In which, we strike it rich...
I have been rich beyond your Midas dreams.
When I was about nine years old, my brothers and I struck oil -- not a gusher, but more of a "bubblin' crude." We were playing in our backyard down by the red mulberry, a tree that seemed to bear an extraordinarily rich bounty of mulberries every year, testimony to the richness of its soil.
Which was odd, for Ozark soil is not especially rich.
The folks who settled the Ozarks usually didn't try to establish farms specializing in single crops -- the land was too rough and the soil too thin. Survival required diversification, so everybody had cattle, pigs, and chickens along with a garden growing all sorts of crops and fields growing alfalfa or other hay for their own cattle or for sale to other farmers.
In later years, I worked those hayfields during the hot, humid summers that sweated me thin and burned me brown and handed me a yardstick for measuring the labor of all other work. But that's a different story.
As I was saying, most Ozark soil was poor, but the land around our mulberry tree was richly blessed, and that spring, we came to share its riches.
Poking the ground around its trunk with sticks, we hit a reservoir of thick, oily water that began to bubble up and form a pool. The five of us brothers gathered round, fascinated, wondering ... puzzled ... until we recalled the verse that explained it all:
Come and listen to my story 'bout a man named Jed,"We've struck oil," one of us whispered, in a voice almost reverent.
a poor mountaineer, barely kept his fam'ly fed.
Then one day he was shootin' at some food,
and up from the ground come a bubblin' crude,
oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.
"Oil," the rest of us echoed. Then louder, with rising excitement, "Oil!"
Frenzy at our unexpected wealth overwhelmed us. Tossing aside our sticks, we scooped the rich mud up and threw it into the air above our heads, screaming "Oil! We've struck oil! We're rich!"
And for a brief moment, we dreamed our little dreams of bicycles flying down long, steep hills, endless mugs of ice cold root beer tasted once at an A&W in Missouri, loose change to drop clinkering loud into the Sunday collection plate...
Till grandmother appeared, "gathering her brows like gathering storm," and yelled "Get out of that!"
Confused at her anger, we paused in our celebration ... "But Grandma, it's oil. We're rich."
"It's not oil!" she retorted. "It's from the septic tank! Get out of that right now!"
Of us five, only the eldest, Pat, knew what "septic" meant, and he instantly left the spot. The rest of us, 'oil' dripping from our hands and from our hair, remained in the still rising pool until grandmother yelled once more in a tone that brooked no disobedience.
And we soon found out what septic meant. It meant stripping completely naked outside and having bucket after bucket of cold water dumped over our heads before being allowed in the house, where a long, cold, soap-scrubbing bath awaited us.
It wasn't exactly punishment, but it might as well have been.