When Changes Force Change

I watched a show on the CMT network the other day–quite by accident since I make it a point to never watch CMT.   I don’t care for country music as a whole (regardless of how ‘progressive” sounding it’s become) and that whole blue gingham/fresh churned butter world does nothing for me.  But the show  by its very name intrigued me.

Five minutes into Bayou Billionaires,  I knew its back story.  It’s a very familiar TV premise, structured on the typical ‘fish out of water’ metaphor;  the kind that made us laugh at Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies.   It focuses on Gerald and Kitten Dowden and their family who live in Frierson, a tiny town in northern Louisiana which sits on top of the Haynesville Shale, which is something you  have to understand  to understand Bayou Billionaires.  

It’s essentially a rock formation that underlies large parts of southwestern Arkansas, Louisiana and East Texas.   It lies at various depths  from  10,500 to 13,000 feet below the land extends in an area of  9,000 square miles.   It contains vast quantities of  natural gas known as  “shale gas” produced from  mudstones that are also the source for the natural gas.  Geologists and energy type love shale gas because there’s so much of it and they can access all this gas due to improved technology such as horizontal directional drilling (drilling out, not down) and hydraulic fracturing which uses water, chemicals and extremely high pressure to ‘fracture’ through the ancient mud layers that comprise the shale. 

Gerald and Kitten know a lot about this process and the reward the landowners can reap from it.  They own or owned land on top of a good portion of the shale and from what  I can tell, sold their mineral rights (something I WOULD NEVER have done)  and that made them wealthy….each month, they receive ‘mailbox money” which is what they describe the day when their substantial six figure checks arrive in the mail each month.      After 43 years of marriage that included plenty of scrimping, saving and penny-pinching in a very blue collar world, they’re now wealthy,  as are many other residents in the area.  

All of their kids live on a compound,  of sorts.  (THINK:   The Kennedy’s, just without all that pesky clannish Catholicism)  It’s  nothing more than a few scattered  mobile homes and Jim Walter looking structures, with a small but new  in-ground pool on thee roperty.   One son married a woman who he wrestles with as their infant daughter looks on.   One daughter has that rode hard/hung up wet look.  She gave Kitten and Gerald other grandchildren.  She lives in a mobile home and speaks incessantly in double negatives.    Another daughter says little, but smiles incessantly, I guess that’s to show off “them brand new teeth”  Ma and Pa bought her.  Her burned-out, ex-biker looking boyfriend Albert, has few teeth and that which he still has, kind of  look like candy corn.    I know nothing about him, but he sure looks like he could have worn a baby aspirin orange jump suit and was known by a number at one time in his life.  He references prison from time to time, so one wonders.   He’s definitely rough around they edges, as they say, but he seems affable and in love with his girlfriend whom he  seemingly treats with love and respect.   Oh yeah–Albert  also goes by the names Carl and Jimmy.   Aliases?   Not sure, but he’s interesting.   I understand in one upcoming episodes, he asks Gerald for money to start a catfish business which consists of a jet ski pulling a net on the river…or the lake.  Hell, maybe it’s a bayou.  

There’s another son, but I didn’t watch long enough to see his ‘on screen’ character flaws.     

It’s interesting to watch the process of new-found wealth unfold around people who’ve never had it.   What they buy and where they spend their money is so telling.    Kitten wanted a car.   One would think, she’d buy a Jaguar,  a Mercedes-Benz at the very least.   Nope, she chose to buy a Chrysler Sebring convertible.   Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that one doesn’t associate that particular car with someone who just struck it rich.  Hardly the kind of car tht would reflect oppulance.  Then again, they might be very frugal people.   And in theory, they’d be wise to be careful.   The monthly installments for the sale of their Haynesville mineral rights will end someday.    Everything is finite.

I was born and raised in Karnes County, located about 50 miles southeast of San Antonio.  It’s also where the Eagle Ford Shale was discovered in 2009.   Like the Haynesville Shale and the Barnett Shale almost more about  300 miles north, it produces natural gas and oil.   More oil than gas, actually, and this has made many families in the area, South Texas equivalents of the Dowden’s.    

One of the big investment firms was  summoned to the courthouse in Karnes City (the county seat) for wealth management classes.   After one seminar, a broker said he felt a meek tap on his shoulder.  When he turned around, he saw a shrivelled up little couple in their late 70’s.   The old man reached in his pocket and pulled out a small, folded piece of paper and handed it to the broker asking,”What do we do with this?”

It was a check for well over a million dollars.

Coming into money makes for a very interesting turn of events, especially for those who’ve never had it.    I understand those who covet it….and why.   People think money is the answer to everything.   It isn’t, but I believe there are times when it can offer hints to every question one might have.   

Years ago, I remember having a conversation with a woman who came from a wealthy oil and ranching family in Laredo, a city on the Texas/Mexico border.    Her mother had died years earlier and she and her brother stood to inherit all her father’s money.   She was a single school teacher who lived a fairly meager life.  Her brother and his wife were engineers with the city and at the time they had one young daughter.   We met for drinks one night and the subject of money and wealth came up.   She told me that she knew her life would someday change exponentially and there were times when that was a daunting reality.   It wasn’t like she had never known money–she was raised on a ten thousand acre ranch with a nanny and maids and cooks.  She was sent to an exclusive boarding school in San Antonio and spent her summers either abroad or at ritzy equestrian camps up in the northeast with other rich girls with old monied nicknames like Bitsy and Bunny.   

