In 1984 fifteen South African kayakers drifted 300 miles down a full Colorado river through the Grand Canyon, from Lee’s Ferry to where the current now dies in Lake Mead, arrested since 1936 by the massive concrete Hoover Dam. Our trip was amazing and awe-inspiring but one couldn’t really call it an ‘expedition’ as we were guided by people who had been there before; and we were catered for, and we were just fifteen of about twenty thousand people who trip the canyon each year. Admittedly few do it in kayaks, most going in inflatable rafts. Some still use dories similar to the wooden ones Powell used on the first float down the river.
THE CANYON: Recent studies support the hypothesis that the Colorado River established its course through the area about 5 to 6 million years ago, exposing around two billion years of Earth’s geological history in the various layers as you descend. Current archaeological evidence suggests that humans first reached the Grand Canyon area as far back as 10,500 years ago, and inhabited the area around 4,000 years ago.
In 1540, led by local Hopi guides, Spanish Captain Lopez de Cardenas reached the rim of the Grand Canyon on foot; In 1776 a Spanish priest was taken by a Havasupai trader to his place in Havasupai Canyon, again on foot.
In 1857 a party ventured about 300 miles up the river from the mouth in the Sea of Cortes in a 54ft steamboat to Black Canyon, downstream of the present Lake Mead.
THE FIRST DOWN-RIVER TRIP: The first known trips that floated downstream through the whole of the deep canyonlands were in 1869 and 1871, led by an adventurous one-armed Major with a scientific bent, John Wesley Powell. He kept a diary of his first trip, but no pictures; I have the diary in a beautiful book published a hundred years later:
Powell led a party of ten men in four wooden boats 1000 miles down the Green river, into the Colorado river and through both Glen Canyon and the Grand Canyon to below where we finished. As almost always on any continent, local guides – in this case Native Americans – helped them.
Read much more about this amazing 1000 mile river trip – the first to go all the way through these amazing river canyons – on the Green, and the on the Colorado, Glen Canyon (now drowned under Lake Powell) and the Grand Canyon.
The expedition had little communication with the world outside the valley, leading to rumours they were lost; many reports on the expedition while they were gone were written, mostly made-up and some including obituaries. Powell apparently enjoyed reading his own obituary on his way to New York after the trip ended! What actually happened on the three-month trip is in doubt. New diaries have surfaced that show there were probably tensions leading to people abandoning the journey. Powell’s hero status led to most historians glossing over any doubts. Amazing that one hundred and fifty years later we can still uncover new diaries, new information, new sources – including interviews with descendants of other trip members – that add to our knowledge.
NEW BOOK: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers and through the Grand Canyon continues to be one of the most celebrated adventures in American history, ranking with the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Apollo landings on the moon. For nearly twenty years author Don Lago has researched the Powell expedition from new angles, traveled to thirteen states, and looked into archives and other sources no one else has searched. He has come up with many important new documents that change and expand our basic understanding of the expedition by looking into Powell’s crew members, some of whom have been almost entirely ignored by Powell historians. Historians tended to assume that Powell’s was the whole story and that his crew members were irrelevant. More seriously, because several crew members made critical comments about Powell and his leadership, historians who admired Powell were eager to ignore and discredit them. Lago offers a feast of new and important material about the river trip, and it will significantly rewrite the story of Powell’s famous expedition. His book is not only a major work on the Powell expedition, but on the history of American exploration of the West.
TAKE A TRIP: Here’s a 23 minute video of a six-day raft trip down the canyon on quite a low river. Turn the sound down – it’s just muzak. The footage gives a good glimpse of the magnificent scenery.
Here’s a short report on an 18-day raft trip through the canyon – interesting how the popularity of this adventure means one has to enter a lottery to get allocated your own private trip down the canyon – getting your turn to go may take many years! Apply now!
Above the Grand Canyon the Powell party passed through beautiful Glen Canyon. The feature pic above this post and this one here show Glen Canyon, which is now gone – drowned beneath the waters of Lake Powell. An environmental desecration committed so crops could be grown where they shouldn’t be grown, so golf courses could be made where they shouldn’t be and so lawns could be watered where there should not be lawns. NO MORE DAMS!
