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?”
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.