The Big One
Preface & Reader Response
There are older adults who, though possessing the convincing veneer of utter practicality and a pure focus on stability, subversively love a good lark – a little harmless risk-taking. They not only enjoy it, they promote it.
Vigorously and Unassumingly Eccentric – & 90% Sensible
Young People Don't Know Anything Until They Comprehend
by Jerry Murley
The Risks That Older Adults Take Daily
Notice Before Passing Judgment: Though one may not yet recognize it or one endeavors strenuously to mask it, every reader of this journal and every person referred to within its pages, I suspect, is a wildcatter. One is either a complete innocent, a humorful wildcatter, a humorless radical, a completely dedicated institutional soldier, a member of loosely organized crime, a sociopath, or a zombie. Which is it?
In the first spring of the subprime-mortgage financial bust, I had a little cash to use in a stock market learning experience. It was very little, laughably little, especially compared to what I had already lost in 401(k) retirement investments. It wasn't as if any financial paper was of much value anyway. So I bought a little stock in a company that had bottomed out. The stock broker made me sign a document stating that neither he nor his company had recommended the buy. Other friends and family said plainly, "Why on earth did you do that?" Of all the people that I told about this venture, only my wife's mother broke out in spontaneously exuberant laughter. She got the joke immediately – perhaps she has taken time to look at the market over time and benefitted from some lucky strokes and bounced back from some apparent setbacks. This is a true Okie wildcatter. A person with an edge and utter pragmatism. Two months after buying the stock, it had risen 150% in value (250% of the original purchase price) and we still laugh together about it, well knowing that it could all evaporate in a few days or months. Now kids, don't try this at home. This was a tiny, safe, playful act with little hope: it was the not-so-desperate act of a elderly wildcatter.
My wife's mother is the grand niece of Dan DeQuille of Virginian City, who was at the edge of a budding American literary aristocracy in the 19th century. To the undiscerning eye, the connection of my wife's mother to Dan DeQuille might seem incongruous, because she is a paragon of stability, serving well over forty years as a stay-at-home, farm-duty-bound mother of four and grandmother of seven. But having, at just over twenty years of age, picked up and moved, cutting off the social safety net that she had known all of her life in Oklahoma to move to Middle Tennessee and a family she hardly knew, this experienced Sooner both counsels family responsibility and promotes adventure. She has daughters who all ventured from the farm to college, two who worked out West in Tahoe, two who worked on archaeological digs in England, two who once lived in California or married a Californian, and one who moved at a young age to New York City. Her daughters and grandchildren, all with her blessing and urging, have been to points east and west, whether China, Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean or California, Alaska and Maui. To this point, all but one grandchild has traveled abroad. And by my reckoning, the great grandchildren will venture even farther afield.
There are older adults who, though possessing the convincing veneer of utter practicality and a pure focus on stability, subversively love a good lark – a little harmless risk-taking. They not only enjoy it, they promote it. What adult to you know who is not occasionally both crazy as a loon and wise as a sage?
Never having traveled abroad, except for a day trip to a Mexican border town and a Caribbean island, my parents virtually pushed me on the plane for a trip from Memphis to Europe, alone without a termination date and with only one loose connection to a family in England. This happened a year and a half after they saw me go through the vagaries of cancer. These are parents who had a close eye on their children growing up, but not quite the obsessive nearness of today's parenting – just enough. They were willing to endure the unknown and worry about a son cut adrift in Europe because they saw it as the opportunity of a lifetime. They trusted the untested ground for the possible bonanza. And in many ways, they hit pay dirt.
I used to love the term maverick, until it was tarnished in the last national election. I have long thought that Memphis has an oversupply of mavericks and too few steady, engaged patricians and that Nashville has too many patricians and not enough mavericks. The term wildcatters better suits my need to recognize a class of adventurers of all stripes and colors, styles and activities, and levels of failure and success.
Let's look at the evidence of wildcatters spawned by wildcatters just within my own extended family: Take the dutiful, rural boy, with few neighborhood playmates, who arranged his own trip to Poland after his junior year in high school and then went on to cheerfully and playfully take on Princeton, Geneva, Brussels and Manhattan. There are the nephews who lived in tents as they waited tables in Alaska; the niece who moved to Bologna by herself to study for a year; the nieces and nephew who have ventured on missionary trips to serve in needy, uncomfortable surroundings; the niece and nephew who travelled across the state with my sister and began public school for the first time in high school, having been home schooled throughout their earlier years, taking their new school and community and rural surroundings in stride and by calm but maximum winning effort; three nieces who started college with basketball scholarships; the niece who in high school set off alone for Ireland and then later to a little college at the top of its class in Williamstown, MA; the nephew who has fought a lifelong illness to become a strapping, solid rock of his generation and a frequent flyer to parts unknown; and the nephew who defied his own superior talents in several fields and after a few years in the wilderness redirected himself to the study of art. There are the examples of the family that picked up stakes in 1959 to move to semi-rural Texas; the family that picked up stakes in 1960 to move from Nashville to a farm in Williamson County near where a great grandfather had once served as a doctor; and the family that left home, jobs, and attachments in Memphis to move in 1980, without jobs or home, to rural Tennessee.
Wildcatters don't so much follow their bliss as run the gauntlet for a chance at something different, something interesting, something meaningful and maybe something better. Wildcatter parents encourage their children to prepare to take calculated risks, to seek discoveries and to go places they themselves have not ventured.
Ineffectiveness – and a good bit of storytelling spice – comes when wildcatters busy themselves finding fault with other wildcatters rather than holding tight the tail of the bobcat and trying to cooperate with other wildcatters and learn from and influence wildcatters and non-wildcatters alike. Wildcatters seldom combine for long for mutual benefit. All too often, because of temperament and indiscipline, when two wildcatters superficially conjoin in a huge, often worthy, shared dream, the project goes bust in a hurry. Wildcatters might better maintain a little bit of doubt, humility and sense of interdependency about their endeavors to avoid utter catastrophe. Not knowing for sure what it is that they need to prosper, it is evident that they need to remain, or feel as if they are, free to range. For, though willing to fail, wildcatters will not be caged.