Great news in 2021 that four dams on the Klamath river in Oregon and California are going to be removed, allowing the river to flow free again. And slowly – very slowly – the river and its valleys will hopefully recover. The Glen Canyon dam should be removed, Lake Powell should go, Glen Canyon should be revealed again in all its splendour. Let’s never give up that fight. Crazy to think Homo sapiens 2021 model feels he “cannot” halve the size of his lawn (which he seldom walks on) and so save a river and its valley!
We are sad to announce that on May 28, 2021, at the age of 84, James Merrell Patterson (Apache, Oklahoma), born in Lawton, Oklahoma passed away.
He was predeceased by: his parents, James Earl “Buck” and Merrell Fleta Patterson (Dietrich); and his sister Molly (Sybil). He is survived by: his wife Katie; his children, Mary Kate and Jimmy (Cyndi); his grandsons; his sisters, Patsy and Lotsee; his nieces and nephews; and his great-nieces and great-nephews.
Jim, you were a legend. The kindest, best, funniest Dad a seventeen year old could have wished for. I still tell people how you taught me to go ‘countin’ fence posts’ in your red pickup truck, cooler box filled with Coors as we drove around while you taught me about life. Katie too, taught me about life: Peter, who do you think chooses their partner? ‘Why, the man of course, Katie!’ – gales of laughter. Lemme tell you Peter, when Jim walked into the bank I said to my girlfriends, ‘I’m gonna marry that man.’
Today is gonna be a sad day of reflection for me. Also wonderful memories. Great fondness. I must get hold of Katie and Mary-Kate.
I see Peggy Manar (83) and Eugene Mindemann (85) also died – both in October 2020. And so things change. Like Jim and Katie, they too (and their spouses Tom and Odie) were wonderfully kind to me in my year in Apache back in 1973. As were the Hrbaceks, the Paynes, the Crews, the Lehnertzs, the Swandas, the Rotary club, the school, everyone. A magic year, 1973.
So many memories. I’ll come back to this post and add over time.
Another Jim moment: Jim was asking me what subjects I was taking in my senior year at Apache High School.
But first lemme explain: I had finished school back in South Africa. I was done. I was here to have fun and learn new things – things other than school. So I told him: I had to take American history as I was a foreigner; I had to take English as I spoke the Queen’s English and that needed fixing; Then I took Ag shop, Annual staff, Phys Ed and Typing.
He looked at me in amazement: (or was it envy?) – ‘What? They didn’t have Basket Weavin’?!’ he asked with a huge grin.
Larry wrote to me – old-fashioned ink and paper, lick the stamp, seal the envelope and drop it into a postbox – on 4 Nov 1970, his 19th birthday.
He was getting brochures for Dad for a van – Ford, Chev and Dodge. ‘I’m glad your father is really getting interested in the scheme of getting a van. If he is serious about importing me too (to come with the van), I could be ready to leave in June. It seems a bit too good to be true, so I am not counting on it at all.’ It didn’t happen. The van did.
The old man needed a delivery van for the bottle store. Twelve years of Joseph faithfully delivering booze to the needy on his bicycle clearly wasn’t hacking it anymore.
People needed their dop on the double; their brannewyn and beer briefly; their cane kona manje; their Paarl Perle pronto; This called for a V8! A five litre V8 – 302 cubic inches of inefficiency was ordered from across the Atlantic. Two pedals, one to GO one to STOP; it was automatic . . . hydromatic, greased lightning!
It was a delivery van, so no windows were needed. These were only cut in the week it arrived. Then it needed to be fitted out to take crates of beer: Two beds, a fridge and a stove were fitted above the new green carpets.
A test run was called for: I drove it to Joburg, loaded it up with fellow students and headed for Hillbrow. At the lights on the uphill section of Quartz or Twist street some unsuspecting sucker pulled up alongside.
I gave him a withering look and revved the V8, which didn’t really growl, the ole man refusing to tweak the exhaust like it could have been tweaked. It sounded OK, but not “like God clearing his throat.”
I changed feet, stomping down hard on the brake with my left and pressing down on the accelerator with my right. A fraction before the light turned green I let go the brake and the bus squealed and roared and bucked as we gunned off up the hill. Dunno if the other bloke even noticed but we were hosing ourselves – we had fun.
The van cost the ole man R1500 and then shipping it across the Atlantic another R1500.
We went to a dance in Red River. Beer. Music. I danced with a tiny little girl. I was smitten, she was a gorgeous freestyle hippy, having fun and dancing with gay abandon. How old ARE you? she asked when I told her I was repeating matric for the third time. Well, she had asked what I was doing and I’d said Senior in High School. Again.
