Not long after my father passed away in 1997, I received a certified letter from an oil company stating that his interest in a Southern Illinois oil field was being transferred directly to me. “Holy Cow!” I thought. “I’ve inherited an oil field. I’m going to be rich!” This really came as a big surprise to me as I never knew my dad was an oil magnate. Now he had worked in the oilfields all of his life, primarily as a roughneck and occasionally as a driller. All I could think was that perhaps some benevolent oil producer thought a lot of my dad’s hard work and dedication and gave him an interest in some big oil well he helped drill – and he helped drill thousands of wells across Illinois, Indiana and even down in Texas. My mind wandered to which oil company might have given my father such a valuable gift. “Hmm, he worked a long time for Lohman-Johnson drilling gas wells down in Texas,” I recalled. “Then he worked for the company that produced that giant oil field up around Salem.” Inheriting a piece of any of those fields would be phenomenal, I thought. 

Well, all the excitement about an oil inheritance evaporated, as I never heard another thing after signing the official oil division papers and mailing them back. I even asked my brothers if they received a similar certified letter. They had not. So, I simply forgot about the whole matter – until earlier this month.

As part of my daily morning routine, I sauntered out to the mailbox to retrieve the mail. Among the credit card offers, department store mailers and The Navigator newspaper was an envelope from an oil company – the same oil company that had previously provided the oil division papers. “Holy mackerel! They didn’t forget me after all,” I shouted as I rushed into the living room to share the big news with my wife.

I was literally shaking with anticipation as I handed the envelope that would contain my very first oil check over to my wife. “I’m too nervous to open it,” I told my wife. “You do it!” But before she started ripping the check out of the envelope, we both decided to think about what we would do with all that oil money. It had to be a load of cash we thought, as it would represent an accumulation of more than twenty years of oil revenues. “I want to go on another cruise,” I said. “I just want to go someplace that has a nice beach,” my wife said. We both agreed that before we did anything foolish with our new found cash, we should consider the needs of our children. We both agreed.

The moment finally came. Nancy tore open the envelope and slid the check out with care. The first numbers I saw were 8...7 and some zeroes. Once my eyes were able to focus on the fine print on the check, all of my dreams of ocean cruises and warm sunny beaches went poof. The check – which cost fifty-five cents to mail – was for a whopping .87 cents. “Guess we won’t have to ask the sheriff to escort us to the bank for safety,” I said to my wife. She agreed as she handed it over to me. “You can take care of this,” she said. “Just too hot for me to handle.”

I should have known I would never become an oil magnate. History has shown my luck isn’t always that good when it comes to financial matters. Here’s a couple of examples and perhaps you can relate.

Over the years, I have done a lot of public speaking. When it came to a charitable organization, I would never, ever ask for money. I was always delighted if I got a free meal. However, if asked by a commercial; for profit outfit to speak, I expected compensation. On two occasions, I got stiffed by a for-profit commercial outfit that booked me to speak at their annual gathering. The first time this happened, I was handed a one pound jar of dry roasted peanuts as I left the venue. “Well ain’t that a kick in the pants,” I said to myself. “That’s my fault though, since I didn’t really make it clear I expected payment for speaking.” Now, I really should have learned my lesson, as the same outfit asked me to speak at their annual dinner banquet. “We want you to give the keynote address,” the company official said. “We’ll pay you $150. Is that fair?” I agreed that it was just fine and began preparing my address.

Well, everything went well. The crowd responded to my stories, there were a lot of laughs and everyone seemed to have enjoyed my presentation. But...and there’s always a but.

As everyone was leaving the gathering, the head gear pulled aside back stage – presumably to hand me my compensation. “I know our manager agreed to pay you $150 for your presentation, but that’s not how this works,” he said. “Now – you’re not an out of town speaker. You live right here in the county, so I don’t think we owe you anything. If we’d booked an out of town speaker, we would pay. But not for this.” Not one to argue or make a scene, I left without shaking his hand and chalked it up as a learning experience. And by the way, I purposely did not identify the firm in question. The people they serve are very fine folks and made me feel very welcome at their annual banquet.

So there you have it – two important lessons learned. First, don’t count your chickens before they hatch – or in the case of the oil division check – don’t book a cruise before actually confirming the size of the check. And second – if you do public speaking and charge for-profit outfits for your talent – make sure you do it as far away from home as possible. Apparently, there is a formula that suggests the amount you can charge for a speaking engagement is in direct proportion to the distance from your own front porch. 

Lessons learned.