Tin cans

Farm Forum

A brief segment in a Ken Burns TV special “The War” told of WW II scrap metal drives and how discarded tin cans were collected for the foundries that melted them down and gave them a new life on the war front.

We kids scrounged for cans. It was our contribution to the effort.

A great invention-the tin can.

It ranks right up there with lard sandwiches, sliced bread, socks with elastic and the safety pin.

The tin can didn’t achieve notoriety instantly. It earned it the hard way.

Today, we respect the tin can not only for its uncanny ability to keep our peaches mold free, but because of what a can can become once it is empty of its cargo.

Being just a can full of beans or corn has to be purgatory for the can. Life for it really begins once the last bean has departed into that great, gaseous cloud in the sky.

Civil War soldiers ate pork and bean mixtures from a can, and it had a rather pious reputation until about 1900 when someone used “can” as a slang term for the object in the “necessarium.”

The tin can suffered another image attack in about 1930 when people began calling old cars “tin cans.” Today, collectors pay thousands for those tin cans, but they hardly give a real tin can the time of day.

The can has survived and has emerged stronger and more entwined in our daily lives and in our culture than ever before.

My uncle delighted in telling me about the first time he ever saw a tin can. That was in 1912. He was on his way home from rural school and spotted something in the ditch winking at him in the bright afternoon sun.

It was a can, but he didn’t know that.

He took his find home and his mother told him what it was.

He said he played with that can all though the summer. It became his most cherished toy, along with a frayed shoestring and a broken hammer handle.

When fall of 1912 backed out for winter’s turn at the table, he craftily hid his toy in the barn. Next spring, he took it from its hiding place, but it had rusted badly.

He was heartbroken.

I have apparently inherited some of my uncle’s weird attachment to tin cans. I can’t throw one away without experiencing a quickness of breath and clammy hands. It seems such a waste. There are so many creative ways to put a can to work again.

Think of what the tin can has meant to you in your life.

As a kid you scrunched them down and wore them for clanging elevated shoes. You used them for target practice. You launched them into space on the Fourth of July.

They were frog cages, marble carriers, penny banks, worm repositories and pencil holders. Your mom used them for flowerpots, flour canisters, cookie cutters and bacon grease holders.

Dad patched the roof with them, kept rain out of the upright tractor exhaust with a can cap and wired the tin around the hole in the car muffler.

I’m surprised that some town out here on the flatlands hasn’t gotten off its can and developed a summer Tin Can Festival or a Salute to the Can Day or something.

France, after all, has a film festival named after the can and a dance named after two cans. Can you believe that?

If you’d like to make a comment, e-mail the author at cfcecil@swiftel.net.