Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Good Old Days

With Rickey Nelson, c. 1965 (me in the hat)
I recently saw a news piece about a family in Louisiana who still run full service gas stations, and it got me thinking about my own family and the stations we once had.

The station pictured here eventually became what we called the Little Station. It had one service bay, a tiny office, and the single island for cars to fill up.

We had this place until I was about ten. I learned to ride my purple bike with the banana seat on the lot here, and got to meet Rickey Nelson ;-)

In 1975, when we got what became known as the Big Station (3 service bays, waiting room, office, backroom, parking lot, two islands to service four cars at once), the new owners of the Little Station transformed the office and service bay into a flower shop (Tiger Lilly Florists) and tore down the canopy to put in a small office block. Sad, really, but at least the main building is still there. And sometimes when I'm home, I'll go into buy flowers, just to have a snoop around the place!

Local cartoonist, Bill Bates, adding our
station to his collection of funnies
At the Big Station, and as I came into my teens and starting high school, I spent most of my waking hours at the station. After school, I'd walk down the hill into town to the station do my homework in the waiting room . . . back when full service stations had them (they're now snack shops). And occasionally, one of my girlfriends would walk down with me and we'd do our homework in the waiting room while really watching the boys on the islands ;-)

When I was 'of age', I got to start pumping gas on the weekends and eventually full-time in the summer. Not something my folks ever expected of their daughter, but growing up around the place, I think it was natural for me to want to work in the family business. How could I not, with dad up to his elbows in the service area and mom in the office keeping the books? Another task I eventually worked at for a while.

I wasn't a popular kid in school (not even when I started driving), but when I ended up working with the boyfriends of some of my high school classmates, I suddenly became even more unpopular than I already had been! It was a good thing I had music, art, and writing to keep me company.

But I had a great time at the station. The work was fun, I learned a lot more about cars, and met some interesting characters . . . Clint Eastwood (later to become an employer), Betty White and Alan Ludden, Regie Jackson, John Travolta, LeVar Burton, Bill Bates (not Gates!), Sam Farr, Leon Panetta, Gus Arriola, Joan Fontaine, Kim Novak, Doris Day, James Ellroy, Beverly Cleary, Alan Funt, Robert Campbell, Robert Heinlein, Dean Koontz...and the list goes on. My hometown was founded by artists and writers, so how could I not want to write? Or paint, which I did for a time.

When I started working in the station, I had to prove myself to the boys. Some of us had competitions to see who could service a car the fastest. No short cuts.

Under the hood, check --
motor oil (recommend an oil change if the fluid was old)
trany fluid (recommend an oil change if the fluid was old)
brake fluid (recommend a top-up)
radiator fluid (recommend a top-up . . . even if it was just water)
battery fluid (recommend a top-up . . . back in the days when dealers filled batteries and topped them up over time)
windshield wiper fluid (recommend top-up . . . even if it was just water)

Also --
check for leaks around the heads for oil leaks and stave off potential problems like blown gaskets and advance signs of blowing a head
check the air filter
check the carb, and while the air filter was off, check for gas leaks or sticky butterfly valve
check the belts
check the spark plug cables (if a car sounds rough pulling in, while checking the cables, you might pull a couple plugs and see if any are bad. Easily replaced at this point)

Exterior of the vehicle --
check the tires (tread depth, wear, any damage to the rubber)
make sure the hubcaps are secure
Wash the windows...all of them

My grandfather, proudly standing on the island of his
first service station, the first of three, and unknowingly
starting a family tradition
And if the tank was still filling, and if they had dogs which were at home, offer to wash the insides to get rid of nose prints.

About the only thing we didn't do was wash the car and vacuum it out! But when the customer brought their car in for servicing, cars did get that service too.

Almost everything done on the service islands was performed by 16 and 17 year old high school students, and sometimes by a girl (me).

How long did all this take? About 3 minutes. And we did this with every car. If my old brain recalls correctly, my fastest time was 2:33, and I think that was down to there being dogs in the car so no window cleaning inside.

And if we didn't have any customers on full serve, we'd do it on self serve.

If it wasn't for our gas station, a lot in my life today would not exist. As the bookkeeper, mom taught me to count and read early. I credit my being a writer to mom's teachings. I was reading full sentences by kindergarten and doing fractions by 1st grade, both things being ahead, at the time, by a couple years. I was already writing short stories by 5th grade.

