran in Harrismith was Annie, nothing else. But I called him Granpa Buck and he allowed me to!
I wrote home that I was kitted out with horse, hat, boots, cattle and dust; we rounded up the cattle, corralled them, separated Jim’s from Buck’s, then the calves from their mamas. They’d been on the wheat fields, so they had the runs and I got cow poo everywhere, even in my hair. Got home half an hour before I had to present a talk. Made it!
. . 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.