Sooner, Dear

Who’s up for another Norman and Evie story?

This morning when I woke up, I had no idea what would be the subject of this week’s blog, and then I opened an email from a fan in Yuma, and instantly my head was taking a stroll down memory lane.

When I was a kid, on Sundays, after the noontime meal, my parents would load us into the Mercury woody station wagon or, later, into the DeSoto sedan, and we’d set off on an afternoon drive. Along the way, if we happened to spot discarded pop bottle on the side of the road, we’d stop and pick it up. One day, as we tooled along at highway speeds, Evie said, pointing, “There’s one.” My father’s reply? “You need to tell me sooner, dear.” And so we missed that one. But the name stuck, those discarded pop bottles were called “Sooner Dear” from then on. We’d take them home, clean them up, and then turn them in for the deposit—three cents a shot. Evie took charge of the funds, and when we were on vacations, the Sooner Deer money was part of what was spent on fun. Anybody ready to split a Dairy Queen milk shake?

But then aluminum cans came along and collecting Sooner Deer went out of style—for a while, anyway. Eventually, however, aluminum cans became recyclable, too. Even though we kids were all grown and gone by then, Norman and Evie went into the business of recycling cans, especially after my dad retired from the insurance business. He attached a hand-operated can crusher to the work bench in the garage, and they were off and running. From then on their garages smelled like breweries, but did they spend the money they collected from cans on themselves? Nope every dime went to charity.

And that’s where this morning’s email came in from someone who never met my folks. My reader, an Arizona native, reported that when she had to leave her husband in the car while she went inside for a medical appointment, he picked up her copy of Skeleton Canyon and started reading. I got the distinct impression that reading murder mysteries isn’t his thing, but he was desperate. Then, on page 2, I referred to the new lights at the ball field in Bisbee.

To my knowledge, Bisbee’s Warren Ballpark is the oldest continuously operated baseball stadium in the country. By the time I was in high school the lights were in tough shape. Fifteen years later, they were a lot worse, and in the nineties, they were worse still. But my reference to the new lights was where my fan’s husband’s reading came to a sudden stop. He remembered those old lights all too well. In 1976 he had played a football game on that field and said it was the darkest game he ever played. He claimed he hadn’t been able to see his receivers thirty yards down the field, and he was delighted to know that the old lights had been replaced.

But guess what? Some of the funds to install those new lights came from my parents’ extensive collection of aluminum cans. They also used aluminum cans to help reestablish Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops in Bisbee. And some of the money for the helipad at the Copper Queen Hospital came from their aluminum cans as well. No doubt there were plenty of other worthy causes funded by those cans, ones I never even heard of.

That’s how Norman and Evie spent their “spare” time in retirement—collecting cans. They had a regular route of scheduled stops around town, all of them made with my mother riding shotgun in the passenger seat and my father driving the car. Over time he became something of an expert at dumpster diving. At one memorable stop, not only did he come away with an assortment of cans, he scored an almost new pair of men’s black dress shoes that fit him perfectly. He happily wore those for years. At one point, as he was returning to the car with a load of cans from a restaurant’s dumpster, an out-of-town visitor stepped out of her RV, handed him a twenty-dollar bill, and told him to buy himself a nice lunch. I’m pretty sure that twenty went into whatever charity they were supporting at the time.

As the folks got up in years, my younger brother, Jim, was still living in town. People began taking him aside to mention that they were concerned that, at some point, Norm would end up trapped in a dumpster, and Evie wouldn’t be able to help him get out. So Jim, a well-respected local firefighter, went around town and asked various merchants if they’d please put their discarded cans in plastic bags so they’d be easier for our dad to collect.

By the way, by that point in their lives, my dad had perfect twenty-twenty vision, due to cataract surgery while my mother was losing her eyesight to macular degeneration. Mentally, she was still sharp as a tack while my father’s short-term memory loss meant that he wouldn’t necessarily remember where they were going or how to get back home. So that’s how they got around town for a number of years, with Norman at the wheel and Evie telling him where to turn.

Because my brother was in town to help look after them, my parents were able to stay in their own home far longer than they would have been able to otherwise. Once Jim passed away at age fifty, due to an undiagnosed heart ailment, they finally were finally forced to sell out and move into assisted living. That’s when they had to give up collecting aluminum cans. But if there happen to be inappropriately discarded aluminum cans in heaven, I know two people who are making it their business take care of them.

Over time, I think my father’s original Sooner, Dear has now become Forever, Dear.

And that’s only as it should be.

