Hauling gas and laughing with Ol’ Grip

Published 9:45 am Wednesday, December 15, 2021

By Ricky Swindle

Muffler Shop Musings

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I enjoy this newspaper and all the articles it contains from Panola County folks. It’s all about theirs and their neighbors’ stories. I read every word, every week, as I have for years.

Mr. John Nelson’s column in particular last week flooded my memories of being a boy in Panola County in the 1970’s.

Reading about John’s exploits of flying from New York to London to navigate a gigantic oil tanker through the English Channel, then later on a smaller tanker guiding his way thru the Panama Canal,  reminded me of a few nights during that time I was involved in a little fuel hauling too.

Most nine-year-old boys in 1973 we’re not much concerned about an oil embargo and neither was I, but my Daddy was. I grew up in a day where parents didn’t have to explain everything on the news to their children. There was child information and updates you received and also there was adult information that was basically none of your business.

My Daddy owned the service station across from the Courthouse during that time. My Daddy’s uncle, Jimmy Potts Jr., owned the now demolished Exxon station off the interstate in Sardis.

During the embargo each station had an allotment of gas they could buy each month, and if you didn’t sell what was allotted to you, then your allotment would decrease.

Although Uncle Poogie, as we called him, had a greater allotment because he had the bigger station and more traffic being on the interstate and all, Daddy actually sold more gas than him.

We had the phone company’s business. If you will recall, back then there was only one phone company, and its name around here was South Central Bell. Little green work vans were all over the place and we pumped gas and did all the service work on every dad gum one of those things.

Daddy knew if those vans and trucks didn’t have gas, they weren’t going to need service work either, and he made our living off that fleet of vehicles.

Toward each month’s end, Uncle Poogie would measure his gas and tell Daddy how much he could buy from him and then it was on.

Daddy had a good ol’ boy working for him by the name of Carl Griffis. Everybody called him Grip. He was a good, dependable worker and he was tongue tied, or had a speech impediment to be politically correct.

As boys, he would say things and we would laugh, but we didn’t laugh at him, we laughed along with him. Daddy would’ve rocked our world if we ever made fun or disrespected any grown person.  He knew he couldn’t say things right and he’d get tickled at himself sometimes.

One of the funniest stories I ever heard Daddy tell about him took place on a rainy day they were supposed to be off deer hunting but wound up at the Green Door Bar in Grenada.

Grip was wanting to play the jukebox so he told the barmaid, “I need shange dis 5 to pway jukebox.” 

Daddy said she was grinning like a mule eating briars knowing good and well what he was asking for, but she said,“What?”

Grip repeated, “I need shange dis 5 to pway jukebox.” 

The gal looked at him again and aggravatingly said, “Huh?”

Grip jumped up, slammed the $5 bill on the bar and screamed “Four ones, four quarters you dumb broad.” But he didn’t say broad. He played his songs after that. Good for Grip.

He loved Beale Street and back in the 70’s, Beale was not the tourist destination it is today. When asked why he went there he’d answer “I wike to dance to that bwues music.”

I vividly remember Daddy, Grip, Mike, and me loading 55 gallon drums in the back of Daddy’s pick-up when the sun went down. 

Daddy and Grip smoked cigarettes and Daddy would say, “Hand em over Grip, you ain’t blowing us up,” and he proceeded to put both their cigarette packs and lighters on the office desk.

Up the interstate we would go to Sardis, pump those drums full and head back south. There was no North Batesville exit at that time, only the cloverleaf at I-55 and Hwy. 6, and that was our route, back and forth until all the gas was hauled.

It was definitely a dangerous situation for a man to put his boys in, but Daddy was a hands on father and looking back I figure he took all the precautions available beforehand. 

You have to remember that with the embargo, there wasn’t much traffic especially at night.

There was nowhere near the traffic back then as there is now. I wouldn’t drive that interstate now with a five gallon gas can in the back of my truck with all the nuts on the road these days.

Daddy gained a lot of customers back during that time most likely because he never ran out of gas. He didn’t raise his price and gouge folks either. 

He told me years later it would have been stupid of him to raise prices because he didn’t want to bring attention to himself and have folks trying to figure out why his tanks were never dry.

The only thing he was trying to do was keep those South Central Bell trucks rolling and make sure that check kept coming in.

Sometimes I long for the good old days when things were simpler.

Thanks, John Nelson, for your column. It sure brought back a lot of memories of my Daddy and Ol’ Grip.

Take care of yourself folks and start working on a good Merry Christmas for your young’uns.