Dear God, this is an awful place.
Anxious and wide awake , the only passenger in the Company limo on his way to Burnsville, fifty miles north of the largest town in the state my Grandfather, Karl, was in turmoil.
Why, he asked himself, for the umpteenth time would a major international Company locate its headquarters here.
Twenty eight years old, hired for the executive trainee program, he had arrived at Tulsa International Airport an hour ago.
Peering out the window the prairie offered nothing, no lights, no other road traffic, just a bleakness, so eerie and inhospitable. he drifted off to sleep.
…….”And here’s Burnsville”.
the driver’s voice, used to waking up sleepy passengers, was a staccato harsh intrusion.
Turning up the car radio, to emphasize the journey’s end, was the fruity voice of First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson cooing about her beautification project for the nation.
Tiny town lights appeared ahead.
……”Mecca” Karl thought.
The only hotel; his home, at no cost, for the next two years was an adequate but spartan room. A wall mounted Murphy bed. One chair and an ink stained yellow pine table with a gooseneck lamp. The low wattage bulb had to go he vowed before easing into a good night’s sleep.
Sun shone through the windows of the homey restaurant, steps from the hotel. Catching the rays, decorative copper cookware twinkled at him. From the chalkboard menu, he chose a hearty breakfast, of scrambled eggs, bacon and tomato, avoiding the strange sounding grits, biscuits and gravy, and fixins. Smiling idiotically at the very friendly waitress, fascinated by her spun glass hair, Karl was feeling the warmth of acceptance.
Exhilarated by the brisk short walk to HQ , three tall buildings over thirty floors high. completely dominating the rest of the sleepy little town. Rows of white painted houses with well kept lawns, neat trimmed shrubs, and affixed to every garage was a basketball hoop. Yellow school buses,large cars with tail fins, all achingly familiar it reminded him of American westerns he loved watching while growing up in postwar Germany.
With steady reserve Karl marched into the HQ of Burns 75
oil Company to face the rest of his life
First morning was a meet and greet session with Company department heads and introductions to the other twelve European inductees. A mix of English, French, Italian and one German,Karl. Mouths sore from so much smiling, they eyed each other.
That first day, Karl knew David Jenkins, the Englishman would be a friend.
………”Gooten Taag” he winked with a warm hand shake.
They played tennis together and introduced soccer to the town. Jenkins appeared on the tennis court wearing khaki knee shorts, with the whitest, skinniest legs. After a few beers he would sing funny songs, …..Lloyd George knew my father, my father knew Lloyd George.
It was never spelled out, merely intimated that after the two year training, a promotion to an overseas location would follow. Otherwise, it would be a permanent lower grade assignment in HQ, Burnsville.
Naturally, all twelve interns were hoping for an international career.
The work was enjoyable, rotated among various branches. Sales, Research and Development. Weekends were spent among the townsfolk. Jenkins, a lifelong nonbeliever, was reading the Sunday gospel, with the seriousness of Richard Burton emoting a Hamlet soliloquy. Only Karl gasped, suppressing laughter when after a boozy Saturday night, Jenkins read……….”and his sins shall be expedited.”
The good book reads “expiated”.
Who was this man, Frank Burns?
Thousands rushed into Oklahoma during the oil boom of the 20’s . Fortunes were made and lost overnight. Murders and robberies happened everyday. How was one man
able to survive, start a small Company and watch it flourish to become an international giant.
These answers came observing the generations of families, with the same surnames all staunchly loyal to Frank Burns. The man who not only made a highly successful business, gave secure livelihoods to hundreds of families and inspired a prosperous town from a shabby whistle stop on the banks of the Caney river
After eighteen months, Karl was still ambivalent about his future with the Company, as were the others. It was an invitation to visit the sprawling ranch home of the founder which changed everything. It seemed to have a magic quality.
Kept as a show place the ranch covered miles of the Osage hills, where bison, deer and elk drink from the lakes at sundown.
Huge fieldstone fireplaces, lofty timber walls covered in glorious works of art. One after the other Remington, Russell and the incredible Bierstadt, just nailed up haphazardly. Jenkins was visibly shocked as we all were.
