Monday, July 28, 2008


"No matter what, don't ever sell the family's Louisiana land, son. There's one thing they'll never make more of and that's land."

I can still hear my father-in-law's voice in his final days on Earth as he offered these parting words of wisdom to my husband.

But four years or so ago, a decade after Ralph's death, David's cash-strapped mother called him up and said she had a buyer for that forty acres of scrub land. She needed all three children to sign a document releasing their shares of the property. ASAP.

While David voiced his concern and reminded his mother of his father's parting words, as a good son, he couldn't deny his mother's request--not when he knew she needed the money. And at that time, he couldn't scrape together the funds to buy the property from her outright. So, against his better judgment, he signed on the dotted line, and the property that had been in the Downs family for over 100 years belonged to some faceless land developer.

Last week, David got a call from his 2nd cousin in Louisiana. Ol' Cuz wanted to know if we'd heard about what all was goin' on down there on the family property. "Folks down here in these parts are becomin' overnight millionaires--like those Beverly Hillbillies," he spouted. "We're sittin' on top of the largest natural gas reserve in the hist'ry of the world some say. I know y'all sold off your property, but you might want to double-check to see if you kept any mineral rights. Worth lookin' into. They've already started drillin' on the land you used to own."

If you use your powers of deductive reasoning and realize that I'm still here, blogging away. . .still chained to my desk and slaving for Barbour, you will realize that we're on the outside of that overnight-millionaire window looking in. Not a dime of those millions in gas profits will find its way to our family's pockets. We'll forever be kicking ourselves for not following Dad's parting advice.

One of a writer's chief goals is to plop your story's main character/s into a conflict of monumental proportions and see how they respond or react. If my family's true-life story were your fiction plot instead, where would your characters go from here? What if the son had refused to sign over his share of the land four years ago? How would that impact his family relationships? Then? Now? What if he had scrounged together the money and bought out the rest of the family's shares? Would the others expect him to "share the wealth" now?

The old adage proves itself once again--truth is stranger than fiction. And more painful. Maybe that's why I spend most of my waking hours in the fiction world. :-)


Mary Connealy said...

Well, ouch.

And here I sit on top of land the Connealy family has owned for well over a hundred years, holding on tight to it with both hands


No oil.

Myra Johnson said...

Wow, what an eye-opener that must have been for the family! A couple of years ago my brother and I got a letter from a company that wanted to lease the mineral rights on some property our mother sold back in the '70s (yes, she'd kept the rights, so we inherited them). No word yet on any money-making discoveries, but your story sure got my attention!

Mary Connealy said...

I actually think someone is leasing some mineral rights on some land we for fifty years now.

Oh, and when I did my taxes last year and said I earned royalties, my accountant said, "Really, they found oil on your land?"

He said the common use for the word 'royalties' in tax law is for earning a cut off oil or other minierals being taken from your land. Royalties from books? He had to look that one up.

Janelle said...

Land staying in the family is very important to us too. With both my side and my husband's side. The wills are set up that way. We can only hope we instill that same love and value in our children.

And as for finding oil...I recently endured three weeks of blasting that rattles windows as seismograph men set off charges looking for that very thing. Haven't heard whether or not they were successful. One can always hope.

Rachel Hauck said...

Oh what a great opening scenario!

I'd love to take the story from there, how this news impacts the lives, the family, the way they interact.



NancyMehl said...

Like Mary said, "Ouch." Big time.

All I can say is that someday you'll be walking on street of gold and this won't matter anymore.

Of course, you might have to give it a few thousand years first...



Elizabeth Ludwig said...

What an amazing story. I bet this is one the GRANDKIDS will be telling in THEIR old age!

jess said...

Poor North Louisiana! Just got a call from a friend whose family member leased their 40 acres for 8,000 per acre. I hear some are leasing for even more.

But look at it this way... people will be getting mean and greedy so regardless of the $$$ involved, it might be nice to stand back and watch this play out. :) Lots of people are still waiting to be contacted, chomping at the bit to lease their land.

Funny, I read your post and wondered what part of LA then my friend called with her story. :)

BTW, I love the way you tied this into writing. You're good. :-)

CHickey said...

Doesn't seem to be any black gold on my family's land. Oh, wait, that was "given" away years ago. Nope, still no gold.

Love the Beverly Hillbillies picture!

Oh, well, you and your husband can reminisce when you're sitting in your rocking chairs sipping hot tea.

Sandra Robbins said...

I had an experience very similar to yours when my mother wanted to sell land that had been in our family for many years. Now I see someone else's crops growing in those fields, and I long for the days when it was ours. But, as I tell myself all the time, possessions in this life are not nearly as important as the relationships that one has. By agreeing to sell the land, your husband may have preserved ties with his family that can be passed on to future generations.

Sandra Robbins

Susan Sleeman said...

Wow, Susan, your blog brought so many visuals to my mind. I could actually see David's mother struggling to make the decision to sell, the land itself, the family member calling to report what was happening there, the newly rich folks celebrating, and well, you chained to your desk slaving away.

You know how when you've never met someone and you have to count on your imagination to visualize them. Guess what I'll be seeing whenever I hear your name in the future?

Vickie said...

What an interesting story, Susan.

My dad told me that his dad owned the rights to the first motion picture camera ever invented and that his partner cheated him out of it. My grandfolks died penniless.

I address a similar issue to yours in my latest Heartsong book, A Wealth Beyond Riches. It deals partly with unscrupulous oil men trying to force a Creek Indian man to sell them lease rights to his land. He wants to keep the land pristine and not ruin it.

Mary Connealy said...

Susan said: You know how when you've never met someone and you have to count on your imagination to visualize them. Guess what I'll be seeing whenever I hear your name in the future?

So, Susan, are you saying you now picture Susan Downs as one of the Clampetts?
Can she at least be Elly May?

Susan Sleeman said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Mary. I hadn't thought of Susan as one of the Clampetts, I just saw her chained to her desk. But now that you suggest it, Elly Mae chained to a desk works, too. Course I'd have to insert some sort of critter in the picture. LOL

Jessica said...

Man, that is some ANGST.
Great post, though.
Sorry y'all aren't millionaires :-(