Found some old pics from Apache Oklahoma back in 1973.
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:
On, northwards, to Ohio to see Larry.
In Apache Oklahoma in 1973 I lived with the charismatic funeral home owner, fire chief, ambulance driver, hearse driver and tornado alert man, Robert L Crews III. In the funeral home. While I was there we sounded the siren for tornadoes twice and watched them approach. Once we even went down into the basement as it came so close. But both times it went back up into the clouds – didn’t touch ground. The clouds that day:
In May we heard of the Union City disaster. We drove there to look-see. The image that stuck the most in my mind was the main street with many buildings completely gone. One shop had some shelves still standing – with product on the shelves – but the roof and walls were gone.
I found this recently:
Union City Tornado Makes History
NSSL revisits its past as it celebrates 40 years with NOAA – by Rachel Shortt
On May 24, 1973, a tornado rated F4 struck the Union City area and was the first tornado widely documented by science as part of storm chasing field research. NSSL out of Norman, Oklahoma placed numerous storm chasers around it to capture the life cycle on film. As the devastating tornado tore through the small town of Union City, no one knew the tremendous impact it would have on the development of weather radar. Researchers from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory now look back on that day as a significant event in the history of severe weather research and forecasting.
And I was (sorta) there!
For a human interest story, see the New York Times article written on the 20th anniversary (1993):
Played football in Apache Oklahoma in ’73 for the Apache Warriors. The coaches did their best to bring this African up to speed on the rules and objectives of gridiron. We played two pre-season warm-up games followed by five league games. And lost all seven encounters!
Myself I was kinda lost on the field, what without me specs! So here’s me: Myopically peering between the bars of the unfamiliar helmet at the glare of the night-time spotlights! Hello-o! Occasionally forgetting that I could be tackled or blocked even if the ball was way on the other side of the field! Ooof! Hey, what was that for?
At that point I thought: Five more weeks in America, five more games in the season, football practice four days a week, game nights on Fridays. I wanted out! There was so much I still wanted to do in Oklahoma and in preparing for the trip home. I went up to Coach Rick Hulett with trepidation and told him I wanted to quit football. Well, he wasn’t pleased, but he was gracious. We were a small team and needed every available man, how would they manage without me?
By winning every single one of the last remaining five games, that’s how!!
Coach Hulett won the Most Improved Coach Award and the team ended up with one of their best seasons for years!
I like to think the turnaround was in some small way helped by the way I cheered my former team-mates on from the sideline at the remaining Friday night games! Ahem . . .
I watched them home and away whenever I was free.