On April 29, 2013, my mom passed away.
Even though she had just turned 91 at the time, that didn't keep me from holding an opinion then and to this day (writing this on November 3, 2015 by adding to and
editing some writing that I did in mid-October of this year) that, with better medical decisions being made, she would, likely, still be around even now.
As of the morning of September 9 of that year, I'd officially joined the ranks
of America's homeless (and how I had gone from living a more comfortable and conventional life to this is another story altogether -- but it had to do with trusting people who couldn't be trusted), and October 24, 2013 was a day when I was starting to feel
a bit discouraged.
It was a chilly, gray, rainy day, and things weren't going as I had hoped they would to the point that I was starting to wonder if I had been overly-confident when it came to deciding that I could find affordable and
available lodging during the upcoming winter so that there was no hurry to settle somewhere until I was absolutely sure that I wanted to.
I was missing my mom and thinking about how nice it would be to wake up and find that I'd just had
a nightmare, and what had happened in the past several months had all been just a bad dream.
But at what point would I want to wake up to find things were all a dream?
I had already met several special new friends.
Would I want them to be only a dream?
Long-time friends were having great things happening to them.
Two of them (a sister and brother) had some wonderful things happen to them that I wouldn't want to be just
The sister was living in a better neighborhood in an apartment attached to a house owned by her cousin, and the brother had just married his longtime sweetheart.
Would I want all of that to be
just a dream?
No, life had to go on -- both the happy times and the sad times...
I thanked God for His blessings in my life and resumed the attitude that there were things for me to be doing right where I was "at"
at the time--and where I was "at" at that particular moment was driving south on North Broadway in Anderson, and Shadyside Park would soon be to the left of me.
And that was when I saw this man standing out on the sidewalk across the street
from the park who was supported by a walker but still seemed to be very happy, even though he was obviously (or so I thought) standing out on this chilly day waiting for a bus to take him somewhere.
I decided that it was meant to be my
purpose-of-the-moment to stop and ask him where he needed to go, as I wasn't going anywhere in particular at the time.
When I did this, he told me that he wasn't going anywhere -- that he just liked to stand out in front of his apartment
house and wave at all the pretty women.
I would soon find out that there was much more to this fuzzy, little man than that -- that (though I didn't know it at the time) I had just had the pleasure of meeting Larry "The CanMan" Van Ness.
It would turn out that I had actually met him a couple of times before but didn't realize it. But this would be the day when our friendship would become a lasting one.
The first time that I had "met" Larry was in 1966.
Actually, that time, I had only met his name -- which was being written over and over again by my best friend, Kathey, who sat a desk ahead of me in the eighth grade room at Fall Creek
Heights Elementary in the south part of Madison County.
She was doing things with his name like writing Kathey & Larry Van Ness and Mr. & Mrs. Larry Van Ness.
"You've got a new boyfriend!?!" I asked her in
a whisper (as this wasn't recess, and we were supposed to be studying).
She told me that they had met at a hayride. I was so happy for her, and we both got to giggling a bit -- which resulted in a stare-down from our teacher (Harold "Dutch"
Creason -- a legend in his own right who often gets mentioned by me here and there).
Anyway, she would end up going on to marry a guy named Jerry instead of a guy named Larry.
Travel on ahead to the year 2003...
I had pulled into Shadyside Park to enjoy some treats that I had picked up from Zinszer's Cookies & Bakery; drinks from a little drive-up building where one could buy
smoothies, capuccino, etc.; and some items from the deli of the nearest Speedway station.
Already, I had been to get my mail, and it included some books that I had ordered from Amazon.com.
I first alternated between
eating and reading.
Then, after the food ran out, I continued reading until I got so relaxed that I decided to put back my seat and take a nap.
Next thing I knew, I heard somebody tapping on my driver's side
window and opened my eyes to find a fuzzy, little guy looking in at me.
He told me that he wanted to make sure that I was all right, and I thanked him for caring and told him that I was fine -- just relaxing.
told me that he liked to get out and collect pop cans to recycle. When he talked like this, he looked like a little kid at Christmas.
Anyway, the brother and sister that I mentioned earlier in this writing happened to also collect pop
cans to recycle, and I had some in my minivan that I'd been saving for them, but I decided that I would go ahead and give the few that I had with me at the time to him.
