© 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