Thursday, March 10, 2011

Odell The Can Lady

Today I decided to box up all my new thrift store goodies so that Jayson doesn't accidentally break them before I get the chance to use them. I'm not saying that he's accident prone, but he did manage to tumble down a flight of stairs in a single bound.

Since we haven't technically moved in yet, I didn't have any old newspaper or anything to wrap the dishes in but I did have some cup towels that I brought down here a while back for some reason that I can't remember but I'm sure it was brilliant.

Most of the cup towels are linen souvenir towels that my grandmother collected on some of her trips, but I have a stack of towels that I got as a wedding gift waaaaayyy back in 1988 that I've never used. I like them so I've kept them but they never really matched any of the houses we've lived in so they haven't seen any action.

Until now. Omigosh they're perfect. They're those cotton flour sack dish towels that are hand embroidered with a different task for each day of the week. You know the ones, they've been around forever.

As I was packing up my stuff in these soft towels, I was thinking about the lady who gave them to us. Her name was Odell and she used to come by my Dad's office once a week to collect the aluminum cans we'd save for her. This was way before recycling caught on in North Texas. It just wasn't done.

But Odell did it and she did it not for the environment but because it was one of the few ways she could earn the money she desperately needed just to survive. She asked friends and businesses to save their cans for her and she'd faithfully pick them up every week and take them to the recycling center.

Did I mention that Odell was a widow and was at least 150 years old? On occasion my Dad or Grandfather would find a can that someone had thrown in the trash and they'd fish it out and put in the separate bag we kept for Odell. Not because they gave a rip about the environment, but because they cared a great deal about Odell.

When Jayson and I got married I gave her a wedding invitation knowing that she probably wouldn't come but I would have liked for her to. I worked for my Dad and saw her every week so she knew I was getting married and had patiently pretended to be interested as I'm sure I selfishly droned on and on about wedding plans every time I saw her.

I certainly didn't expect a gift from her and I don't think she felt obligated to give one. She did it because that was how she rolled. I'm always amazed at how the most generous people are often the ones that seems to have so little to give. But somehow they manage to outgive us all.

Odell did give us a wedding gift...several of them in fact. If I remember right, she left the box at the office for me because I wasn't in on the day she came around for the cans.  I opened the box and found what turned out to be my favorite wedding gift out of all the gifts we received. And we received a lot.

There was a spice rack in the box, the wooden kind with 2 rows of glass bottles with rubber stoppers. You've probably seen them before. It was obviously second hand but spotlessly clean. I don't know what happened to the rack over the years but I still have and use the bottles.

Also in the box was a small mayonnaise jar full of assorted buttons. There was a hand crocheted pin cushion with a variety of pins and needles, some with a length of thread attached.

There were 2 aprons that Odell had made from cute cotton calico. One was a Christmas print and the other was pink and white. She also included half a dozen colorful pot holders that she'd made by quilting fabric scraps together. Then there were the 7 flour sack towels that she'd embroidered herself.

The next time I saw Odell I thanked her for the gift and told her how much I appreciated all of the thoughtful items she included. She told me that she liked to give those kinds of things as gifts to brides because they're things we all need but usually don't think to ask for. She was right. I'm pretty sure I didn't think to register a pin cushion or a jar of buttons at Dillard's but sure enough, I needed them.

Odell liked to collect discarded clothing from dumpsters or garage sale leftovers. She would take them home and wash everything really well in hot water. Then she would remove all the buttons or zippers and rip out all the seams so she could use the fabric to make quilts, aprons, pot holders, etc. to give as gifts. That's also where the jar of buttons came from, and she made sure to tell me to save all my empty jars because they were good to store things in.

Next month Jayson and I will be celebrating our 23rd anniversary. When we got married we received a lot of nice gifts and appreciated each one of them but it's difficult to remember exactly who gave what. And even though I do appear to be somewhat of a hoarder (the clean, quirky kind) I have gotten rid of a lot of things over the years for various reasons.

The years, my narcolepsy, and my general flightiness have robbed me of a lot of memories that I'm sure I would miss if I could just remember what they are. I find it odd and fascinating that I can remember so clearly this gift from Odell. What started out in a dumpster quickly became the most treasured wedding gift I received and almost 23 years later I still feel like the luckiest person in the world because I have dumpster pot holders made by Odell the can lady!!

I really don't know where I got my love for dumpster diving and repurposing. It may have been Odell, it may not. But her spirit of generosity, creativity, and her gift for making do with what she had has been my muse for most of my adult life.

I don't know what happened to Odell. I got caught up in my own life and lost track of her. I'm sure she passed away years ago. I hope I see her again when we're in heaven because there's something I really want to tell her. I want her to know that her wedding gift was my favorite and it lasted longer than anyone else's gift because the real gift she gave me wasn't inside that box.


Shamayn said...

I'm sitting here boo-hoo-ing over Odell! God love her. [sob]

SkylersDad said...

What a great story, nicely done. Odell sounds like a wonderful lady.

Shannon Green said...

She was. I wish I had appreciated her more when she was around.