Just the Other Day: Chains

When I was a kid, we had a small metal kitchen tool that was rounded on one end, and pointed on the other. Each end had a little square finger on the bottom, to catch the edge of a container or bottle cap.


The round end was for opening bottles of pop or beer. The pointed end was for opening cans of anything with liquid inside.


The small finger would catch on the lip of the can. A slight upward motion would push the pointed end through the metal top of the can, leaving a triangular opening.


After the can was open, you would spin it around, following the same procedure on the opposite side; this time it was only necessary to make a small opening to vent the can, allowing the liquid to flow smoothly while you consumed the cold beverage inside.


Sometimes Dad would sneak off to the garage with this tool to open cans of motor oil.


Obviously, this was in the “old days” before all these newfangled plastic containers came about.  We didn’t have a “squeeze bottle.”  A squeeze was the girl you were going steady with. So, this device would be used to open the can of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup – the stuff we used to make chocolate milk, or stir hard-packed vanilla ice cream into a chocolate soft serve dessert.


Jars had metal lids that twisted on and off. Glass returnable bottles didn’t have twist off caps, and the can with the convenient “pull tab” was not even thought of yet. When the pull tab, (not the same thing as a lottery game ticket) was invented, it pulled completely free of the can and we collected them.


We would put the flat, or slightly curled, tear drop shaped tab through the round ring of another pop tab, and fold it over. Add another tab to the next open ring, doing the same thing, and pretty soon you had a good chain started.  Teenagers and young people were fascinated with this and would create and build various size chains.  The longer the chain, the more impressive.


If he had a special girl, a guy could make a chain about twenty-four inches long, push the tab from the first link through the ring on the last link, and make a necklace for her.


I didn’t know anyone who ever cut their finger on the metal edges of a pop tab.  They were certainly sharp enough to do so, but we were smarter than that.


In those days, gum didn’t come in little cubes from a plastic container with a hinged flip top for dispensing. Gum came in sticks – usually five pieces in foil packages, unless, like my older sisters, you could afford the Wrigley’s  plenTpack, that had 15 sticks of gum.


Inside the foil package, each stick was individually wrapped in a colorful paper sleeve bearing the manufacturers logo and flavor. Except the plenTpack, those wrappers were white without the logo; just a stripe of the solid color identifying which flavor. Wrigley was the most popular. We saved all the wrappers, and it wasn’t to wrap the ABC gum. (Already been chewed.)


We would fold a wrapper in half the long way, pressing the fold very flat.  Then, opening the paper and folding it the opposite way with the same crease in the middle.  After doing this a few times the crease would get weak and you could easily tear the wrapper cleanly in two even size pieces.  Running the edge of the crease lightly over your finger would moisten the paper and speed the process, requiring less reverse folding.


Now, we would take one half of the rectangular paper, leaving the colored side out, folding it lengthwise in quarters by bringing each long edge to the center first, then folding it in half.


We would fold this long narrow stick of paper in quarters. First bringing each end to the center, then folding it in half again, at the center.


It would be like taking a stapler, pressing out a staple with no paper, then folding that staple in half.  Each side had a little slot that made a pocket.


When the first piece of paper was finished, you would fold the second half the same way.  With the two pieces, slide the legs of one through the slots on the other. Pull them firmly together and you had the start for your gum wrapper paper chain.


The more gum you chewed, the more wrappers you had to fold and add to the chain we kept in our bedroom.  It was cool to mix the colors together. Green Doublemint, yellow Juicy Fruit, and white Spearmint papers.  Once in a while we might add the black and blue wrappers from Black Jack gum.  Each chain had its own personality.


My sisters, Patti and Barbara, had the longest gum wrapper paper chain I had ever seen!  They draped it around their bedroom walls, over closet doors,  across the tops of the windows, crossing the dresser, rounding the corner, over the headboard and on and on it went around the room.


Just like the pop tab chains, a gum wrapper chain could be fastened at the ends to make a necklace, or bracelet.  This jewelry went well with our wide bell-bottom pants and the variety of tie-dye and wild pattern shirts we wore in the 70’s.


As a teenager, we didn’t have “devices.” We had to find other ways to entertain ourselves and pass the time. We were so busy making chains and such, we didn’t even have time to do stuff like eat laundry soap.