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Tuesday, December 23, 2003

A penny for your thoughts, and an extra cent for your clean beer bottles....

It's funny how the most mundane, everyday sight, sound, or smell, can trigger a memory. This morning as I emptied the dishwasher, the top rack full of glasses made that clinking sound as I pulled the drawer out and I was instantly transported to a world 38 years ago. Hawaii; 1965. I was riding on the handle bars of my brothers bike and he had a basket full of empty beer bottles. The bottles clinked together as we rode along.

I know that when one thinks of Hawaii, they think of a tropical paradise. The ultimate vacation destination for Canadian Snowbirds and U.S. Mainlanders. But, those are not the things that come to my mind. We were pretty poor. So, to help make ends meet, my brothers and sisters and I (there were 6 of us, I was the "baby") would collect empty beer bottles before school. Back then, the Primo Brewing Co. would pay a penny a bottle if you would return their beer bottles. If they were clean, you'd get a penny more. We'd go out at 5 or 6 and search the bins and by the side of the road, get as many as we could, bring them home, wash them, and then we'd go change into our school clothes and get ready for school. I remember being embarrassed sometimes, praying that I wouldn't run into any of my friends on those early mornings. Then I remember thinking when I got to school if any of my friends had to do what I did every morning before school.

One Saturday, I went with my uncle to the Primo brewery to return the bottles we collected that week. The line of cars and trucks was long and I remember seeing kids there from school, sitting in the beds of pickups, waiting with their families to return bottles. It didn't matter to me at that point where they got them. Whether they were just returning the bottles that their families had consumed on their own, or whether they got them the way that we did. At that moment, the playing field was level. We were all there for the same reason. Even in my 5 year old mind, there was comfort in that. I was no different than any of them. A penny was a penny, and an extra penny for a clean bottle was double your pay. The next Monday at school, after we'd done our "bottle duty" that morning, I worried just a little bit less about who may have seen me. And the quarter in my pocket that paid for my lunch that day gave me the kind of smile you get from a job well done.

While I emptied the dishwasher and those glasses clinked, I had a new sense of gratitude for where I had come from, poor or not, and an even greater sense of gratitude that my kids never had to depend on empty beer bottles for a warm school lunch. Their difficulties will be their own and hopefully, they have and will learn from them the same attitude of gratitude as they grow into adulthood. But for right now, at least the dishwasher is empty, and because of the trip down memory lane, I don't even remember emptying it.


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