to a toddler it didn’t matter. His mom collected cans for a living and so he learned to collect cans and love the activity too, like one would learn to catch fish or gut a buffalo and offer thanks through song.
he liked the locomotion of walking around town, digging through recycle bins and scoring treasures as he called them …….the father was no where to be found. Took off with first whispers of an embryo so it was mom who had dibs on what to name him and she never hesitated. Called him Tundra to honor the short growing season regions, a reminder to seize opportunities which in can collecting parlance translated to knowing where to find cans – outside the local university fraternity houses, back alleys of bars, and houses with heavy beer drinkers. Tundra’s mom knew them places like an angler knows rivers.
Momma held Tundra up at the grocery store so he could stuff one aluminum can after another into the machine and he loved the crunch sound. He held the printout in his hand and he exchanged it for some magic coins. Tundra smiled and so did the cashier, mom too, a secret ritual paradise born.
but the world is cruel and as Tundra grew, kids at school found out that he lived in a shelter and that he and his mom collected cans and they taunted Tundra and doubt creeped into the boy’s mouldable mind. Tundra’s back slouched. His gait slowed, but he endured and became a teen and one summer day, he and his mom waited outside a bar, for cans, like they did at most bars because bartenders were much kinder than Tundra’s classmates. And this particular bartender made it vocal that he respected can collecting. He likened it to 49ers searching for gold, as legit as any other employment and in a way, even better, choosing your own hours.
The bartender invited them in for a complimentary beer and the fates were kind, because it was an old man’s bar and the drinkers knew about life being a “tough row to hoe.” One of the men, wearing a green, John Deere hat, pointed to a tv hoisted above the tapper, but he didn’t really need to point because Tundra got sucked in from the moment he walked into the bar, sucked into this game of bat and ball being played. No one said a word either, only the bartender, an invite to come and see more games whenever “momma says it would be alright.”
They were there every Saturday and Tundra took his new love into the week, to the library, where he read up on the game and along the information way, he stumbled on pictures of statues, baseball statues, Hartland baseball statues, nothing more than plastic figurines, but the players, he soon discovered were old, from the late 1950’s, long before Tundra’ time. And he liked the history of it, of him being part of a larger family and his gratitude worked like a charm, unleashing ideas in the young boy’s mind, to create aluminum figurines of his favorite players and to sit outside after school and sell them. His mom, initially rejected the idea as blasphemy, ruining a good can and losing 5 cents and in some locations 10 cents! But Tundra begged and momma surrendered at one point, “But only two cans,” she insisted.
Tundra spent the rest of the day cutting, twisting, and curling the can, very carefully so as to not suffer an injury and he modeled his first player after his favorite Hartland Statue – Warren Spahn – his glove and throwing hand high above his head. Then he made an Ichiro, bat head aimed towards third base, the beginnings of an inevitable, opposite field double down the line.
It wasn’t easy to part ways with his aluminum statues, but Tundra wanted to pay respects to his mother and so he sold the two statues, made some more, and gave the money to his mom. She admitted she was wrong and felt a surge of pride as a can collecting mother. And the boys at school? Well, they switched sides like a fickle fashion and wanted to be Tundra’s friend.