Stories come and they go: An Oilfield Stray
March 8, 2018
He was one of the many whose lives would forever be enveloped, then erased, by the mysteries of the oil patch. An excerpt from my memoir of sorts.
His was a fresh face in the midst of strangers, a new face chilled by the rains, and the rains showed no sign of ever stopping.
He stepped from the train, lost and alone.
He had been that way for a long time.
He was only nine years old.
I found his story on the back page of a Kilgore newspaper printed in 1932.
The pages were yellowed.
The words were fading.
The story had already faded.
The story was gone.
And I grieved for the boy.
Oil had been discovered in Woodbine sands lurking beneath the little town.
Oil made poor men rich.
Oil broke the back of the Great Depression.
Oil kept families together.
Oil tore families apart.
So did poverty.
Thousands had crowded their way onto the narrow, winding roads that led to the promised land of a new oil boom.
Men had been hungry yesterday.
It would be a long time before they were hungry again.
Drifters were looking for work, and oil meant money, and money meant jobs, and they elbowed their way into the richest oilfield there ever was.
Olive Dickson Bates remembered: “Freight trains were covered with people as they came into town. As they slowed down, the people would start leaping off. I used to say it looked like flies dropping off a hot stove.”
What people had never seen before was suddenly happening all the time.
The newspaper story was a short one.
An afterthought, maybe.
Newspaper layouts always had a little hole from time to time.
Some reporter filled it.
He wrote of a frightened little boy who shyly stepped off the train and into mud that was piled ankle deep on Kilgore’s streets.
On the boy’s jacket was a tag, and on it, someone had written the lad’s name and the name of his daddy.
His fare had paid his way to Kilgore.
He would go no farther.
And he had no idea where to do next, surrounded by strangers and faces he had never seen before.
His mama had packed him up like a suitcase and sent him for hundreds of miles down an endless railroad track to find his daddy.
His daddy was working in the oilfield.
That’s all his mama knew.
His daddy could feed him.
She was penniless and destitute.
The boy’s only hope was to find his daddy.
She cut him loose in a god-forsaken oil patch where no one knew his father and never found him.
Police kept the little boy for several days, fed him, gave him a bed at night, and treated him like one of their own.
I searched issue after issue of the newspaper.
I searched page after page.
And gradually the boy’s name and his whereabouts faded from the newspaper columns.
He was one of the many whose lives would forever be enveloped, then erased, by the mysteries of the oil patch.
Where did he go?
What happened to him?
Not knowing has haunted me for a long time.
And I often wonder which is worse: a story untold or a story without an ending.
Or is there any difference in them?
Please click HERE to find The Man Who Talks to Strangers on Amazon.