Mom1972 (2)

I Never Did Learn to Speak Afrikaans

     After my husband died I felt like a fifth wheel when my friends and their husbands would invite me out or to their home for dinner and cards. I was sixty-­one. Everyone's advice at the time was to wait at least a year before doing anything big. So I waited. While I waited, I traveled to New Zealand and rode a chair lift up Coronet Peak. I went heli-­hiking in the Canadian Rockies and found wolverine and bear tracks. I rode a camel in Egypt and walked along the Great Wall in China. My kids and I went river rafting in Northern California and took a cruise up the Inland Passage. I enjoyed all the traveling, but was wistful for the small town feel of daily life I had experienced growing up in La Mesa, California during the 1920s and 30s. I was finished waiting.

     That is when I decided to move to Homer, Alaska. I had traveled there with my husband a few times and loved the town. I subscribed to the Homer News and although no one in Homer knew who I was, I felt as though I knew some of them.

     So at age sixty-­nine I sold my home, told my grown children good‐bye and drove up the Alcan Highway. I am glad I took a chance on Homer. I bought a condo and for the first time in my life I furnished my space without consideration for my mother, my husband, or my children. I began volunteering at the Pratt Museum and the Homer Public Library. Walking to “work” in the snow during the winter was exhilarating.  I was raised in La Mesa, which is adjacent to San Diego, California. La Mesa's range of annual precipitation or temperature is very small, especially compared to Homer! The people of Homer welcomed me, and I got a kick out of their lack of formal attire. I even enjoyed picking up the mail. Everyone was friendly and kind, greeting me with a smile and “Hello.”

     My family and I have always played cards, so when I heard that there was bridge on Thursdays at the senior center, I gave it a try. It was there, during my seventy-­second year, that I met a man from South Africa and fell in love. I learned to “set net” and crab while continuing with my volunteer work. We had a favorite B & B near Anchorage with a hot tub. When I was seventy-­three and he was sixty-‐eight we had a wonderful wedding at the Elks Club surrounded by friends, new and old, and family. Our marriage lasted eighteen years, longer than many people's first. During those eighteen years I traveled for the first time to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, and Rome. Not with an organized company tour, but with my husband, visiting his friends and relatives, staying in their homes and orchards; driving a borrowed car on the left side of the road. It was a decade of firsts: tasting ostrich steak, losing three rand gaming in Jeffrey's Bay, seeing my first wild baboons & elephants, and enjoying Victoria and Augrabies Falls.

     The second-­to‐last time I drove the entire Alcan Highway I was seventy‐eight. We were traveling south and I rode in the back of a Nissan pick-up truck all the way to Northern California. The sixty-­five‐year-­old gal who was traveling with my husband and me wasn't in as good health as we were, so she sat up front. It was all right though; I read a couple of good books on the way down, and, I got to ride shot‐gun on the way back home.
This story is about Virginia's mom, Judy Howard Strydom, and is told in the first person to capture a more personal feel.
Cecil Mullan

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