Perspective · The Last Half Century

Inspiration from an Empty Tin Can

My dad grew up during the Great Depression in the 1930s where he learned to be resourceful. He was the one who taught me that the simple tin can has far more uses than just holding food. Later I learned an empty can also holds some life lessons.

On our farm when I was a kid, empty cans were put to good use. Flattened cans adorned the occasional rodent hole in the wood siding of our barns. An empty soup can with the bottom cut out wrapped perfectly over a hole in an exhaust pipe on a car or truck. But the predominant use of empty cans on the farm was to store all kinds of things from nails to bolts to spare parts.

For me and my siblings, the best use for a large empty can was for a game of Kick the Can. (If you’ve never heard of this game you can find descriptions of it on the Internet.) It’s amazing how much fun we packed into an empty can, especially when my cousins would visit. The larger the group of kids, the greater the fun.

As an adult I learned another side to the story of the enduring tin can. Early in my writing career, I worked as a copywriter at an ad agency in Cleveland. One day I was given the task of writing a brochure for a coating used to help seal the inside of cans. Until that fateful day, I thought all cans were alike. The brochure featured the resilient, bright golden finish of the coating layered inside the can and it’s superior sealing properties. I wondered if that was the secret to the enduring qualities of the can.

Now when I empty a can I find myself looking inside for that golden finish. It reminds me that there are so many things I take for granted — like the people who make coatings that seal cans so we can store food on our shelves for months; that there is more than one way to look at things; that common household things can provide a lot of fun; that sometimes resilience is not evident until we’re emptied and look inside for that bright golden finish.

© 2020 CGThelen

The predominant use of empty cans on our farm was to store all kinds of things from nails to bolts to spare parts.

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