Life and Death and Beer Cans

A year’s worth of changes happened within the last two months. My family moved. My wife and I started a new business. My mother died on Thanksgiving Day. An old friend died a week later.

I now live in an old, historic building full of wonders from the past—a museum of sorts. The concrete underneath our living room floor slopes as it did when it was a silent theater in the early 1900’s. I’ve become the custodian of a 100-year-old staircase, 14-foot tin ceilings, a urinal from a 1930’s bus stop, and an antique beer can collection.

Before two months ago, I didn’t know that beer can collecting was a hobby. Tucked away in an upstairs corner of the building in which we now live, I found hundreds of cans. Some neatly tied in old boxes. Some thrown in bags. My first thought was to take them to the recycling center, but I realized they weren’t aluminum and decided they’d be worth next to nothing. But in the few calm moments between the chaos of the last few weeks, I’ve begun to go through them. At first, with mild curiosity. Now, with the wonder of a child.

An Iron City Beer can celebrating the 1975 Super Bowl champions with a photo of the Steelers. And then the same can from 76. Hundreds of pop-top cans. Several punch top cans from before pop-tops. Cans from all over the world. Beautiful cans, funny cans, cans that simply say “beer.” Cans from the sixties that have never been open. I looked it up—fifty-year-old beer is not safe to drink. At first, I thought I’d sell the cans to collectors. But instead, I’m afraid I may become a collector myself.

My wife and children were out of state for Thanksgiving, but I stayed back to work both at my real job and my new job. After a morning’s work, I drove to my parent’s home for Thanksgiving. My mama was not waiting in the living room for me as usual.

Friends told me that when the time grew near, she’d decline quickly. I had not realized that the “time grew near” during the previous week. She smiled and tried to talk when I entered her room that morning. My sister and dad and I said good-bye later that night, and I drove back to West Texas early in the morning to spend the day alone.

The days since have been strange. A new life in an old building. Endless work, and endless thoughts, and endless Carol King songs streaming through my mind. We played Way Over Yonder at the memorial service as my mother’s life was summarized in a slideshow of fifteen minutes. She was a baby and teenager and twenty-year-old mother and middle-aged grandmother and gone.

My dad stays with us often now. There’s plenty of room and work for us all, and he loves it. Together we clean the halls of brick that were built by men long gone. We sit and talk where a child watched a silent film before they were drafted and sent to die in World War II, or mop the same tiles that a café worker mopped in the twenties. We live our new lives in an old place, and when customers ask, “How was your Thanksgiving?” we don’t know how to respond and awkwardly say, “Fine.”

When it’s all too much, as it was last night with a house full of guests, I hide in the little shop upstairs and look at the old beer cans. They once belonged to a young boy; I’ve found his letters regarding them from years ago. I look through his collector’s guides from the 70’s and see the cans he’s circled in red. They’ve become more than cans to recycle. They are clues, or links, to the past. And they, along with everything else that surrounds me now, reminds me of how we are just here for a short time.


About Nowhere Tribune

A husband and daddy, striving to love his neighbors and be kind to his pets. I love good food, good beer, and a few good friends. My other interests are hiking, taking walks, lifting weights, reading books by manly authors like Hemingway and Twain, and splitting fire wood with my bare hands.


35 thoughts on “Life and Death and Beer Cans

  1. Oh John, I’m so very sorry to hear about your mama. I’m not going to give you cheesy sympathy card lines, all I can say, I’m sorry….🥺😥

    Posted by thehuntress915 | December 26, 2019, 3:30 pm
  2. It’s a difficult thing to lose a close relative. My condolences.
    I notice there’s a “Billy” beer can in that collection. I remember that from the 70’s, and what a controversial figure the president’s brother was.
    Sounds like a very interesting new house you live in.

    Posted by Tippy Gnu | December 26, 2019, 4:51 pm
  3. So very sorry for your loss. I’m glad your father is spending time and helping you with the new adventure… it sounds intriguing. And that beer can discovery? My husband’s dream stash!

