Harrell Beck

The Wisdom of Harrell Beck

Give Her the Gas!


Now that I’m getting old I sometimes sit with old people -- which means anybody who’s two years older than I am. I sat with an old bird in our town the other day and asked, “Anything interesting ever happen to you?”  He said, “Naw,” but there was a twinkle in his eye. I said, “Come on.” He said, “In the 1920s I ran a gas station between Concord and Lexington.  One day I was sitting there and a Pierce Arrow touring car (y’know, the wheels on the front fenders, spare tires, remember?) came chuggin’ to a stop. A woman got out, came in and said, “My name is Amy Lowell” [the great poet]. I’ve run out of gas and I haven’t got any money. Will you help me?’” He looked at me and grinned. I said, “What did you say to her?” And he said, “I looked her straight in the eye and said, ‘My name is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. NO!’” She said, “My brother is President of Harvard. Ring him up.”  And the old geezer said, “I didn’t have anything better to do, so I put a call in and it went straight through to the president, Abbott Lawrence Lowell.”

And the man said to President Lowell, “There’s a woman here who says she’s your sister.” President Lowell said, in his taciturn legal way, “Describe her.” The gas station man said,  “She’s sitting on the stone wall across the street. She’s got her pants kicked up to her knees, there’s a black hat down over her eyes, she’s smokin’ a black cigar, there are seven Sheep Dogs in the back seat of her car and is she MAD!’”  President Lowell said, “That’s Amy! Give her the gas!”

I want to be describable, don’t you?  Did you ever think about what the officiating clergyperson is gonna say at some of our funerals?  “Ol’ Flat Face.” Isn’t it terrible? Well, you know the thing I’d like to have them say more than anything else is, “He was a little odd sometimes. But, you know, he was full of hope. He cared about other people. He’d do almost anything for his neighbor. And he kept workin’ at it. He was a real pastor.”

  -- Harrell Beck “The Story of Three Wise Women” Preaching Conference, Board of Ordained Ministry Arrowhead Springs, San Bernardino, CA May 12 and 14, 1986  

Editor's Note: This is another example of a story that Harrell dressed up to fit his own story-telling style. Based on a true story, Harrell inserted himself into the intro as the one to whom the story was recounted. He also got a couple of the details wrong (including the date of 1928 – Lowell died in 1925), the dogs (Lowell kept Old English Sheep Dogs*, not Great Danes) and the car (Lowell famously drove a maroon Pierce Arrow, not a Buick). If you have a recording of this story, you’ll note that the details above have been altered to bring them into line with Lowell's biography. Harrell may very well have met the old gas station attendent to whom this happened and had this conversation. The details of such stories always morph over time. This anecdote (as remembered by Amy Lowell herself) is recounted in an article  in The Milwaukee Journal, October 10th, 1958 


*Amy’s dogs were named Jack, John, Tommy, Rosine, Mary, Lydia, and Columbine