Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

August 2007

Do It Yourself

My parents moved from place to place like Bonnie and Clyde. My father worked for Sears (and Roebuck, of course) and was transferred something like 15 times in 16 years. That’s a lot of packing and unpacking.

The household item I remember best was just short of a foot in length, cast of zinc, heavy as a hammer, with a notch at one end and a rather useless knob at the other. The underside of the bar was flat and had a cork veneer glued on tight so when the kludge was placed flat-side-down on a kitchen counter or whatever, it could be done quietly and without scratching or denting the surface. The sole use of the thing was to open soda pop bottles. You can imagine how easily that task could be performed. With several inches of rigid, weighty leverage like a tire iron, pop!

Coca-Cola “gave” away lightweight openers shaped something like the figure eight. There wasn’t near the leverage but, of course, it worked flawlessly. Easy to lose, too, or misplace, forget or discard, and therefore quite inferior to our two-pound overkill.

Long after soft drink bottles went to pop-top cans or plastic screw tops, that tool lived on in the junk drawer closest to the stove. I wonder if anyone else in the world ever had a tool quite like it. It might well have been made in Springfield, Vt.

The Vermont manufacturing community has a history of favoring the “make” side of buy/make decisions. It wasn’t just economics; it was a preference thing. Why pay someone else to do something you were perfectly (or potentially, or at least possibly perfectly) able to do yourself? So you made your own tools. Often as not, the resulting tool not only performed its task well, but it was also too good. Too good in the sense that it could clearly outlast its need, like a progressive skate-key die.

The extra point is that the penchant for being self-reliant often takes one way past the target. Like sweaters for babies. Any reasonably talented knitter can produce a product the baby cannot wear out — outgrow, certainly, but never wear out. So, was the point of the exercise to keep the little critter warm or to reconfigure a multi-use material into a soon-to-be obsolete item requiring some diligence to keep it safe from disrepair (moths or whatever) until it’s ultimately scrapped out so the knitter can make another item?