51 thoughts on “Sooner, Dear

  1. I also pick up the bottles. Give them to a guy who has virtually no money and he also picks them up all around town and sells them. Buys most of their groceries with that

  2. How beautiful, Judy…brought back many memories of bottle and can collecting for our family, except the charity we collected for was us…many a time the money we collected was for milk, bread, and eggs for our 8 kids. We still collect cans and nowadays the money does go into a fund for donation. Currently, we are participating in the Knights of Columbus Baby Bottle Drive where spare change is collected in baby bottles. As of today, we have $10.94!
    Love your family stories…looking forward to many more! It’s amazing how sometimes a phrase becomes a family mantra…Sooner, dear.

  3. As much as my late husband and I loved all your books, I love reading your blogs, especially about your wonderful family! We were in Arizona the year before he passed and made a special trip to visit Bisbee and all the places mentioned in your stories Loved the time spent there and love the reminiscencing with you because it reminds me of a special time spent with him Thank you and stay well!

    • What I took notice of this week was the Sunday drive. Growing up in Tucson, that’s what we did pretty much every Sunday, after all, gas was cheap! So it was a cheap family outing. The most common destination was Mount Lemon. My mom would pack a picnic lunch and off we would go.

  4. I bet your folks have now met my Uncle Roy! We used to visit Aunt Kay and Uncle Roy in Lethbridge, Alberta, spending the odd weekend with them. Uncle Roy loved to go for a walk after supper. This meant that he would also carry a ratty old bag to carry any bottles and cans he found, much to my aunt’s distress! Those cans and bottles paid for 2 family trips to Hawaii – and some other family causes. Thank you for my trip down memory lane! Both Marg and I really miss Kay and Roy!

  5. Great story as always. My parents owned a Mom-and-Pop grocery store. We sold individual glass bottles of soda. We also sold a local brand produced by Barrington Bottling.
    That company was still in business when I got married, so mom and dad bought soda from Barrington Bottling for my wedding reception.
    I clerked at the store while they still owned it.

  6. Good memories. And, I don’t think anyone collects aluminum cans anymore–all goes into the recycling bins now.

  7. Such a touching story! I loved the rv lady giving him the $20. We certainly can’t judge a book by its cover!
    I remember the days of taking soda bottles back to the store. But I used my little bits of money for candy! Your folks were superstars!

  8. I love family jargon! The origin stories around it are usually highly amusing.

    Now I have to talk myself out of envying you your wonderful parents.

  9. Poking around was our family’s Sooner Dear. Thanks again for stimulating positive memories of days long gone. My best wishes and prayers to You and Yours For 2023. Aloha From Chuck in Tacoma.

  10. It’s sad in this Country of plenty that we have people struggling to make ends meet; struggle finding reasonable and safe housing, food, clothes. Meanwhile, we have politicians who seem determined to make bad things even worse. And the average citizen has struggles of their own but as determined to avoid the eyes, the reality of homelessness. I’m still too much a hippy I suppose.

  11. Glad to know I’m not the only one dumpster diving for cans. This story made me smile. Thanks for telling it!

  12. My sister and I were recently reminiscing about the “olden days” as our kids call them. Our dogs were never fed commercial dogfood but scraps and what they could forage from the pastures. One of our dogs had 10 puppies and couldn’t produce enough milk to feed them. All the neighborhood kids brought their wagons and we all roamed the ditches, vacant lots etc for old bottles to turn in to buy a bag of food for her. Other times we collected bottles for money for necessities for our family as well as some of the elderly people in the area. Even now, my 59 year old son picks up change from the floor or the ground and saves it in a jar until he has enough to buy a book for his collection. He said it’s amazing how much change people toss away because they don’t want to be bothered with it.

  13. What a wonderful story! It must have been very heartwarming to know that the funds for the collections that were done went for a great cause!
    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

  14. Growing up in Miami Fl. That’s how my brothers and I got money to buy little things we wanted that was not in our parents budget.

  15. such a sweet story
    i love to hear about people who don’t stop living and find ways to give back to their community
    you are such a natural story teller which makes the books a delight and the blog a huge bonus.
    Write on!

  16. What a fabulous story. Brought tears to my eyes. Makes me remember my uncle, who is now passed. He and my aunt did not have toll money to get back from seeing my grandparents, so they stopped and picked up cans and turned them in. Years later, with an 8th great education, he invented “parts” that went into the first moon landing, started a machine business and became wealthy. He was so kind and dear and never forgot his humble beginnings, where he actually had to escape from Siberia. I guess we can say, cans really ROCK!

  17. Simply beautiful. Thank you for sharing this story.

    My spouse and I collect cans to help my son as he struggles with providing for my severally autistic grandson. We know the challenges he faces only grow deeper by the years. My grandson is now as tall as my son and is physically capable of hurting someone while in a meltdown. But my son decided it was best for my grandson to live at home with him. Finding someone to watch him while my son works is a challenge especially now that he is older, this keeps them struggling financially. Special Ed classes are some of the worst hit by teacher shortages leaving many special ed kids not getting the education they need which only compounds the problem. So, we do what we can to help my son and that includes collecting cans and bottles then donating the money to him to help make ends meet.

