all of the selves we Have ever been
Fill Me Up With Ethel
Mirth is God’s medicine. –Henry Ward Beecher
After I posted my last blog, Grease on Earth, a friend wrote to share her memory of the family-owned gas station in the neighborhood of her youth. She reminded me that we once called those places “filling stations.”
I remember my dad pulling our well-traveled Rambler station wagon up to the pump of our filling station, cranking the window down, and saying to the attendant, “Fill ‘er up with Ethyl.”
As a young child, I found that confusing. The only Ethel I knew was Ethel Mertz, Lucille Ball’s partner in crime and at least 50% of the reason that we all loved Lucy. I can recall my still-developing mind turning over that word “ethyl,” and trying to dispel the confusion. It did not compute. Concrete operations of thought made homophones a problem, one that can still bewilder me even at my advanced age. By the time I figured out the distinction between ethyl and Ethel, I was pumping my own gas, and it was unleaded.
But once upon a time, I was willing to accept that at the filling station we got gas and filled our car with Ethel, or at least her hilarious qualities. Mirth was much needed for the long drives to my grandmother’s house or across the country when my father deployed. Filling up with good humor can take you a long way and keep you from being tossed out of the car in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
Today, I pump my own gas at the local BP station, but it is inside where I fill up. And I am not talking convenience store junk food. When I walk inside my local BP station, I feel like I have entered Cheers, that famous Boston bar operated by Sam Malone and frequented by Cliff and Norm. My mind wanders to the episode in which Norm enters the bar and Cliff calls out, “Hey, there Nahmy, what’s shakin’?” Norm replies, “Four cheeks and a couple of chins.” My heart fills with mirth. In this urban BP station, everybody knows my name. And I know what's shakin'--their long-distance girlfriends, health issues, roommates, and staff holiday parties. We exchange more than money. I know their names, too.
In our increasingly individualistic, technology-obsessed world, we still need places where everybody knows our names and something about us, places where we can share a laugh. Mirth is another kind of grease that keeps the wheels of life turning and the valves of our hearts pumping. Friendship has always been my filling station. Some friendships are new or casual. Others reflect a lifetime of loyalty and shenanigans. In every case, they are lead-free, but high octane still.
Alloftheselves.com became my filling station during the COVID pandemic when the doors to the world closed. You, my dear readers, filled me up during that long dry spell. I take you with me now on my new journey through breast cancer. I hope you find on these pages some mirth that fills you up, too!
Grease on Earth
Short of breath from the summer’s
lung-searing heat, I collapsed in my car after a short walk across the parking lot. I heard the flesh on my palms sizzle as I grabbed the steering wheel. Cranking up the air conditioning, I got on my way just as the radio announced it was time for the news. The local stories included an update on record-setting gun violence with multiple homicides, police shootings, politicians defying orders of the State Supreme Court, the Governor’s decision to arm teachers in public schools, teenage car thieves as young as 12, and two men cheating in order to win a fishing contest!
“Siri, am I in Hell?”
“It’s all a mystery to me.”
“Thanks a lot, Siri.”
I was on my own.
I changed radio stations, and then I changed lanes. Just off the busy interstate highway tucked between a rundown gym and a new gas station, I spotted heaven, a single-story building where the air is free. For the uninformed, heaven has many doors. You are in luck no matter which door you choose. You will come out feeling better and more grateful than when you went in assured that your car and your mind will make it a few thousand miles more.
When I was learning to drive, neighborhood gas stations still existed. These were places with tiny, dingy, cluttered offices piled high with grease-stained stacks of papers. Adjacent to the office was a single bay for repairing cars. An attendant came out to pump your gas, clean your windshield, and check the oil. Teenage boys helped out in the summers, but it was mostly the owner doing everything. Jack ran the Boron station in my neck of the woods. It was across the street from the grocery store. Jack was the neighborhood car daddy to anxious teens learning to drive. He solved some problems for a few of the overly-confident new drivers as well, and sometimes their parents were none the wiser.
I did get a driver’s license as a teen, but after years of driving, things changed--drivers were on their own to pump gas, diagnose their cars’ troubles, and find help in an emergency. This caused a rise in vehicular neurosis, that constant nagging fear that something will go wrong with your car at the most inopportune time and place. By the time I was a professional making home visits for a living, my own vehicular neurosis was at its peak. That’s when I discovered this heaven. Thankfully, said discovery was made just before the tire pressure light became standard.
This new heaven is a place where people fix cars and offer life support to keep them running. That alone makes these people gods in my book. In this heaven, there is actual customer service where you can speak to a live person, get answers, understand your bill, and make an appointment that is convenient. The main act here is honesty combined with courtesy toward their many new and lifetime customers. It was in this heaven that I received an extra measure of grace: the manager and assistant manager, Steve and Jim, became car daddies to my teenage daughter as she learned to drive. How blessed can a single mom be?
A far cry from the old neighborhood garage of my youth, this heaven has multiple bays. When one of the doors opens, my eyes are blinded by the well-lit, pristine shop that could substitute for a surgical suite at the Mayo Clinic. The people inside wear clean uniforms and manipulate the many high-tech instruments that now diagnose the functioning of our automobiles. Enter through the front of the building, and you will find a spacious, well-lit waiting area where travel experts are on standby to help you plan your next vacation.
Interested? Don’t ask Siri. Artificial intelligence is missing wonder, heart, and conscience, all necessary for an understanding of heaven and hell. But do Google AAA Car Care Plus Grandview. You can get there on your own, or they can send an angel to tow you in.
In the meantime, remember to change your oil. For that heavenly peace of mind, you must grease on earth.