By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 5, 1946.
“Wait a second!” cried Jimmie Frise. “Cranberry!”
“That’s the stuff,” I agreed. Jim’s family was out for the evening, and we had just found in the ice-box a great big plate with about 10 full-size slices off the breast of a cold turkey. Wrapped in wax paper.
“Hold everything,” said Jim, “while I run down cellar.”
I spread the turkey slices out on the wax paper. What a sight! A hot turkey, of course, is something. But cold turkey has a power and a glory all its own.
About a week after the festive season, is there anything more wonderful to find than 10 slices of turkey white meat wrapped in wax paper in the ice-box?
Jim came scampering up the cellar stairs with a quart sealer of preserved cranberries.
“Ho, ho, ho,” he said, wrapping his fist around the top of the jar.
“Salt,” I submitted, going to the cupboard shelves. “And a dash of pepper, eh?”
“Lots of salt on cold turkey,” agreed Jim, grunting as he twisted the top of the sealer.
“Bread?” I suggested.
“No bread,” decided Jimmie. “Just cold turkey, eaten in the hand, and dipped in cranberry.”
“Okay,” I confirmed lustily.
Jim wrenched and twisted. He got a tea-towel and wrapped it around the sealer top. He braced the sealer on the kitchen table and wrenched.
“Run the hot water on it,” I proposed. “That always works.”
Jim set the sealer under the tap and let the hot water run on it.
“That expands the metal top, see?” I explained. “Then it’s a cinch to open.”
Jim took the sealer, and with the tea-towel gave the top a confident twist. But nothing happened.
“Here,” I said, taking the jar, “let me show you.”
I let the hot water run a full minute, steaming, on the sealer. Then I seized it and gave the top a strong, long twist. It didn’t budge.
“Darn it,” said Jim, “there’s some sort of a rubber grip in the drawer here….”
He poked around the kitchen cabinet drawer and drew out a round rubber ring which fitted neatly over the sealer top. This gave a good firm grip. It gave traction. Jim grunted and twisted. But to no avail.
“You hold the jar,” he commanded, “and I’ll twist.”
But not the slightest effect did our combined efforts have.
“Go and get another jar,” I submitted, eyeing the sliced turkey laid out so banquetty on the kitchen table.
“It’s the last jar of cranberry,” explained Jim. “My wife does up just enough to see us over Christmas and New Year’s.”
“How about some jelly?” I suggested. “Red currant jelly?”
“Aw, what the heck,” protested Jim, looking indignantly at the lovely red sealer full of cranberries in his hands. “There is nothing else to take the place of cranberry with turkey. Do you mean to say two intelligent guys like us can’t open a quart jar of cranberries?”
“Let the hot water run on it for a good two or three minutes,” I offered, “solid.”
Jim set the jar under the tap again and let her run hot.
We stood gazing fondly at the turkey. What beautiful meat! White, grainy, smooth, tender.
“Do we need knives and forks?” I inquired.
“Naw,” said Jim. “We’ll just pick up the slice in our fingers, bend it over, dab it in the salt, nuzzle it in the cranberry, and eat it, hunter style.”
“Mmmmmm,” I confessed.
“Cranberries and turkey,” mused Jim tenderly. “Two of the gifts of the New World to humanity.”
“Not the cranberry,” I corrected. “It grows in northern Europe, in swamps, the same as here.”
“Well, I’ll bet you nobody knew what they were for until the turkey was introduced from North America,” asserted Jim.
“A Fortune Awaits Us”
“We’re always talking about tobacco,” I mused, “and the potato and the tomato as contributions of North America to the world. But I’ll bet the first turkeys brought home by the old explorers must have caused a tremendous sensation.”
“How about Henry VIII?” inquired Jim. “He was a noble feeder. I wonder if he ever ate turkey?”
“I’m sure he must have,” I replied, reaching out and nipping a small sliver off the nearest slice.
“Eh, eh, eh!” warned Jim.
“The Spaniards were the first to import turkeys from North America,” I recollected. “Henry came to the throne in 1509, at the age of 18. America had been discovered by Columbus 17 years, by then. Sure, Henry had turkey!”
Jim walked over and took the jar of cranberry from under the hot tap. He took two tea-towels and wrapped them securely around the jar. I took the jar and Jim got both hands snug around the top. One, two, three, and we twisted, putting our weight into it.
But we both had purple faces and aching wrists; and not a sign of the top letting go.
“Now, I’ve had about enough of this,” said Jim, unwrapping the jar and glaring at it.