Eighteen, I said.
I don’t believe it, she said.
And you? I asked – I was suddenly getting good at this wooing stuff. Makin’ small talk, I was.
Twenty seven, she said. What? No way! I do not believe that, says me.
She whipped out her drivers licence: 1946. She was 27. I didn’t even know you got people that old.
I was still smitten.
Come round to our place in Arroyo Hondo tomorrow, she invited. It’s an adobe house right on the road to Taos, you can’t miss it, she invited.
We were there like a shot the next day! Me and Jeff in his blue Willys Jeep. Talk about me being young: Jeff was fourteen. We’d only got back to Granma’s cottage in the wee hours, so it was after midday that summer day when we found the house that looked about as my new focus of fascination had described it.
Sitting on the mud wall of the porch watching the daily non-stop broadcast of the Nixon Watergate hearings on a small black and white TV was a fella with long hair and a scraggly beard, with a fag hanging from his lips. He was filing away at a flywheel. We learnt a few minutes later that it was a Chevy flywheel and he needed it for his old Ford. Or a Ford flywheel and he needed it for his old Chevy. It was too big, so he was filing away one tooth at a time. When it fitted he was going to move on.
But first we said Hi! Is ___ (I really should remember her name for a love story like this, should I not!?) around?
‘Ah, she went thataway about eleven this mornin,’ he said, flicking his head over his shoulder indicating the road South to Taos. ‘Said she wanted to catch a concert in Cali.’
California!? Where . . ?
‘Some rock concert.’
How . . ?
‘She threw her thumb out and somebody gave her a ride.’
Heartbroken, we drifted back to Red River. Took me ages to recover. About as long as the romance had lasted. Hours.
But hey! it’s 47yrs later and I can still remember how she felt and smelt dancing, and what the top of her head looked like, so there was true love involved too.
I have written about our lonely little, short-lived Boy Scout troop in the vrystaat and how wonderful it was, how much we learned and how much fun we had, but as I find more and more material in my Big Garage Cleanup, here’s the thing that strikes me most: How incredibly dedicated our troop leaders were and how selflessly they gave of their time and resources. Take this one incident, a memorable hike to test our map-reading and navigating skills:
Father Sam van Muschenbroek was the Scout leader (what’s that called?) and we met at his house at 6:30 on a Friday evening, got into his car and he drove us off. He stopped for petrol and while his car was being filled he blindfolded us – me and Greg Seibert, Rotary exchange student and American Boy Scout, as we were not to know where our hike started, nor did we know the end-point yet. All of that we were to work out from maps and compass readings.
Greg wrote: ‘We were hopelessly lost after a few tricky turns by Father Sam. After a bit of rough and out-of-the-way driving, we arrived’ at our campsite at 7:50pm. We cooked for Father Sam, his son Sam and ourselves and finished eating (spaghetti followed by a can of pears) at 9:35pm, wherupon the Sams drove off without lights (‘tricky, tricky’ wrote Greg).
All this in his own time and on – I would guess – not a huge salary as a rooinek dominee of a tiny little Anglican parish in a vrystaat dorp! I salute people like Father Sam, Dick Clarke and Charlie Ryder! They enriched and enhanced our growing up in Harrismith, going out of their way to ensure we had adventures and fun and did good stuff. Many, many men, far richer and much more influential than these three did WAY less for the kids in their town.
Oh: So what happened?
The next morning we rose at 6:20am – Greg sure watched the clock, he even said we fell asleep at 10:45pm the night before! – he took a picture of this sunrise on Saturday 29 April 1972, and I made a fire and attempted and failed to bake some bread over the coals. Then at 7:20am PAUL GOT UP! Who the hell was Paul?
We ate coffee, dried fruit, biltong and biscuits. The wind was whistling, and it musta blown page 3 away, so on page 4 the weather was still cold but warming. Still very windy from the WNW. At point C on the map we were obviously following ‘we were only 25 yards off of our calculations!’ We calculated and read the compass and left for point D at 10:15am.
Point E at 11:30am after detouring around a vlei and throwing my pack across a stream (!). Point F was some half-dead trees and some ruins and we rested there for ten minutes to 12:20pm.