She came from money but her father wanted to instill in her,  independence.  After college she had to work to support herself.   Daddy only helped when she got in a jam, but only BIG jams.    When she could barely afford to pay rent AND a few credit card bills on her teacher’s salary, she’d plot and plan her wealthy future, but  would always allow  that dream to shatter when she’d realize that it would have to come at the death of her beloved father.   There is a cost, it seems, for everything.

Wealthy people,  especially those who’ve  had first hand experience with what’s it like to  have–AND have not— possess a certain confidence about them.   My Laredo friend had that air about her, even though she couldn’t rub two nickels together.   There’s something about those who have it,  even those who’ve had it and lost it.   For those who have money (and by money I mean more than enough to breathe easy after bills are paid each month), they know they can afford  “it” and whatever  “it” is,  doesn’t matter.   They’re covered for life’s basic emergencies.   They can afford a new tire or two;  they can shell out whatever is needed for that new fuel pump….or pay outright for that foundation issue without contemplating the need to knock over a pawn shop to help cover the costs. 

I’ve known many wealthy people in my life and yes, I’ve envied them.   You know, that “grass is always greener…..” mindset.    I would watch them pass me by looking all well healed while well wheeled–perfectly dressed in their shiny new cars as I sputtered along in a car built during the Carter administration wearing clothes sewn during Nixon’s.  Yes, vintage clkothing, but not in that cool way.  These were just old, hand-me-downs.    Anyway,  I would just sigh and think how lovely it would be to pay off every bill. Or at the very least, be able to make monthly payments on every bill owed and still have a little fiscal breathing room left over. I would envy them, thinking how much better being wealthy had to be, as if having six figures lying around in several different interest bearing accounts could automatically make people kinder and gentler;  could quell heartache or eradicate cancer.

It doesn’t.   Having money offers no protective shield.  It doesn’t make  you impervious to the random cruelties of life.   Does having it then offer a speedier recovery?  

I would imagine that with all its faults, money has  to at least give one options;  ways to make life’s complexities easier or more tolerable.    It would mean you’d have the means to buy something to compensate your troubles or afford go somewhere to take your mind off things.   But eventually, new toys grow old and get-away vacations end and you have to come back home, right?  You face what you have to face with grit or with greenbacks…both if you’re lucky.   But I believe the reality, at  its most basic premise, is that  having money really only completely solves one problem: it eliminates the previous need for it.   

 The real power of money is in  what you do  with money…or in some cases, what you don’t do with it.

So, I guess it’s safe to say that those old clichés which are so hackneyed, are also ture:  money can’t buy happiness and it can’t rent it, either.  Although it might be a decent way to compensate for peace of mind.   I suppose Gerald and Kitten Dowden of Northern Louisiana wouldn’t argue that point.   Having money allowed them to buy their adult daughter a smile with a mouth full of  brand new teeth. 

Sometimes, maybe that’s all it takes.



  1. To me, money is insurance. After a certain point, you’re ok, and need to put more into the insurance pile. (I have never done this. I am doing it now, as I go through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I’m actually enjoying it. Thus, I have become an obnoxious proselytizer of something I’ve barely come to understand and follow.)

    Even living paycheck to paycheck, like all too many of us, I have a car, a home in a safe neighborhood, health care, and too many amusements to shake a stick at. My occasional visits overseas just remind me how much I truly have. I mean, I have a yard that gives me more than six feet of space from my neighbor’s house. There are people in rich neighborhoods who don’t have that, these days. 🙂

    But my house was built in the 1960s, before HOAs and zero-lots. It has leaks, ugly wallpaper, and uglier linoleum… but I can throw a ball in the yard without making my dog run into the neighbor’s AC unit, and that, in itself, is a truly luxury.

    Want to feel rich, fellow Laurie readers? Here’s something less expensive than movin’ on up: Visit China. Or the Philippines. Or Viet Nam. or Mexico. Then come home, and go, “Wow. Yeah. We’re doin’ fine.” 🙂

  2. OK, I have to comment on the car. I think you know, having been raised in small town America, that a Mercedes would do nothing for your actual status. If you buy a car that is completely out of reach of your peers, then you are simply a snob. However, if you buy a car that is just out of reach (theoretically), then you are the envy of the town. I think they played the wealth card well in that respect. There may be hope for them.

    I’ve heard it said that when people win the lottery, they end up in worse shape than when they started due to one thing: they never learned how to manage money–whether a little or a lot. Poor people know two, maybe three things about money: 1) spend, 2) save, 3) give. Rich people know a fourth key to money management: invest. To grow rich (as opposed to having it dropped in your lap), you pretty much have to invest–in the stock market, someone else’s business, or build your own business.

And now, you may opine your ass off...

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