    Posted by Rivergirl | December 26, 2019, 7:00 pm
  4. Sorry to hear about your mother. It’ll be 13 years in February since my mother passed and August will mark the 21st anniversary of my father passing. And I’m not even 42 yet. It is hard, but as time goes on, the sting of loss does fade. I wish you the best and I am happy to hear of the time spent with your father. That’s a very special thing. Cherish it. Take care.

    Posted by Ben | December 27, 2019, 12:48 am
    • Thank you, Ben. I do remember that you lost both your parents when you were young. And yes, that time with dad is more special than ever. I hope you and your family are doing well.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | December 27, 2019, 7:56 am
  5. Sorry about your mother.

    Posted by Michelle Le G | December 27, 2019, 1:51 am
  6. I’m so sorry about your mother. I really hope the rest of your Thanksgivings aren’t tainted by the memory of her passing. And I’m glad you’re having fun with your new project!
    You’re a fantastic writer.

    Posted by Shayne | December 27, 2019, 9:55 am
  7. Sorry to hear about the loss of your mother, it must be hard, especially with everything else happening at the same time. I am happy to see you have found something new and enjoyable to do though. I would’ve been stoked to have found lots of old beer cans.

    Posted by TheCovertAtheist | December 28, 2019, 4:27 am
  8. I’m really sorry to hear about your loss. I hope the exciting changes in your life will help you to keep moving forward and feel positive when you can.

    On a side note, you really do have such a beautiful and emotive way of writing, I always enjoy reading your pieces.

    Posted by Hannah Louise | December 29, 2019, 2:09 am
  9. Awesome post. Who could imagine connecting old beer cans to life and death and celebrating our short time here… Well done, sir. Well done.

    Posted by Kieran | December 29, 2019, 1:11 pm
  10. I am sorry about your mother passing on Thanksgiving. On the day my maternal grandma reached her eightieth birthday, to praise her, we set up a gathering at the club where my late granddad had now and again played golf. We looked at a slideshow of photos from her eighty years of life.

    She lived a few years longer, but, you know, even while friends and family laughed heartily at the more silly pictures that had turned up for the slideshow, letting her know we all loved her, I was the one person who was crying, not laughing. Thinking about life passing makes me sad, although maybe it is more customary to embrace time passing.

    I appreciated reading this post you wrote and wish you well. May you have a wonderful New Year, and may there be more happy times to discover before too much more has gone by.

    Posted by odell01 | December 30, 2019, 7:33 am
  11. I’m so sorry about your mom. I don’t really have the right words – I don’t think anyone does -, but I’m sending some love. I hope this new year treats you kindly and that you have success with your new projects!

    Posted by Jay | January 3, 2020, 3:33 pm
  12. I’ve missed reading your blog and definitely need to make a resolution to put more time into blogging and reading other blogs in 2020. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. My mother died the week of Thanksgiving two years ago and the holidays are so different now. Your new business venture sounds exciting; I wish you and your family the best in the new year 🙂 I loved seeing the pictures of the beer cans. I bet your new home has an amazing history.

    Posted by Snowbird In Training | January 3, 2020, 6:19 pm
    • Thank you so much. I’m sure the holidays will always be different for me, as they must be for you. And my blog is not worth making a resolution over! I’m glad you liked the cans; I’ll do another post about them soon(ish). I hope you and your family have a terrific new year, too.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | January 6, 2020, 7:56 am
  13. May the road rise to meet you,
    May the wind be always at your back,
    May the sunshine be warm upon your face,
    May the deep peace of the quiet earth surround you.

    This is such a great post, thanks for sharing it.

    Posted by Clever Girl | January 9, 2020, 1:14 pm
  14. I’ve collected beer cans since I was about 12 years old (I’m 52 now). Glad you get to experience the enjoyment of looking at the old advertisement and design that went into them. It’ really is a great hobby.

    Posted by fiat128 | February 6, 2020, 3:33 pm
    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’ve gotten more and more interested–now I spend most of my free time cleaning cans or building shelves!

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | February 7, 2020, 7:09 am
  15. So sorry for your loss. My dad died five years and the beer cans he saved hold many happy memories. thanks for sharing.

    Posted by chrissy | February 7, 2020, 1:42 pm
  16. Great story you should become an author.

    Posted by Matt | February 7, 2020, 6:25 pm

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