It’s a Small Small World

© E.C. Lunnon 2011

Friday 4 November 2011: 5 years 2 months on … Advantage CBD

Dear Kay, Lee, Jerry and Kathy

Thirty six years ago, in 1975, I completed grade 12 at Sulphur High School, in Sulphur, Oklahoma.

During that year, I lived with four families:  first, with Bill and Nadine Whitley (and their five sons) out at the Lake of the Arbuckles and then in town with Judge Dixie and Ruby Colbert (and Shelley and Mark), yourselves, the Rev Lee and Mrs Kay Griffin (and Jerry and Kathy) and finally with the Seips (and Robert and Becky). I had an additional four mothers and fathers and many more brothers and sisters! (I recall the most difficult thing for me was to actually call my host parents “Mom” and “Dad”!)

Despite the years, I remember many things of my stay with you: celebrating my 19th birthday with a special cake in your kitchen, the Methodist Church (I believe it’s changed its venue now), Kathy’s mice,  Jerry’s bedroom (!) and, of course, our ten-day hiking trip up and around the Maroon Bells and Snowmass Lake in Aspen, Colorado. To this day, a watercolour that Lee painted for me of the Bells and the Lake hangs in our entrance hall in Port Elizabeth (to where I moved from Cape Town in 1984).

 

(Note the signature and date in the left hand corner – I was hoping, Lee, that you had made it famous as a painter by now and that my original is now worth a few million dollars!)

Upon returning to South Africa, I commenced my studies at the University of Stellenbosch. In those years, we relied solely on “snail mail” in order to communicate.  It took some three weeks for a letter to reach Oklahoma from South Africa and the same amount of time for a response to get back here – almost two months for a “round trip”!

Needless to say, despite all our good intentions, the letters dried up rapidly, later became just an annual Christmas card, then SILENCE and then DISAPPEARANCE.

Thanks largely to Kevin Whitley and his insistence in not allowing me “to get away” I remained in contact (to a greater or lesser degree) with the Whitley clan.

I was, therefore, privileged to return to the US on a further four occasions. As a South African (and an honorary citizen of the Great State of Oklahoma) I have most probably seen more of the USA than most Americans, having had the pleasure of visiting most of the 48 contiguous States, as well as Canada and Mexico. 

In 1988, a friend and I toured the country from “sea to shining sea” (and I also returned to Sulphur for a while); in 1999, I visited Orlando and Atlanta on a business trip (and saw the Whitleys in Atlanta); in September/October 2001, my family and I vacationed in Atlanta and with the Whitleys in Missouri; and in March 2007, just after I became ill, I returned for Bill’s (surprise) 80th birthday party. Unfortunately, he became ill at that time and passed away shortly thereafter.

All this time, I have asked about the whereabouts of my other families. I understand that the Seips have moved back to Pennsylvania. However, I have had no contact with them since 1988. I also saw Ruby Colbert at that time (my understanding is that both Judge Dixie and Ruby have now passed away.) I occasionally get some news via Facebook of the doings of the Colbert’s.

 The Griffins remained the “lost tribe”.

But, all that changed last week, thanks to the wonders of that modern-day invention of the Internet and all the various social networking sites, especially Facebook.

Last Monday, in the early hours of the morning, I heard my Blackberry beep. It was a FB message from Esti Stewart, the editor of the St Francis Bay newsletter The Village News.

In my dozy state and without my specs, I read that my mother wanted me to contact her. Well, bearing in mind that my mom passed away in 1986, it came as a bit of a shock!

On getting my specs and re-reading the message, I read the following:

“Hi ED, Kay Griffen requested via my website for you to contact her, she says she is the mom of the family you stayed with.

I was extremely excited about the contact and immediately responded with a brief note to you, Kay, realizing that it was in the middle of the night in Oklahoma City.

I thanked Esti for passing on the message and she informed me that Kay had found me by reading one of my blogs on OKLAHOMA that I had written and that she had republished in her newsletter.

By noon here, I had received another note directly from Kay:

“Hi, ED. I am Kay Griffin, the mother of the Griffin family with whom you stayed in Sulphur, Oklahoma when you were an exchange student. I would love to visit with you!”

Could I have forgotten the Griffins? No!