Point G was a willow tree, a stone pillar and a little dam. We found it after a longish detour to find a place where we could cross the stream which was 4ft deep and 20ft wide. There we had lunch and a rest till 1:30pm. No mention of what we had for lunch but my guess would be coffee, dried fruit, biltong and biscuits. We ate in the shade while the mysterious Paul slept in the sun. Point H was an empty house and barn down a farm road. After a tricky crossing of a stream we were looking for a windmill. A glint of sun reflected off it revealed it and we headed up a rough hill, stopping halfway up for a rest and a drink. We reached the windmill, point I at 4:15pm and ate an apple.
When we weren’t sure of our position, we would seat Paul under a tree and Greg and I would go and check and then come back, so the mystery Paul wouldn’t get too tired, I suppose?
We were now headed for a Mr Blom’s farm. On the way we got our first glimpse of Platberg in the distance, so that was heartening. We reached Mr Blom’s house at 4:45pm and he invited us in for tea! We chatted till ‘about 5:30pm’ – HA! Greg was less accurate over tea! – when it started to rain.
We moved to camp, Mr Blom having kindly given us milk, apples, grapes and water! We cooked and ate supper at 9:30pm – spaghetti! But also beef stroganoff and oxtail soup. Paul went to sleep at 9pm! So, hike scribe Greg notes, ‘Pete and I gorged ourselves on the beef strog.’
‘We finally climbed in at 9:45pm. We we asleep ‘
It ends like that.
Greg called the adventure Operation Headache – and it occurs to me: Father Sam must have spent hours beforehand setting up the course! Taking compass readings, probably meeting Mnr Blom and getting his co-operation, probably other farmers whose land we crossed, too. What an absolute star! We loved those three days and spoke about the hike in years – decades – to follow.
As proof that We Wuz There, we got Mr Blom’s signature:
Greg’s notes in his unmistakable spidery handwriting:
. . . and I found half of page 3: It said we stopped at a spring and drank. We saw ‘several freshwater crabs, insect larvae and a frog.’
A map I drew of our first campsite:
Accuracy check: What does a satellite pic of the area look like fifty years later? Hmmm . . . good thing I wrote ‘approx’ where I pointed NORTH! And that wind was SW wasn’t it?
Here’s another map, another hike. Maybe my 50 miler hike near Normandien Pass.
Drawings on a hike – in the Drakensberg on the Vrystaat / Natal border again – our usual place; may be same hike, I don’t know:
Sister Sheila returned to me letters I had written to her and to Mom and Dad back in 1973:
4 July 1973 – Aerogram to Sheila with apologies for being late for her seventeenth birthday. We had been out in the sticks camping in Canada, north of Lake Superior on her day 26 June, next to ‘one of the most beautiful white-water streams I’ve ever seen.’ Then we had canoe’d and camped in Quetico Park, west of Thunder Bay – caught in pouring rain. Then to the Lake of the Woods, ‘absolutely fantastic, unbelievable.’ Five in a VW Bug, three Oklahoman lasses, an Aussie and I. I rave in the letter about what perfect traveling companions they were and hint – shh – that Dottie is ‘sort of the girlfriend’ – adroit with the lasses as always! Sigh!
The blue aerogram – postage 15c – was written from Dubuque, Iowa, where the Okie lasses and Kneebone the Aussie had dropped me off with my last host family Don and Jackie Lehnertz, who would ferry me back to Apache. ‘Fraid I mostly slept in their car, after the excitement of drinking, camping and jolling with that great first-class team of friends. We did go up the stainless steel arch in St Louis, I remember that. Cramped up in a little cocoon and then a narrow view from 630 feet above the Mississippi. Cost a dollar and I wouldn’t pay a dollar to do it again. ‘Course I was way too polite to say that then.
29 July 1973 – Nine-page letter to whole family. 21c postage. Written in Durango, Colorado where Jim and Katie Patterson had taken me and Dottie Moffett after two weeks in New Mexico. One week with the Manars in a lodge in Red River, The Ponderosa; and then a week in Granma Merrill’s cabin in Pine Valley outside town. The rest of the Apache ‘Bunch’ then arrived en masse – so now we were five couples with five 4X4 jeeps and lots of kids! The Paynes, Hrbaceks and Mindemanns joining to make a party of twenty nine, of which nineteen festively crowded into Granma’s double-story cabin!
We jeeped up steep, rough switchbacks, stopping for beers and bloody marys in the hebcoolers tied to the tailgates, full of ice; we hiked up the Sangre de Christo mountains to 12 682 feet, still the highest I have ever climbed above sea level.
