From 1953 until I graduated from high school, we lived in a house (2 different ones) behind my father’s Texaco service station in Fort Smith, Arkansas (at the corner of 56th Street and Rogers Avenue). Dad had begun his service station career after WWII in Bakersfield, California where I was born in 1948. Mom and dad decided they did not like California—so the hightailed it back to Arkansas in 1951.
Dad would go to work early and get home after 7:00 during the week and sometimes 10:00 on Saturday night. At first he did not have any help–but soon added one employee (Frank). My Dad, Bill, could fix just about anything. He was a born tinkerer and very clever with mechanical things. Dad also knew that his three sons would not amount to much if they did not understand that working was part of life.
From the 6th grade until each of his sons graduated from high school we had to work in the service station after school and on Saturdays. Of course, there were plenty of days that we resented not being able to hang with our friends, goof-off or be part of after-school activities. It was especially hard to work at the service station on Saturday nights. Guys with their dates would drive up and get their cruising gas for the night. In those days, getting gas for your car meant that the air was checked in your tires, wind shields and head lamps cleaned, the water in your radiator and battery and the oil in your engine checked. It was full-service for $0.24 a gallon (1958 price). As I approached my teen years it was especially hard washing the windshield of some guy whose dad could afford to buy him a car and he had the best dates.
At 66 years old, I look back in wonder and with deep gratitude for all that I learned. While there were days that I was really upset—especially when I had to study for an exam after the station closed—generally I thought it was cool working for my dad and learning things. I am so grateful for this experience. I learned how to work hard, be efficient, understand how things worked, fix things instead of buying new and how to provide customer service. I am especially grateful that dad paid us a fair wage (a bit above minimum wage—in 1966 it was $1.40). He required that we save 1/2 of our wage so that we would have a nice nest egg when we turned 18.
This picture was taken in about 1955. It shows me sitting on the curb of the station drinking a coke with salted peanuts. My dog Mickey is on the right. It must have been fall since I have on a jean jacket my mother, Cora Lee, made (she made nearly all of our clothes until I was about 12 or 13). I can still taste the salty sweet drink, the smell of leaded gas and feel the fur of my beloved cocker spaniel Mickey.
Proust would be proud.