Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum
My Mother Wore Mechanics Clothes
by Suzanne Dale Byrd
2006


Elizabeth Bounds Dale


My mother, Mary Elizabeth Bounds Dale was probably ahead of her time. She was what is now known as a single parent and she owned and ran a filling station, which was traditionally run by a man.

She and my father, William Dale, separated in the mid-forties, when the four of us, Bill, Jane, Wendy and myself were fairly young. My parents owned the Dale's Esso Service Station at the foot of the Route 50 Bridge. When they parted ways, he signed the gas station over to my mother along with the mortgage. It was a heavy debt to carry, but she had to make a living. To be able to support four children was a daunting task. But she took it on. In those days there were private moneylenders and Mr. Henry Parker held the mortgage on the station, not the bank. This was fortunate for Mom as I'm sure there were some months when she could only pay the interest due, but eventually it was paid off.

After my father left, we moved to Berlin, Maryland, just a scant seven miles away, and lived with my maternal grandmother and my aunt. It wasn't easy for the adults in the house who were not used to children being underfoot, but they all coped well with the situation.


Dale's Esso Station
My mother's life during the 1940s and 50s was just going from one job to another job. Mornings at our house started early. There were a lot of people who had to get ready to go to school and work and as with most homes in those days there was just one bathroom. After my grandmother died in 1944 and her sister was married shortly after the end of WW II, Mom was the only adult in the house. Each day we drove from Berlin to Ocean City where we were dropped off at the Ocean City school and then she went to work. We walked to the gas station after school or went to a friend's house, and at 5 o'clock or so we went home. In those days people didn't grocery shop for a week at a time, so we usually stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up something for dinner.


Dale children: Jane, Bill, Suzanne & Wendy
She was an excellent cook and always served us the tastiest of meals. Most families that I knew ate early at 5: p.m. or so, but by the time Mom got everything done it was always close to 8 before the meal was over. There of course were chores to be done and diligence with our homework. Mom stayed up late into the nights trying to play catch up and to indulge herself in a good thick book. The next day was the repeat of the same. On Saturdays we all went to Ocean City. She to work and we were left to do as we pleased. Most of the children in Ocean City grew up, as I did, on the streets of the town without much adult supervision.

The little adage about Sunday was church day, Monday was wash day?didn't hold true for our family. Sunday was washday at our house. There was the dreaded wringer washer to contend with. It had to be filled, along with two big metal tubs for rinsing clothes and then after the clothes were washed, rinsed twice, starched (heaven forbid) and hung out to dry, the washer and those tubs had to be emptied. And to add insult to injury the clothes had to be sprinkled and ironed. Yes, Sunday was the dreaded day.

My Mother pumped gas, checked oil, changed tires and got under the hood. She kept books, ran inventories and managed the customers. Did what she had to do to run that station. There was nothing she didn't know concerning the automobile and she stayed current with each new make and model. She dressed like Rosie the Riveter with her hair tied up with a bandanna and wore mechanic clothes with heavy shoes, that the job demanded. Being out constantly in the weather servicing the cars took its toll on her, but she held on as long as she could and until all the children were raise and off on their own. Arthritis had set in early on in her life and with each passing year it grew worse. It was crippling her. She didn't want to let go of the business but agreed to lease the station out to a longtime employee Burton Birch.

When she finally did sell the property the Town of Ocean City purchased it and tore it down. It then became what is known as the entry park for the city. So when you enter Ocean City from the Route 50 Bridge, sometimes think of her.

She spent the last twenty years of her life in a nursing home because she was unable to walk, but she never lost her thirst for learning or her interest in what was new. My son went to see her one-day and he was amazed that she knew all about the car he had just bought and about cars in general. She read every day and it helped keep her mind as sharp at 86 as it was at 26.

She died in November 1997 just a few months short of her 87th birthday. I guess the legacy she leaves include her work ethic-she worked outside in all kinds of weather, she didn't receive time and a half for over time, and she certainly didn't get two weeks vacation and most important of all to us she left her love of reading and books.