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Tales of a Hay Hauler: The pop-top

Brad Nelson Published on 08 June 2010

Pop cans have changed over the years, particularly the method to open either pop cans or those containing “barley pop.” Those very much younger than yours truly think a “church key” is the key that unlocks the door of a house of worship.

The area I grew up in, and maybe a much larger area, had given the nickname of “church key” to the type of can opener that punched a triangular hole in the top of a can of pop or “barley pop” (beer).

The reason for this was that one who used the said “church key” too frequently on barley pop would need all the best churches could offer to get the individual in question out of the gutter. (Note that Alcoholics Anonymous insist a strong religious influence is essential to getting an individual free from the addiction of alcohol.)

After the “church key,” the opening device was the “pop-top.” You lifted a ring and pulled, and the ring and a part of the top of the can separated from the can, leaving a nice hole to drink the contents of the can from. The pop-tops were made into chains and necklaces but most often tossed out the window or dropped on the beach or wherever. The current opener that pretty well stays attached to the can followed the pop-top.

It was in the era of the pop-top that I proposed to Elli. I put the ring from a pop-top on the appropriate finger of her left hand, telling her this would have to do until she could go with me to a jewelry store to pick out an engagement ring we both liked. She told me she did not want one; she would just be paranoid of losing it. Later that night she put the engagement pop-top on her dresser, and the next morning her sister, not knowing what it was, threw it out.

Years later as our 15th anniversary approached, one of my friends, Rob Norman, was involved in his family business, a jewelry store. I asked Rob about making a gold pop-top and setting in it Elli’s birthstone, to be worn as a necklace with a gold chain. He said it sounded simple enough. I got a price from him, and told him I had to have it by September 12 of that year.

As the time drew near with no sign of the necklace, I hounded Rob a bit. He told me it was more difficult than he thought, and that he even took the project to his father for help. Even his dad was having a time with it. He called me about two days before our anniversary and said it was finished. I picked it up at the jewelry store and he told me it had been a real learning experience for him.

He also said it was lucky for me that I had gotten a firm price from him when we first talked about it, because if he charged me for the time all of the failures took to produce such a simple thing, it would have cost $1,500 instead of the $150. He said he wanted to call and tell me he could not make it, but his dad told him that since he told me he could do it, he was by golly going to do it. The finished product is something Rob can always be proud to have made.

When I gave it to Elli, she cried and hugged me. And when she finally stopped, I had to go get a dry shirt. She told me she was glad I gave it to her at home rather than in a public place like a café. She has only worn it a couple of dozen times, afraid it will get lost.

I cannot for the life of me figure out what I ever did to deserve such an angel. As we are looking at our 38th anniversary, I still think she is the most beautiful woman in the world, and sometimes I am afraid that when she touches me I will melt. It is not the pop-top necklace or other gifts. It is an indescribable magic we have worked hard on for 38 years. Try as I might, every time I do something nice to “even up” all the nice things she has done for me, Elli is still ahead. I’ll just concede defeat. Maybe. But not in this life.  PD