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Listener Essay - Pumping Gas

Bama - a yellow lab
Bob Slack


  Debbie Slack was honored to be a recipient of the 2018 Edwin Way Teale Artist in Residence at Trail Wood sponsored by the Connecticut Audubon Society.

Inspired by the residency, Debbie has been writing a series of essays which has expanded into a memoir titled "Trail Wood: A Love Story." Debbie is also focused on publishing her novel, "Margaret Mary and the Gutsy Girls." She is excited for their story to leave the comforts of home and venture out into the hearts of girls everywhere. Outside of writing, Debbie enjoys exploring nature with her husband, Bob, and their two Labradors.

~Pumping Gas~

It was just a typical day and I assumed an ordinary moment, when I drove into the gas station with my son’s Yellow Labrador Retriever watching me from the backseat. While my son’s deployed we’ve been taking care of Bama, a gentle giant, who croons like a hound dog and acts all innocent when the bread goes missing even though his snoot is peppered in crumbs. When Bama’s allergies flare-up, he scratches, loses hair, and turns pink. So this morning when he was looking less a dog and more like a pig, I called the vet’s office. They insisted I bring him right in. It’s a thirty-minute drive one-way and by the time we arrived, the office was overwhelmed with an emergency and needed to reschedule. I understood, but the trip was about to waste an hour of my time and all of my gas.

I pulled into the station beside the outer pump. As Bama nudged my shoulder, a lady pulled in on the far side of the next pump over. I hardly noticed her car, some kind of slanted back SUV. However, I looked twice at the slight woman adorned in a headscarf with an adhesive bandage on her right inner arm. She reminded me of my petite mother-in-law, who was the kind of woman who could love someone so much that you dropped the in-law and just called her Mom. I still miss her, regularly ask her for help, and often wonder if she’s listening all the way from Heaven.

This woman was older than Mom and even captured Bama’s attention as she wrestled with the nozzle, repeatedly trying to jam it into the filler neck. The nozzle fought back and was winning.

As soon as I locked my nozzle on automatic I called, “Excuse me, can I help? Those filler necks can be at crazy angles.”

She said, “Really? I thought it was just me. ”

“No, it’s not just you, they’re a pain.”

She giggled as I fumbled with it. Just as she said, “Maybe it’s broke,” I got it to work. She offered to take hold, but I showed her the auto lock and put it on. Her smile lit up her lined face.

I explained, “Normally I’d let go but I’m not confidant it’s situated correctly. Just call me your attendant. What happened to full-service attendants anyway?”

She said, “He died. My husband was my attendant.”

My heart sunk. I whispered, “I’m so sorry.” I remembered when Mom struggled to figure out her life after my father-in-law passed and would often say, “Dad always took care of this.” And here was this lady, a stranger, but not, trying to find her way. I reassured her that she was doing fine.

She patted my arm. “You’re a sweet attendant.”

I was startled when the auto feature popped off and told her that I hardly put in any gas. “Oh no that’s alright,” she said. “It wasn’t low but I didn’t want to run out.”

I wanted to hug her, instead I hung up the nozzle, spotted her credit card on the ground and returned it to her. When her receipt didn’t dispense, she thanked me and headed across the parking lot towards the store. I removed my own nozzle, took my receipt, and heard her pump finally spit out hers. I grabbed it, called to her, waved her receipt like a tiny flag, and rushed to join her.

She said, “You’re wonderful.”

I didn’t deserve such praise for pumping a little gas and handing over a receipt.

She added, “Sorry I’m such a bother.”

“You’re not a bother, please.” As we shuffled back side by side like old friends I asked, “Guess what happened the first time I pumped gas?”

A tiny smile lifted her cheeks.

“I removed the nozzle, flipped the lever, and while spinning back towards my car I squeezed the nozzle hard causing the gas to gush out like water from a fireman’s hose. The attendant kept screaming ‘Stop!’ and ‘Get out!’ among the curse words.”

She had stopped walking and stood there laughing, clutching her sides. “You didn’t really hose the place?”

“I did,” I said.

We were by our cars, both smiling, hesitant to leave. I was anyway. If Bama hadn’t been in the car, I would have asked her if she wanted to join me in a cup of tea. Opening my car door I looked at her and said, “So don’t be afraid, you’re managing, you’re doing great!”

She smiled, thanked me again, and said, “Well I’m trying,” and got into her car. I got into mine, waved, and called, “Just take your time. You’ll get it.”

Her smile disappeared, she paused, looked right into my eyes, “That’s one thing the oncologist said I don’t have, Dear.”

I watched her drive away.

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