My mother didn’t get her driver’s license until she was about 40 years old. As a typical ‘50s mom, she stayed home to take care of the children, the house and nearly everything that didn’t involve earning money. After the great migration to Long Island in the late ’60s, most Brooklynites were now saddled with a mortgage. With my brother and me in school all day, my mother joined the workforce to help make ends meet.
After working locally down the block at May’s department store, she took another job a few miles away (in Lindenhurst) that required transportation. She carpooled with a friend for a few months as a passenger, eventually making the decision to call a local driving instructor from down the block. There was no possible way my father was going to teach her how to drive. They would be divorced in less than three lessons.
My mother never learned how to ride a bicycle, yet she wanted to pilot a 2,000-pound vehicle. Her sense of direction was always a question mark, once getting lost, just walking around our block. But she’d figured out how to get from Point A to Point B with two particular caveats; she doesn’t drive on parkways, and she doesn’t pump her own gas.
For 47 years, she has always found a station to pump her gas. Please understand that my mother needs gas about as often as a camel needs water. She has a 2013 Honda Civic with 7,000 miles on it. Most people log more than 1,000 miles a month, not a year.
Most gas stations used to offer “full” service, but unless you live in New Jersey, where all the stations pump gas for you, locating that today is as difficult as finding a payphone. I’ll occasionally take her car and fill it (that lasts about three months), but sometimes she relies on strangers.
Recently, she stopped at a station on Merrick Road, where she had previous success with the clerk pumping the gas for her. She saw a man coming out and asked if he worked there. He had a kind face and told her that he had just gone in for a cup of coffee but asked if she needed help with something. Explaining her dilemma, he gladly offered to pump the gas for her.
She gave him a $20 and asked if he could get $10 worth of gas for her. “How do you know I won’t just take your money,” he said with a sly smile on his face. “I trust you,” she said. With that, he returned, handed her back the $10 change, asked if she would hold his coffee, then started pumping her gas.
Striking up a conversation, my mother was very appreciative and asked his name and where he was from. “My name is Michael,” he offered, “And I lived in the East New York section of Brooklyn for most of my life.” My mother is also from East New York, and it turns out they lived not too far from each other and knew a lot of the familiar landmarks.
While reminiscing together, she mentioned her grandson was also named Michael. He responded that his son’s name was also Michael, and he was a police officer in Nassau County. What are the odds? Her Michael (my nephew) is also a Nassau County Police Officer.
She offered him a dollar for his time (he declined, of course), handed him back his coffee and they went their separate ways. In the five minutes it took to put $10 gas into her car (a little more than three gallons at today’s prices), my mother was convinced that this Michael was an angel sent from heaven to help in her time of need.
Who knows, maybe he was…
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.