Filled my smallish gas can the other day at the corner station so my mower wouldn’t run out of gas. Although the gas can stopper fortunately held tight on the ride home, multiple memories leaked out.
I can remember my father getting disgusted with people running out of gas. We had tons of drivers run out of gas along the main road on which we lived. Then they would hoof it as far as our house, (probably because we were a farm with a gas pump sitting prominently in front of our milkhouse) and expect us to supply them with gas.
While Dad was willing to gallantly rescue anyone who was the victim of his/her own stupidity (unless he/she was a member of his own family!), these victims felt entitled not just to gas, but a complimentary container for it. I mean, can you realistically expect someone irresponsible enough to run out of gas to be responsible enough to carry a gas can in his/her gasless vehicle?
Worse yet, in addition to the gas and a container to put it in, they expected us to give them rides back to their vehicles, especially now that they were carrying a couple bulky gallons of fuel. And if that weren’t enough, they also expected us to simply donate the gas to them, like they were somehow doing us a favor by asking for it and inconveniencing us. But if you think about it logically, how could someone lacking both gas and a gas can realistically be expected to be carrying money?! C’mon, now!
Logistically, our farm was located just a little over two miles north of the nearest gas station. Yet, gas-seekers would drive on fumes past that last gas station in town, sputter for the first mile beyond, coast the second, then abandon their vehicles and march our way.
When I was young, I thought these drivers were just poor planners who had forgotten to stop at the gas station. I actually felt sorry for some of them. But as I learned more about the ways of the world, I realized the gas askance scam they ran on my father would never fly at the real gas station, where they’d heard every excuse under the sun and would refuse to give them anything. Therefore, all low-fuel dashboard lights pointed in my Dad’s direction.
As far as I can tell, the gas-entitled never stopped at the farm of our neighbor, just a quarter-mile south of us – the neighbor who also had a gas pump visible from the road. Perhaps because his dog barked ferociously and/or that farmer had (wisely) developed the reputation for turning down gas requests. Another possibility is he waved people in my dad’s direction, “There’s a farmer down there who seems to be running some kind of a gas ministry.”
Most maddening about the situation was that while my father never purchased birthday or Christmas gifts for his children, he unhesitatingly, year after year, gifted stranger upon stranger with gas. He, who refused to help me change a flat tire and didn’t think twice about ripping me or my older sister a new one if we made the mistake of asking for money, exuded a weird, no-pain,Wal-Mart greeter-on-morphine hospitality whenever an adolescent stranger trudged up the driveway in search of a fuel fix.
What happened when Dad asked them for payment? We’ll never know, because he never did. And if he didn’t personally accompany them back to their vehicle with the gas, they would keep his gas can, to boot.
A few gas-runner-outers mumbled hollow promises, such as, “Hey, man, I’ll return the can and pay you back the next time I come this way.” But they never did. Instead of deliberately taking a different route out of shame and personal humiliation, they continued to drive past our farm – guilt free! Some even waved, the ultimate audacity! More interestingly, some became repeat offenders, who my father continued serving. No kidding.
The other day, it hit me: Perhaps the gas chiselers of my youth have been trying to pay us back, but with kitten drop-offs instead of cash. And to think I ever doubted their integrity. Hiss!