The Curiosity Cans

“Open this for me, would you?”

How many of us, back in the days, had our first taste of beer under this scenario?  Long before pop-top aluminum cans, there were steel cans for soda and beer, and many a picnic could be spoiled, and marriages ruined, if somebody forgot the can opener.

When Dad, or an uncle or an aunt would pull a cold one from the cooler, they wouldn’t get up from their fold-up lawn chair.  Noooo-oo!  They’d look around for the nearest kid, and say, “Here, open this for me.” (Uncle Hank would secretly shake it first.)

Then the child would trot off, looking for the can opener, in order to punch two sharp triangular-shaped holes in the top of the can, one to drink from and a smaller one to let air in.  Returning the beverage to the adult would often result in a “open this for me” request from another perpetually seated adult.  Then another.  Adults seemed to always find it amusing to send a kid back and forth to the can opener, one beer at a time, until the kid got smart and brought the can opener back with him, whereupon nobody else needed a beer opened, of course.  The wise kid would then return the opener and take off in a different direction.

Sometimes, the can opener station would be sufficiently out of view that the curious child could rationalize: nobody’s gonna miss one sip.  The typical first response to such a surreptitious rite of passage was, “Yuck!  How can anybody drink this stuff?”  Invariably, however, you’d find a few who would deliberately begin to place themselves in position to volunteer for the one-beer-at-a-time routine.

Personally, I was more of a take off in the other direction kind of  kid.  My curiosity over cans had more to do with that triangular hole itself.  Did you ever stick your tongue down inside of one of them?  It’s a good thing tongues grow back.  Once punched, the holes were like Chinese fingers (that torturous toy wicked parents foisted on their unsuspecting young to traumatize them and turn them into conservatives).  Liquid comes out well enough, but tongues do not.

Nor do thumbs.

“Owwee!  Owwee!  Owwee!” my younger brother yelped across the yard, one fine summer day.

“Hold still!”

“Owwee!  Owwee!  Owwee!”

“Hold still, I said!”


To this day, I’m not sure just how my mother extricated that bloody finger, but my brother does still have a thumb.  This is the same brother who later got a finger nipped by a pig (they’re curious too) when he stuck his fingers through the fence at Grandpa’s farm.

Must be a Kabala thing: always sticking fingers where they don’t belong.  My own earliest memory , as baby Chuckie, is sticking a bobby pin into a wall receptacle.  KA-POW!  Didn’t learn, though.  A few years later, I stuck a finger into a light socket.  Maybe it was prophetic foreshadowing.  I later became an electrician.

My brother became a Buddhist.

But, back to those curious old cans.  If you can remember them, then you may not be as young as you think you are.  Recently, I was sharing about my recollections of  the days before pull-top cans came along.  After I described the process to a friend, I said, “Remember that?”

He looked at me blankly, and said, “What’s a can opener?”

And he was serious.

This man is only twelve years younger than I am!  Aarrgghh!

The only memories he has about old cans, is that the pull tops used to come off.  That didn’t happen until the mid sixties, along with the development of the all aluminum can (a real boon to the All-American macho can crushers among us).  What I remember is that those pull off tabs were particularly hazardous to bare-footed youngsters during the days when tossing the tab on the ground was not considered littering.  Nevertheless, hundreds, if not thousands of those razor sharp booby traps began slicing and dicing the soles of our youth (pun intended), until something had to be done.

That something was the invention of the modern stay-tab beverage can, which came along in the seventies, and has remained substantially unchanged for over thirty years now.  The biggest advance since then was in the nineties, when Mountain Dew introduced the wide-mouth opening that made rapid chugging and gulping possible from a can.  Thank you, Mountain Dew.

One final word of caution regarding the holes in cans, and this still remains in effect today.  Never, never, never leave a sugar-laden beverage can uncovered and unattended for any length of time outdoors in the summer.  Bee stings in the mouth are not considered a summertime delight.  That is, unless you are “no fear” Trevor, who at age two, when the girls were in the backseat of the car screaming, “A bee!  A bee!” reached out and snatched one out of the air and began beating it with his free hand.

“Gotchu!  Hamma!  Hamma!  Hamma!”

Then, in the proverbial wink of an eye, he pitched it out the open window.  Would love to know what the bee thought.


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