Friday, November 11, 2011


I came into the world while my parents were living and working at Flat Iron Service Station, one of many prototype convenience stores of the Forties, mom-and-pop-stop-along-the-way places providing gas, small inventory groceries and meats, and even lunch items made by proprietors.

Flat Iron in the Forties

They also sold alcoholic beverages to be consumed off premises and installed the pinball machine and juke box, completing the trinity of depravity.  Into this cauldron of sinful consumption I was born, not realizing any of it.  I danced for patrons to the strains of "Pistol Packin' Mama" and was rewarded with money by my fans.  Mother thought I was the next Shirley Temple.  I didn't play the pinball machine, but watched teens bump and whack the thing to influence gravity.  William Johnson used to buy a pack of peanuts, pour them in his cola bottle, shake the mix and watch them explode (I guess the salt reacted with the carbonated water).  I was fascinated by this feat.  My father fumed.

Mother at the Counter

On either side of Flat Iron Service Station, there was Grandfather's shop and his home.  I could choose among my living quarters (two bedrooms, kitchen, and living room); Grandfather's shop (men painting cars, pounding hot metal, welding, or trimming horses' hooves); or Inez (my step grandmother) and her daily household chores.  It was a rich variety and opportunity to learn diverse information.

My First Steps with Aunt Nellie

I tripped about clutching my doll or a vendor-supplied blow-up Jolly Green Giant, courtesy of the canned goods company.  I had a blast with that inflatable playmate.  I kicked him, force-fed him food I didn't like, and ran hand-in-inflatable-hand across the yard sharing joyful play.  He was better than nothing and I miss him.  

Living behind a grocery store had extreme benefits.  We sold Ice cream by the scoop, soft drinks, penny candy, and anything else you might require.  Old men seemed to favor BC Headache Powder (pulverized aspirin), pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco, which intensely aroused my curiosity.  They really seemed to appreciate Apple or Brown Mule Plugs and I thought it must be delicious.  Being prepared to experiment, I pilfered a plug and hid under Inez's back porch to savor the grown-up pleasure.  If not delicious, why would men stain their mouths and chins so unbecomingly?

One bite was a complete education in people, myself included.  Spat that out and formed the conviction that there is no understanding people and what they do.  While curiosity kills cats; it just makes most smarter.  At least those who lived at Flat Iron Service Station.

Aunt Nellie and I in the Sunshine at Flat Iron


  1. Is it surprising that I have Pistol Packin Mamma on my iPod and featured on a CD in my car? Great post. I love hearing stories of the "good ole days" and better still when there are great photos to go with them.

  2. Fantastic! I see quite a resemblance in that last photo between you and Maria.

  3. I am so enjoying your stories of your family and your youth. It makes me remember my own family's history, as well as mine, and how much simpler life was. Wish I could go back.

  4. This is fabulous. What fun to know the family story behind the businesses. There are a bunch of us in Ware Neck who are about your age and remember.