But I had forgotten (initially) that ‘visit’ in America simply means to have a chat and not that it was a face-to-face encounter as a visit is here in Africa.  For the moment, I was excited that the Griffins were right here in South Africa!

 However, the World Wide Web would have to do. And, in the next few hours, the beeps continued on the Blackberry, the laptop, the desktop and the I-Pad. The Internet was abuzz with requests from the Griffins to “be my friend” and to “poke me”!

The Lunnons and the Griffins had found each other! 

In 1975, it was impossible to phone directly from Sulphur, Oklahoma to Cape Town, South Africa. Now, we can sms, text, WhatsApp, BBM, Skype, Facebook, call, see and hear each other.

So much has changed in thirty six years. And especially so in our family and personal lives. I guess we have all experienced the ups and downs of life, and have met with the challenge of turning the downs into ups.

I will not bore you with all my details, but I invite you to read my blogsite www.edlunnon.wordpress.com or to visit my website www.edlunnon.co.za. You will find most of my life story stuck away in the blogs that I have written over the last two years.

It has been a truly amazing experience that, after so much time, we have been able to connect once again. I will always be grateful to Rotary and to you and all the other OKIES for the year that was afforded me in Sulphur, Oklahoma, USA. It was a life-changing experience for me and something that has defined my life journey ever since.

Despite modern technology, I hope you will understand that, as a result of my illness, it has become difficult for me to keep up individual correspondence with so many good friends around the world. Hence, the writing of my blogs to keep everyone updated.

I do hope that we can continue to keep in touch through my website and Facebook. You will also be pleased to know that hopefully soon, my blogs will be published in book form.

Thanks so much for writing, for your words of encouragement and for putting me up (and I guess, for putting up with me!) in 1975.

I sincerely hope that, if you ever come to Africa and pass this way, I will be able to reciprocate your kindness. 

Remember, “Yea’re Welcome” and “Y’all come back now!

Lots of love and good wishes

 ED

 

 

 

 

Ich bin ein Berliner

Tuesday 3 May 2011:  4 years 8 months on … ADVANTAGE CBD

Today would have been my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary. My father, Herbert Louis Lunnon, was of English and Dutch descent and my mother, Doris Stanbridge, was of English and Irish descent.

They were married in The Strand on 3 May 1951. Sadly, both have passed on – my Dad at age 60 in 1976 and my Mom at age 55 in 1986.

I am the second of four children and the only son, born in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

I am a South African.

John F Kennedy, President of the United States, an American citizen, Irish by descent, made a speech in Berlin in 1963.

He said “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner).

He was underlining the support of the United States for West Germany 22 months after the Soviet-supported East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between East and West.

The speech is considered one of Kennedy’s best, and a notable moment of the Cold War. It was a great morale boost for West Berliners, who lived in an exclave deep inside East Germany and feared a possible East German occupation. Speaking from a platform erected on the steps of Rathaus Schöneberg, Kennedy said,

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’

In this week of the killing of Osama Bin Laden north of Islamabad, Pakistan, I can say I take pride in the words “I am an African American. I am an Okie!  I am an Honorary Citizen of the Great State of Oklahoma!”

Not because I want to be controversial, but because those titles were conferred on me in 1975.

I have written before that I was selected as a Rotary Exchange Student in 1974 and headed off to the USA in January 1975. I stood on the roof of the World Trade Centre in New York City and the world was at my feet.

I headed off via Chicago to Sulphur, Oklahoma and attended Grade 12 at Sulphur High School. Having been there just three weeks, I wrote the following in the Sulphur Bulldog 1975 – the school yearbook Vol 23 (1975):

The purpose of Rotary Student Exchange is to exchange understanding, and to build up fellowship and goodwill between people of different races and cultures by staying among them and becoming a part of them. I have come to you from The Strand, near Cape Town, Republic of South Africa, to do just this, but whether I will succeed or not, remains to be written in the book which I have set aside on my private shelf, that book for the memories which will be written within my life this year – the memories forming an Adventure in the “Volumes of Life.”

After three weeks … I know … that this book which is being written, is going to be a number one best-seller! I have been made more than welcome in Sulphur, I have been accepted into the community, and I have been made a part of it …

I can say now, with confidence, that like reading a book, I am going to be reluctant to finish the last page of 1975.