……….”Blimey,” he said quietly and to no one in particular: “Thankyou for that”.
Karl could have sworn he heard a deep throaty chuckle.
Dinner was served ranch style, barbecued outside and brought in on huge platters; steaks, chops, buffalo burgers. Baked potatoes, home harvested, split with blue cheese dressing. Accompanied by the finest imported wines alongside moonshine. Helplessly they ate and drank too well. With a wink the ranch hands cautioned the best was yet to come.
Ensconced in deep armchairs on the terrace, lulled into euphoria, nursing snifters of the best brandy, light was fading. As the giant camp fire blazed, fireflies darted and a lonely coyote lamented. Trundling a cart a lone figure appeared handing out warm tartan blankets. A tanned friendly face, partially hidden by his ten gallon hat, an unimpressive, regular guy.
………..”Glad to see you enjoying yourselves,boys.
Must be important or we wouldn’t be puttin on the ritz for y’all tonight.”he chuckled.
Pausing to stroke his chin thoughtfully and chatting to Karl like an old friend;
………….”Course, a Company is only as good as its people…..Do your best, be loyal and you’ll not regret it, should be true for anywhere you work, sadly it’s not. With this Company it’s a promise. Then he moseyed off into the halflight.
As darkness fell over the prairie, troubadours emerged from the shadows, harmonizing……..
…………….home on the range where the deer and the antelope play……………
Pleasantly woozy as they piled into the Limo for the trip home, Karl asked if anyone knew who the old gent was with the blankets. No one remembered seeing such a figure. Claiming they had picked up a blanket from a stack by the terrace door.
Yawning, Karl laughed it off. Not important, he said.
Later on when all the interns became permanent employees and before leaving for various foreign offices, they held a Goodbye party. Dozens attended from the Company and the town. What a wonderful two years they all agreed.
Was it imagination, Karl wondered, as he left the HQ building, as well as the chuckle did he feel a firm pat on his shoulder?
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The ambiance was great! The history was also interesting. The ending confused me a little; I felt like something else should have been made clear. A wonderful tale of bygone days, Mary.
You wanted a “shoot out” Delbert?
LOL no. I'm a Texan, but I'm not one to resort to violence if it can be avoided. I suppose I wanted the old gent to be explicitly recognized as the company owner.
Oh sorry. Delbert. Right there might be a difference between Americans and Brits. You like an upfront clearly defined ending and the Brits, by nature, love obscurity and mock humility . Thx as usual for your insight. Why didn’t I meet teachers like you. Cheers. Mary
I like that you wrote the German phonetically. Language should be translated in a way to sound as it does. So many translations are confusing because they read one way and sound another. “Jenkins was visibly shocked as we all were,” as they all were? We is first person but the rest is in third person. I had a double take there. So the spirit of the old CEO is watching over the company?
Oops good catch there on the grammar. Yes. Unfortunately the Company never was the same after he died. Successive CEOs just in it for short term financial gain.
And to line their own pockets I’m sure.
This captures that ephemeral sense of "corporate culture", where, when it's right, it can transform "just a job" to a lifetime commitment. It's kind of an odd thing, because while it requires everyone to buy in, it really must come down from the top - from a competent leader. I've seen companies that were great to work for, because of the future-thinking mindset of the founder, fall apart after the founder leaves/dies, as newer execs only seek to maximize short term gains (and torpedo their employees - and then wonder why there's turnover)....
Sadly your interpretation is corrrect, Michal. The founder in this case was the heart and soul. Subsequent leaders never measured up and ultimately the executives moved to Houston . Today the town is just struggling with a few central services. Always enjoy your intelligent comments. Thankyou.
Mary, Sounds like a great company to work for. I liked the ambient description of the ranch house. I "Reckin" we should all expedite our sins. It would speed up atonement. 😁 The ending almost made this a ghost story. I liked the ambiguity of the blanket dispenser. It added a touch of mystery.
You are hilarious, Chris. Thanks for a timely and brilliant response.
I loved the ambiance you rendered so well in this story, Mary - I definitely felt like I was there!
Appreciate that. Wendy