I grew up in North Platte, Nebraska. This is a relatively small town (around 15,000) and the main "industry" is agriculture (wheat and corn), cattle and the railroad. My family were railroad people. It was a great place to grow up. When I was in high school my step-dad suggested I apply to be a Rotary Exchange Student. I had in mind that I would one day travel to Australia so I applied. Amazingly the excellent men of the Rotary Committee decided I seemed a suitably mature young person and at the age of 16 jetted off on this incredibly long trip to the land of Oz. (It's still a long trip).
I stayed with several different families while in Perth. At Christmas time I was invited to spend a week in a caravan park down south at Margaret River to participate in a "Beach Mission" - a Christian outreach program run to witness to children and families staying in the caravan park. It's kind of like vacation Bible school. People from many different churches participated. This is where I first met Max. He was one of the volunteers. We were immediately interested in each other and our first "date" was a little sailing trip on a small catamaran borrowed off another volunteer. Sounds romantic, you say? Let me describe it for you as best I recollect.
It was a lovely sunny afternoon. The catamaran was a small, two-hulled craft with a 'trampoline' stretched between. It had a single sail on a 20 foot mast. The beach curved in a gentle bay and about 3/4 of a mile from shore the waves broke against a small reef. Yes, there were palm trees, and Norfolk Pines (look them up, magnificent trees). I was nearly 17 by then and oh so excited about the whole adventure. This would be my first venture onto the Indian Ocean (although I had had a swim in the surf by then). I remember the blueness of the sky and the bright sun and warm sand and cool water. As we pushed off the beach and gently scooted along it was magnificent. It seemed so daring to move away from the shore. Looking back the beach seemed so distant and the people little ant-like figures. Suddenly a gust of wind caught the sail and the boat flipped on its side and we landed in the water. I must confess to being a little alarmed but Max assured me that the catamaran was easy to right again. It was all about using our weight to pull the sail out of the water. Using a rope and standing on one of the hulls and leaning back the sail rose out of the water, only to be caught by another gust of wind and whipped over and into the water again. No problems, just turn the boat a little to accommodate the wind and try again. The rope broke. Tied it back together. Rope broke again. By this time the sail and mast are full of water and the boat is completely upside down. I'd been treading water, not much help. Max told me to rest on the hull and we simply had to wait for help to arrive, which it eventuall did. I remember sitting there with the sun on my shoulders and thinking how far away the beach was. We were nearly at the reef, the mast was occasionally hitting the slope of the reef. I was shivering slightly, not only from a little reaction, but just being young and in the company of a young man in his mid-twenties. Rescue came in the form of a fisherman in his dingy with an outboard motor. He came with the owner of the catamaran and another chap, whom I can't recall all these years later. The owner of the catamaran, Richard, was a tall, solid bloke who didn't need the leverage of a rope to right the catamaran, even with a wet sail. I returned to shore in the dingy with the fisherman and the other chap, while Richard and Max sailed the catamaran back. By this time it was late afternoon. A shower and a change of clothes refreshed me greatly and Max and I had tea with a family staying in the caravan park. A nice family with four daughters. We had spaghetti. I came to learn that the fisherman who rescued us had been catching 1 to 2 metre sharks in the little bay that afternoon. (I'm the one on the right with the Rotary t-shirt on) (Max's Sandman)
Max and I spent a lot of time together between his work and my schooling and other side trips. But the time eventually came when I had to return to the US. I lost touch with Max for a little while. I finished high school. Joined the US Army where I met another man, married, was stationed in Belgium for a while. After two years of marriage I became pregnant and only a month later my husband left me and moved in with his girlfriend. I was discharged from the Army, returned to Nebraska where I had my lovely daughter Jessica. After she was born I went through my address book and wrote to a lot of people with a sort of 'this is what I've been doing for the last five years - how about you' letter. My letter to Max eventually caught up with him and we began to correspond. When my daughter was a year old I got my divorce, moved to Denver to go to business college and kept moving forward with my life. Max and I continued to correspond with our relationship growing closer. We wanted to see each other again so after I graduated from business college, and while Jessica stayed with my family in Nebraska, I travelled back to Oz. Max was living in Queensland (Mooloolaba, pictured)at this time and I was able to stay with some friends of his. I fell in love all over again. Max was a little more cautious. I could only stay two weeks and when we parted I didn't know what the future would hold. Two weeks after my visit Max proposed to me long distance. I was very happy to hear that! It took months to do all the paperwork with documents flying between Perth, Queensland, Denver, San Francisco (where the Australian Consulate was). Finally Jessica and I arrived in Queensland where we married. We had a great wedding. Two more beautiful daughters. And now we've been married for 20 years. I am still incredibly in love with my husband and know how blessed I am to have him and our three daughters and to live in this wonderful country. I'm typing with a silly grin on my face.