I did a lot of traveling for my cemetery book project. One of my most eventful trips was an East Texas excursion in December of 2019. Along with my research assistant and good friend Loralyn, I was on the search for a particular family cemetery in the piney woods and got us in a bit of a situation.
This family cemetery was near Rockland in a forest and on private property. The directions were sketchy, but not enough to deter this intrepid researcher on a scout for unique Texas cemeteries. We drove through a pasture in my SUV onto a rocky and shady one-way country road, tall pine trees providing a canopy over the road that was noticeably wet and full of decaying pine leaves. We were supposed to turn left at a second fork in the road, but we neglected to count the forks (not really sure what was meant by the term). By the time we figured our error, we had traveled fairly far and realized we needed to turn back.
At this point, Lor said we needed to turn around, and since there was no room to do that, we needed to back up, go forward, back up, go forward, about 20 times. By the second turn, I’d wedged the SUV between what we later learned were two embankments of sand and mud. The wheels spun and spun. We got out of the SUV and saw our dilemma. The left front wheel and the back right wheel were wedged in the embankments and the left back wheel was a good foot off the ground. The right front wheel didn’t do much but spin in the sand.
I looked at my watch. It was around 3:30 and I knew we only had two hours to get out of this mess before night completely overtook us. We found old branches and tried to wedge them under the wheels for traction. The old wet logs kept breaking underneath the wheels. I knew we needed something heavier, but from our vantage point, we couldn’t see anything that would work.
After about 15 minutes of digging ourselves deeper into the embankment, Lor said, “Maybe we should call Dave.”
I was aghast. I did not want to call my husband, who was at home, 340 miles from where we were in the middle of nowhere . I am a grown woman who can take care of herself, for goodness sake. Turns out, we didn’t have cell phone service anyway.
“Cindy, we need to stop and go to that house up the road before it gets dark.” I reluctantly agreed. I got my purse and cell phone and started walking as Lor started to get her stuff. About forty feet from my car, I looked down and saw a bunch of bricks in a ditch. “Hey, there’re bricks here. We can wedge them under the wheels!” It appeared that this was not the first time someone had gotten stuck in this sandy mess.
Lor was standing by the SUV with a look of desperation on her face. “I have to use the bathroom!”
I frowned. “Now?”
She replied, “YES, NOW!” She grabbed some paper towels and hightailed it deep into the woods.
As she was relieving herself, I began to pick up bricks and wedge them underneath the tires in the front and back.
Lor returned a bit later, looking a bit sheepish. I directed her to get in the car. I watched the wheels to see if the bricks were in the right place. My SUV is not four-wheel drive, but it does have a slow gear that Lor knew she needed to use. After a few minutes of moving the bricks to the best spots underneath the tires, she was able to get the SUV out of the embankments and back on the road.
After that, I got in the SUV, and she directed me as I backed it up a quarter of a mile to one of the forks we’d passed. At that point we were able to turn around and go forward. By then it was about 4:45. We slowly drove out of the forest and got back onto a paved county road.
To say we were relieved would be an understatement.
We never found the cemetery and after that harrowing experience, I would not dream of putting it in my book. There are plenty of other cemeteries in Texas that do not require jeeps, four-wheel drive, and traipsing through a dark forest.
I learned a couple of lessons on this excursion.
Number one: When the directions say, “Best to have a jeep when driving to this cemetery,” believe it.
Number two: It’s good to have a research assistant who is cool under pressure, as was Lor. Did I mention she’s an emergency room nurse?
Back on schedule, we arrived in Nacogdoches and checked into The Brick House Inn, one of the town’s historic Bed & Breakfasts.