“It was the best of times,” said Jacquelin Finley, who went to live with her grandparents in the early 1960s, when she was a baby.
In the 1970s, life changed.
Just as Jacquelin Finley was bused from Mayflower Elementary to a newly desegregated school in nearby Tatum, Luminant’s predecessor moved into the area. It had its eye on a multimillion dollar prize hidden deep beneath the green grass and pine trees: a low grade of coal known as lignite. To profit from it, the company had to uproot trees and build a power plant.
The company bought land. Ida Finley remembers the pressure applied on her husband, who finally sold 9.5 acres for $1,000 — the equivalent today of just over $4,300.
Feeling duped, he spent his final years sitting on his front porch gazing bitterly at the nearby reservoir that had flooded his land. Barely two years later, he died.
“That bothered him all those years until he died,” Jacquelin Finley said. “That’s my anger. Do I have a right to be angry? Yes. I want to see them go down.”
Life went on, though. The power plant was built. People moved away. The church congregations shrunk. Some of the Finleys remained, including Ida and Jacquelin. The crops were gone, but Ida’s little white house bustled.
Then, about three years ago, Luminant came knocking. The company said that because Ida’s husband died without a will, their children owned the land, and they had sold it to Luminant.
Under Texas law, when a landowner dies without a will, a surviving spouse receives the right to live on part of the land, but ownership passes to blood relatives, usually children.
Ida, Luminant said, owned only the house, its porch now hanging forlornly near overgrown weeds, the steps broken and rotting. The quaint siding is broken and cracked. Looters scattered pictures, stuffed animals, Christmas ornaments, letters, shoes and clothing across the dusty floor, making off with more valuable items, like a refrigerator. Luminant says it offered Ida money for the home, but she declined.
Jacquelin owns only the trailer she lives in, Luminant says, and the company offered her a new trailer and nearly an acre elsewhere. Jacquelin said Sunday that the offer was made only in the past few days, after The Associated Press began asking questions. Either way, she has declined to accept it, and doesn’t want to move. And for now Luminant can’t force her.
Looking recently at the dirt patch and pile of rubble that remains of the Methodist church she attended as a child, Jacquelin said Luminant would have to give her at least $1 million to leave — enough, she estimates, to fix her grandmother’s house and care for her there.
“It’s like I’m going against the world, and they’re the world because they own everything,” she said.