Saw mule deer, a badger, a weasel, squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, rabbits, groundhogs; also many hummingbirds, blue jay, stellar jay, cardinals, western tanagers. Dottie and I played tennis at a Taos ski resort. She was a really good tennis player, ranked as high as No.2 in Oklahoma; she toyed with me, but I recorded the score; I got one set off her! (yes, she probly let me!); 4-6 8-6 6-3 and 6-2 she whipped me.
We visited a hippie commune in Arroyo Hondo. We visited Taos pueblo where some famous characters would hang out and bail out of the rat race. Crazy actor Dennis Hopper – 1969’s Easy Rider – was one, around about that time.
Off to Colorado – Durango to Silverton on a steam train – spectacular
Ouray – ‘Switzerland of America’
On to Arches National Monument, Utah
Bryce Canyon, Utah (passing a turnoff to ‘Koosharem’!):
Zion National Park, where we hiked and swam:
Las Vegas. We all gambled till 5am, Dottie and I continued to 9am. I immediately lost $11, then recovered till I was $12 up, continued, refusing to go to bed till I’d ‘paid my dues.’ When I was down a dollar or two we quit. Meantime I also had $5 from Odie Mindemann which I increased to $11, tipped the dealer a dollar and when I got back to Apache I gave her $10. She immediately gave me $2.50 – ‘commission’!! The second and last night Dottie and I gambled till 7:30am.
On to Hoover Dam where we took the tour down into the depths of the wall. Then overnight at the Visitor Centre at South Rim, Grand Canyon, Rose early to see sunrise on the edge. Dottie and I decided to walk the eight miles to the Colorado river at the bottom along the Bright Angel Trail. After 4.5 miles we got to an oasis, ‘big trees, birds, squirrels and chipmunks; and a drinking fountain.’ 3.5 miles later we were looking down at the river flowing ‘clear and swift and strong over great rapids – I’d love to canoe it’ I wrote. Seven and a quarter hours later we were back – and I had forgotten to take a picture of the river!
Drove to Albuquerque to overnight with Jim’s sister Pat; and the next day back to Apache. The day after was the Rotary meeting and I ‘gave the program,’ whatever that means – spoke to the good people of my sponsoring club, I guess. (Which was better than I did fifteen years later on honeymoon! Trish and I were out birding and clean forgot about the weekly meeting! Really REALLY embarrassed about that unforgivable slip!).
Soon Dottie had to go home to Ardmore near the Texas border; Good ole Katie – she who had organised that we had this amazing three weeks together – drove us there.
A while later Jim took me to Dallas to watch the Dallas cowboys beat the St Louis Cardinals.
29 August 1973 – Letter home. Moaning about the heat in Apache – practicing football in two layers of clothing, knee, thigh, hip, bum and shoulder pads; helmet with chinstrap and teethguard. ‘I’m playing fullback on offense and safety on defense and still don’t know much about either!’ At school I’m taking typing (‘my wrists ache’ – !?) Annual Staff, producing the school yearbook, Ag Shop, learning to weld, Oklahoman history and P.E! Then I’ll be helping the science teacher with one of his younger classes. School is from 8:30am to 2:20pm and then football starts and continues to 6:15pm, so I don’t have time to get much done, I moaned! Lots of moaning!
Went to Ardmore to visit Dottie; met her folks and her twin sister Dale. Her Dad, Dr Denny Moffett, gave me a lovely book, which, the more I’ve read it, the more I think Dottie’s Dad was telling me ‘The history you were taught is not the true history of how things went down.’
I had broken my tennis racquet strings in Cobleskill, New York on our trip up north and Dottie had it restrung for me in Ardmore free-of-charge! In Ardmore she entered me in a tennis tournament. Lost in the 2nd round to the eventual winner. Dottie had sent a Las Vegas photo of me to Mom Mary (I said Good! It cost me $7) and Mom – thinking maybe a daughter-in-law was in the making? wrote back to Dottie. Katie picked me up and took me home to Apache after a visit to her folks down in Shreveport. The next time I saw Dottie was at UCT in Cape Town, two or three years later.
Back to Dallas with Bob and Carol Crews. Watched the Texas Rangers beat the New York Yankees at baseball; saw the grassy knoll where John Kennedy got shot; spent the rest of the day at Six Flags over Texas amusement park. ‘Breathtaking and hair-raising rides.’ Two hours in the queue for the biggest ride!
