The poem “Filling Station” by Elizabeth Bishop employs interesting imagery to create the scene of a type of business that has almost become extinct. It is the family owned filling station.
The narration of the poem is first person point of view with the narrator, a member of the family. The narrator originally makes the reader believe that she is not connected to the business until she describes her father.
Describing an extremely oily and greasy gas station with images that enable the reader to see the business in his mind’s eye.
Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
to a disturbing, over-all
The reader can image sitting in the car while the brothers check the tires and oil, wipe the windshield, and the father fills the car with gas. The station probably has a garage attached where the men do minimal work on the cars that they service.
The father is described first. He is oily and greasy and wearing a pair of overalls that are too small and make places on his underarms. She describes his suit as being a monkey suit, which stems from the phrase grease monkey who is actually a car mechanic. The several brothers are also extremely dirty but quick in their work and have saucy attitudes.
Also mentioned is the family dog who sits comfortable in a wicker patio chair on a concrete slab. The family may well live in the back of the filling station. It appears that the station has seen better days.
The narrator describes a different setting which is the inside the filling station probably where the money is taken. This is where someone has made a little spot that has been given a feminine touch.
There is a nice table which is a part of a set that has a homemade embroidered and crocheted doily. On the table is also a pink begonia plant. Giving the table color are the comic books laying there ready to be read.
There narrator asks the questions: Who did all of these things? Who tried to make the station homier by supplying these softer touches to this dirty environment?
The answer to the questions is “Somebody who loves us all.” Obviously, it has to be the mother. The girl with her questions may have lost her mother to death or some tragedy. Her poignant statement pulls everything together. This is her family and her life.
Bishop in her life lost both of her parents at a young age. Her father passed away. Her mother had a mental breakdown and was taken to an asylum when the author was five. She never saw her mother again. Bishop relates to the narrator in terms of losing the mother figure and how much a mother is needed in any child’s life.