Clink, clink, clink. Beer bottle, Pepsi can, Budweiser. Men and women dropped them into the heavy duty garbage bag I held out in front of me. Clink, clink. To my young ears, the noise of aluminum and glass falling into the Hefty sack was the music of money.
Growing up, my dad and I collected cans and bottles then returned them for the 5-cent deposit. I stood outside the gates at University of Oregon Duck football games as fans filed in; I scoured bleachers for left behind “empties”; I hopped out of my dad’s Dodge Caravan at stop signs to snag “nickels” discarded by the side of the road.
Collecting bottles and cans was like a treasure hunt. I trained my elementary school-aged eyes to scan tall grass for the glint of aluminum as we drove along. We celebrated when we found a stash of malt liquor cans on a walk along the river. We never knew when opportunity would present itself, so we went about our errands together as if a cache of cans—just waiting to be transformed into cash—might be waiting for us anywhere if only we were ready.
It was a grand adventure.
The best part, of course, was the reward. We would load up the back of the minivan with boxes of cans carefully sorted by manufacturer—Coke products separated from Pepsi, naturally (though we sometimes hid a red Safeway cola can in the middle of the Coca Colas and snickered to ourselves when no one discovered the ruse). Some teenager would accept the cases at the grocery store, and in turn they’d give us money.
A lot of money.
I squirreled away all those dollars, proud each time I made a deposit at the credit union. I saved and saved.
All those nickels added up over the years, and I paid for a three-week study abroad trip to Mexico when I was a freshman in high school. And I still had money left over in my account.
Somewhere along the line, probably when I was in middle school and afraid of what my classmates might think if they spotted me picking up bottles alongside the road, my dad and I stopped canning. We didn’t haunt the tailgates at Autzen Stadium or peer into garbage cans at the park.
But since Peeper was born, my dad has a 17-pound-reason to take up the hunt again.
Every so often, a letter comes addressed in my dad’s scrawl to Peeper. Inside is a bank deposit slip. He is saving the cash earned from collecting empties on his walks for his granddaughter.
He has already saved hundreds of dollars for her.
Who knows what she may use the money for. College? A trip abroad? A motorcycle? (Over my dead body.)
Regardless, I love that she already has this connection with her grandpa. My imagination flashes forward to what might be in a few years. I see her walking along the Willamette with Grandpa on a warm afternoon. I see her turn her head and squint at something in the grass. I see her scampering off the trail and bending over. I see her holding up a simple aluminum can, sunshine bouncing off its side. I see beam at Grandpa.
I see her pride and excitement. I see her triumph.