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.
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.
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.’
The new preacherman at the Christian Church of Apache Oklahoma, looked me up after he’d been in town a while and invited me over to his place. Turns out he was interested in becoming a mission-nary to Africa and wanted to meet one of the real-deal Africans he’d heard and read so much about. Maybe suss out just how much we needed saving?
A HUGE man, six feet and nine inches tall, Ron Elr*ck wore a string tie, a ‘ten gallon’ stetson and cowboy boots, making him damn near eight feet tall fully dressed as he stooped through doors and bent down to shake people’s hands. I met his tiny little wife who was seemingly half his height, and two lil daughters at their house, the church ‘manse’ or ‘vicarage’.
Ron was an ex-Canadian Mountie and a picture on his mantelpiece showed him towering over John Wayne, when Wayne was in Canada to film a movie.
Soon he invited me to join him on a men’s retreat to “God’s Forty Acres” in NE Oklahoma (the yanks are way ahead of Angus Buchan in this “get away from the wife, go camping on a farm, and when you get back tell her you’re the boss, the head of the house, the patriarch – the ‘prophet'” shit. I mean, this was 1973!). I had made it known from my arrival in Apache that I would join anybody and go anywhere to see the state and get out of school – I mean hey! I’d already DONE matric!
So we hopped into his muddy pink wagon with ‘wood’ panelling down the sides – it looked a bit like these in the pictures. We roared off from Caddo county heading north-east, bypassing Oklahoma City and Tulsa to somewhere near Broken Arrow or Cherokee county – towards the Arkansas border, anyway. Me n Ron driving along with the wind in our hair like Thelma and Louise.
Non-stop monologue on the way. He didn’t need any answers, I just had to nod him yes and he could talk non-stop for hours on end. At the retreat there were hundreds of men and boys just like him, no women. Unless you count them in the background who made and served the food. The men were all fired up for the Lawrd, bellowing the Retreat Song at the drop of a hat:
♫ “In Gahd’s Fordy Yacres . . !!”♫
We musta sang it 400 times in that weekend. If I was God I’d have done some smiting.
We left at last and headed back, wafting along like on a mattress in that long slap wagon, when Ron suddenly needed an answer: Had I ever seen a porno movie? WHAT? I hadn’t? Amazing! Well, jeez, I mean goodness, he felt it as sort of like a DUTY to enlighten me and reveal to me just how evil and degraded these movies could be. So we detoured into Tulsa. Maybe he regarded it as practice for the mission-nary work he was wanting to do among us Africans?
We sat through a skin flick in a seedy movie house. It was the most skin ‘n pubic hair ‘n pelvis ‘n pulsating organs this eighteen year old boykie from the Vrystaat had seen to date so it was, after all, educational. Thin plot, though.
I suppose you could say I got saved and damned all on one weekend.
Ron did get to Africa as a mission-nary. He was posted to Jo-hannesburg. Lotsa ‘sinners’ in Jo-hannesburg, I suppose. I’m just not sure they need ‘saving’ by a Canadian Mountie.
The Native Americans in Apache welcomed me very hospitably. One concerned Rotarian drew me aside at the time of the 1973 Wounded Knee incident which was very big news in Oklahoma. Oglala Sioux and AIM activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. US Marshals, FBI agents, and other law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area.
The activists had chosen the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre for its symbolic value. The military was armed, the protesters were not. The Rotarian told me to be careful; the AIM was restless and could kidnap me to make demands. He certainly meant well, but it sounded far-fetched to me. After 71 days the occupation ended. Two protesters had been shot dead.
I got nothing but inclusive friendliness from the many American Indians, as they called themselves then, at school. At school they were classmates and Apache Warrior teammates in athletics and football. They invited me to a traditional pow wow one evening, and they presented me with gifts at one of their functions.
. . .
Melvin Mithlo was a year my junior at school. He was a keen member of the American Indian Movement AIM and was fascinated by stories he had heard of the Zulus in South Africa. He would ask me about them and teach me about American Indian history. Given my avoidance of history – I gave it up in high school as soon as I could – and the poor white-wash version of history that we were taught anyway, he taught me way more than I taught him. Not that he learnt his history in school. The real history of the American West was so much more crooked, sad and brutal than the star-spangled bullshit taught by teachers. As in South Africa, they would be following the official white-wash school syllabus.
Melvin taught me about the AIM which, just before I got to Apache, had gathered about 800 members and people from other Indian groups from across the United States for a protest in Washington, D.C. known as the Trail of Broken Treaties.
