Apache was my hometown for a year in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student.
Here you’ll find a collection of my 1973 Apache memories.
Former Apache resident Rebekah Cooksey (about fifteen to twenty years after me, I guess) wrote “Top 10 Things Heard This Weekend in Apache, Oklahoma” after a return visit to her hometown. Her blog now seems to have disappeared, but I got these extracts from it.
Small town Oklahoma defined my early life. My hometown was Apache. Population: 1500. Our school was so small we had no class electives; My class pictures between kindergarten and 12th grade included all the same people, generally in the same position.
I am the youngest of seven kids; Dad was a minister, Mom was a nurse. I think at one point we were actually below the poverty level but I have such great selective memory that period is all kind of blurry. I do remember being laughed at because of my clothes and wishing that we could live in a mobile home because some of my friends lived in them, and their homes were nicer than ours. While I had good friends (whom I still keep in touch with), I always knew I would move away because there really wasn’t anything there for me.
Those of you who actually read my blog (thanks, Mom!) know that my family and I went to Apache Oklahoma this past weekend to attend the annual Apache Fair.
Going to Apache is always a bittersweet event for me. Growing up in this small town of 1500 people was mostly a frustrating experience, and I spent my junior high and high school years plotting my escape. But even after almost twenty years of being away, I am tied to this place by my memories, my values, and my dreams for my own children — because the kind of town I ran from is exactly the kind of town I’d like to raise them in (but hopefully with a larger population by a factor of 10).
Why bittersweet? Going back reminds me of the many wonderful things about being raised in a town where everyone knows everyone, where the same families have farmed the same land for generation after generation, where the values are so traditional that Home Economics is a required course for girls and Ag Shop (agricultural workshop – welding, woodworking, leather tooling) is a required course for boys. But, it also makes me sad, because many of the store fronts are boarded up, the family-owned businesses have been replaced by Sonic and Dollar General, and the landscape is dotted with barns falling into themselves, rusted cars and vans, and, in general, signs of the struggle of the lower-middle class.
The best way to describe it, I’ve decided, is ‘Mayberry’ meets ‘Sanford and Son’, with a Native American twist.
So, in a lighthearted way, I’m going to attempt to share with you some of the highlights of the weekend. Again, while this may appear like I’m poking fun – well, OK, it will be poking fun – but remember, I grew up here, so I’m allowed. I’m laughing with my fellow Apacheans, not at them.
Do you feel that breeze? There was a lot of controversy over the installation of one hundred and fifty wind turbines southwest of Apache because of the blight on the landscape. Not surprising: when you have been living with an unobstructed view of the Wichita Mountains for years, and suddenly someone proposes to build wind turbines across the horizon, that’s bound to put a bee in your bonnet. But the Slick Hills (as the foothills of the Wichitas are known) supposedly have some of the best wind in the USA. The Blue Canyon Wind Farm now produces the energy equivalent of powering 60,000 cars on the road. Now with gas hovering just under $4 a gallon, I don’t think the residents mind so much anymore.
We actually didn’t stay in Apache for the weekend; instead, we rented a cabin in Medicine Park, a tiny tourist village about half an hour away just outside the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. If you can desensitize yourself to an over-abundance of junked out cars, scrap heaps, and crumbling mobile homes, Medicine Park is quite a cute destination and the natural beauty is astounding. Definitely worth a weekend trip from Dallas-Fort Worth. But my mention here is just about the one-lane bridge that goes across the river in Medicine Park and joins East Lake Drive with West Lake Drive. You don’t see many of these anymore.
In Medicine Park we found what must be the actual model for Tow-Mater from the animated movie Cars. Also in Medicine Park, we were amazed that the most beautiful real estate in at least a 200 mile radius is used by a waste water treatment plant is astounding to me. With a view of the Wichita Mountains, Lake Lawtonka and the surrounding hills, anywhere else this plot would be turned into million dollar homes (or, adjusted for Oklahoman prices, maybe $250K homes). Seriously, it made my heart sad to see the $32.5m facility sitting smack dab on top of the best view in the area.
I remember when the blinking red stoplight was installed at the main intersection when I was in junior high in the early 80′s. It seemed like no time at all had passed before the light burned out. No one seemed to notice, really, and it took years before it was replaced. Clearly progress has been made because the town’s only stoplight was blinking when we drove through town.
Rattlesnake Festival – Our little town of Apache is host to one of the largest Rattlesnake Festivals in the USA. The Apache Rattlesnake Festival was created by some local townspeople (one of whom was my high school best friend’s Dad) back in 1986, and features guided snake hunts, contests for the longest/heaviest/ugliest rattlesnake, an ever-growing flea market/craft fair, and a carnival. Last year, they had 60,000 people come through for the 3-day event, and Discovery America was there to film it. Pretty good for this small hometown.
Livestock Fairs – One of the big attractions of the Fair is livestock judging. Most FFA students have animals that they show at fairs such as this for prize money and bragging rights. This night was cattle judging night, so Jack and Luke got plenty of opportunity to see cows. I think this was the first real “Moo” they had ever heard, poor things. Usually it’s me trying to sound like a cow when I sing Old MacDonald.