Texas during the oil boom was a prime example of chaos. Oil wells,
as close together as hair on a dog's back, appeared in every direction.
The muddy streets were clogged with stuck vehicles of every kind.
Tent cities sprang up right next to old established neighborhoods,
often causing social conflict. I witnessed such an incident as a child.
My mother and I were visiting a family friend, whose house overlooked
a sea of tents just across the street, in Kilgore. As the grownups
socialized, I ventured into the forbidden territory of canvas houses.
It didn’t take long for me to find a friendly family with a boy and
a girl about my age. We hit it off immediately, and the time seemed
to fly by. Too soon, I heard my mother calling me for lunch. I waved
a reluctant goodbye to my newfound friends and told them I would be
back. I bolted down my food and dashed out the door to continue my
interrupted play. Our host lady stopped me at the door, saying, “You
shouldn’t be mingling with those shanty town kids. Find some nice
children to play with.” At my tender age I had no idea what she meant
by “nice children.” I thought these two were just great, and I was
very disappointed to be denied their company.
I sat on her front porch, staring over into their domain, feeling
sad, and wishing I could rejoin them. After awhile they came walking
down the street in front of the house, carrying an empty can. “We’re
going to the store. Come go with us,” they invited. I sprang up and
started to join them, then I remembered what I had been told by the
grownup. I wish I could remember exactly what kind of excuse I gave
After my mother and I returned home, we received a letter from our
Kilgore host. I’ll never forget her words. “Remember those children
Eddie played with while you were here? Well, their mother sent them
to the store to buy some kerosene, and they must have mistakenly asked
for gasoline. When the mother tried to start a fire in the cook stove,
it exploded, and all three of them were burned to death.”
I hope that, when I declined their invitation to play with them, I
chose words that were discreet and kind. I would give anything to
know for sure.