When I was young, my dad owned a gas station, car wash and fireworks store called The Red Barn.
(This was the only photo I can find of my dad in front of his business.)
I was probably 9 or 10 years old when I overheard my dad saying that someone had been syphoning gas out of the cars down at the station.
After several decades of serving customers my dad saw all kinds of little tricks that people used to try to cheat the system. Sometimes he would find fake coins in the coin box at the car wash, and once he even found a quarter that someone had drilled a hole in and hooked a wire to so that they could dip the quarter in the coin slot to “pay” for the car wash and then pull it back out. It must not have worked well because the wire jammed the coin machine, putting it out of order. By the time my dad discovered the problem, the thief was long gone. When he dismantled the coin box and discovered the theif’s little “fishing pole” he was so impressed he mounted it on the wall in his office. My dad always had a lot of admiration for creative ways to make (or save) a buck.
But syphoning gas out of cars was not creative or cute; it was a serious problem. We had employees who lived down at the station and we couldn’t afford to have someone to stealing gas from them. I asked my dad what “syphoning” meant and he described to me every fascinating detail. “You’ve got to be careful, though,” my dad warned, “Once I swallowed a mouthful of gas and I thought I was going to die!”
(Let’s make it clear that syphoning gas has the potential to cause your internal organs serious damage and as a rule is not recommended.)
Sadly, the identity of the mysterious Red Barn Syphoner was never revealed.
Twenty-nine years later I am pouring myself some cereal. My kids have already served themselves and vacated the premises, leaving behind cereal bowls scattered out on the table in various levels of completion. Some bowls are empty, some are still-half full.
And then there is this one bowl, filled to the very tippy-top rim with milk. I look at it and frown. There is so much milk that if I move it at all or lift it to pour it out, milk will spill all over the table. I shake my head, disappointed at the waste, and trying to decide whether or not it is worth it to go find that child and drag it back to the table.
Then I look down at the bowl of dry cereal in my hand–in want of milk–and I remember my dad and the Red Barn Syphoner.
I take out a straw with a bendy top and put one side in the over-flowing bowl of milk, hold my bowl of cereal off the edge of the table, and situate the straw so that the end pointing to my cereal bowl is lower than the end that is in the milk. Then I bend down and gently suck the end of the straw. Like magic, the milk comes pouring out of the straw, just like a faucet. I happily wait while my bowl fills, and when I have all the milk I need I lift the straw out. I am so proud of myself that I poke my head out the door and yell to Scott who is in the yard, “Scott, I just syphoned milk in to my cereal bowl!”
“Great!” He says. “You should teach the kids!”
And I did.
Because you never know when the stuff you learn from your parents will come in handy.