“The Old House in Apple Springs”
Last week, Kay and I took a day trip to Nacogdoches with my longtime friend Johnny Sutton. Johnny and I are Lumberjacks. Not in the sense that we can really swing an axe, but in the sense that we both graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University, home of the Fighting Lumberjacks.
Kay can’t even swing an axe, but she’s also a Lumberjack, having spent her senior year at SFA. At the time, Kay and I were dating. I never technically asked her to marry me, but I did give her a promissory ring. That alone speaks volumes. She probably hocked it along with our high school graduation rings back when the price of gold shot up. If the ring was worth its weight in gold, she might’ve gotten $30 for it.
So, the three of us were on the road to Nacogdoches for the purpose of revisiting the campus of SFA. (Try to keep up with me.) But, we first had to make a stop in Apple Springs (Just west of Lufkin), because I wanted to see an old house where a college friend of mine, Gail Odom, once lived.
Gail and I first met in speech class at SFA. She was an accounting major, but looked to be more of a cowgirl than accountant. She was blond, tall and lanky. Lanky in the sense that she was a loose walker. Not a stiff joint in her body. She could’ve been the cover girl for Country Girl Magazine. Assuming there is one.
She had and has a great sense of humor. I don’t think she ever had a boring encounter in her life. At SFA we really hit it off. We started walking across campus together after class. On the weekends that we stayed on campus we generally found things to do together. There was nothing romantic going on. In describing our relationship to someone, she said that kissing me would be like “kissing that window over yonder.” Personally, I would’ve pointed at the tree.
I think it was in early spring when Gail invited me to spend the weekend at her house in Apple Springs. We would go to the Apple Springs gym for the girls’ basketball game on Friday night, spend the night at her family’s home, and go back to campus the next day. It was one of the more memorable weekends of my life.
Gail was a basketball star during her days at Apple Springs High (ASH), so she ended up glad-handing practically everyone in the gym. It didn’t really take all that long, because ASH is a 1A school. I don’t remember much about the game itself or what all we did Saturday. I mostly remember the house. It was what you call a “dog trot.” That’s where the house is divided in the middle by an open hallway, which made a perfect avenue for a morning and evening breeze. On the left side were two bedrooms, and on the right was the living room and kitchen. I don’t remember which side the bathroom was on, but I’m pretty sure there was one.
In front of the house was a ridge-like mound of petrified wood. The step up to the porch was a big chunk of a petrified tree. Gail said the area was full of the stuff. It’s likely the closest thing to the Petrified Forest I’ll ever see. The house sat on a grassy meadow that would’ve been a great setting for many a Western... had Hollywood ever run out of deserts in which to film. (High Chaparral, Range Rider, every John Wayne Western…)
In an area west of the house was a small, well-kept cemetery. We didn’t have time to visit it this trip, but Gail told me that the man who built the house was buried there. His name was Benjamin Burke, and he constructed the house shortly after the Civil War.
The flooring and roof of the house is now rotted and weak. But, the walls and ceiling and floor joists were sturdy, made of 4” x 14” pine lumber. The house was pretty much gutted, but that didn’t deter a family of buzzards from roosting in the attic. You could hear ‘em shuffle around, but we couldn’t see ‘em, and never heard a buzzardly word out of ‘em.
The petrified wood had been removed, but a few trees had sprung up, a couple of which were married to the house. The scene didn’t exactly match my memory, but I didn’t expect it would. Regardless, we ended up spending more time at the dog trot than at the campus.
As one might guess, the campus at SFA had changed a bunch since the Class of ’71 had graduated. Unlike the old dog trot, it had been significantly renovated. The place was bustling, and the roads cutting across campus had been blocked by the addition of walkways and structures. A lot of the massive pines that I used to sit under during late evenings were removed to make room for progress. So many new buildings. For those currently enrolled, it was a grand improvement over what had been there. But, for old alums, it was a despairing change. Seems progress and sentimentality have trouble getting along?
It was still a wonderful outing for the three of us. Made all the better by a burger at Butcher Boys in Nacogdoches. I highly recommend the place. And, by the way, when Kay joined me at SFA her senior year, she roomed with Gail. Whatever Gail said about me, didn’t deter Kay from wanting to marry me, showing that she felt really committed after the promissory ring. -- Incidentally, after editing this, Kay left the room and came back wearing her promissory ring. Those things signify some serious commitment.
Mark can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of Hayter’s articles can be found at http://markhayterscolumn.blogspot.com