A local news story today about a gas and service station which is being torn down brought a flood of thoughts about the end of an era which our grandchildren will not understand.
My Grandfather owned a gas station and garage for about 40 years on Main Street in Port Dover and it, like this one which is about to be demolished, was much more than a place where you got your gasoline and had your car fixed. It was the local hangout for the men of the town.
Now we all know that men never gossip. (tongue planted firmly in cheek). No! What men do is pontificate. On occasion they may tell stories about people walking by the window, weave a yarn about someone’s daughter or wife, elaborate about a recent local event or even “expand” on a story about a fish they caught. (Sometimes that expansion could be anywhere from 2 to 10 inches depending on the length of their arms.)
In the case of my Grandfather’s garage the stories were also accompanied by a significant amount of chewing tobacco and cigar smoke. When I was growing up I didn’t think men ever swore because when a lady or a girl walked into that shop all such talk was stopped immediately by the tip of a hat. I’m also sure I never saw my grandfather spit or chew but I know he just about swallowed it a few times trying to get rid of the chaw so I wouldn’t see it. (Possibly the reason he died of stomach cancer at 83.)
I will never forget the smells of that garage. Smoke, oil, gasoline. They filled the air along with the smell of the coal fire and the sparks from the welder and the key making/skate sharpening grinder. It is a smell like none that we can experience in this century.
The floor of my grandfather’s garage and so many like it was likely cement but it was hard to tell because of the soft dark surface it had become. The chewing tobacco and grease along with the coal soot made it almost feel like rubber.
I have some inclination that every time someone left any of those shops they may have become the next topic of conversation but I know when I went in I was always greeted with a great smile and hello which brought laughter to the day.
And what about the stories. Where have the men gone to tell their tales now. There is a little coffee shop in town and Tim Horton’s. The boys might still be hanging out in one of the sheds by the pier and basin but that is a whole different kettle of fish.