A question popped up on Facebook recently: “When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up?” I of course immediately responded: “A writer and a nurse,” which was the simple, bare bones truth. But as so often happens with simple questions and answers, different, more distant or more subtle memories eventually come to mind.
For instance, when my nephew Frank was little he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to be a cowboy or a garbageman when he grew up. But since neither option was offered once he was a student at Dartmouth College, he elected to become a doctor instead.
I don’t know what it is with boys and trash trucks, but it was the same thing, first choice-wise, with my nephew Chris, who had his Grammy following trash trucks around for him as a little kid. He even used to play trash man, hanging onto the door jamb and swinging down to dump out a laundry basket full of clothes before jumping back up onto his simulated back-of-the-trash-truck perch again to continue on his route. He’s just starting high school next fall, so the jury is still out on that one, although I suspect a change of heart may have already occurred there as well since I haven’t heard of any more trash truck following adventures in quite some time now.
Two prominent “I can’t wait until I’m old enough …” goals from my own childhood, although not really career related per se, were being old enough to smoke and old enough to drive. Both benchmarks were eventually met. I was smoking at 14, only to finally quit during the Blizzard of ’78, and I had my driver’s license proudly in hand one month after turning 16. I have never missed smoking, but I still love being able to drive myself around all over the place, albeit just not after dark anymore.
And while not really a career choice either, but more along the line of something I had also wanted a crack at, was pumping gas at the garage next door to where I lived in Manville.
The owner’s daughter Jeanne was, and actually still is, a friend of mine. She says she knows we had been friends since infancy since she remembers seeing a picture of us together as toddlers where you could see my diaper peeking out from under the hem of my dress.
But getting back to the garage, in the summertime when we were somewhere around 10 and 12 or 13 years old Jeanne’s father had us washing windows at the garage, both the big plate glass windows in the office and all the small panes in what I remember as three overhead doors that fronted the bays, using bars of BonAmi soap that dried to a powdery film that we then polished off with clean rags.
We were paid with Zero bars from the candy case in the office and Coke that came in small green glass bottles from the Coke machine that stood at the front wall right between the first two bays. You put a nickel in the slot, pulled the handle, then lifted the small oblong door and reached in to pull a bottle from the revolving rack in the ice cold water. Occasionally, what you came up with instead was a squat bottle of Hanley ale, since her father also kept a few bottles of beer in there as well.
The bottle cap remover was on the front of the machine and the caps fell down into the holder right below. We liked to reach in and pull out a cap, gently prying off the thin cork disk that lined it, and if done carefully enough not to break it, you could then pop it onto the front of your shirt like a badge, with the cork holding it from the back. Again, beer caps were a bonus back then.
There were two red and white gas pumps in front of the garage with a rubber cord that chimed inside the garage when a car ran over it, indicating a customer had just pulled up. How we begged to be allowed to pump gas. “Please, please, please,” we would nag. “We’re old enough now. I know we can do it!” But the answer was always no. I don’t know if it was because her father thought we were too young, or if it was unseemly back then for females to be gas pump jockeys, but the answer was always “Absolutely not! No way, no how!”
It wasn’t until many years later that pumping your own gas became the norm. Two of my sisters, for whatever reasons, do not pump their own gas. They instead go out of their way to the few full service stations still in existence, but not me. I stand out there in all kinds of weather, nozzle in hand, occasionally thinking to myself as I’m doing it, “See, Mr. Sarrault, I told you I could do it!”
Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.