I was a born a Mainer. Even though I was forced to move away by necessity, I’m still a Mainer by heart. I remember the days of my youth very vividly now when I’m sitting alone at Shelby Park by the river’s edge, and it stirs my mind to revive those wonderful times with my grade school friends. The summers were always the best.
The first day of summer in Maine started off well enough. I went fishing in the kitchen trash can and I caught myself four beer bottles, eight soda pop cans, and a milk jug — the biggest score. I know you’re asking yourself, what the...? Well, I’ll tell you. The beer bottles and pop cans will get you a nickle a piece and that milk jug is worth a whopping 15 cents. Maine still recycles that way. I’m sure you drank out of something recently with a “5¢ cash refund” written on the bottle or label.
So, I got my backpack together with all the goodies in it: a small tackle box, my trusty slingshot, my boy scout hatchet (which I still have to this day), a roll of fishing line, and now one milk jug, four beer bottles, and eight pop cans. I headed to the garage for my bright yellow Schwinn with the ape-hanger handlebars and the banana seat, and headed for Tommy’s house. Tommy and I were good friends, and he and I would spend quite a bit of time at Mr. Pegram’s filling station — mostly because there was always a flock of old geezers reminiscing the old days. If there is ever a moment for a child to learn experienced knowledge and wisdom, it’s through a flock of old geezers at a filling station (or an old country store for you Southerners). Tommy and I arrived at Mr. Pegram’s filling station in record time that morning to cash in our goods and get us a cold one. A soda pop, that is. Mr. Pegram was a Mainer all his life. Born in Maine, raised in Maine, never left Maine — in fact he’s buried there today.
His filling station was once a thriving place before Interstate 95 was built, yet this summer it would become a lot more active than it had been in the previous 12 years. The Ogunquit Indians turned the interstate into a toll road during that summer and a gas embargo began. But that’s another story I hope to share with you at another date. Let’s continue with our drinks!
Mr. Pegrams’s soda machine was a 1930s model with five choice soda pops and a glass door. It gave you a glass 24 ounce soda pop (still redeemable for a 5¢ cash refund) of your selective choice: two slots for Pepsi-Cola, one for each a grape Nehi, 7-UP and Orange Fusion. Now the machine is a machine, and Mr. Pegram runs a filling station. He’s not a mechanic. Over the years he decided to change the price of the pops in the machine by covering the 5¢ price tag with a label that said 25¢, but the gearing inside the machine remained the same. Needless to say, my pals and I knew we could get a pop for a nickel and still get our nickelback from a different store near our fishing hollow.
We had already learned not to bite the hand that feedeth us. Tommy and I would cash in our trash can-fished-bottles and get our daily spending money. For me it was 75 cents: 12 at a nickle a piece, and 15 cents for the jug. We’d pass the flock of old geezers on our way out front while Mr. Pegram would say, “Boys, I just had that filled two days ago, and if I find any nickels in there next week I’m calling both your mothers!”
We both would answer in unison, “Yes sir, Mr. Pegram,” as we would slide one lonely nickel into the machine and pull out our sporting choice. Tommy would get a grape Nehi. I would get a Pepsi. There is nothing like an ice cold cool refreshing Pepsi-Cola from a 24 ounce glass bottle. Mr. Pegram had the machine fixed so that when you popped off that top on your bottle, ice would form at the top of the soda pop, giving you a crisp bite to that harsh summer air. Tommy and I would then plop down on the 1949 Buick bench seat next to the Pepsi machine.
No sooner had we done such, someone drove over the air hose strung across the lot and ding ding, Mr. Pegram had work. Tommy pointed out that this was an out-of-stater by the Nevada license plates, and whispered to me, “That fella kinda wirey!” Out there the fellow hollered that he needed a fill-up and was walking up and down the roadway with his great big roadmap and clueless puzzlement on his face whilst reading his map.
That’s when it began to happen. If a child is to receive knowledge and wisdom there has to be an old geezer around if’n there’s no schoolin’ goin on. Mr. Pegram was an old geezer — especially by our standards. The lost man yelled out at the top of his lungs from out there at the roadside, “Hey there old man, where does this road go?”
I watched on as Mr. Pegram obviously heard but looked at him queryingly and continued pumping gas. That fella proceeded to come back towards the station from the side of the main road and asked Mr. Pegram again that same question, “Hey there, partner, can you tell me where that road goes?”
Mr. Pegram still had that questionable look about him as he hung up the handle and put the man’s gas cap back on, pulled out his receipt booklet and started writing. As he began to write, he asked the fell one question, “That road?”
With an initial look of awe, immediately turning to one of discontent and a brood of irritation the man state once more, “Yes sir, that road, where does it go?”
Mr. Pegram had finished writing up the receipt while the man was talking and looked up at him calmly with the receipt in hand and stated, “That road there, doesn’t go anywhere. In all my life it ain’t moved nair one inch. Now it’s $2.35 for the fill up. My wisdom, on the other matter, is free!”