Once chosen as a Rotary Exchange Student in 1972, I had to get to Durban to get my passport done and – I think – some other paperwork; My big mate Leon Fluffy Crawley hitch-hiked down with me. On the way down – or on the way back – we called in at big sister Barbara where she was staying in the Pietermaritzburg YWCA. We met her friend Lyn there.
That’s about all I remember! Luckily, Fluffy remembers it too!
Other hitch hiking at school was to Witsieshoek with Claudio and Carlos.
The picture is the group of Rotary exchange students chosen in 1972 for 1973. It may have been taken at the airport, about to leave. If so, it was students from all over South Africa, leaving for all over the world. Kneeling next to me is the guy who went jolling with me in New York; Seated next to him is Eve Woodhouse from Durban, who ended up in a village Fort Cobb near mine – Apache – in Oklahoma; Right behind me is Lynn Wade from Vryheid.
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.’
Stage Three (in yellow on the map) of my Great North American Road Trip started in Cobleskill in upstate New York, where Stage Two had ended.
A red VW Bug swept up the drive and out poured three lovely Okies and an Aussie. Sherry Porter-Steele, owner of the Bug and twins Dottie and Dale Moffett. Sherry had been a favourite young high school teacher of the girls in Ardmore a few years prior, and involved in Rotary exchange student selection. Jonathan Kneebone was an Aussie, a dinkum character, say no more. Liked a beer.
We headed north to the Canadian border. Five laughing, happy peeps in a VW bug. It wasn’t a squeeze at all, we were having so much fun. At the border the man leaned in, asked “All American?” Yeah, we’re American, chimed Sherry, Dottie and Dale. He stepped back and was about to wave us through when Jonathan and I said “Um, no”.
“Australian” said Kneebone and the man made to step back again and wave us through when he registered what I had said.
“Uh, come with me please sir. I need to check your passport,” he said. An hour later we were off again – to Montreal. That’s where you see Dottie sitting on the grass.
On to Ottawa where we bumped into Indira Ghandi on a state visit to Pierre Trudeau. She chose to arrive while we were staring at some government building or other. That’s the only time I’ve seen a head of state in the flesh ever. And one’s enough.
Somewhere around here I dinged Sherry’s car! “I’ll drive!” I shouted as we headed for the pub. I promptly reversed out the driveway, swung, and BANG! I got out and saw to my great relief – how horrible was this!? – that I’d hit a huge Dodge pickup with a bumper a yard deep; not a scratch on it! We could hop back into the red bug and bug off to the pub. Poor Sherry’s prize red VW wasn’t so lucky. I wrecked her left rear fender and light and I had no money to pay for the damage. DAMN!! Sherry was an absolute star about it, bless her! I still owe you, Sherry Porter-Steele!
Then Toronto, Waterloo and up around Lake Superior, Sudbury, Sault St Marie, Thunder Bay. What a sight Superior was! Biggest stretch of fresh water imaginable. For a Vrystater, awe-inspiring! We camped en route wherever we could squirrel away for free. Only once were we shoo-ed off and told ‘I’m Sorry, You Can’t Camp Here.’ This by a Mountie with a big hat, so it was worth it! Yes SIR!
Here we used a rock for a mattress. We had just woken up but Kneebone was already being Australian!
Once we stayed in an old railway station converted to a sort of backpackers, the track ripped up and turned into a trail. Beautiful.
Then, suddenly, we needed to go canoeing. When in Canada, canoe! So we hired two boats in Quetico National Park, Lake of the Woods. All names may not be exact or current – these are 45yr-old memories!
We planned a three-night trip, but after one night we turned back and ran, tails between our legs! We had spent the day trying to dodge dark clouds of midges and no-see-ems, or black flies. When you ran your hand through your hair it came out covered in blood. That night we pitched the tents on an island in a cloud of mozzies. We lined up with our kit, zipped open, dived in and zipped up immediately. So fast that we only had fourteen million mosquitoes in the tent, a fraction of the hordes that were hovering and zeeeee-ing outside!
Ama-azing! Canada sure has bugs! But what beautiful country:
As we’d cut our canoe trip short we decided to carry on into Manitoba, but Canada is vast and we realised we might bite off more than we could chew; so we soon cut back and headed south for the US border at International Falls, into Minnesota, across the Mississippi River where it’s still quite small and headed south for Iowa, where I had to leave the gang.
They dropped me off and buzzed off into the sunset, three lovely ladies and an Aussie with who I had just spent one of the most unforgettable times of my life. That REALLY was special. So uncomplicated and relaxed and unstructured (unless Sherry was planning as we went – she was! I bet you she was!), and free and friendly. Wonderful people.
