This is an opinion piece.

When I was a little girl growing up in Rabbittown, my parents owned and operated a small gas station in downtown Albertville. They opened for business each morning at the crack of dawn and Daddy pumped gas in the evenings until the sun set in the western sky.  

 He kept a straight-backed chair by the front entrance of the store and as soon as a vehicle pulled off the road and onto our lot, Daddy was out the door with a smile. The price for regular fuel in 1970 was 36 cents a gallon and we stayed busy every day.  

When the gas shortage caused fuel prices to skyrocket in the mid 1970s, I remember how much Daddy worried about it. He was concerned whether or not customers would still pull up to our pumps and fill their tanks. “How can folks pay 50 cents for a gallon of gas?” he used to wonder.  

In 2004, I purchased a small country gas station in rural DeKalb County. Running a store was in my blood and standing behind a cash register felt like home. I loved the hustle and bustle of the business and the constant flow of folks who stopped by each day for a few gallons of gasoline, a cold soft drink and some good conversation.  

Within just a few short years, gas prices began to creep up significantly and in 2008, it surged to well over $3 a gallon. Like my dad once did, I worried about how people could pay those high prices. 

 I had several local rural people that summer walk into my business, holding their children’s piggy banks full of tooth fairy quarters and birthday half-dollars. With shameful faces and desperate eyes, they shook the change out onto my counter with explanations like “I hate to do this, but I have to get a couple gallons gas to get to work.” These people weren’t low life bums… they were decent folks just trying to survive in a world rocked by recession.  

 Folks in that community drove at least a dozen miles to work and back every day where they put in their eight hours in a poultry plant or sock mill. Back then, they were lucky to make $7 an hour and were spending 20 percent of that on fuel for their commute.   

Even though I don’t own that little store anymore, I still think about that community every time I fill up my tank at one of the brightly lit super stores on the highway. I worry about how on earth those people can afford to buy enough fuel to make it to work on, feed their families and keep the heat on at the same time these days.  

One day last week when I stopped for gas, an oversized SUV pulled up to the pumps on the other side of me. Shiny black finish, chrome wheels and a flashy emblem on the front. A man stepped out, cell phone pressed to his ear, dark sunglasses and a white shirt crisp with starch.  

He set the pump on automatic and never even looked as the numbers rolled over quicker than a slot machine in Vegas. He topped off his purchase at $93 while carrying on his phone conversation about golf scores and an upcoming ski trip. Just before he stepped back into his vehicle, he looked over at me and said, “These gas prices are getting a little rough.”  

I nodded, thinking about all the empty piggy banks I saw years ago and wondering about how many of them are still empty today.

Sandy Holsonback in a guest columnist for The Reporter.

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