He also taught me about Wounded Knee the tragic last hurrah of Indian independence in 1890. Briefly, Native Americans were squeezed into ever-smaller areas and every time they were allocated land, promises were reneged on and more and more land was stolen by settlers or government. Any resistance was depicted as hostility and the army – and vigilante bands – were sent in to murder any resisters – or even peaceful people. Many settlers believed the only real solution to the “Indian Problem” was extermination.
In broad strokes, U.S. government policy toward the Indians of the Great Plains and Far West went through four phases in the 19th century:
Removal from lands east of the Mississippi;
Concentration in a vast “Indian territory” between Oklahoma and North Dakota;
Confinement to much smaller “reservations” on part of that land; and
Assimilation of the Indians into white American-style farming and culture, through the allotment of even smaller, individual tracts of barren land. More honestly called the termination of the tribes.
The natives lost at every step, they were lied to and cheated at every turn, and their territory and rights shrunk with each new phase. The saying ‘White Man Speak With Forked Tongue’ was simply the plain truth.
Around 1890 a Paiute holy man in Nevada preached a new sort of nonviolent religion. If Indians gave up alcohol, lived simply and traditionally and danced a certain slow dance, the Great Spirit would return them their lands, and white ways and implements would disappear. By the time the belief reached the Northern Plains and the Sioux tribe, it had garnered a slightly more militant message and spread widely among the hopeless and despondent tribe. The “Ghost Dance” terrified whites and Indian agents, and when a band left the main reservation to dance on the Badlands of South Dakota, the U.S. Army sent in the Cavalry. Tribal police were sent to arrest Sitting Bull at his home, and in the violence that followed, Sitting Bull and more than a dozen other men—both policemen and supporters of the chief—were killed.
490 cavalrymen then set out in the winter snow and surrounded the Ghost Dance band along Wounded Knee Creek. The soldiers began disarming the Sioux when a gun went off. A massacre ensued, and the soldiers fired four new big machine guns down into the encampment from all sides.
Virtually all the Indians – one hundred and forty-six of them – were killed, including 62 women and children. It was a massacre. Twenty-five soldiers were killed, most of them probably shot in crossfire from their own forces.
The U.S. Army – desperate to depict the incident as a “battle”- in a despicable, dishonest aftermath, awarded no fewer than twenty ‘Medals of Honor’ to the troopers at Wounded Knee. They have never been rescinded.
(Shades of the British defence against the Zulus at Rorke’s Drift after their big thrashing at Isandlwana. Eleven Victoria Crosses were dished out there to act as fig leaves and little was said of the equally despicable massacre that followed the defence. I wish I had known that inside story to tell Melvin!)
The Massacre at Wounded Knee was the biggest domestic massacre in U.S. history. One hundred years later both U.S. houses of congress issued a half-baked apology of sorts: only a voice vote was taken, no-one had to stand up and be counted; no reparation was offered; no shameful, undeserved “Massacre Murder Medals of (dis)Honor” were rescinded.
. . . in Las Vegas in 1973 ! Whoa! Can that be true? When she died recently, I went searching for details of her Vegas show way back then.
She was 40yrs old already – and she was delightfully rude. She and Petula Clark were double-billed at Caesar’s Palace:
Hollywood Reporter – August 1, 1973 – Bravo Sid Gathrid of Caesar’s Palace for giving the summer crowds one of the freshest, brightest and most entertaining bookings of the year in the lady stars Petula Clark and Joan Rivers. Destroying the old hand-me-down Strip myth that two females are artistically incompatible and or have ineffectual drawing power, Pet and Joan’s opening string of standingroom-only crowds found the duo irresistible. There’s a delightful mix-up of interplay of the stars’ talents; Petula does comedy bits and Joan sings! The “raid” on the other’s forte only adds to the evening’s abundance of style, polish and charm.
Color My World / You Are the Sunshine of My Life / Don’t Sleep in the Subway / Beatles medley: Something / Penny Lane / All You Need is Love / You and I (from Goodbye Mr. Chips) / I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love / Your Cheatin’ Heart / You’ve Got a Friend / I Don’t Know How to Love Him (from Jesus Christ Superstar) / What the World Needs Now / Downtown —————————————- ——————————
I went with wonderful Oklahomans Jim & Katie Patterson, magnificent host family of Apache Oklahoma, and very special lady Dottie Moffett of Ardmore Oklahoma, who had been a Rotary exchange student to Cape Town the year before. Clever Katie saw we were keen on each other and arranged for Dottie to join us!!