IT PROMISED TO BE A beautiful Saturday, this first day of February, with a cloudless sky and a predicted high of 70 degrees. Already the sun was easing the chill of early morning. I let the cat out the back door and took one last look at the newspaper. It was just before eight o’clock.
That’s when the boom hit, followed by a series of rumbles. It rattled the windows and caused the wooden blinds to sway against the French doors.
At first I thought a tanker had overturned and exploded. I live south of Nacogdoches, about one hundred yards off U.S. 59, a busy north-south route through East Texas’ Pine Curtain. Truck explosions have occurred a number of times in the nearly thirteen years I’ve lived here. But when I stepped outside, I didn’t hear any sirens, just the familiar dull roar of traffic on the highway. I looked up and saw a ragged contrail bisecting the sky and quickly breaking apart. I remembered hearing a few minutes earlier on NPR that the space shuttle Columbia was about to land in Florida. I’ve seen a shuttle coming across East Texas twice before. Once it was nearly dusk, and the shuttle was a brilliant orange streak flashing across the sky in seconds—a beautiful sight.
I shrugged, figuring that I had just missed seeing the shuttle again. A few minutes later, when I arrived in town to meet some friends at Schlotzsky’s Deli, I watched the restaurant’s owner, a friend of mine, hang up the phone and repeatedly run his fingers through his gray hair. His face was white and his eyes wide.”
They say they’re finding pieces of the shuttle in Nacogdoches,” he said.
I’M THE EDITOR AND PUBLISHER of the Daily Sentinel in Nacogdoches. It’s basically my dream job. Back when I was a student here at Stephen F. Austin University, in the seventies, I used to tell my college buddies over buckets of cheap beer that this was my career ambition. Most of the other students saw Nacogdoches, an agricultural town of 30,000—invariably referred to as “Nac-a-nowhere”—as a place to get an education and get