2011-01-26 / School & Sports

Backroads and Bobtails

by Bob Kornegay

As a toddler, I wasn’t treated to an undue number of store-bought toys. That’s not to say I didn’t have plenty of playthings. It’s not like I was deprived or anything. It’s just that the vast majority of my toys were either made, found, or fell into the category of I’m-done-withthis maybe-Bobbywould like-to-play-withit.

My favorites among those things in the latter listing were my greatgrandpa’s empty tobacco tins, specifically those of the Prince Albert variety. Great things, those old Prince Albert cans. There wasn’t a thing in the world a little prepubescent crumb snatcher couldn’t do with them. Or cram into them.

Dirt, pebbles, marbles, doodlebugs, you name it. Everything went in. Later, when I was a little older, they became just as useful for holding BBs and, still later, .22 cartridges. They made great BB gun and .22 rifle targets as well.

Wait a minute. It just occurred to me how big a role cans of various sorts have played in my outdoor life.

Take coffee cans, for example. Ah, yes. An empty Maxwell House coffee can. Now there was a useful multi-purpose outdoorsman utensil.

How many dug-up earthworms have ridden to their doom inside a boy’s Maxwell House can? Billions? Trillions? How many trips to the fishing hole? How many scoldings motivated by leaving a can full of wigglers or redworms under the bed to be discovered by Mama’s nose days later? How many thumb gashes caused by a jagged rim (in the days before pull-tops)? If contaminated worm dirt and cuts from rusted metal really were as infectious and deadly as believed, I’d have never made it past 12.

Some of us found coffee cans made excellent creels and livewells. It was often said that I was the only young angler in existence who could fit a limit of bream inside one. Hey, the greedy little critters shoulda known better than to bite my hook!

Then there were the coffee cans one always found aboard those old wooden johnboats rented at north Florida fishing camps. Each boat had one. Pity the poor angler who left the dock without it. I never saw an old wooden boat that didn’t leak. Without a coffee can for bailing, a fella was likely to find himself aboard a 14-foot version of the Titanic.

It’s a well-known fact that the fishermen in these boats occasionally “leaked” as well. Thus, the cans saved us time and again from embarrassment and the hazards involved in standing precariously balanced in the bow attempting to “go” over the side in a brisk wind and a two-foot chop. It’s arguable, but likely Maxwell House’s trademark “Good to the Last Drop” evolved from this particular coffee-can function.

Let’s not neglect mention of the cans that contained fisherman manna, the Southern fisherman’s equivalent of Olympic ambrosia. I write here of potted meat, Vyeenees, and sardines. As nostalgic as I am for the good old days, I must hedge a bit here and admit to a decided preference for these delightful morsels in their more modern receptacles. Anyone who ever used those ridiculous little keys to open a can of processed “meat” parts or a tin of oily little Norwegian fish will agree with me. I refer you back to “thumb gashes” and “jagged rims” in paragraph six.

I might mention that the keys to the food cans of my youth were missing about half the time. This forced us to open the tins with our knives, resulting in more slashed digits and added “seasoning” from gut-coated knife blades, which we seldom deemed it necessary to clean. True, there’s little adventure in opening today’s snap-andpeel food cans, but there’s much to be said for dining on potted meat, Vyeenees and sardines unaccompanied by bloody fingers, blood-curdling screams and cuss words that would peel the paint off those old wooden boats, which is probably why they leaked in the first place and why there was a need for the aforementioned Maxwell House bailing can.

Yep. Cans, it seems, have played a major role in my outdoors career. Knowing that, you’d think I wouldn’t have paddled out here without one today. Any of y’all ever stood up in the bow of a canoe in a brisk wind and a two-foot chop?

Return to top