After that back in Apache, football season was starting, we had practice matches or ‘scrimmages’ against Cache, and Temple, then our first game against Snyder. Lost. Lost. Lost.
19 September 1973 – Short letter to family at home. Mom had written saying Jock was going to be given away. I pleaded for him to be kept.
23 October 1973 – Letter to family at home. Busy – four Rotary talks in four days: Lawton’s Lions Club; Apache Rotary Ladies night; Boone school; Anadarko Women’s Club with Eve Woodhouse from Durban and Helen Worswick from Marandellas, lovely and popular fellow exchange students. Someone would have driven me south to Lawton, west to Boone and north to Andarko – they were all so kind to me! In Lawton an elderly man came up to me, greeted me in Afrikaans and sang My Sarie Marais at the top of his voice! His mother had moved to Oklahoma in 1909 and taught him those few words and that one song all those years ago!
Played golf in Fort Cobb, Eve’s town, with Andy Claborn, then went to Cameron College with Andy, Robbie Swanda and Jay Wood. Then to Norman with Junior school principal Jim Stanton to watch Oklahoma University beat Colorado University 34-7 at college football. Katie fetched me in Norman and we drove down to Dallas again to meet her folks, Mama and Papa Hays. Went to the Texas State Fair; then Papa and lil Jimmy and I went to another Dallas Cowboys game, where the Cowboys beat the New York Giants 45-28.
Back in Apache I resumed my rivalry with Robbie Swanda in international darts and pool. We were pretty evenly matched. This is where I learned that ‘closies don’t count, ‘cept in handgrenades and horseshoes’ which I changed to handgrenades and jukskei. Then out to Jim Patterson’s farm where he was planting wheat, as the rain had finally stopped, enabling him to get into his fields. We’d decided I would bunk school and help him, but Danny Swanda put his foot down – exchange students shall not drive tractors! He was right. So I only did some harrowing – on the quiet, though. Two laps of Jim’s 180 acre field took me an hour on the tractor.
Challenged the football coach to table tennis – so we were still on good terms, despite my abandoning football! A great weekend lay ahead: The Swandas invited all the SA, Zim, Kiwi and Aussie exchange students for the weekend! Eight exchange students!
31 October 1973 – Letter to family at home. Jock must have got a reprieve, as I asked them to ‘remember his birthday, he’s getting middle-aged.’ I had made his birthday on Larry Wingert’s birthday 4 November. Went to Fort Cobb again to speak to Rotary. Stayed with Eve Woodhouse’s family and ‘helped them harvest peanuts’ – actually watched the Mexican hired hands doing the work. Was planning on joining Jim and Jimmy Patterson at the OU – Nebraska college football game in Norman soon. At school the Indian Club had a big dance, got me to join in and then presented me with a beautiful shirt, bead necklace and choker.
Went to Carnegie to speak to their Rotary club; hosted by Helen Worswick; beat her at tennis 6-4 6-4 6-4. Spoke to Stony Point Rod & Gun club.
The gang of exchange students had been. We had played table tennis, darts, horseshoes, pool and tennis (in which Jim Patterson’s uncle from California beat me 6-4 6-2). Watched football the Friday night. Apache beat Mountain View, where Jenny Carter from Bromley in Zimbabwe was the exchange student. To rub it in we put the Saturday news report on her breakfast table place on Sunday! Then we headed out to the beautiful Wichita mountains south of town. Tall, good-looking, pommy-accented Helen Worswick from Marandellas in Zimbabwe, Africa, saw a tiny little snake cross the path, shrieked, turned round and ran over everyone behind her like skittles, proving to the Americans in the party how rugged and bush-wise (they’d have thought jungle-wise) we Africans are.
Rotary clubs used to get Helen to talk to them ‘just to hear the King’s English!’ She’d probly been to some posh private school infested with Pom teachers straight outa Blighty, pale skin and necks burnt red by the hot African sun?
The next week I saddled up and went ‘real cowboyin’ with host Dad Jim and host Grandad Buck Patterson. We had hats, boots, horses, cattle and dust, as we rounded up the cattle, coralled them and then separated Jim’s from Buck’s, then separated the calves from their mothers. They’d been in the wheatfields so they had the runs and we got it – some even in my hair. Half an hour after getting home I was due to give a talk. Made it. Wished I’d taken my camera on the roundup!
