by Paula Johnson
John and I have always been inquisitive beings. In fact, I think I can go so far (and still have John agree with me) to say that we are even “lifelong learners.” That is not to say that we are scholarly, certainly some intermediate and high school teachers would be hard pressed to even believe this much.
Our father would be impressed (and amazed) at the amount of reading that we do (especially John). Dad tried to instill the love of reading into John. So, one summer he gave (teenage) John, what I believe might have been a favorite childhood story of Dad’s, to read. Unfortunately, it was a 1930’s edition of Hodder & Stoughton’s The Life and Strange Surprifing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner, as Related by Himfelf with over 350 pages of long-winded narrative.
When our parents’ books were being distributed, I asked for that specific book. I wanted a reminder of what NOT to do to instill the love of reading in youth.
Speaking of a reminder, that returns me to the point of this column. Recently, I read a piece about canned goods predating the can opener.
In the early 1800s the French government offered a prize of 12,000 francs for anyone who could create a practical way to preserve food for Napoleon’s army going into war.
Nicolas Appert won the prize in 1810 with a process of sterilizing food: half cook the food, store in glass bottles, and immerse the bottles in boiling water. Although Appert did not know the reasoning behind his successful experiment, he was certain that “the absolute deprivation from contact with the exterior air” and the “application of the heat in the water-bath” were instrumental to its success. Many of you have used his plan for decades to have your home-grown summer food in the winter.
That same year, Peter Durand of England received his patent for food preservation in tin cans.
Retrieving food from the glass bottles was easy enough; however, opening the tin cans in the early 1800s required a hammer and chisel. During the Civil War soldiers used a series of blades to puncture and saw off the lid. Although it got the job done, the jagged edges were dangerous.
While in the navy during Vietnam, sailors aboard ships were given a P-38 or P-51 can opener that John kept with his dog tags (pictured). It was a nifty handheld apparatus that could puncture and open can lids. As John pointed out, they were still eating WWII food items! When John showed his son and daughter-in-law this gadget, they were thrilled for camping use. It is just as functional as a classic manual opener but way more compact and easier to store.
The hand-cranked version, which I still prefer, was not invented until 1925. Although this was a much safer opener than prior to 1925, many people only opened the lid most of the way and then as it began to lift, the lid would be raised to open, contents removed, and lid pressed down along the side into the empty can and thrown away.
Now back to the original point of our childhood inquisitiveness.
When John was about 4 or 5, he was in the back of our side yard near the garage – going through trash, for whatever reason young boys like trash. He found a discarded can (“likely a tomato soup can,” he says) with the lid pushed down. His inquisitive mind caused him to try to lift the lid to its original position – and maybe even over the top.
As you can suppose, this did not end well. The tip of his right index finger was severed from the rest of his little finger and fell into the can.
I suspect that he cried out in pain because I went to him, sized up the situation, took John by his other hand, and with the evidence went into the house.
Imagine a 6- or 7-year-old handing her mother a used tin can containing her little brother’s fingertip. How things proceeded from that, John nor I are clear. What we do know is that we (Mother, John, and I) went to Dr. Graham’s office with the tip wrapped tightly to the rest of the finger.
Whether Dr. Graham or someone else stitched them back together we aren’t sure. However, given our feelings for the nurses in his office, I reckon that the doctor did it himself. John recalls that the doctor was not pleased with our mother and told her that his office was not the place to go for this sort of accident, and not to do it again.
Today, the scar is barely evident as the finger has grown to match the size of the man. Yet, the tip of the right index finger does list a bit to the side. His fingerprint is also disarranged.
Curiosity is not always dangerous. Lifelong learning is not always book-learning. And several of us have the scars to prove it!