A Bit of Americana
When my grandmother died this past May, it was only a week before my scheduled trip to see her; I dropped everything and went immediately when I got the not-unexpected news, and was there with Mother and the rest of the family for two weeks. Mother and I were the only ones staying in her house, as everyone else lives in the area.
We spent quite a bit of time sorting through stuff, and what interested me the most was Grandmother’s huge collection of old photographs. She has images of long-dead relatives that go all the way back to the era of daguerreotypes. Fortunately, many have names and dates written on the back in pencil. It was the details in many of these images that fascinated me more than the subjects themselves.
The three photos I’ve posted here struck me as outstanding examples of quaint Americana. Mother could not remember having seen them before, and did not know why they were taken; they look like a photo shoot for a gas station ad. That’s my uncle, Mother’s older brother, second from the right in the first shot, which is why my grandmother had the photos at all. He looks about 18 or 19 years old, and Mother remembers him working at the gas station in town about then. It was 1947 or ’48.
I love the hats and bow ties. When was the last time someone even pumped your gas for you, much less wore a hat and bow tie to do it? And three guys—one to pump the gas, one to check the oil, and one to wash the windows! Mother says the window guy not only washed ALL the windows, and the mirrors, he also carefully wiped your headlights while he was at it.
Any old-car buffs out there know what make the cars are? The dark one on the right looks like a Plymouth to me, but I don’t have a clue about the lighter one on the left. There were no Rolls Royces in rural south central Kentucky in the late forties!
On the original full-pixel scans of the photos, I zoomed in on the gas tanks to try to read the price per gallon, but the detail was too blurred to make it out. The second tank from the left reads THIS SALE: $1.23, and GALLONS DELIVERED: 5 point something. That would put the price about 21 cents per gallon; Mother remembers it being less than that, more like 15 cents per gallon. The Gulf Valve Top Oil being seriously discussed with the driver of the dark car was 25 cents per quart.
These photos charm me in a way I can’t explain. My uncle looks so young and innocent. He’d have been 80 this year if he had survived the leukemia which took his life ten years ago. Perhaps it is just that the images speak to a simpler time when life was less hurried and complex. Especially this time of year, many people nostalgically think of that era as sweeter and more honest than now. It probably wasn’t; and I’d be hard-pressed to give up my laptop, my iPod, my microwave and my cell phone. But it still charms me.