A real character was Buck Patterson. You had to call him Buck. Thassall. Buck. His grandkids Mary-Kate 9 and Jimmy 7 called him Buck. Only Buck. Just like my granny made us all call her Annie. Only Annie. As his new grandkid, aged 17, I decided I’d call him Granpa Buck and everyone was amazed he let me. He’d even boast about it: ‘He’s my grandkid from Africa. He calls me Granpa Buck.’
Here’s a letter from the year before. I was still in matric and my good mate Steph de Witt was Harrismith’s Rotary exchange student in Ohio.
Found some old pics from Apache Oklahoma back in 1973.
Dragging Main in a Ford Mustang with my Olympus camera – and taking original 1973 selfies!
Next, a self portrait at the Swandas home – my last hosts in Oklahoma.
Their farm outside Apache was called ‘The Swandarosa’ – kidding!! Not really – that was Robbie Swanda’s joke. But can you hear the theme tune?
Well, can you believe this!? I was narrowly beaten to the prize of taking the world’s first-ever selfie! In fact the first photographic portrait ever taken might have been a ‘selfie.’
Taken in 1839 by an amateur chemist and photography enthusiast from Philadelphia named Robert Cornelius. Setting up his camera at the back of the family store in Philadelphia, Cornelius took the image by removing the lens cap and then running into frame where he sat for a minute before covering up the lens again.
And hey! Cornelius himself was also a johnny-come-lately! Selfies were started way earlier . .
I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island above and left of France was also the queen of South Africa (and for much of her life she was right!).
I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane – in between it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.
I stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.
‘Strue!! – These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.
Note: I go back to my posts to add / amend as I remember things and as people mention things, so the posts evolve. I know (and respect) that some bloggers don’t change once they’ve posted, or add a clear note when they do. That’s good, but as this is a personal blog with the aim of one day editing them all into a hazy memoir, this way works for me. So go’n re-look at some posts you’ve enjoyed before and see how I’ve improved over time (!). It’s just as my friend Greg says: ‘The older we get, the better we were.’
A memorial stone. This story started in Pietermaritzburg, grew in Pretoria – and ended up here:
The beautiful delta of the Skagit River in North-West Washington state! Up on the Pacific coast; up near Canada; not too far off the exact opposite side of the world. Here’s where South Africa lies if you could look right through the world from Above the Pacific Ocean:
It happened like this:
My dear cousins: On Sunday August 11 my family and I are holding a memorial for my mother. When she died so unexpectedly in March 1974 I was a long way away. I did not participate in any of the funeral arrangements and I did not attend the funeral.
After cousin Lizzie died I had a “conversation” with Koosie and he asked me where my mother was buried and I realized, to my shame, that I did not know and have not since been able to find out.
So on Sunday, a day before her 109th birthday and 45 years after she died, I am symbolically bringing her home to me and to my family. We have chosen for her headstone a rock we collected from a nearby river and it will pass from me, to my daughter, to my grandson and beyond in ongoing commemoration.
Please send your prayers and loving thoughts our way and join us in recognition of Adriana Wilhelmina Swanepoel Solomon, my beloved mother and your Auntie Janie.
Much love to you all, Shirley
dear Cousins: Thanks and appreciation to all of you for your thoughts
and prayers. We spent a heartfelt couple of hours together talking
about Adriana and the Swanepoels. Warren was not with us as he is
visiting friends in Nebraska. We looked through the old shoebox of
pictures and told the old stories that, by this time, are part of the
family cannon and are probably quite richly embellished. We laughed,
we teared up, we remembered other family members who are no longer
with us. We brought out the big Atlas and checked out where exactly
South Africa is, we took down the pictures that have been on the wall
for years and examined them more closely: the four Swanepoel siblings
taken when Pieter was around two, the montage of the ten cousins that
I cherish, the wedding picture of my parents. All in all, it was a
lovely time, topped off by my reading the kind and thoughtful
messages that you sent us. Our love from our family to yours.
Hi Shirley, What a beautiful gesture. Our thoughts will be with you on Sunday. I can still remember the time that my dad went to Aunt Liz’s funeral and ended up having to bury two sisters. He was so sad at the time. May they all rest in peace. Love from us. Solly
That’s beautiful Shirley. My thoughts are with you and I have put a reminder on my phone. I’ll drink a toast Sunday! ( I did – Jerepigo!). Auntie Janie will enjoy Washington, the Northwest and the river, I’m sure! Love, Koos – P.S. The last time I saw her was 1973 in Apache, Oklahoma and friends took a polaroid picture:
Dear Shirley, You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers today. May your commemoration bring the peace in your heart that you so long sought for. Remember, those we so dearly love, don’t go away, they walk beside us every day. Love you all, Johan
Dear Cousin Shirley, Thank you for sharing the family memorial for your mother with your cousins. May your family be richly blessed for placing her at the centre of your lives on this day.
