Jack and The Christmas Gasoline Can


OK, it’s not exactly “The Homecoming,” but the way they’re scraping the barrel for cable Christmas movies, you might see this one on LMN yet. I just hope I’m not played by Wallace Shawn

Everything was going swimmingly this Christmas morning. We had opened presents, and now Grace and I were making our contributions to the family dinner later today at my sister’s house. A main feature was Grace’s mother’s recipe for a holiday salad that was part of her family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for decades, and now ours. The recipe:

Two bags of cranberries, chopped

2 chopped navel oranges, with peel

2 chopped Red Delicious apples, also unpeeled

2 cups of chopped walnuts

2 diced celery hearts

1-2 cans of cranberry juice concentrate

Sugar to taste, or not (we leave it out.)

All was well until I cored the apples, bought supposedly fresh yesterday at Harris Teeter. They went “squish,” despite being all shiny and crisp on the outside. This would not do, so I was dispatched to the store to pick up suitably fresh apples, without which grandmother’s famous salad just wouldn’t be right.

I jumped into our car (the one that replaced its predecessor that  had burst into flames for no apparent reason in a mall parking lot—one of the many delightful events of our 2014). The gas-tank-low light was on, as it had been the day before. The gauge now said that I had five miles left, and the nearest station was only a bit more than two away. Well, these things aren’t perfect: my car stopped about 200 yards from the exit to the station, and in the middle of the street.

I called home, and my wife and son prepared to take his car to the station to get enough gas to let me drive the last leg of the journey, but his car, as is its wont, was dead. Meanwhile, I tried to push mine out of the middle of the street on my own, realizing too late that cars in neutral tend to pick up quite a bit of speed going down a grade, and are remarkably hard to steer and brake from outside the vehicle. I was barely able to stop the car from plowing into a parked Volvo by turning it to roll over the curb onto someone’s lawn. I was loath to leave it there untended while I hiked to the gas station, and I didn’t feel like paying fifty bucks or more for roadside assistance, but I was running out of options. Also time, if I was going to find fresh apples while a grocery store remained open.

I hadn’t seen a single car on the road, until an SUV stopped next to me. The driver, a woman in her thirties who was accompanied by her two teenaged sons, asked it I needed help. I explained my plight, and the two young men assisted me in rolling my car off the lawn into something approximating a legal parking space.

“Stay here: we’ll be right back,” the woman said. She was as good as her word, for she soon reappeared, with one of her sons carrying a festive red plastic gas can filled with fuel. The older son helped figure out how to work the damn spout, which had to be assembled. “See, here’s the flaw,” I explained. “The device solving this problem should not require more intelligence to operate than someone getting into this stupid situation is likely to have.” He agreed, politely. Then he poured all the gasoline into my empty tank.

I prepared to reimburse this family of Good Samaritans, but they refused. “Just pay it forward,” the mother said. “We’re glad we could help out.” I shook her sons’ hands, and hers, and wished them all a Merry Christmas. Then I got the apples, and the salad was perfect.

In the Marshall household, this will forever be known the Miracle of the Christmas Gas Can.

Let us sing!

(to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas” :

1. Jack’s wife said “You must go out.
We’ve an apple crisis!”
Never would he dare refuse ;
Better to fight ISIS.
So he set out in his car,
Though t’was low in fuel
Til it sputtered to a stop
(Boy was he a foo-oo-el!)

2. Shifted into neutral then,
It rolled t’ward disaster.
Jack would soon be chasing it,
As the car rolled faster.
Pulling hard with all his might,
He changed its direction
Rested then on somebody’s lawn
Waiting for collection.

3. Up now rolls an SUV
Driven by a stranger
“Trav’ler, tell us, how can we
Help you stave off danger?”
Her sons helped him move the car;
There would be no ticket.
Jack composed a secret wish,
As if he could pick it.

4. “Find a can, and bring me gas
This would be a blessing.
Yet I’d be a total ass
Their Christmas to be messing.”
Suddenly they all drove off,
Telling him to stay there
Still he doubted they’d return
Heeding his mayday there.

5. Damn! The time was running out,
And the stores were closing.
Should he not get gassed up soon
Hope would be foreclosing.
Hark! The SUV returns,
With a gas can brimming
Welcome sight more lovely than
Firs with all their trimming.

6. “Let me pay you,” Jack implored.
For I owe you greatly.”
“No, my friend, just pay it for’d.
That’s what’s right innately”
Therefore learn the lesson well
Be you high or lowly
If we all are ethical
Every day is holy.

28 thoughts on “Jack and The Christmas Gasoline Can

  1. What wonderful people!

    A friend of ours did that with his car, but in a parking garage. His tug on the steering wheel kept his car from going over the side and down three floors!