And so, I can say too that in October 1975 I had the great honour of having United States Senator Dewey F. Bartlett confer on me the official right and privilege to designate myself as the bearer of the proud and historic title of OKIE.

And on 1 December 1975, in Oklahoma City, Governor David L. Boren designated and appointed me as an Honorary Citizen of the Great State of Oklahoma.

During 1975 I was privileged to travel through North America, from Galveston in the south to Winnipeg in the north and from Los Angeles in the west to New York City in the east.

It was the beginning of a relationship that continues to this day. In 1989, I spent three months in the USA, travelling from Mexico to Seattle, from San Francisco to Washington DC, from Las Vegas to New Orleans, from San Diego to Orlando, from Salt Lake City to Houston and from the Grand Canyon to Key West. On a Delta travel pass, Grant Lloyd and I followed the good weather around the United States, and experienced all it has to offer – from sea to shining sea!  

I have water-skied on the Lake of the Arbuckles and the Lakes of Minnesota and I have snow-skied in the Rockies. I have walked the trails of Aspen, Colorado and the greens of Pebble Beach, California. I have weeded the roads of Murray County, Oklahoma and have smoked the weed in Times Square, New York! I have wondered at and touched the stars of God’s creation in the deserts of Nevada to the 13000 feet above sea-level trails at the Maroon Bells behind Snowmass Lake in the Rocky Mountains.

 In 1999, I attended the University of Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida and experienced Disneyworld for the second time (after also having been to Disneyland in Anaheim, California on a previous occassion.)

On 20 September 2001, just days after Bin Laden orchestrated the attacks on the Twin Towers, our whole family flew from London, right over New York, on our way to Atlanta, Georgia and Table Rock, Missouri. Sean was 8 and Phillip was 5 but we remember the smoke billowing up from Ground Zero into the clear blue September autumn skies of the Big Apple. For a month, we experienced the unity, the togetherness and patriotism of a country that had war declared on it.

The Land of the Free was no longer so free. (You even had to go through beady eye machines – something that we had grown up with in apartheid South Africa!)

I am happy, that almost ten years later the Home of the Brave has won that so-important battle in the War against terror. 

And I am so happy that in two weeks’ time, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Port Elizabeth will be producing the musical OKLAHOMA! in the Savoy Theatre. It is especially significant and humbling that the profits of the premiere of that show will be donated to the Lunnon Family Trust Fund – a fund established to assist with our sons’ education costs and my future medical expenses.

“If I were to die today, my life would be more than Okay”

I thank God for an extra-ordinary and very privileged life.  

 

The Great State of Oklahoma

To all who shall see these presents, Greeting:

This is to certify that

EDWARD LUNNON

THE STRAND, SOUTH AFRICA

Is hereby designated and appointed

HONORARY CITIZEN OF OKLAHOMA

With all rights and privileges pertaining thereto, with the obligation to fully enjoy the innate hospitality, natural beauty and vast resources of this great state and to carry the word that Oklahoma is striving to create a model of excellence for the nation.

Given under my hand in the City of Oklahoma City

This 1st day of December 1975.

David L Boren, Governor

State of Oklahoma

—————————————————————————————— 

State of Oklahoma

Dewey F. Bartlett

United States Senator

Whereas,

The citizens of Oklahoma have pride and affection towards the name of OKIE, and whereas, today’s OKIE has the opportunity to look around him, at his state’s growth and enthusiasm, to see the better world he lives in, knowing that “We belong to the land and the land we belong to is grand”; and WHEREAS, today’s OKIE enjoys his state’s lakes and rich lands, its vibrant economy and vital growth.

NOW, THERFORE, I, DEWEY F BARTLETT, SENATOR OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA, do hereby take great pleasure in conferring upon

EDWARD LUNNON

The official right and privilege to designate himself as the bearer of the proud and historic title of

OKIE

This title is conferred with the strong belief that an OKIE is a fortunate, gifted and versatile person and the further belief that it is great to be an OKIE, knowing further that this entitles the bearer to be an honoured citizen from

 Oklahoma, Key to Intelligence andEnterprise.

Done on this, the 13th day of October 1975.

Dewey F Bartlett

United States Senator