PRESTON AND THE GAS THIEVES

Sunday mornings when I was kid, the radio was on in the kitchen while we ate breakfast and got ready for church. We listened to “Radio Bible Class”, which started things off with a male quartet singing the theme song, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” Part of the lyrics went like this:

“Tell me the story of Jesus
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story so precious.
Sweetest that ever was heard.”

This song was a staple in our church services, and by the time I was eight I must have heard and sung it scores of times. I knew it by heart. But when the quartet got to that third line, “Tell me the story so precious,” what I heard was, “Tell me the story of Preston.”

Preston? Who was Preston? Looking back, it must have been the combination of static and a cheap radio that made me hear the words wrong. Or maybe this quartet had really bad diction. But I didn’t know that at the time.

I heard what I heard, and I spent a year or two of my Sunday breakfasts wondering who Preston was. Not a disciple, as far as I knew. Did Jesus have a brother nobody had mentioned? And why were these men singing about him?

I could have just asked my mom and dad. But I didn’t. Maybe it was because Sunday mornings were pretty chaotic, what with my parents having to feed and dress five kids under the age of nine, and get them pottied, teeth brushed, and in the car and on the road. Especially in the winter, when everyone had to be swathed in coats, hats, mittens and boots. The atmosphere didn’t lend itself to musical or theological questions, which is ironic, because we were getting ready for church. And then I’d forget about it until the next Sunday morning, when once again I was presented with the mystery of Preston.

There were other times in my childhood when I didn’t ask. Once, when I was five or six, the whole family was coming home from visiting relatives. It was dark, past our bedtimes. As we turned onto our long gravel driveway at the farm, Dad paused to scrutinize the tire tracks illuminated by the headlights. Any farmer worth his salt knows the tire patterns of all his vehicles, and can pick out an intruder.

Here was a tire track that didn’t belong.

“Gas Thieves,” Dad pronounced, shaking his head. Like all farmers, he had his own bulk gas and diesel fuel supply, stored in big metal drums on elevated stands. There were no sophisticated locks back then. It was easy for nefarious characters to cut the padlocks and drain the fuel. I didn’t figure all this out until I was older. But that night in the car I perceived this wasn’t a good situation.

When I heard “gas thieves,” I immediately conjured up an image of huge birds, kind of like roadrunners, who stole gas from farmers. I’d probably never heard the word “thieves” before, but instead of asking questions, I made up an explanation that made sense to me. It gave me a delicious quiver to think of these strange creatures. It didn’t occur to me that gas thieves were ordinary humans, albeit sneaky and dishonest ones, driving around in pickup trucks, siphoning gas from innocent farmers.

In retrospect, I’m surprised at my lack of questions about Preston or gas thieves, especially since I grew to be a question asker. Maybe I wasn’t very smart back then. Or maybe I was just a kid with a big imagination. Kids inhabit a world of narrow experiences, and only know what they’ve seen and heard. Any explanation they can come up with is the truth, as far as they know. They simply don’t know that they don’t know.

But say I HAD asked the adults about Preston or the gas thieves. Being a kid wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting, Nor would I have these amusing stories to write about. We all need a little levity these days.

Preston and the gas thieves, I thank you for your help.

6 thoughts on “PRESTON AND THE GAS THIEVES

  1. I love this accounting of your childhood Linda, DELIGHTFUL! Made me laugh out loud as so often children mis-hear a story line or song line, but seldom write about it! Thank you for another great read and now I can catch up on your past posts that I somehow missed.

  2. What a fun post! Childhood assumptions are so comical. Your post reminds me of my first day of elementary school when I heard our teacher say we would visit the “laboratory ” every day and I eagerly anticipated a mad scientist lair of bubbling potions and blinking gadgets. I was so disappointed when she took us to the LAVATORY.
    Thank you for lending a smile to these difficult days Linda.

  3. Hi Linda, cute story! When I was young, we went on a lot of short road trips . I would often see a sign that said “roadside table ahead. ”
    Instead of taking the sign literally,(there was a picnic area ahead,) I imagined some kind of a big plateau or other important geographical area that would be worthy of a sign. I didn’t ask what it meant either.

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