GRUMPY GRAMPS – HELLO, MY NAME IS OLIVER
By William of CrossDove Writers
In the late summer of 1974, just a few weeks before the beginning of what would be my final year of high school and just my third year of living in Austin, Minnesota – I had a day that I later would realize, changed my life and in particular, who I could count on as a true friend.
Three years earlier almost to the same week, I moved to Austin from Nebraska, leaving behind a large handful of friends that I had grown up with since I was five-years old. Being the new kid in town, I found but one friend immediately in Charlie Wright, a young man kind enough to come over to meet the new preacher’s kid and to give me an offer to tag along with him and Dan Kallman to enrollment at Austin High School.
While over the next couple of years, I found my niche was not in the same travel path as Charlie or Dan, I did and still do to this day have much appreciation for the kindness and friendship he offered.
Now, here I was in the heat of August, 1974, my parents and I were discussing the fact that the Wright Family (Steve and Shirley were Charlie’s parents) was picking up a foreign exchange student they were going to host for the 1974-75 school year. The thing they emphasized to me, was the fact that Charlie was still in South America with a short-term exchange program which meant the new kid would not have his American brother home when he arrived.
Needless to say, due to the kindness of what Charlie did for me three years earlier – I called up my best buddy, Kevin McAnnany, and we teamed up to go over and meet the new guy, not knowing the surprise we would have and the future fun that would develop over the next year.
Shirley Wright greeted us at the door and was thrilled that we were making the effort to help get the new guy introduced to Austin.
After just a few minutes of waiting in the living room, bouncing in from the hallway came a young man with darker skin, a rather wild flow of dark hair and a set of piercing dark eyes that glowed in the excitement of being in America.
“Hello, my name is Oliver!” were the first words we heard from this delightful guy and they came with a very thick, South African tone.
For the next several hours, we had the opportunity to get introduced to this man named Oliver – Oliver Lawrence to be exact, our school’s foreign exchange student from South Africa.
The stories he told and the excitement in which they were told expressed the utmost surprise that he found it to be that he was even here in America. That was one of our biggest draws to Oliver.
Excitement because in his homeland, where Apartheid ruled at the time and he was considered both a minority as well as less than a normal citizen, he was not free to enjoy life and its pleasures as he knew he could here in America.
Surprise because he was here and not exactly sure how he managed to qualify for the exchange program considering his countries policies toward his people.
To stress this, one of the first things Oliver shared with us, was a book he had in which nearly every page had something printed only to be blacked out due to redactions by the South African government.
Meeting Oliver that night as a sign of appreciation for all the Wrights did for me when I first came to Austin, was indeed one of the highlights of my time in Spam Town and little did I know on that first night – that some 46 years later, Oliver and I would still be the kind of friends that stayed in contact through thick and thin.
A note to remember, that senior year for Oliver became somewhat of a roller coaster ride for the Wright family as he more than pushed the envelope at times in search of and enjoyment of the freedoms in America that he had no opportunity to enjoy in his homeland.
By the way, how many remember that Oliver was a very bright and intelligent young man who worked at the Hormel Institute during that year, studying cancer research if my memory serves me correctly.
While I was not always hanging with Oliver, many of my future writings may and will include him right along with me while enjoying several adventures and misadventures of my own senior year.
Over the years after Oliver went back to South Africa, we stayed in touch and many a time I remember fretting over an upcoming phone bill after knowingly spending long chats late at night or early in the mornings with my good friend at home in Cape Town.
Among those chats came the wanting to come to the States and maybe even live permanently while finishing his schooling and then also to give his new wife and future family a place to live with true freedoms.
It was those chats that lead Oliver to coming back to the states in the mid-1980’s and arriving at my doorstep in Central Kansas for a visit which would change his life for good. It was during that visit that, with the help of my pastor friend, Mendle Adams, Oliver had the opportunity to meet with people that were able to help him begin that process that would eventually enable him to bring himself and his family to the United States.
Oliver has been in the States ever since that time, with he and his wife, Merlyn, settling in the town of Wheaton, Illinois, a community on the western edge of the greater Chicago area.
Even in Wheaton, Oliver and I had the opportunity for a misadventure when I came out to see him during a visit to Chicago to see my mother-in-law.
While visiting my mother-in-law, I had the time to run to Wheaton and visit with Oliver for a few hours. Those couple of hours turned into a late night and I did not get back to my mother-in-laws condo until 2:00 in the morning. Guess what, the mother-in-law was waiting and promptly announced that she didn’t go to bed until all were home and safe, after which she promptly told be to get my tail inside so she could go to bed. My mother-in-law and I always got along after that, plus I behaved better.
It’s now been 46 years since Oliver and I met for the first time, and even now there are times when we will talk one or two times a month or maybe not for half a year, but we always stay in touch.
What do I take from this friendship – never underestimate what may happen with someone you meet for the first time and know that no matter the differences you may hold at the time, if you give someone your time and interest, you will just possible find a friend forever.
My friend forever is the excitable looking fellow who introduced himself as ‘Hi, my name is Oliver!’.
With that – hugs, prayers, blessings and happy thoughts from Grumpy Gramps.
(Copyright@2019, CrossDove Writers – no part of this posting may be printed, copied or used without written permission by CrossDove Writers and Grumpy Gramps.)