“Stop touching that!”
“Please don’t pick that up.”
“Put it back!”
As I listened to my voice repeating the mantra of one of the above for the upteenth time, it occurred to me to question my own sanity. Stepping back objectively, I had to ask myself why was I asking the same questions over and over again after almost fifteen years of repeating them to my now teenage son every time we were at some checkout or near anything he shouldn’t have his hands on.
As a youngster, it was the brightly colored candy wrappers at the grocery store. At the local bagel shop, it was the tip jar or neatly arranged business cards he couldn’t resist. At the pediatrician, he was a sucker for the stickers and lollipops, no pun intended. But the best irresistible paraphernalia lurked at the gas station counters: little red vials of 5-hour energy, an abundant display of cookies and, every parent’s favorite, handy dandy pocket lighters. Who wouldn’t want their toddler flicking a bic while waiting to pay for gas.
It brought me back to a distance memory that will remain one of my fondest although there is one friend who doesn’t share my opinion. We used to ship horses professionally and in doing so, were regular customers at certain truck stops. My son, as a toddler, always traveled with me. Driving a semi allowed him to enjoy the wide expanse of a double bunk, a television, VCR and cold juice from the refrigerator. It was a young boy’s dream. On one particular trip, we were fueling up for the last time before heading home. I’d left a deposit inside and was done topping off the tanks. Taking my hand, my son skipped alongside as we walked inside to purchase some chocolate milk for him and a pack of gum for me, get our change and be on our way. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the type California is known for. Just before we entered the doors, my son did a little hop, skip and a jump and pulled a heretofore unnoticed lever. Frankly in all my years of stopping there, I had never really noticed it. We entered, retrieved our items and completed our transaction. While waiting for a fuel receipt, it became quite apparent something wasn’t quite right. A nearby cashier, a weathered middle aged woman with a bouffant hairdo masticating on a wad of Juicy Fruit, began swearing under her breath. She began banging the buttons on her electronic register with escalating force as if the thing would eventually cry uncle the harder she pushed. The line of customers began grumbling, softly at first, then their tone began to escalate as well. Grizzled truck drivers began filtering in, complaining loudly about the pumps not working.
With obvious exasperation, the cashier called for the manager over the loud speaker. “PAUL! I need you up to the front. RIGHT NOW!” From the back, a short, bald headed man following his ample belly came scurrying to the fuel counter asking what was wrong. The cashier voiced the problem loudly, “All the damned pumps are shut down. Nothin’s working! Some idiot must have pulled the emergency switch. DAMN IT!”
It didn’t take long to figure out what had happened. That heretofore unnoticed lever my son had spontaneously jumped up and pulled had completely shut down every fuel pump in the entire facility. I could feel myself breaking into a cold sweat. Worse, in his innocence, my four year old son was trying to confess to the crime. Now, I’m a great believer in honesty but I’m also a believer in survival. Scooping up my son, I said, “Let’s not bother the nice lady right now, sweetheart.” We skedaddled out of there weaving our way through a small throng of frustrated drivers elbowing their way inside.
I never shared that particular tale with anyone other than my husband until one day a year later. Meeting up with a trainer friend, I thought it was the kind of escapade he would appreciate, considering he possessed a wonderful sense of humor. Upon completion of the story, he looked at me for a good ten seconds before responding.
“Do you know, I was stranded there for at least three hours before they got those damn pumps working again?”
So here I was trying to pay for diesel and a cup of coffee when that memory came floating back. And again, my now young teenage son, who towers over most people including me, became instantly mesmerized with an unusually tinted lighter.
“Mom, take a look at this one.” Snatching up the lighter without thinking, he tried, once again, to flick his bic to no avail. I stopped myself in mid-scold.
“Yea, cool lighter.”
Thank goodness there are no emergency shutoff valves around here. In this town, they know where we live.