Night Long Ago Aches to Become a Painting

This part of this post is a reprise from 2015. It describes an unforgettable night, a compelling image that still holds my mind.

It’s a summer night in 1957 and I lie on the back seat of the 55 Ford with my three year old brother. My grandfather has died and my dad flew up that morning to be with his mother. On the very same plane, my Uncle Hank arrived from Billings. He’s going to drive us to Billings to be with our dad. My mom doesn’t know how to drive.

Together my little brother and I about fill the back seat with our sleeping bodies. The car stops. I wake up. “Where are we, mom?”

“Wheatland, honey.”

My Uncle Hank says, “I’ll go see if he’ll open up and sell me gas. The store lights are on. He can’t have been closed long.” The green neon Sinclair dinosaur in the window lights the parking stalls in front of the station. Pink and white neon lines the roof-line.

Once the car has stopped I sit up to look out the window at the Wyoming night. Beyond the gas station, the city park, soft, summer darkness, out across the plains forever.

Suddenly there is a burst of girls in long frothy dresses, running and laughing. They run past us, their dresses lit momentarily by the neon of the gas station lights.

“Rainbow girls,” says my mom, thoughtfully. “The Lodge must be nearby.”

“What are rainbow girls?” I ask.

“It’s a club for teenage girls, honey. Your Aunt Dickie was a member.”

“They’re wearing long dresses!” I am five and in love with long dresses.

“Those are formals. They wear formals at their meetings.” My Aunt Dickie — the youngest of the 7 sisters among whom my mom was third to last — reached high school when my Aunt Florence, Uncle David and Uncle Sherman were were working and sending money home, helping out enough that Aunt Dickie could do things none of her older sisters could.

Uncle Hank comes back with the service station owner who has turned on the lights over the pumps. He looks sleepy, but understanding as unlocks the pumps and fills the tank. I’m sure my uncle explained everything to the man. “Thank you kindly,” says my uncle, “Sorry for waking you.”

“You take care, sir,” says the man. “Safe travels.” We’ll make it to Billings.

I have been thinking of this night for the past few weeks as a subject for a painting. I haven’t figured it out yet, but it’s swirling around in my mind, trying to form itself. I’m a little stumped on point of view, how to put that little wonder-struck girl into the painting. Right now I’m leaning toward the girls being somewhere in the distance, just close enough to the gas station for their long dresses to catch the light.

Former Edward Hopperish Featured image ❤

29 thoughts on “Night Long Ago Aches to Become a Painting

  1. Sweet memory. I can see a painting in my mind. From the interior of the car. A little girl kneeling on the back seat of an old car, her brother curled up asleep next to her. She has her hands on the half open window and is looking out. Her face is in profile looking right. Beyond the window a garage forecourt is lit up. Through the back car window two men (uncle and garage owner) chat while the garage owner holds the pump nozzle about to put it into the filler cap. Through the front drivers window the girls are framed in a line, some looking forward, a couple backwards. Giggling and smiling, hands and arms making interesting shapes against the silhouette of the garage behind them and a glimpse of sunset in one corner. I would paint it in the style of Edward Hopper?

  2. Car trips sleeping in the back seat! I remember those. Your painting…from the girl’s point of view looking out the window and all you see is a dress or 2 almost glowing & blurry as they pass by. Frothy dresses running past after you sit up in the car. Or the same, but from behind her or the back of her head to one side as she looks out. So many possibilities!
    My younger sister was a Rainbow girl. I was out of the house by then. I was never sure what it was all about.

    • So far everyone has seen this from inside the car which is interesting because I think I had gotten out. From inside the car would be a lot easier painting and maybe a clearer perspective for anyone looking at it.

      I wrote about Rainbow Girls in the post in 2015 that I took part of this from. I you want to read about it, here’s the link. I really loved the organization and one of the things that made me feel that Monte Vista might be an OK home for me is that outside the town, every main drag has, along with the BPOE sign and the Rotary the Rainbow Girls sign. 🙂

      • From inside gives it more mystery – if that’s part of your vision. Thanks for the link to your 2015 post. Just read it. So THAT’S what is was all about. I can see why my sister enjoyed it. I knew it was religion based somehow. My grandfather was a Mason (not sure if my father was) so maybe that’s how she got in. I should ask her about it sometime.

        • Any man can become a Mason if he’s invited by another Mason. I’ve known Jewish and Muslim Masons; the religion is semi-Bible based, but really speaks to all mono-theistic faiths. I don’t know the deep history of it because it’s secret, but from what my dad told me, it originated in the Middle East in medieval times. There are books on it, and I read one, but it wasn’t a straight up history and had a slant that made me doubtful about what it said. I’m sure that every lodge reflects the ambient social beliefs of the people in the lodge, too. For me it was wonderful. Most of my friends at that point in my life were in Rainbow with me.

    • A couple months ago I took the neighbor kids and their mom to the museum in Del Norte, 14 miles away. I don’t have booster seats in back. The kids strapped in and their mom said, “How does it feel back there without boosters, kids?” My internal reaction was mild fury. We still fight international wars but we have learned to protect our young from danger in a moving vehicle. I can’t explain it but no more car rides for them. I don’t want the responsibility.

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