Alcoholism is the Thief in the Night

My father owned a gas station after leaving the corporate world;

The Brighton Oil.

I was pumping gas at nine years old and  could weld by fifteen.

Today, while filling my tank at my favorite independently owned gas station,

I locked my keys in the car.

I was locked out of my car

and the guys were busy.

I love this station. It has two bays and 4 mechanics.

The owner has had it for a long time. They still have a Full Service lane;

you can pay a bit more per gallon and get your fluids checked

and your windshield cleaned.

I had hip replacement surgery 7 months ago.

While I was recovering and on crutches,

the guys would pump my gas for me; at the self-serve pumps,

no extra charge.

I love this place.

It was cool this morning so I waited inside for one of the guys to free up and unlock my door for me.

I was waiting in the small entrance watching the guys work on a car up on the hoist.

It took me back to the Brighton Oil.

I was in charge of the candy machine and knew how  to run a credit card,

check oil, and give ‘Service with a Smile.’

I watched the guys working on an old BMW.

I recognized their Gear Head enthusiasm and remembered my dads mechanics fondly.

My dad had a rule: you work for me; you stay in school.

He hired high school students whose only wish was to work on cars.

He developed a relationship with the high schools guidance counselors

who would call if the guys were truant

or if they were in danger of failing.

My dad got  a bunch of very talented mechanics out of high school

with a diploma.

That meant the world to them in the long run.

I watched the guys, I smelled the grease and listened to their banter.

The girly calendar was on the wall next to the Snap On Tools tool chest.

The guys all had uniforms with their names on them.

They were having fun.

An old man entered the station.

He reminded me of so many of the men on the floors of my mother’s nursing homes;

he was a bit disoriented and confused and  very polite.

“What is you need today  Frank?’ Asked the manager.


“I am fairly certain I need a front end alignment. The car is listing to the right,” said the  old man.

The manager asked a few questions and stepped outside.

I followed.

“Frank, you know, it looks to me as though you need more air in your tires.

This will take just a second,” the manager said.

Frank shook his head in the very same way my mother would when something became very obvious.

The manager said, “This is a very common problem and easy to fix.

I can see why you thought you needed the alignment. It was a good call.”

The manager took one of the guys aside.

He told him they had just done the alignment not long ago.

He told the young man,

“Keep an eye on his tires. Just check the pressure for him even at self-serve;

check his fluids for him too .”

The smell of grease. The hoist. Snap On tools, the girly calendar;

And Compassion.

I then realized that the inconvenience of locking my keys in the car was not an accident.

It was a gift.

I thought of Daddy and had a concrete way of remembering my time with him.

No accidents in this world, No sir.

I loved the Brighton Oil. I loved my dad.

I respected the way he helped those young men graduate from high school,

and the way he taught me to give “Service with a Smile,”

really just a lesson in Compassion.

We lost the Brighton Oil,

our home,

our house in the mountains

and everything else we owned in 1978.

For a long time we blamed the gas shortages of the late ‘70s.

For a while longer we blamed the IRS.

 For a long time later my father would not talk about it at all.

He would just cry and say,

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

It was not until about a decade before my dad died that I learned the truth:

My mother had been the book-keeper.

She had not made a payment to the IRS in years.

He had no idea where the money went.

We could have kept the Brighton Oil.

I can look back at this with hind site now and wonder,

was Wernicke – Korsakoff taking over that long ago?

It takes awhile for alcohol to destroy a brain.

Alcoholics dementia;

I have called it a Thief in the Night;

It takes and gives nothing but grief.

We lost the Brighton Oil. Big deal.

Life went on and my father found his way.

He got sober after the loss due to a medical condition that almost killed him.

He quit drinking;

another gift.

 He went on. We all did.

We all did but my mother.

Alcoholism is the Thief in the Night,

not just alcoholics dementia.

Don’t let it steal anything you value; not one single thing.

Peace,  Jen

I can  not find the address of the station. I WILL post it at a later date.

Support locally owned businesses!

~ by Step On a Crack on January 6, 2012.

8 Responses to “Alcoholism is the Thief in the Night”

  1. Oh, Jen.
    I know you are used to these thoughts and somehow “over it”, but this is so sad. What a thief in the night alcoholism was to you! I am so sorry. So much to forgive, Dear One . . .

    And to that last line, “Support locally owned businesses,” I say: Amen. 😐


  2. “No accidents in this world. No sir.”

    It is amazing how one “random” moment takes us into a photograph of our own history. It’s often a bittersweet experience of savoring people, places, and things, and at the same time feeling a flood of emotions because things changed, were lost, people failed. Sometimes it seems like life spoon feeds us reality in those moments. That it knows we would choke if we had to swallow it all at once.

    Reading your post felt like being there, as you unraveled one thread at a time. Regardless of where I start, my writing seems to take me where I’m supposed to go. I assume that experience isn’t uniquely mine. Traveling mercies, Jen, as your writing takes you to the next place on your journey. Thank you for allowing us to follow you there.

    Peace to you too. Paulann


  3. Wow, I agree with Growthlines (above). The mixing of lovely, sweet moments and memories and how they collide with our worlds today … the gas station of your dad’s and the one you visit now — all good peeps, good hearts: Toolboxes and girly pics. Helping the older guy … helping you with your keys.

    What a fucking thief alcoholism and Wernicke – Korsakoff is, and WAS big-time for you. Nasty and evil.

    You are awesome lady. You still have your eyes and HEART WIDE OPEN even while you are grieving. That is strength and beauty. That’s you!

    All my love, mel


  4. I was there: the pungent fluid smells, the clang and chunk of tools against the engine block, the ding of the air bell when someone pulls into the station (oops, just added that from my past.) You make us connect, then you let us cry with you. Awesome post.

    I am fascinated by the man you call Dad. He was the channel for remembering. His memory seems to help with the healing, and yet it also brings back the whole picture of the pain–parts of it you were too young to really ‘get’. That’s why being brave enough to go back and get it is worth the grief. Literally. Grief.

    Keep pushing at the corners of your grief like this and let us be there if you can bear to write about it. You are helping by sharing.


    • Heidi!!!

      The BELL! I forgot to include the bell! Oh my dad would go crazy when andrea would jump up and down in that thing!

      Did you ever ride the hoist? Now that was fun!

      So much to share. So much in common. It is a miracle. God working in my life.

      You are a very special woman.

      Thank you for everything. I have the beautiful photos in my head. I carry them and Breathe when things start to get hairy. Thank you.

      Love and Peace to you my Friend!



  5. great post Jen!


  6. What a neat story, Jen. The one about visiting the station in Denver & sensing the gift in it. The story about your dad is bittersweet… I’m so sorry. I’m glad he eventually got sober, but I am so sad your mom did not. The unfairness of life can be such a bitter pill. I’m really glad, though, that you are doing your writing and healing work so that bitterness does not overtake you.

    Yes, I would love to know the address! Um, yeah, I am not really in a position to go there, lol — but I know people who are in that area & I can spread the word. Who knows — maybe I even used to go there!

    I’m burning with a couple of questions — like wishing I knew where your dad’s station was and where your mountain home used to be. Maybe you can send me a message about it if you have the time. If not, it’s okay — my curiosity can take a back seat. 😉


  7. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful and tragic story. You’ve taken me back to my childhood, and to my own parents. My mother is still with us, well and enjoying her life.
    My father though was taken from us by dementia years ago. He actually died late last year, but I’d been mourning the death of the wonderful man I knew for a long, long time…


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