“Aw, let’s eat the turkey without it,” I urged.
“Not on your life,” cried Jim. “I’m not going to let a silly little thing like a quart sealer stand between me and an historic feast like cold turkey. “No, sir.”
He put the rubber ring around it again and made a few violent efforts, including jerks; but all in vain.
He stood thinking.
“It’s a mighty queer thing,” he muttered, “that in modern science nobody has invented a simple, common, everyday device for easily opening jars. In the past 20 years food has been going into cans and bottles more and more. Yet, is there anything harder to get into than a can or a bottle? Science has not kept pace with modern domestic economy. We still have the old-fashioned can opener….”
“And sardines!” I agreed. “The first sardine can I ever opened, 30, 40 years ago, was opened with that silly old key, twisted kit-a-corner across the box. And in 40 years, I bet I haven’t cleanly and efficiently opened 10 boxes!”
“It always ends up,” concurred Jim, “by digging the sardines out in pieces with a fork.”
“And these vacuum or suction top jars!” I pointed out. “It says – insert point of knife….”
“Look,” announced Jim, with great determination, holding the jar of cranberries out at arm’s length. “Somebody once said, ‘Invent a better mouse trap, and the world will beat a pathway to your door.’ I tell you, Greg, there’s a fortune staring us in the face! Right here, this minute, in my kitchen, there is a fortune, maybe millions, offering itself to us.”.
“Jim,” I breathed, “I believe you.”
“This,” declared Jim eloquently, “is exactly how great ideas are born. This is how fortunes are made. Not by sitting thinking. Not by striving. But simply, two old friends, baffled by a bottle top, going to work, in the humblest manner, down their own cellar, and devising some simple gadget – that will be a necessity in MILLIONS of kitchens! All over the world.”
“It has been staring everybody in the face,” I cried, “all these years!”
“It’s always the way,” enunciated Jim. “Fortune is staring everybody in the face. But they never look. And it is not by great and powerful inventions that the millions are made. It is by these simple, commonplace inventions. Suppose you invent a simple way to split the atom. How many people will buy your machine? Yet, if we can invent some simple gadget that will open this bottle of cranberries, millions of people will buy it…!”
We stared at each other. We stared intently at the sealer of cranberries.
“Let’s go down cellar,” said Jim huskily, “to my work bench.”
We went down to the work bench. We took off coats. It was a great moment. There was an air of strange dignity in Jim’s cellar as we two humble men, with a jar of cranberries on the work bench, stood face to face with Fortune.
“We Need a Model”
Jim felt the magic of it. He cleared his throat.
“Now,” he said, reflectively. “To begin with, it must be an extremely simple thing. Simple to manufacture. Simple to use.”
“Dynamically,” I submitted, “it must have the principle of the lever. It must embody the principle of torsion.”
“Correct,” said Jim. “What we want is a simple ring, with a handle to it.”
“Like nut crackers,” I cried.
“Like nut crackers with a large gape,” agreed Jim, taking his pencil and drawing a little diagram on the work bench top. I looked at it. So simple. So trivial. Yet a device the whole wide world has been yearning for for centuries… or at least ever since gem jars were brought into use. I could hardly see the little diagram Jim had drawn for the $$$$$$ that danced before my eyes like little stars.
“The ring,” explained Jim, “will be serrated, or toothed, so as to grip the bottle top. The handles, like a nut cracker’s handles, should be big enough to be comfortable.”
“So as to afford,” I agreed, “the most comfortable grip to the hand. How long would you make them?”
“We must first,” explained Jim solemnly, “construct a model. Nothing can be decided without a model. All great inventions, however simple, must be expressed in what they call a working model.”
Jim was already exploring around his work bench. He opened drawers, upset old boxes full of junk and coat hangers all over the bench and we sorted through the mess. We found lengths of copper weather stripping, random bits of iron and brass, old door knobs, pot lid buttons, and the head of a small axe Jimmie has been looking for for the past eight years.
After we had thoroughly explored the work bench, the shelves and the cellar at large, we set out on the bench all the materials that might even remotely serve our great purpose.
“Now,” said Jim reverently, because he knew, as I did, that this was one of the great moments in history, “we naturally must not assume that we have found the ideal material with which to make visible our thoughts. It stands to reason that a cellar like mine would not provide, at random, the perfect material. Yet, in the long history of man’s ascent from the caves. I am sure the thinkers – the Thinkers – have seldom had more to start with than this.”
