Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Station

When I was young my dad ran a gas station on the edge of our small town in Kansas much like the one in this photo. I have many good memories wrapped up in that place. And many lessons that are still with me today.

I learned:

...To ride my "Leave it To Beaver" bicycle in the driveway.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I remember this very clearly because I turned too sharply and ran headlong into the "island" where the gas pumps are at and discovered that even girls can "rack" themselves.

...Good customer service when I was asked to pump in a certain dollar amount of gasoline and ran it over 2 cents. My dad instructed me to tell the lady in the car to "nevermind" about that extra because it was my fault that I didn't stop the pump sooner. Good customer care didn't stop there however. Every customer got their windows washed and an oil check up too at no extra charge.

...That all people were created equal, but that some folks didn't get the memo. This was back when a gas station was "full service" rain or shine, whether the customer parked under the side with the awning or not. The driveway bell would 'ding' as a car pulled in for service. My dad would immediately march out the door, past the vacant covered side of our station where this person could have driven, into a gushing midwest down pour on the exposed portion of the drive where they did drive, to fill up this inconsiderate person's vehicle. A few minutes later he'd come back into the building, his shirt darkened by fat rain drops and commenting about the questionable intellect of "some people"( Maybe I should call that a vocabulary lesson?).

...That I LOVE peach ice cream with little bits and chunks of real peaches in it (the Schwan's man was one of our regular customers).

...To take pride in whatever work I did, even if it was "blue collar". My dad never came to work without his dark blue Dickie slacks andlight blue button-up shirt being nicely pressed, over top of a clean white under-tee. Oh, and of course his black dress shoes shined. I know...because every evening I would get out the polish and cloth and buffing brush and shine each black leather shoe.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

...How to count back change properly using a roll of bills and a belt coin changer. For those who don't know... start with the amount they owe and count UP to the amount they give. If they owe $3.71 and they give you a five dollar bill, you start counting back to them handing them change as you say it, starting clicking the changer with pennies - ".72, .73, .74, .75" then adding in one quarter - "4.00" then give them a one dollar bill, "5.00. Thank you ma'm and have a nice day." Oh, where has that skill gone?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

...How to mop a tile floor using a string mop and ringer bucket. It's an art you know, especially if you try to work yourself out of a room and not into a corner where you'll be trapped.

...How to remember the combination to a underground safe/vault in the backroom.

...How to stock a cooler full of milk, rotating the old to the front and new to the back.

...How to bribe a crying toddler with a free hostess Twinkie and thus help another of our regular mommies to make it home with her sanity intact.

...How to make someone feel good about themselves with just a few words. My dad was notorious around town for "flirting" with all the old ladies who came in, asking each of them when they were going to "run away with him".

...Where to hide if I saw a tornado and how long I could stand out back of the station gripping my dad's hand, watching it and two others like it converge, before I needed to run into the concrete building for cover. (Have you ever heard a tornado? It roars by like a train and's as still as sleep afterwards, except...the birds almost instantly start to sing out).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

...Generosity. Every now and then someone would come to the station and not have the money for gas. My dad always worked out a way to get them what they needed and keep their dignity intact. Bartering or even taking an IOU from some folks, everyone left our station with a smile on their face.

..How to use a looooooooong measuring dipstick to check the gasoline level of the underground storage tanks and what the view looked like from up on top of a gasoline tanker truck. I was sure I wanted to be a truck driver for years and years.

...How to make friends. One of my favorite friends was a man (who's name I can't recall) who drove a junk car trailer. He'd stop in as he came through town and each time, he'd trade me one of his silver dollars for two of my quarters. I was so young at the time that I didn't really understand that he was getting the muddy end of the stick. As a matter of fact I was sure that I was cutting him a deal because after all, he was getting TWO coins and I was only getting ONE, albeit mine was bigger. I've always loved silver dollars and the special shine they have to them, don't you?

Not every memory I have was rosy however. I can remember a time when a man came to our station about closing time. I remember that he was very tall and wild haired and that I was immediately afraid of him. My mom was there (she was the station bookkeeper) and I ran over to her. She must have sensed something was wrong too because she nudged me under the leg opening of the big, green steel desk. Of course, I continued to peek out and watch my dad and the Wild Man. I can't remember the words, but I do know that this man was agitated about something and began swearing. I watched my dad slide his hand into his deep right front pants pocket. My little heart must have been pounding like crazy because I knew that in that pocket my dad kept his gun "just in case". The intensity of the discussion rose, the man's language became more and more rough and before I knew what was happening, my dad, a short man with a tall temper (Italian/Irish heritage...what can I say?) had the big Wild Man pushed against the wall with his black handgun on the man's chin. Instantly the Wild Man's demeanor changed from belligerence to fear. He apologized and left. We never saw him again.

Yes, I have many memories of the little old gas station. It's not in my hometown anymore, they tore it down years ago to make way for a strip mall, but every time I go there...I drive by anyway and think of my childhood and wonder what part of who I am now wouldn't be there, if it wasn't for my experiences at The Station.


Anonymous said...


First of all, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts/blog with us. I really enjoyed this post. I kept wondering as I was reading if y'all lived in a house attached to the station, but I guess not. My Great Uncle Eck (Thannie Eckford) had a gas station in Hope, Arkansas and his house was attached to the station. I remember loving to go there and watching the whole operation - the little store inside where Aunt Ethel helped out and the greatest memory was when a customer came in the middle of the night (I don't think many people drove through the night in those days unless it was important), the bell rang, and Uncle Eck got up out of bed to help the man. I thought it all so fascinating. Thanks again for your memories and lessons learned. I know not everyone thinks the good old days were so good, but I think your post tells us there were definitely some things done much better then.

Susan in Texas

Storybook Woods said...

Wow I feel like I had such a boring childhood. What an interesting story. Clarice

Gumbo Lily said...

I love this story Michele! I do business in a small town that still has a full-service gas station and I try to give them my business as much as possible. You still get your windows washed and oil changed free of charge. Of course, there's a little shop inside for repairs and a candy machine. But a nifty thing is that they come out with the credit card clipboard-thing that swipes the credit card with a carbon so I can pay while sitting in my car.

We used to always get a Coke (in a bottle) and a ice cream bar at the gas station on the way to Gramma's house. We had to drink our pop there so we could put the bottle back into the crate and collect our nickle.

Thanks for the memories.

Mrs.X said...

What an interesting story, Michele. You told it very well. Loved the photos of the old pumps and the bike -- what a gem! ThanX so much for sharing. It's a delight getting to know you better.