Skip to comments.The can lady...
Posted on 09/07/2006 7:53:38 PM PDT by pickrell
The 'can lady', as she was called by so many who certainly recognized a community fixture when they saw one for the three hundredth time, walked the neighborhoods and the business strip every morning at first light, picking up the occasional discarded aluminum can, and the occasional currency and coin, lying upon the city's sidewalks and streets. Many observers may have felt a pang of angst that society did not provide social services to prevent such a sad fate. Some may even have tried to 'remedy' the old lady's perilous situation through the mechanisms of government. Any who did would have abruptly found that the can lady was not to be trifled with.
A physician who might be warned by well-wishers that the poor thing had to walk each morning over a route measured generously in miles, might smile in amazement to himself when he took her blood pressure. One thing he wouldn't do would be to ever try to out-walk her, to deliver the bill! For, when he finally collapsed owing to his 60 year old body, and watched her smiling, striding, 80 plus year old form receding effortlessly into the distance, carrying that sack of cans... the last thought on his mind would be to lecture her about the toll on her health.
When he eventually got his wind back, he would flag down a ride back to the clinic, (and because irony loves a joke too- probably in the well-wisher's SUV) ...and pay for that ride by listening to the driver's health complaints the whole bloody way back.
The unfortunate can lady knew where all of the wild fruit trees and berries vines abounded along the railroad tracks, and was reduced to eating fresh fruit... instead of feasting from cans packed in heavy syrup. Having passed her 80th birthday, a few years back, she finally relented and allowed the dentist to adulterate a perfect set of teeth with that first crown. A gentle fretting must have followed about "- letting m'self go to hell in a handbasket. Next thing you know, it'll be a false tooth or suchlike." But always with a gentle smile, and never in public.
A fly on the wall, (which would have been a rare and VERY endangered species in THAT house), would have seen checks sent from concerned relatives, pooled with Social Security checks, and the retirement checks from the many years spent working in the Eveready battery factory- all being cashed and kept in the box under the bed... safe from any sudden attack of bankers.
Yet the box never overflowed, in spite of the steady income. It seemed that the same concerned relatives who donated to the impoverished Aunt, would mention in passing that niece Latty's car had finally collapsed into a heap, and Aunt Aggy would search her mighty memory banks to provide one from "-that guy I know across town, who'll take $700.00 for it..."
It would, of course have come as a shock to that same guy across town, who'd later watch Aunt Aggy count 1,800 dollars in twenties into his hand, to hear her a few days later tell Latty that, with some brow beating, she'd eventually got him down to $650.00, and that it was Latty's lucky day.
And she'd smiled, and impudently allowed as to how she'd keep the $50.00 for herself- for being such a smart aunt. And, passing the test, Latty returned the smile and pronounced her welcome to it.
It was that same victim of the can lady's ostensible negotiating skills, who brought the pickup truck over from the used car lot each month, to haul the load of cans to the recycler, and bring back the cash to the can lady. The deep debt he was paying back would never be exposed. Such is the trust that sometimes exists.
Stranger's children, who's parents couldn't afford the tuition to the Catholic school, would never learn why, that after a quiet visit of Aunt Aggy to collect cans at the school's lunch room- the school had suddenly found an obscure "grant" that they weren't interested in explaining further, which enabled the children to attend for free. But it always seemed to be the children of high character who somehow "got lucky". To someone who woke at the crack of dawn each morning to "keep her city on the straight and clean", the idea of subsidizing a slacker would earn a hard eye and a hard frown.
A number of times, sons and daughters who hadn't visited Mom or Dad in quite a while, took the pointed advice of the can lady, and suddenly found that their parent had not let anyone know about that serious medical problem. No records were kept of the tragedy that such prompt intervention prevented. That's the thing about tragedies- when they are dealt with early, they don't develop into tragedies. And the can lady walked to the next house...
Others heard the local gossip about how their teenagers were observed with the half-brick in their hands, right before that school window got broken. It seemed the gossip reached them before things spun out of hand and the police became necessary. All in the gentle voice of the can lady. Most acted on the advice- to the grief of their neo-delinquent sons! How many potential bad endings... ended right then and there would never be known.
The ones which made the paper, much later in their criminal careers, were usually the sons of parents who ignored the warnings of a venerable old aluminum collector.
Yet life moves on.
Aunt Aggy died last year of cancer, having patrolled the streets of that small town, southeast of Columbus,Ohio, for more than 80 years. It must occur to the most perceptive of the residents of that small town that her loss will be felt keenly by far more than her family.
Who will now identify, hire and pay new city workers to pick up the cans littering the streets in the future? Who will infuse caution in the young children of the future, left now to enjoy the freedom to toss the bricks unmolested? Who will the police rely on to keep an ear to the ground as far as troublemakers are concerned? Is it possible even to write a comprehensive collection of protections that would stiffen the spine of an adult against all of the hazards of scolding other parents' delinquent children?
Will tomorrow's generation even know how that a 123 pound, 84 year old lady could possibly cause several 196 pound teenagers to suddenly become dry in the mouth and wet in the pant legs?
When no more miraculous and inexplicable interventions occur that form turning points in the lives of children, how many wonderful futures will be darker? What talents and tomorrows will never be known, simply because a bureaucratic structure designed to simulate parenting is much too expensive and utterly ineffective for the local economy to bear?
What unsung person will now inobtrusively check in on those older folks around the neighborhoods, to enable them all to live a little bit longer on their own, in homes they've long drawn comfort from in their familiarity... because someone wise about the pride of older persons quietly verifies their safety each morning, without them even realizing what is occurring? What state worker will have the experience to perform the checks for slurred speech, clarity of thought, range of motion, and a hundred other tells... all concealed in a brief, quiet morning chat with the unthreatening can lady who once graduated from nursing school?
What person will draw them out to their porches for a nod or a chat, and keep them connected to the world, even if old limbs make it impossible for many of them to leave their houses?
What person will accept their small offered bag of cans, exchange it for a smile and a thank-you, and leave them with the warming satisfaction that they are helping her out?
Why is the quiet wisdom, and unselfish reliability that infused an entire generation of older Americans... simply tossed aside by our schools as something irrelevant to today's text-messaging generation? When we have all finally accumulated enough stuff... what will we actually have- once communities complete their devolution into mere disconnected accretions of individuals?
What happens to the last of the small communities which made America the kind of place that nearly everyone in the world wanted to live...
... when the Aunt Aggys are all gone?
Nice story, nice tribute.
I'm an old Aunt m'self!
Hope to make contributions like your Aunt Aggy did.
Well, where ever she lived the people of that town were certainly lucky to have a citizen such as this lady. I wish I had the privilege of knowing her. May she rest in peace. Thank you for posting this about your aunt. And I'm sorry you have lost her but her memory will be always bright in your heart and mind.
Wow, thanks so much for sharing. That really touched my heart. With your kind permission, I will place a copy in my "Nice things to look over now and then" file.
Love this! Love your Auntie. I think you should do another draft in the Reader's Digest form of "My most unforgettable character" and send it off (caution, they rarely accept anything but it doesn't hurt to try). And send this version around, too. The message is important.
What a beautiful tribute to your Aunt. Thank you very much for sharing. May she rest in peace and may the memory of her live on forever.
Thank you for the reminder. Thank God for this lady who "got it".
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