Dad gave me a love of cars and music, especially oldies tunes. Occasionally, he'd do partial trades of services for records from a friend who owned a record store . . . you know, old vinyl LPs! At home, I listened to a lot of them, growing my musical tastes along with my literary ones.

When I tell people I was raised by grease monkeys, I say so lovingly and with fond memories. I'm sure if I was a kid growing up today in the sterile, generic gas stations, I wouldn't be able to say, 40+ years down the road, what a great and educational time I had growing up in a station.

The era of the service station is gone. They're all just gas stations now. There's no full service, nor is there even partial service. Older drivers and physically challenged drivers are forced to fend for themselves.

And we've lost an integral part of the community. What better way to get to know your neighbors than having a chat while their car is filling up. Lots of local stories, lots of local gossip, and everyone knew each other.

Was my hometown like Mayberry? Not so much. But it was a great time, nonetheless. A different time. One that's sadly lost in more than just the small town I grew up in. So I'm thrilled to see the family in Louisiana still making it work.

Do you know of any old fashioned, full service stations still running? Find me on Facebook and let me know where.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The first year in the life of Beck O'Lande

See what I did there -- Beck O'Lande?! Beck Owen Lande . . . Beck O. Lande . . . Beck O'Lande . . . Hey! What else would you expect from the Irish relies? ;-)

I'll probably get shot for putting up this post, but since we (Uncle Peter and I) can't be home for the Little Dude's first birthday, I hope this message will tell him, one day, how much I missed not being there over the last year to watch you grow, and to help him celebrate his very special day today.

So let's start at the beginning. Okay, we won't go back to conception, but close enough.

Here's mom and dad -- my beautiful little sister and her amazing hubs. And look. There he is -- the bun in the oven.

At this stage, mom and dad still hadn't picked a name, or perhaps they had but were testing out a few others to see what would stick. Beck was the first name they liked and always had it at the top of their list, right up to the day of his birth.

So, what's in a name? Let's check it out --

Beck is a nature word from the Middle English becc meaning '(mountain) stream', and from the Old English bece, and from the Old Norse bekkr which predates Old English.

Owen is an old Irish name, originally spelled Eoghan, and in modern times, Eoin . . . all pronounced the same. It roughly translates to 'born from the yew tree' -- yews being sacred trees. It's thought Eoghan was the Irish translation of the Middle or Old English name Eugene, which means 'well born'. In modern Irish, Eoin translates to John, which means 'grace'.

So, the Little Dude is off to a great start. He's well-born into grace and cool, peaceful waters. As he's born under the sign of Cancer (a water sign), the name Beck seems fitting.

Don't let the peaceful Cancer sign fool you. There's a little Leo lurking there too...Beck's rising sign. This means, Beck will grow to be full of quiet passions...things he feels deeply for, but pretty much keeps to himself, until/unless he really feels a need to share whatever is on his mind.

Sounds like a pretty neat person already!

While we haven't been home over this last year, we did meet Beck on his birthing day, and fell in love the moment we saw him. Not having kids ourselves, I can only imaging the emotions that have welled inside me personally over the last year must be akin to what a parent might feel for a child. Very odd feeling, but also very profound.

Even though we haven't been home to share in Beck's first year, mom and dad have been very good about sharing photos and video so we can watch from afar as Beck grows and learns.

Let's take a journey in Beck's first year through some of the photos mom and dad have shared over the last year.

BORN - 2 July 2013

Time - 6:54 am

Weight - 6 lb 9 oz

Length - 21 inches

While he's sleeping here (long day, let's admit it!), from the moment he was born, he was the most alert newborn I've ever seen . . . not that I've seen a lot, but babies in general tend to sleep a lot right after being born, but Beck was alert and curious from the moment I met him. I was amazed how his eyes tracked voices and he would look toward the person speaking.

August 2013

Just a month later, Beck is still proving a curious child. Eyes open, alert, and becoming expressive.

And he's starting to look more infant than newborn.

September 2013

At two months of age, he's already learning to hold up his head on his own, and by all account, looks ready to leap into action given half a chance.

And he seems to have a thing about sticking out his tongue, as will be evident int he next picture ;-)

October 2013

Already showing team preference!

Go Stanford!

November 2013

Okay, I had to share this one.

