When I was 10 years old, my family and I drove to Arkansas to visit my great aunt. About ten years later, my mom, sister and I flew out to visit again, and then when my cousin and her husband moved out there, we tried to make our visits more regular.
Four or five years ago, my great aunt was moved into an assisted living facility where she would live for the remainder of her life, and so when we went to visit, we could no longer stay at her house. As a result, we often stayed with Jim and June, close friends of both my great aunt and my late grandparents—who we called Grammie and Papa.
When my great aunt got sick and eventually reached a point where she didn’t recognize us, and would often sleep through most of our visits, Jim and June (and my cousins! 😊) were the reason that our trips were still full of light and laughter. They are the reason why, when people ask about my favorite places in the world, I immediately think of their living room, curled up in one of their chairs, watching the sun set off the front porch. I think of simple drives to the store, or sitting down at one of their favorite restaurants, always giggling and talking and feeling happy and relaxed for what always seemed like the first time in a long time.
On one trip, while walking into a restaurant just before the sun started to set, I saw this tin can robot hanging on a hook and I immediately fell in love with it.
“Do you think I could make this?” I asked my sister as I snapped a picture of it.
She and my mom agreed that I could try, and we decided to start saving cans as soon as we got home.
In the first or second week of this quarantine, I found that stack of cans, patiently waiting to be upcycled. It was almost 11:00 p.m. but I couldn’t help it, I sat down, spread them out, and got to work. While the state of the world would prevent us from traveling anywhere anyway, we had recently found out that Jim and June moved to Texas to be closer to their family. It was the right move, a move that we supported and encouraged in our last few visits, but it made me sad to think that I would no longer find myself in that Arkansas house, walking around their property on a humid summer afternoon to go see the neighbor’s horses, or continually trying to photograph the house in a way that would show people the way it made me feel. And so, I decided it was about time I made my robot—to re-find that feeling.
While the original is screwed together with nuts and bolts, I worked with what I had (and avoided any trips to the hospital due to possible clumsiness with the drill) and I hot-glued him together. I also found some washers I could use for eyes, and an extra allen wrench to give him a smile.
Call me crazy, but I have now fallen in love with two tin can robots in my life.
One is probably still hanging outside that restaurant we visited on almost every trip, where the five of us always ordered the same thing and talked about what we were going to have for dessert before we even finished our meal. And one is now sitting, smiling, in my house, reminding me about every time we pulled into that driveway, primed to hear stories about the neighborhood cats, and every time we pulled out of that driveway, praying there would be a next time.
I still hope there will be. Maybe this time in Texas.
Until then, I have this robot, who I named “Jimmy June” to remind me of who I consider to be my third set of grandparents, and of all the times we spent sitting on the couch, watching the sky go purple in a thunderstorm, and drinking margaritas until all hours of the night, giggling and plotting what mischief we could get into the next day.