He stood back and surveyed the nondescript collection of copper, brass, tin, iron and other metals. He studied them long and intelligently, as befitted the occasion. I stood beside him and studied too.
Quietly, he stepped forward and picked up a length of pewtery-looking metal. It was just a strip, half an inch wide and about two feet long, which might have been part of the binding of a crate, or something out of the insides of a storm window or something.
“This,” said Jim.
With snips, he cut the length of metal accurately in half.
With two pairs of pliers, he began to bend and shape the soft metal into a half-circle.
“Let me help,” I suggested earnestly.
“Certainly,” said Jim with dignity.
So I took the other pair of pliers and held one end of the metal while Jim did the moulding.
Following Jimmie’s historic diagram on the bench top, a document that might some day find place in the archives of Canada, we bent and moulded the two strips of metal into equal halves and equal handles of a sort of wide-mouthed nutcracker.
By frequently checking the fit of the half-circle on the bottle top of the cranberries, we got a very accurate fit.
“Now,” pondered Jim, “for a hinge.”
“A rivet?” I suggested. “Just for a temporary working model…”
In a cigar box full of door catches, bed casters, hinges and screen door handles, Jim found a good zinc rivet.
With his drill, he bored a hole in each half of the circle of the giant nutcrackers. We inserted the rivet, Jim allowing me to hold the invention while he tapped the rivet and flattened its ends on the iron vise.
“I may be said,” I stated humbly, “to be the first ever to hold the completed Frise-Clark bottle top remover in my hands!”
I held it up.
“And I,” said Jim, taking the newly created epoch-maker in his hands, “shall be the first ever to open a gem jar with it!”
“I am glad,” I said, “that it is cranberries we are opening.”
Jim set the jaws of the new invention carefully and scientifically around the metal bottle top.
He gave it a slight turn.
“Ah,” said Jim.
And with his pliers, he worked slowly, technically, with deep concentration, putting a sort of scallop around the gripping edge of the top remover, like large, soft teeth.
He picked the cranberries up with a slow and dramatic gesture, set the grip of the device around the top, and slowly closed the handles, taking a firm grip on them.
“Now,” he cried, “the birth of an idea! The birth of a fortune!”.
He gave a strong, slow, easy twist.
The top turned.
He gave it another twist and a flourish.
And there in one hand was the open jar of cranberries and in the other, the Frise-Clark Bottle Top Remover, with the top in its grasp!
“Jim!” I shouted, leaping into the air. “Our fortune is made! In half an hour – millions!”
The One in the Drawer
At which moment, we could hear Jim’s family just arriving in the kitchen overhead and they called down:
“What’s doing down there!”
“Shhh!” I warned Jim. “Can they be trusted? Hadn’t we better keep this to ourselves until we see the patent people …?”
But Jimmie was too proud and happy. With the cranberries in one hand and the bottle top remover flourished in the other, he led up the cellar stairs. I noted, immediately, that the whole family was into the turkey.
“What’s all the rumpus down cellar?” asked one of the family with a mouthful of beautiful turkey. Jim, without a word, stood back and held up the jar and the newly born opener.
They all came, chewing and looked at it. They stood on one side of it and then on the other, staring intently.
“So what?” inquired one.
“I made it!” cried Jim triumphantly. “We just invented it!”
“Why didn’t you use the one in the drawer?” they inquired.
“What one?” demanded Jim coldly.
“The one in the drawer,” they repeated, suiting the action to the words, opening the kitchen cabinet drawer and poking around in it.
And then, from the drawer, they produced and held up-the exact image of our invention. Only factory-made.
“Wha… wha… who …?” said Jimmie, lowering the cranberries.
I took the thing and examined it. It was exactly like ours; only better finished, of course.
“Where did that come from?” demanded Jim hollowly.
“It’s been in that drawer,” said the family, “for 10 or 15 years. Why don’t you look in that drawer sometimes, instead of just fumbling?”
“Are they for sale?” I asked weakly.
“Every 5-and-10 has them,” they replied.
By which time, three or four young men, friends of the family, wandered into the kitchen from taking off their coats.
“Turkey!” they cried, pouncing.
And the four or five slices left, vanished.
So Jim and I went back down to the cellar to tidy up and turn out the lights.
“The point is, Jim,” I submitted, “before you invent something, you should always explore the kitchen drawers.”
“Or better,” opined Jim, “when there’s turkey to eat, eat it.”
Editor’s Note: Gem Jars were a brand of preserving jars created in Canada, just like Mason Jars.