Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dew Diligence

Before leaving Eastham Creek I diligently wiped the dodger's fogged windshield with a damp chamois. This is a morning ritual these fall days. The chilly nights encourage the previous day's humidity to condense on every exposed surface, providing a fresh water rinse in the salt marsh. It should be wiped away before it evaporates and a chamois is ideal for this little chore.

Fred Roscoe Jones 
When I lean across to swipe the windshield I almost always picture my grandfather's Texaco filling station with a melancholic sense of nostalgia. Grandpa Fred was an enormously important figure to me though I didn't realize it at the time. The filling station was a magic place, full of busy men, exotic equipment like hydraulic lifts, treats of soda pop and peanuts, and the chance to feel important.

Grandpa would occasionally let me wring out a chamois. These fascinating objects lived in the tub of an old wringer washing machine, slithering around like eels in the murky water. My job, when the stars and planets all aligned, was to fish out the corner of one of these strange and slippery things and gingerly insert it between the rubber rollers, all the while heeding instructions to watch out about my fingers. Someone cranked -- perhaps my older brother, I was way too short to reach the top of the handle's arc -- and the wringer spit out a nearly dry chamois. I had helped.

Jones' Texaco in Shawnee, OK
The reward was a nickle for a soda pop. I recall leaning into the red Coke case and studying the bottles, Nehi Orange, Grapette, Dr. Pepper, Coke, and 7 Up, among others that were trapped in an elaborate system of rails with only their necks projecting. To get a flavor you tugged the bottle along the tracks to one end of the case where a special compartment swung open. The system was cleverly arranged so that only one bottle could be pulled out for each nickle. The choice of which flavor was agonizing, but for the life of me I can't remember drinking the soda or even which was my favorite.

When a car pulled in it ran over a hose hooked to a bell. The sharp ding-ding triggered a reaction that was much like tapping a wasp's nest. The staff boiled out to swarm over the car, checking oil, tires, pumping gas, and wiping the windshield with a damp chamois. Grandpa supervised it all and rang up the sale on an enormous cash register that made more noise than a fire engine.

Then to celebrate a job well done he might dole out a treat. His roughened hand would touch my much smaller one to deposit salted peanuts that he got from a machine that stood by the cash register.

Daniel Roberts
Able Bodied Crewman
I don't know what my grandfather would think of me now. But I would love to be able to find out.

I would drive Sweet Pea into the Texaco and hear that bell's ding as her keel ran over the hose. As his crew wiped her down I would ask him whether he thought I was doing as good a job with my grandson, Daniel, who has crewed many times and is partial to York Peppermint Patties.

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