Shall we call this one, "The morning after the night before"?

Or, "You woke me up for this?"

Or, "Did someone say breakfast?"

Or, "Zoinks! Who farted?"

December 2013

Beck's first Hanukkah.

Mom is Christian. Dad Jewish.

Beck is being raised in both faiths. Awesome!

January 2014

Beck at 6 months.

Kind of reminds me of a baby Jimmy Page. Jimmy makes those faces when he plays guitar.

Maybe we need to get this boy his own ax soon!

February 2014

Sitting up, crawling around, enjoying his first six months on the planet.

Who wouldn't with a raft of toys like this?

Beck says, "Bwa ha ha ha ha . . . toys, toys, all *my* toys!"

March 2014

"So I says to Ma, "Ma, what in the H E double chopsticks did you put me in this time??

If there's one thing Beck is not lacking, it's an expressive personality.

Perhaps this is something we'll need to remember as he gets older and becomes a 'moody teenager'.

We'll have to pay attention to what his expressions are trying to say that his mouth won't. ;-)

April 2014

Case in point.

"So, there I was, minding my own business when . . ."

Look at those big brown eyes, begging you to make it, whatever *it* is, better again.

Or at least, put him in a clean shirt and wash his punim.

May 2014

I'm told this is Beck's fake grumpy face.

Having known my sister all her life, I'm seeing a lot of her at this age with this same expression.

And funnily enough, I'm also seeing a lot of Grandma Becke too!

Interestingly enough, at ten months of age, he's now starting to look 'little boy'.

June 2014

This is what happens when dad's a photographer.

Beck is turning into a poser for the paparazzi.

Or maybe just poser for Papa.

2 July 2014

Beck turns one year today.


We miss you and a love you very much.
We can't wait to see what year two brings!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Signs of Life
photo by George Karbus
Wild Ocean Photography
Ireland has suffered high swells and storm surges from North Atlantic storms over this holiday season, bringing with them a plethora of dramatic video footage and photographs.

Seen here, the coastal village of Lahinch, County Clare in Ireland's west. Normally a sleepy surfing and golf community, the place was probably the most battered along any of Ireland's coasts. Waves on this night actually destroyed the promenade along the strand, but also flooded the adjacent golf links and drowned the surf shop's van and most of the village streets. Fortunately, no deaths or serious injuries have been reported as a result of this storm. Though, south along the Clare coast to Loop Head, the peninsula was cut off when surges turned the peninsula into an island for some time, stranding residents on the higher elevations on the head.

Superstorm Christine, as the recent storm is being called, has been spinning around in the North Atlantic for a few days, bringing with her continued high swells and even more dramatic surges onto land. The Island of Inishboffin off the coast of Connemara in County Galway saw some of the worst overall flooding --

Some folks in the media are saying these storms are the worst in two decades. I've lived in various places in Ireland for nearly 17 years now, and I'm pretty sure those predictions are correct. Of course, this doesn't include the three snow storms Ireland had over 15 months from December 2009 to February 2010. Those mostly resulted in road closures, cancellation of public transportation, and slip and fall accidents. Floods are much more damaging.

But it's not all doom and gloom. While all of Ireland has been affected by the high tides, surges, and flooding, there is light on the horizon, and signs of life all around, if you look.

21 December was the winter solstice -- the shortest day of the year. Nearly three weeks later, there's a notable lengthening to the day. While the storm has brought high tides, it really hasn't dropped too much rain in most places. And as I write this on 7 January 2014, at 420pm near Drogheda on the County Meath side of the town, it's currently 49F, pale blue overhead with pastel clouds as we head to sunset, and a gentle breeze blowing in off the sea, which is just 500 meters away over the dunes. I should note that on the solstice, it was already dark by this time.

In our back garden, signs of life are emerging --

Daffodils -- Normally March-blooming


Big Sur California Lilac -- Normally April through June blooming
and yes, I found these in Ireland! Love them!

Irish Fuchsia -- Flowering June - October

Pomegranate tree -- Normally fruiting September to February
but only now starting to bloom.

Are we in for an early Spring (normally coming 1/2 February if Phil doesn't see his shadow)? Who knows?!

What I do know is that the storms can't last forever, seasons are changing, and no matter what's happening on the planet, there's always blue sky above the clouds.

Happy New Year!