By Carol Moody

August 7, 2023


From behind the window of an air-conditioned gas station, I see my dad wiping his brow with the flipside of the paper towel he just used to check the oil. He stays outside by the pumps, adjusting the suitcases tied with twine to the top of the station wagon. We’re an unruly bunch, his kids—buying all sorts of over-priced junk food with money Mom gave us. She’s the fun one—cheering us as we whack the vending machine, bumping an extra Snickers off the rotating coils. Except for using the bathroom, Dad never goes inside these places. He says he’s cash poor. He says someone’s got to pay the bills.

A wrinkle of worry across his forehead, he roots around in the depths of the cooler—scooping excess water with a paper cup, arranging ice around his celery sticks and hard-boiled eggs. He knows that driving through the night is the only way to make up for the wife’s loitering at mini-marts and the four-year-old’s spewing barf on his shrieking sister.

Dad will watch the rose gold of the western sky dissolve over the prairie, the headlights barely a shimmer, his family asleep in the darkness. From the way back, tuna sandwiches will slosh around inside his trusty metal cooler. Holding it all together—his experiment in frugality and survival—a hope that we won’t turn out to be fools and delinquents, a belief that his ordinary life, his unassuming love is all he has to give.


Carol Moody’s essays have been published in Book XI: A Journal of Literary Philosophy, and Weber: The Contemporary West. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop and lives in Utah.


Image by Zlatko Duric courtesy of Unsplash

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