You should have seen his face light
I initially decided that -- at least, once in awhile -- I was going to leave a few cans around for him to find, because I could just picture his face lighting up when he found them!
However, I quickly nixed that idea due to thinking that the garbage collector would probably find them first, and they would just go to a landfill and benefit nobody.
And the memory of that little guy
pretty much faded from my memory -- until it was brought back to life again shortly after I re-met him on October 24, 2013.
Anyway, we began to talk, and he told me about how he had been collecting aluminum cans for around 50 years (helping
him to survive becoming homeless as a teenager), and that this was something he had continued to do over the years, because it was not only an honest way to make some extra money but it also was healthy, as it involved being out in the fresh air and moving
Then, in 2003, he learned about the tab program that helped families of children at Riley Hospital to get their lodging at Ronald McDonald House paid for, and he had decided to do his part
and collect one million -- originally believing that this would probably take him at least two or three years to do.
However, he was surprised to find out that he was able to do this in a year's time -- and, by then, he was hooked!
He would go down to Indianapolis a couple of days per year to both visit Ronald McDonald House and promote this good cause through becoming a volunteer.
Now (at the time of our 2013 meeting), he was at the beginning of working on getting his 10,000,000th tab.
He had been delayed a year due to getting ill and nearly dying, but he was now back at it again.
By this time, he had several people
helping him by bringing cans and/or tabs to him -- where he would give the tabs a test with a magnet to make sure that they would be usable. If a magnet picked them up, they weren't.
However, if his magnet didn't pick them up, that meant that they were aluminum and qualified for donating.
It's rare when he finds those that aren't aluminum.
However, he isn't satisfied to just go by how much they weigh. If he's going to say that he collected so many tabs, he wanted them to be useful to the cause.
Anyway, I was impressed with his story -- and, as a writer, I'm always looking for positive stories like this to share.
Therefore, I told him that I was a writer and that I shared a lot of things online --
which meant that I could get his story out so that it would both result in more tabs and cans coming his way and, also, would, hopefully, result in more people doing this for the various Ronald McDonald Houses all over the world!!!
He told me that he didn't really understand what The Internet was but that he knew that his story had been in the local paper and that he had also been told that people could read it online, too -- though he had no idea how that worked.
I told him that I would like to know more, so I'd love to have his phone number and name, if he didn't mind.
He told me his number and that his name was Larry.
I asked him if he would mind providing a last name for me, and he told me "Larry Van Ness."
Suddenly, I was taken back to 1966, and I blurted out:
"Are you THE Larry Van Ness!?!"
He replied, "I reckon I am, because I'm the only one around here that I know of..."
To Be Continued...
Today is Wednesday, November 4, and I'm continuing to write the story of how Larry and I met and became friends...
how silly what I'd just said sounded, so I explained that I meant that I just happened to know somebody whom he'd dated at one time. Then, I gave him Kathey's first and last name.
He had to think
for a minute and, then, remembered that he and his cousin had gone to a hayride on this farm when he was around 19 years old. The event was being held by this family, and Kathey was their daughter -- but he hadn't dated her. He said that he thought that she
was a nice kid.
It turned out to be just a case of puppy love on Kathey's part.
Of course, she was still a child at that time, and he had just become
He said that he wondered what might have eventually happened if he'd known how Kathey felt about him. I told him that what had happened to Kathey was that she had been happily-married for many
years to Jerry.
Anyway, we talked some more and, then, I went on my way and left him standing there waving "at all the pretty women."
Then, we began to talk on the phone, and I began to start writing about him as well as telling others about him and what he did. Some of them already knew about them, but, with others, it turned out to be a new story.
Anyway, I've learned a lot about this fuzzy, little guy in the past two years -- including how he liked to go over to Shadyside to collect cans, which jogged
my memory so that I remembered how he had been a guardian angel to me back in 2003.
Not only does Larry collect cans (to help with
his own expenses) and tabs (for Indiana's Ronald McDonald House), but he also donates paper items to the recycling program at Liberty Christian School and donates soup can labels and Boxtops for Education to Valley Grove Elementary.
Due to how he had been able to survive the challenges of his youth, he has been asked to talk to students in area schools to inspire them not to give up on
These students are among those who help him to collect tabs.
I've learned so much from Larry about the importance of recycling and the good it can do. I knew something about it before meeting Larry, but I still didn't understand how it worked so well. He's been a great teacher -- not
to mention a beautiful friend.