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.