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Cash Cans
The memories I have of my grandfather are a little fuzzy, because I only knew him when I was young. Of course that is a sad thing, because I would love to know him now and hear his story firsthand, and also to compare my own father to him and therefore be able to know my own family on a deeper level. But in a lot of ways, I'm okay with only knowing him during the earlier years of my life, because it seems to make the memories I do have of him more clear in my mind and more dear to my heart.

I am a little girl of around six or eight years old, sitting squished into the old (maybe?) green pick up truck of my grandfathers. My cousin Ciji (also a little girl) and I are squished in between my grandfather (driving) and my grandmother in the passenger seat. We bounce and rumble along old dirt roads in the baking summer sun and humidity that is singular to southern Alabama. The skin of my little legs sticks to the cracked leather seat and I relax into the smell of that pickup truck, a smell that is synonymous with thoughts of my grandfather. It is a mixture of hot leather upholstery, gas, dust, and cigarette smoke and even though it's not exactly fragrant, its familiarity makes me feel safe. I glace at my grandfather, and briefly study the leathery brown face, lost in lines that, while probably over-exaggerated in my childlike mind, come from too much tobacco and sun exposure. I look at his hands on the steering wheel, hands that I can still see on my father, aunt and uncle today, hands with tiny, Bible-cover like wrinkles charting erratic paths through his skin and down long, thin fingers. I turn in my crowded seat and watch as the dust flies out behind the truck as we drive down the road and watch as a few tiny moats dance around my face in the sunlight.

I am jolted out of my gazing as the old truck bumps to a stop. "Out boys," says my grandfather- a man of few words. For some reason my grandfather got a kick out of calling us boys and I suppose as tomboyish as we could be at times, we didn't really mind all that much. My grandmother slides out quickly as my cousin and I climb down out of the truck and into the road. Ciji and I make our way into the ditch on the side of the road, she treads unabashedly through the tall grasses and weeds while I step cautiously behind, constantly on the lookout for snakes, aunts, or spiders. We quickly find what we are looking for: dusty and crumpled old aluminum cans. We gather up the cans into the pouches we make from our shirt-tails and hurry back to the truck, ready to get out of the heat and be on our way again. We toss the cans into the back of the truck, excited to be adding to the ever-growing pile. We climb back into the truck and repeat this odd hunting and gathering routine for what seems like endless hours until we are hot and bored- which in reality probably didn't take that long at all.

Fast forward six-ish months. It is Christmas morning and we are all gathered excitingly in the living room of my grandparents house. The way-too-early morning of opening presents, the grumbling tummies awaiting breakfast, and the general business of the past few days has made everyone a little irritable, but the surprise that we know lies ahead appeases our ill tempers. My grandfather comes down the hall nonchalantly, and announces that all grandchildren must line up against the wall. Our eyes widen in delight as he pulls out a stack of bills that we just know must be thousands of dollars. He has gotten all the cash in ones and hands it to each of us one bill at a time, like a dealer handing out cards at a casino table, until there is no more money. What had seemed like a large sum of money turns out to only be about $10 per grandchild, but it is a fortune in our eyes, and a hard-earned one at that. This is the money that came from our time spent the past summer collecting cans. All those trips in and out of the truck in the dusty, sticky heat seem worth it now, as we all discuss what toys we will buy with our money.

I'm not really sure if we really even made that much money from the cans, but I know my grandfather picked up more cans on his own than all the grandchildren put together, so he may have even thrown in a few extra dollar bills as well. But it was a valuable gift nonetheless, that taught us all several important lessons. One being, one man's trash is another man's treasure. Two being the value of hard work and the satisfaction of a nice payday, and three, to think twice before we litter up our environment. I think the most important lesson may be one that I'm only just now recognizing, and that is that you never know when a memory you create with someone may be one of the only memories they have of you one day, so we should make all of our time with loved ones count.

Hope this finds you finding what you are looking for on this road we call life!


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