    I sang this one too 😀 You’re on a roll!

  2. So, do you mean zest or actual peel? (I realize I am focusing on an inconsequential point of the story, but I am having a hard time envisioning this cranberry sauce.)

  3. 1) For the first half of this post I felt you were discussing the ethics of uninhibited swearing in public.

    2) “Holy”…..are you, as an atheist*, allowed to invoke the word “holy”?

    3) I have dealt personally with the Satanic spawn of modern “gas cans”, which are designed as complexly as Rubiks cubes in terms of “unlocking” (ha) them to actually dispense gas. I suspect considerable governmental regulation forced companies to design the new impossible to use gas nozzles, which inevitable force normal citizens, like you and me, to ultimately use less environmentally sound techniques to pour gas into our machines (cars included).

    *You may profess atheism, but deep down, I don’t think you are an atheist. And perhaps, though not subscribing to the Judeo-Christian God, I think you believe there is a God, which for lack of better terms, we will call “Ethicus”.

    • 1. I’m down with definitions 4 and 5:
      4.having a spiritually pure quality:
      “a holy love.”

      5. entitled to worship or veneration as or as if sacred:
      “a holy relic.”

      2. Writing Christmas Carol parodies requires concessions to the original, including the spirit of the thing.

      3. You make me feel a bit less stupid regarding that *&^%$### gas can. The miracle was that we figured it out, but it took four of us.
      4. There was much uninhibited swearing, indeed.

      • 1) Fair enough.

        2) Ok.

        3) My usual solution is to break the lock. And if that is a felony…then at this point, I’m ready to say, let’s put the tea in the harbor.

        4) It can be both calming and anti-calming at the same time. Especially when pleasing wives is a concern.

            • That, deep down, you aren’t *really* an atheist.

              See, spirituality doesn’t make sense if EVERYTHING is ultimately just a chemical reaction…which if you want to be an honest atheist is the only explanation for anything that happens in our brains…

              • No, I was teasing you because the post makes ME suspect, and YOU suspicious.

                I have said the same about Clarence Darrow, who was the most vocal atheist in the US, and whose values were as spiritual as you could find.

                  • to be clear, I was raised a Southern Baptist, current attend a non-denominational (which is modern speak for Baptist who doesn’t want to call himself a Baptist). But: “Every day is holy.” is a definitively congregationalist, radical reformer thing to say…

                    Just saying…

                    That is why that line stuck out to me, especially understanding, what I assume to be, an Eastern Orthodox/Western Reformation background you grew up in, before your Dad had a falling out with the church over marital blessings.

                    • Atheists swear using phrases like “Holy (fill in the blank)” because we were conditioned to do so by our religious parents, who would then have to do penance for using the Lord’s name in vain.

                    • They also do so, if like myself, they come from non-Christian backgrounds but had a lot of Christian/post-Christian friends as kids.

                    • No doubt Beth and you use it out of habit or conditioning, but that isn’t the point. The point is its serious usage of the user doesn’t believe in anything more than this world. If everything basically has an explanation rooted in physics or chemistry and there is no God… Then there is no holy. But Jack explained the definition he used so it is settled.

                • Oh good grief. I didn’t even realize the error you were pointing out until this morning. Jack 1, texagg04 0. Fair pedantry. Arg. I should have been sleeping instead of discussing.

      • I have had recent experience with modern gas cans as well. Not only did it require much study and experimentation to figure out how you were supposed to use the stupid thing, but: It required an insane amount of hand/thumb strength to operate the spout and the slightest misstep resulted in gas being leaked all over both me and the generator I was trying to fill.

        Oh yes, and this extreme strength of hand had to be maintained for an absurdly long period of time as the gas trickled into the tank.

        Fortunately as a smoker, I always have an activity to while away the minutes……….

  4. PS.

    Not to toot my own horn, but I carry jumper cables, 2% for myself and 98% for the likelihood that some poor shmoe having an extremely bad day just wants a fellow citizen to bail him out.

    (which has been invoked no less than a half dozen times by poor shmoes)

    • Not true. I once threw one at the neighborhood bully when I was 10. Hit him right on the noggin. It was worth the beating I got for it a few seconds later, too. But if anyone tells you an apple a day keeps the bully away, don’t believe him…

  5. Love this post! And HAHA I sang the song in my head. Clever. I bet the sons got a kick our of interacting with you. A belated “Merry Christmas!” and an on time “Happy New Year!” to you and yours, Jack. P.S. I survived the commercial breaks of my annual viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” by reading your Ethics evaluation. We forgot to bring our DVD to grandma’s so had to endure seeing it on network TV. 🙂

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