Mud Joe got an oil man’s send-off this week. When I walked into the chapel to say “goodbye” I didn’t hear the typical funeral music. I heard Roger Miller singing “Please Release Me.” Naturally that brought a smile to my face. That’s how Joe would have wanted it. It really wasn’t that much of a surprise when we heard some other country greats while we waited for the chapel to fill: Johnny Cash’s “My Grandfather’s Clock;” Ray Price’s “For the Good Times;” Eddie Arnold’s “Make the World Go Away;” and some other good old country standards.
It was men like Mud Joe that wrote the history of this state; men that were willing to stake everything they had on the unpredictable fortunes of the oil patch; men who knew how unfair lady luck can be in her choices of who to elevate and who to crush; men who were willing to pit hard work and courage against the stubbornness of bedrock, depth and disappointment.
Men like Mud Joe made Oklahoma a dynamo of energy that helped power the growth and prosperity of the United States and many other parts of the world.
These men were left to fend for themselves and take their lumps when times were hard; when dry holes outnumbered producers and foreign markets drove the prices of American products into the dirt. And these men were demonized, hounded and taxed mercilessly when the pendulum swung their way.
Of course it’s dangerous to generalize, but let me tell you about some of the oil men it’s been my pleasure to know. I never met one that you’d call a crybaby. They know how to take their losses and they know how to celebrate their successes. They pride themselves on standing on their own two feet, but I’ve never seen one fail to lend a hand to a buddy who needs it. They know how to enjoy a good laugh even when it’s at their own expense.
I’m not saying these guys are paragons. Sometimes their language is raw and their humor is course. Sometimes they might get a little too friendly with the bottle. They might be prone to excessive stubbornness and they may not see the virtue of turning the other cheek. They darn sure don’t waste a lot of time trying to be tactful. But hey, let’s agree. Nobody’s perfect.
As I watched the line of old timers file by Mud Joe’s casket, their faces were full of emotion; but they passed by their old friend dry eyed. One of them in a wheelchair gave him a wink and a thumbs up. There had to be a story there. There had to be thousands of stories in that chapel that would inspire, amaze, thrill and leave you unbelieving. There’s something heartbreaking about the fact that so much history and information collected in the memories of these men that will never be written down. Once these old giants are gone, they’ll take a lot that’s precious with them.
Joe’s son gave the eulogy and he did his father proud. These people know how to show honor and respect when one of their number steps off the derrick for the last time.
As a final gesture of oil patch elegance, Mud Joe’s fishing pole was carried down the aisle and placed in the casket with him. Never can tell when it’ll come in handy.
I was honored to be sitting with one of Joe’s oldest friends so I got to hear some private stories about how capable and esteemed Joe was among his colleagues. But here’s one of the best things I heard said of Mud Joe Cunningham. “If he gave you his hand on something, it was gold. You could take it to the bank.” It’s hard for me to imagine a more honorable epitaph.
Well, like I said, Mud Joe’s gone and he got an oil man’s send-off. Maybe you’d like to know how he got to be called “Mud Joe.” Ask me sometime and I’ll be glad to tell you the whole story over a cold beer.
Oh, by the way, here’s another of those odd coincidences. Today, Aug. 27, is the 150th anniversary of the day Edwin Drake struck his first producing well in Pennsylvania. Thanks Ed. And thanks to you too, Joe, and all the others like you.
I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
Wed, August 26, 2009
by Michael Hinkle