Sometimes, I think my children believe I lived in primitive times. When I tell them about how life was in the late seventies when I was around their ages, their eyes bulge out of their heads. “What do you mean there was no cable? Your television was in black and white and you had to turn a dial to change the channel? No XBox or computers or electronics of any kind? How did you manage?” they ask aghast.
“Well girls,” I say. “It was all normal. It’s not like we walked with dinosaurs. It was all pretty modern to us.”
Yesterday, I pulled into a very busy gas station to pump gas. It was a quagmire– cars coming and going; cars parked on the sides so the owners could run into the convenient store for coffee, soda, or cigarettes; and the gasoline supply truck was trying to back up to its proverbial watering hole. My gas gauge read “E”. I had no choice but to wait.
“Ugh,” I lamented. “It was so much easier in the days of full serve when the filling station offered no other amenities,” I grumbled.
“What do you mean?” Carson asked.
“Well,” I said, ready to impart some unequivocal point of wisdom. “When I was little, when my parents wanted to get gas, they pulled into a filling station and an attendant came to the car and filled it with gas, cleaned the windows, and checked the oil.”
“Every time?” she asked doubtfully.
“Yes, every time. To work at a gas station took some knowledge and skill. They were not glorified cashiers in the seventies.”
Cars started to move around and I thought I saw an opening for me to pull up to pump 12. The only problem was that I was facing the wrong direction and I would need to maneuver close to the pump by backing up. I am terrible at backing up. I have been known to run into things. God love my children for knowing this about me and knowing that I felt tension; no one talked until the car was in park next to the pump (four times of back and forth got me there).
I got out of the car, put the credit card in the machine, pumped the gas, and a few minutes later, we were on our way.
Carson was still thinking about our conversation. “So Mom, why did gas stations change?” she asked.
Good question, I thought. Why had such a wonderful convenience been taken away from the masses?
“Money,” I responded. “The gas companies that ran things realized they could make more money by hiring minimum wage employees to oversee the operation, and force regular people to do it themselves. Full-serve cost more than self-serve, so in the eyes of the public, they were saving money. They did not see that the convenience and service they were receiving was actually changing.”
“But people saved money? So people liked that, right?” Her twelve-year-old mind was trying to process simple economics. “What did gas cost back then?” she asked.
“About $.65 a gallon,” I said.
Her jaw dropped open and her eyes grew wide. Surely gas would cost $.65 in the days of the dinosaurs! “And that was a lot to people?” she said in disbelief.
“It’s relative. “Everything cost less in the seventies, so comparatively to what people made, it is probably equivalent to what we pay today.”
She sat for a second and digested this information. Things cost less. “How quaint life must have been when you were a child,” she said.
I was shocked. Twelve-years-old and already a know-it-all. Twelve-years-old and already flippantly judgemental.
Wasn’t I the same way when I was twelve? The difference is I had a right to be. My mother had no common sense. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Book smart? Oh yes, she had graduated college Summa Cum Laude– but the day-to-day— she definitely needed a guide dog.
Case in point, when I was twelve, it was probably the first time my mom pulled into a gas station that no longer offered full-service. In the early eighties, all of the gas stations were turning over from filling stations/garages to convenient store/gas stations.
Realizing she was going to have to do it herself, she pulled up to the pump. Seemingly, she had witnessed someone putting gas into her car hundreds of times over the course of her life, surely, she could do it herself.
She put the car in park and got out of the car. However, foolish as she was, she had a lit cigarette in her hand.
Realizing, I tried to share my advanced knowledge. I opened the door and got out. “Mom, you can’t smoke while pumping gas,” I pleaded.
“This will only take a minute, and I just lit this one,” she said.
Trying hard not to yell at her, I thought about gas and lighters and things that blow up. How could I explain it gingerly enough so that I did not sound like a twelve-year-old sassy bitch?
“Lady, put that cigarette out!” a man yelled running from the building. He, too, must have been thinking about gas and lighters and things that blow up. Thankfully, he kept my mother and me from starting our own personal World War III.
My mother looked thoroughly confused, and I knew what her reaction would be: to drop the cigarette on the ground and smash it with her heel.
Please God, I begged in my brain. Do not let us be the headline of the six o’clock evening news.”
Luckily, she opened the car door and smashed it out in the ashtray. She was so unnerved by the situation, she yelled at me to get in. She never did pump her own gas that day.
Unlike my own daughters, I never looked at her like she walked with dinosaurs, but I did know that sometimes, she needed to be handled with kid gloves.