Last Saturday, I attended a family reunion outside New Braunfels, Texas, at a park on the Guadalupe River. It’s the first Sexton family (my mother’s side) reunion I can recall since my mother passed away in 2016.
Reconnecting with my family reminded me of what a fascinating and eclectic clan we are, and how connected we are to our roots in western Texas. We visited and retold old stories and family lore, discussed our elders, our children, and grandchildren. We shared about our careers, our children’s professions and their aspirations.
Our livelihoods have been wide and varied. Several of us were educators, including my mother, sister, a first cousin and my brother’s wife. One of my nephews is a fireman, one a carpenter, and my niece is a civil engineer.
However, what struck me most is the idea that perhaps geography is destiny when it comes to how you make a living. For generations now, my family members have been tightly connected to western Texas’ primary industry – energy, and specifically oil and gas. As a youngster, I’ll never forget hearing about the amazing Red Adair, the famous oil well firefighter, and innovator who developed techniques used to extinguish and cap oil well blowouts. You might recall that he was called in during the Gulf War to extinguish the inferno set by Saddam Hussein’s retreating troops in the oilfields of Iraq.
So, my family’s storied connections to this vital industry are inextricably linked to the culture and values of the region’s economic identity dating back to the late 19th Century. They were part of the generations of wildcatters, rig workers and businessmen and women help build economic stability in this part of the country.
At the reunion, I talked with one of my cousins about his connection to the oil and gas industry. His father (my Uncle Rusty) worked in the sector as a young man; he married young and became a worker on an oil rig, going on to become a tool pusher and a high-ranking employee. Uncle Rusty worked in hard conditions and would often be away from home for days.
In recent years, as the economy of Texas has evolved, fracking has helped resurrect oil and gas fields once dormant across western Texas. America’s never-ending thirst for domestic energy and the location of the vast Permian Basin Oil field near Midland and Odessa are now supplying much of the nation’s (and increasingly the world’s) energy needs.
The work these men and women do is vital to our nation’s health and security, but energy extraction can be a dangerous career. Uncle Rusty talked about oil rig fires and the danger they posed to the oil workers who lived and worked on the rig.
It reminded me of seeing the movie Deepwater Horizon for the first time. The catastrophic blowout of the BP oil rig killed eleven men and even today serves as a constant reminder that this is a job rife with perilous risks and tasks. My cousin, who’s now retired from the oil business and a rancher, reminded me that he’d worked on the Deepwater Horizon, the rig portrayed in the movie; a reminder that he could easily have been involved in a horrific accident like that.
Driving home after the reunion, I thought about the oil industry and its deep roots in Texas. Moreover, I thought about my family’s history and those who are no longer with us. I wondered what mother and those loved ones who had passed on would have thought about our getting together. I am confident they would have been proud that we cared enough to pass down our stories and celebrate our roots.
What careers/industries helped define your family’s history and did geography play a role in your destiny.
© Tyra Manning 2019