My host family from Apache Don & Jackie Lehnertz were up there and would be driving me back to Apache via Iowa, Missouri and Kansas on Stage Four. I’m afraid I slept a lot on this leg of the trip!
All above are internet pictures. These next I took on a visit in 1973 with fellow exchange students and my Apache host brothers. From left: Dayne Swanda, Kent Swanda, Helen Worswick from Marandellas, Zimbabwe, Jenny Carter from Bromley, Zimbabwe, Jonathan Kneebone from Australia, Evelyn Woodhouse from Durban, South Africa and Robbie Swanda.
Wichita mountains with Pattersons
Dayne & Kent Swanda, Helen Worswick, Jenny Carter, Jonathan Kneebone, Evelyn ___, Robbie Swanda
Bison, elk and deer are protected on the 23,880 ha wildlife refuge. The refuge also manages a herd of longhorn cattle. The peaks are capped by 540 million-year old granite. Here you can see where the mountains are in SW Oklahoma. Apache is just a few miles north.
As a 17-yr-old in 1973 I flew from Jo’burg to Rio de Janeiro, then on to New York. This in an SAA Boeing 707 – a narrow-body, four-engined jet airliner built from 1958 to 1979, the first jet to be commercially successful. Dominating passenger air transport in the 1960s and remaining common through the 1970s, the 707 is generally credited with ushering in the jet age’. Wikipedia also says that 10 of them were still flying in 2013! Here’s one:
I flew on via Chicago to Oklahoma City, where I was met by Apache Rotarian Robert L Crews III.
I knew very little about flying and maybe that’s just as well. I now know this:
January 2 – Attempting to land in Edmonton, Canada in blowing snow, a Pacific Western Airlines Boeing 707 carrying 86 head of cattle and a crew of five, crashed and caught fire. The entire crew was killed. The cattle? Who knows.
January 2 – Released from a psychiatric hospital days earlier, 37yr-old Charles Wenige hid in a lavatory aboard a Piedmont Airlines plane after it arrived in Baltimore, Maryland. When all the passengers had disembarked, he emerged and pointed a .45-calibre pistol at a crew member, demanding access to the liquor cabinet and to be flown to Canada. After two hours of negotiations, he agreed to release the stewardesses in exchange for a meeting with a psychiatrist and a priest. An FBI agent advised Wenige to tuck his pistol away in the priest’s presence. When Wenige did that, the agent overpowered and arrested him.
January 4 – As a Pacific Western airliner prepared to take off from Vancouver, Canada with 18 people on board, a passenger, 26yr-old Christopher Nielson, drew a gun and demanded $2 million in cash and to be flown to North Vietnam, threatening to blow up the airliner if his demands were not met. During negotiations he allowed most people to disembark, leaving three crew members aboard the plane with him. Police then stormed the plane and arrested him, finding that he was armed only with two toy guns.
January 5 – The mandatory security screening of all airline passengers began at all airports in the USA.
January 12 – The 197th and final American air-to-air victory of the Vietnam War.
January 15 – President Richard Nixon ordered a halt to all bombing, shelling and mining of North Vietnam.
A Boeing 707 chartered by Nigeria Airways crashed after the right main landing gear collapsed while the plane was landing in high winds in Nigeria. It was the deadliest aviation accident in history at the time.
January 27 – A U.S. Navy plane was shot down over South Vietnam – the last American fixed-wing aircraft lost in the Vietnam War.
January 27 – Frontier Airlines hired the first female pilot for any modern-day U.S. airline, Emily Warner. On the same day, the airline also hired its first African-American pilot, Bob Ashby.
On the way back at the end of that year, I flew in an Air India 747 – my first jumbo jet! – from New York to London. On the plane I read in an abandoned newspaper that Air India had been voted World’s Worst Airline – again.
I have since learned this: ‘The years 1971-1973 were very bad for Indian Airlines. The 1971-1972 Pakistan War didn’t help. The airline reported a 45 million rupee loss in 1973, the carrier’s largest to that point. Exacerbating the aforementioned crises was the continual strike being waged by labor. Management, concerned by growing labor costs and inefficiency, eventually locked out many of its workers, operating only a skeleton schedule with a non-union workforce’.
I notice groping is a problem on Air India and they now keep plastic handcuffs to bopha the culprits. I feel I have to report with some regret that none of those sari-clad hostesses groped me, despite this alluring suggestion:
World Trade Centre
The Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan were opened in April 1973. I didn’t see – or consciously notice – them in December 1973. How unobservant is that!? And I must have seen them – I went up the Empire State building and looked around. Maybe I was staring at Central Park and the river?
