Touching story of "The Can Man"
An orange safety vest and a friendly wave is all most people know of "The Can Man." He could be seen nearly every day along the roadside on the southwest part of Benton in search of aluminum. His wave became a regular part of his daily routine for commuters merging onto I-30 near the 114 exit. However, the Can Man has been conspicuous in his absence over the last few months.
The Saline Courier caught up with this familiar face recently and here is his story.
His name is Dotsey Neal. He is 75-years-old. His brother, George Neal, is 78 and spoke for Dotsey during the interview.
Both men were dressed in what George described as the manner of "poor people have their poor ways." A brace was noticeable on Dotsey's left ankle which explained his labored gait. We began by talking about their family.
The Neal brothers were born in England, AR. Dotsey lived with three brothers and two sisters, along with his parents, in one small house on the outskirts of town. Their father, George "T" Neal died in 1944 when George was 11 and Dotsey was 8. Their mother, Mildred Neal, passed away in 1990. The eldest brother and eldest sister of the Neal siblings have since passed away as well.
The brothers were educated at the Wright Plantation near England. George said, "(Dotsey) did what I did be he didn't get no education." Neither man learned to read or write.
Dotsey eventually moved to the Benton area and began work at "The Bauxite Shed" until he got sick with a fever and had to go back to England. When Dotsey recovered from his illness, he returned to Saline county and did concrete work for Shelnutt. He also recalls working for Woodrow Jones at the Owosso plant near Edison Avenue.
Dotsey never married, stating that he "never learned to drive" and because of this he was "afraid he couldn't make a living for a woman." Subsequently, he has no children. George said, "I think he done give up on looking for a wife."
Walking is the "Can Mans" favorite thing to do. George said his brother would "walk six to seven miles a day for years" but that his routine had been cut down to three or four miles in recent years. Every Thursday Dotsey took his walking route to downtown Benton to the Care Center where he would meet other people and share fellowship.
Picking up aluminum cans has been a daily plan for Dotsey for 18 years. About twice a year he collects enough to "haul off and sell." George says the extra income "helps pay some of his bills." Workers for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department near Haskell knew of Dotsey and his work at collecting cans. Concerned for his safety, the AHTD workers gave Neal an orange vest and department cap so that he could be seen by motorists. A wide grin brightened Dotsey's face as George spoke of this gift.
Approximately three months ago, Dotsey's left leg became very painful and walking became a struggle for him. The event which led to the injury is not known to the brothers and the medical attention it has received has not been successful in providing relief from the pain. George explains that his brother continued to pick up cans but started falling down and folks would help him back up. "It kind of scared him the last time he fell." Unable to bear the pain, Dotsey's daily walk has dwindled from seven miles to zero. His day is filled with sitting at home and watching the news on Channel 7.
"I wish my foot would get better so I could walk to town. It gets old sitting around the house," George said for his brother.
When asked how he is doing now, Dotsey smiles and says "Doing pretty good." George responded by saying, "You know he ain't cause he'd be walking if he was."