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Karen Fife Payne

Name: Karen Fife-Payne

Date: August 24, 2018

Circumstance: In-person interview; 3rd floor of the Ft. Worth Hilton (Ft. Worth, Texas), 2018 Creole Reunion.

Editor’s Note: Karen Fife-Payne was one of warmest people at the reunion, generously pointing out others I should talk to long after we sat down. Nevertheless, the conversation we had was fantastic. She also introduced me to an interesting, Venezuelan-made work, accessible here, describing the way the oil story is told from a Venezuelan perspective.

Recording of our conversation: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LNxZq_GbKJRR-J1EdpnHLWNhymqcWaMI/view?usp=sharing

Trent Kannegieter (TK): I’m holding a mamon. No one’s sure how it got here (to the reunion) because they’re not easily accessible in the United States.

Karen Fife Payne (KF): You need something to take that flavor away. Where are you from?

TK: I am from Alabama. I live near where Glen Wilcox lives now.

KF: I don’t know him.

TK: Do you know Laura? His daughter? She’s here. To start, when did your family go to Venezuela?

KF: My step dad went in 1931. A bunch of them went out of the East Texas oil field. They lived in barracks/Quonset huts. They were a bunch of bachelors. They had all their food and everything provided. He came home to Texas on a holiday, and he met my mother. That was in 1947. They got married in 1948 in Carapito, Venezuela which is in Eastern Venezuela. We were there several years. He was in nearly every camp down there; 1931 to 1959 is a long time. We moved to Jusepin which is in the middle, and then we moved to La Salina. Those are the only camps I’ve lived in. He flew me into Paternales on a seaplane once. He was 55 when he retired.

TK: So, he was an engineer?

KF: No. He was a farm boy. Dropped out of school in sixth grade. He was probably hanging around pool halls when he started working in the East Texas oil fields. He ended up being the head of production in Venezuela when he retired. Getting all of the oil in the tankers in Carapito. The tankers came up the Orinoco River. I showed you the pictures of the wharf. He was really polished, well-spoken. He had been down there so long that he had a good rapport with his workers; he treated them well, and they respected him.