Aerial view of Empire State building – by Sam Valadi
bopha – isiZulu for bind, tie up (pronounce “bawpah”)
Ernie van Biljon wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I got to go to America as a Rotary exchange student back in 1973.
What a lovely man. He should have lived to a hundred.
Rotary held their interview and selection sessions at Greystones outside Estcourt (where I had attended a Veld & Vlei leadership course earlier that year):
Which three countries would you like to go to, they asked? America, America, and America I replied – and I want to go to a small town, not a big city.
Well, they selected me anyway, but decided, “OK, smartass,” and dispatched me to Apache, Oklahoma, population 1500.
“There are two strict rules” they told us sternly: “No Falling In Love; and Strictly No Driving while you’re there.”
Of course not . . .
Well, I got none out of two right but it was just infatuation; and the owner of the Chev Camaro covered for me in Apache; and the owner of the VW Beetle covered for me in Canada. Turned out I double-failed at both the Two Commandments. I broke them and I was useless at them.
When I got to Apache Oklahoma in 1973 I had already finished high school. Not much effort had gone into my matric and I was keen to put minimal effort into this second matric, or ‘senior year’, at Apache High. In my mind I had been sent to America to socialise and be an ambassador, ‘period’.
So I carefully selected my subjects – I had to take American history – I was OK with that. I learnt about George Washington. I had to take English (compulsory for all foreigners). I added typing, ag shop (agricultural workshop – farming, welding, etc making me a member of the FFA – Future Farmers of America), annual staff (making the school annual, acting as a journalist, selling ads in town – a hoot! Actually, they chose me, you couldn’t just elect to do it. I was lucky). I’m sure there was a sixth. Yes, Oklahoman history, I think. My mind wasn’t really on these details.
Here’s me focusing on my typing. I’m with fellow annual staffers Robbie Swanda and David Lodes slave over their hot typewriters. I reached a blistering 19 words a minute with ten mistakes.
Typing – roaring along at 19wpm with 10 mistakes
Robbie Swanda & David Lodes, fellow typists and Annual Staff members bashing out the Apache 1973 school annual
When I told host Dad Jim Patterson my subjects he grimaced. Then he grinned and said – “Peter, are you sure they didn’t offer basket weavin’!”
Jim was a great teacher. He taught me all about ‘counting fence posts’. He would pack a sixpack of Coors into a coolerbox full of ice and we would drive around the district in his old red Ford F150 pickup along the farm roads with Jim recounting all the tales of who lived where, what they farmed and some history of the area. We were ‘counting fence posts’.
Here’s Jim waking up on the back of that pickup one camping trip:
Greg came to Harrismith from Ohio in 1972. We lost touch, then thanks to Sheila, picked up as though no time had passed! Greg was helping Sheila research ancient family history and was also sending lovely pics of his schooldays in Harrismith. We were so looking forward to seeing more of them. And of him.
He planned to visit once when his brother Jeff came to South Africa to do some work for General motors. He didn’t, so Jeff and I went to Hluhluwe without him!
He was planning to come and visit and, among other places, go back to the de Witt’s game farm near Tshipise – near the Tropic of Capricorn – with Steph.
Then Steph died. So he didn’t. But he was going to! He was going to come and visit us. We were going to see Greg again.
Now he’s gone, suddenly, out of the blue.
R.I.P Greg! Dammit!! What a blow! What a loss!
Wonderful memories of walking down Normandien pass in the Drakensberg with Greg, just me and him along lonely dirt roads and railway tracks, through these tunnels and ending up near Van Reenen – at Moorddraai where we were fetched – I think by Father Sam van Muschenbroek? I had to keep asking Greg to slow down! He was a fast walker and I was in no hurry!
The top pic is one Greg took in our physics class back in 1972.
Greg’s last message on 28 April 2016:
On Apr 28, 2016, Sheila had written:
Gregor! Where the hell have you been? Are you okay?
You just dried up and went away! A bit like our money is doing right now! All’s well here – am having fun putting old pics on FB – am loving the responses. I hope you’re okay.
Lots of love, Sheila
Greg replied same day:
I'm doing just fine. Been a bit of work finishing up the estates of mom and dad. Was quite ready for mom to go, but dad went kinda suddenly.
Such is life. What brought about this great burst of picture activity?
I'll have to get back to posting more of mine again.
My brother is probably going back to Port Elizabeth later this year.
I might try to come with him this time since my last trip got all messed up.
Glad you are doing well!
Sent from my iPad
So Greg's poor kids lost their Grandma, their Granpa and their Dad in quick succession!
Greg's brother Jeff did come to SA in 2014. I took him to Hluhluwe game reserve. Greg did not accompany him. He should have. He never did make it back to SA to visit. Damn!
. . . 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!!