Although 10 200 plus miles separate us, know that we will be with you in heart and spirit on this memorable occasion. To this end, a proverb, a prayer, a photo and a couple of fond memories for you.
An appropriate Hebrew proverb: Say not in grief ‘she is no more’ but live in thankfulness that she was.
A prayer for the occasion: Lord of all, we praise you for Aunty A who rests peacefully in your presence. Give all who remember her grace to follow in her footsteps as she followed the way of your Son. Thank you for the memory of Aunty A who you unexpectedly gathered to you. May our memories of her lead our hearts from the things we can see to the unseen things we trust you for. Lead us too until we enter the eternal rest you have prepared for us. We ask this in your precious name Lord. Amen.
A photo of the Swanepoel sisters taken in Camperdown when Aunty A visited. Two ladies who remain dear to me to this day.
A couple of fond memories of a lady with class: Aunty A was the only Aunt I knew – I can’t remember meeting any of my Dad’s sisters. Aunty A was always very kind to me. When given our first pass from the Air Force Gymnasium in 1964 it was Aunty A who collected me to spend a delightful Sunday in their home at 54?Prospect Street, Hatfield, Pretoria. It only occurred to me much later why she and Uncle Solly gave me a spare box set of King Lear long-player records with the subtle suggestion that it would improve my English! Clearly Mathematics and Science was my forte and not languages. After having qualified to give flying instruction at Central Flying School Dunnottar and trying to be an officer and a gentleman whilst vigorously courting the East Rand chicks, it was Aunty A who suggested that taking them to ballet shows at the Aula Theatre at Pretoria University would impress them favourably. She accompanied us on occasion but didn’t seem too impressed with the company I was keeping at that stage. Aunty A helped me select and purchase a 1968 painting of the artist Christiaan Saint Peter Nice one Sunday afternoon at the Magnolia Dell. This artist has since passed on but subsequently became well known and his paintings continue to grow in value. The painting hangs in the study serving as a reminder of the good times we spent together. Aunty A was not just classy but fun-loving too. Travelling together from Pretoria to Camperdown in my recently acquired MGB GT (before entering the Free State where the traffic cops always laid in wait for unsuspecting speedsters) I can’t quite remember whether it was Aunty A who wanted to know how fast this thing can go or me who wanted to show her? Other than with my lady companions, Aunty A was truly impressed with what the MG could do given that it was a sporting offspring of her Morris Cowley which she used to drive hell-for-leather down Burnett Street heading for the City. Her memory remains indelible in my mind.
Here’s wishing you every success and many happy memories of the day! With love, Cousin Jack G
contacted JP du Plessis wanting to know wassup!? Catch me up on your
to hear from you. We’re living in Austin, Texas – since January 2016.
We spent sixteen years in Mandeville, Lousiana – near New Orleans. We raised our kids there, and still have the house there.
stints in Chicago, Illinois, Las Vegas, Nevada and Los Angeles,
California. Can’t believe we’ve been here 30 years.
fondly (jealously!) followed your past road trips through the States
on vrystaatconfessions.com – Sorry you had to experience Shreveport!?
I get to travel quite a bit for work. I have extensively traveled the
Gulf States by road and other places by air.
you made your way on I-20 through to Vicksburg and saw the mighty
Mississippi River on your way up from Shreveport to New York with
still think that is why I came here: because of Huckleberry Finn and
Tom Sawyer as well as the fascinating origins of American music in
the Mississippi Delta.
had a great time living in New Orleans. Our daughter still lives
there. We’re going there for a few days on Wednesday for a bit of
Mardi Gras and work.
other kids live in Brooklyn, New York City, Chicago and Fort
Funny….I thought so much of you yesterday listening to a “rubriek” on the New Yorker Radio Hour podcast about this guy who traveled all over the States on his canoe. For two decades! Saying: Hey I’m not lost and I’m not homeless…..I’m just paddling on the water seeing some fantastic geography and meeting very nice people on the way, (paraphrased). He wrote three books (not published). I will try to find the link for you.