    Thank you for the reminder that nickels add up to dollars which can make a difference.

  18. Thank you for once again reminding us that memories of day’s gone by can be precious. My hope is that everyone can have at least one precious memory which gets them through the tough times in life. You are a gift to me as a reader of your many books and certainly this blog.

  19. Your story reminds me of a young man in Bemidji, MN, in the mid-80s who would walk the streets of Bemidji collecting aluminum cans. His unique take on the venture was that he walked backwards at all times. He had a bicycle mirror secured to his left shoulder, a large canvas sack hung across his stomach, and a stick sharpened on the bottom to puncture and pick up cans. Named “Backwards Guy”, he got a story published in the local newspaper about his desire to set the Guinness Book of World Records record for walking backwards. His wrinkle was collecting cans, which he (I believe) donated to the large wire collection bin outside the local public library. Sadly, Backwards Guy was hit and killed by a car one day while on patrol for cans after several years of his record-setting quest.

  20. I loved this story. My husband and I, in retirement, saved our Diet Coke cans and took them to recycling when our large containers filled up. We used the money for a trip to McDonald’s or Dairy Queen and the rest went in the bank. Beautiful memories. He died 11 months ago. It’s time for me to make another trip to recycling but I just can’t get into it.

  21. Love tht my husband and I collected cans and vottle for many years clenaing up roadwy bakc in Maine

  22. Judy, I failed to mention that I carry plaastic bags with me everyday as I take my daily walks. I pick up plastic water bottles and aluminum cans. The money goes for buying paper cups, bowls, etc to feed soup to the homeless. Plus, it gets so much trash off of the neighborhood streets, and gives me a bit more exercise as I bend down to pick up it up. It’s amazing how much litter people still throw into ditches and on the sidewalks & streets.

  23. I love the way the words, “Sooner Dear” became a name for the Norman-Evie
    team on patrol for cans! (This made my husband Carl laugh out loud)
    This is one of the most touching stories about members of the “Greatest Generation,” who lived through the Dust bowl and the Depression, and knew the value of a penny, a dime in a way not so common today-
    I love that they enjoyed this hunt together, and also found satisfaction in giving
    away what they had earned so that others could benefit, could find joy-

  24. While my husband was attending medical and money was tight (if non-existent), my girls and I would scour the neighborhood for cans. The resulting funds paid for school supplies for 3 little girls!

  25. my heart soars…after months of almost sagging into the ground…after reading this!
    love you love you love you

  26. When I was growing up my Mom thought soda was bad for us. We got ginger ale in bottles when sick and that was that. I never really liked the taste of Coke—it’s too sweet. If I had anything in the car to drink it was usually a drink from McDonald’s in a paper cup with a lid. I’d throw that away when I got home.

    I’ve never understood why people toss empty bottles and cans out of their cars. Can’t they keep the empties and put in the trash at home?

  27. I recently found your blog posts, subscribed, and am just loving every post. I am an avid reader, and have read all of your books, in order. My Covid project was to get all of the old books and start in the proper order. I attended one of your book signings at The Poisoned Pen prior to Covid.
    Keep up the good work, your books bring such joy to the world, and this blog is a continuation of that joy. Thank you.

  28. Thank you for another delightful and touching Evie and Norman story. I could honestly read these every day. Your parents and you never fail to delight.

  29. A small Catholic school our children attended turned in aluminum cans for recycling to raise money for something that was something “wanted” but not needed. My mother helped by always collecting cans on her walk for years and we still save our cans to be turned in for a few bucks a couple times a year for the school’s wants.

  30. This is a beautiful story and memory. Made me tear up a bit. Brought back memories of the 7 of us traveling in our 9 passenger station wagon to Kansas each summer.

  31. I too collected cans, crushed them and dropped them in a box in the garage. Over time I had several (many) boxes of cans. Always had intentions of turning them in for the deposit, but never found the time. One afternoon the doorbell rang, and when I answered it there stood a very young Boy Scout. “Mr., I am collecting cans. Do you have any I can have?”, he asked. I told him I had a few, and he should meet me at my garage door. One never saw eyes so large when he saw the stack of boxes full of cans. He turned to his father in the sedan at end of our driveway and called, “Dad, I think we are going to need the truck”. Made my wife happy too.

    • If there were a prize for “Best Response” I think you won it this week, David! Certainly brightened my day! Now that I’m smiling I need to go clear out the sink before the plumber comes….

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