Wethersfield schools were just a block from the intersection of Tenney and McClure in my home town, Kewanee, Illinois. At that intersection stood the center of the universe for me and many of my friends. It sported a large flying red horse on the side of the building. It had three gas pumps and one service bay. It was the mecca for pinball games, a place to buy Pepsi and Green River in glass bottles, and play basketball in the back storeroom. It was the favorite after school hangout where grade school kids bought candy and high school kids bought gas. Gerber’s Mobil Station was easy walking distance from school and just a few doors down from the home of my grandparents. On occasion, I’d ask my grandma for a nickel to buy candy. She died during my high school years, never knowing that I actually used most of the nickels she gave me to play the pinball machine.
The Gerbers, Walt and Nora, ran the quintessential “mom and pop” operation. Walt was the mechanic, Nora the shopkeeper. Before starting the Mobil station, the Gerbers owned a landing strip known as the Kewanee airport, and Walt was a pilot who flew bi-planes. As a result of sitting in the open cockpit right behind the plane’s big engine, wearing a leather helmet and goggles, he became almost completely deaf. For Walt his deafness was a blessing, because Nora could get boisterous at times. She was a large woman, and her anger often matched her girth. One day she and I got into an argument over whether the milkshakes she made were bigger than those at the Dairy Queen. As the dispute heated up, I accepted her challenge to a duel, walked angrily to the Dairy Queen two blocks away, bought a milkshake, and returned to Gerber’s. I asked Nora for one the cups in which she served shakes. I poured the smooth, cold, tempting liquid into the cup. Slowly, slowly, a little more. It’s nearing the top, at the edge, over the edge. . .there! A glob of milkshake drizzled down the side of the cup, then more followed. Nora exploded.
“Stop pouring!” Nora shouted. Some milkshake ran through a gap in the glass display case invading a box of Snickers candy bars. “You cheated! You little. . . ” Nora hollered, as I “accidentally” tipped the cup over and ran for the door. I never returned to Gerber’s after that, fearing death or worse. However, every time I visit my home town, and drive pass the mega convenience store which now stands at Tenney and McClure, I still picture that big flying red horse adorning the side of Gerber’s Mobil Station.