Remember When – Strength of Hercules Needed to Open Modern Packaging


Dr. Felix Hoffman of Germany invented aspirin in 1891. But I doubt the good doctor ever intended it to be packaged in such a way as to cause a bigger headache than it could cure!

For a long time now, product packaging has become imponderable and more and more complicated in its design.

After recently struggling for 15 minutes to unscrew the child-resistant cap on my pill bottle, I finally cracked under the stress and impatiently handed the container to my 6-year-old nephew, who opened it neatly in two seconds flat.

Impossible To Open

At the first signs of an impending cold virus, I stockpiled my medicine chest with a potent supply of bottled and packaged cold remedies. As it turned out, opening these medicinal containers was far more exasperating than the cold itself.

Among the medications I purchased was a powdered hot drink preparation. This lemon-flavored cold remedy comes in a box of six sealed packets. Printed on each packet, in minuscule letters, are directions for its use. In the upper right-hand corner of each powdered packet is an arrow aimed at the words OPEN HERE. But no amount of nimble-fingered dexterity or adroit muscle power could convince that slippery package to open. When it became obvious that nothing short of a meat cleaver was going to do the trick, I grabbed my largest kitchen knife and hacked my way in!

When did this corruption in packaging begin? When did opening a bottle of aspirin become a consumer nightmare and twisting off the cap on a bottle of cough syrup become a personal challenge? It surely wasn’t there when I was a kid, way back during the Truman administration. Back then, all it took was a little pressure from a well-placed thumb on the words PRESS HERE to pop open a tin of aspirin or gain entree to a box of cereal. A simple twist of the wrist opened all our fruit jars and medicine bottles.

Protective packaging must have evolved some decades later, probably during the Reagan and Bush administrations. It was around that time that a few crazies began spiking our drugstore Tylenol with arsenic and our supermarket soda with hypodermic needles. Because of a few wackos, consumers must now forge through today’s impenetrable, triple-layered, double-protected, inaccessible packaging.

Guarantee Of A Struggle

Just about every product I purchase that comes with the words “Easy Open” imprinted on its packaging is a guarantee I’m in for a struggle. I rarely can open a squeeze bottle of ketchup or mustard without cursing, or a cake mix or bag of crackers without grimacing or a pull-top kitty litter bag without a tug-of-war. And plastic wrap? Forget about it! Lose the end of one of these cohesive rolls and just as with cellophane tape, you might as well toss the whole roll away.

Brute Force And Ignorance Can Fix Anything

Some of the toughest cans for me to open are those aerosol oven cleaners. You know the kind, the ones with the “easy off” caps. The instructions tell me to line up the arrows and squeeze while pulling up. Or maybe it’s squeeze while pushing down. Whatever. Most times, I squeeze and pull, push and squeeze, until the only things that open are those little blue veins on the side of my forehead, but still the resistant cap refuses to budge. In the end, a well-placed crescent wrench and screwdriver do the trick.

easy open jar
Struggling to open a jar of olives

For weeks now, a jar of stuffed green olives has sat on my refrigerator shelf, tempting me to open it. My mouth watered for the taste of those tangy pimento-filled treats, but no matter how hard I tried to twist off that vacuum-sealed lid, I just couldn’t get it to budge. Believing in the old Army adage “The difficult can be done immediately, the impossible takes a little longer,” I made regular attempts to open the jar. Stopping short of a sprained wrist, I eventually gave up the battle.

Last night, I watched as my husband nonchalantly opened the refrigerator door, pulled out the jar of olives and gave it a mighty whack on the bottom (I’ve since learned that he does this to break the air seal for easier opening). A moment later he easily twisted off the lid and began munching on his tangy snack. I realized at that moment that I was lacking the two essentials for opening modern packaging: the inquisitiveness of a child and the strength in a man’s right arm.

Airline Food Frustration

My friends Chris and Rocky Francisco share my frustrations with vacuum-sealed packaging. As occasional airline travelers, they tell me that I don’t know the meaning of the word frustrated until I’ve tried to open one of those sealed bags of complimentary peanuts handed out to passengers on economy flights. “Airline attendants cheerfully hand out these bags of peanuts to each passenger, but how we get them open is our own problem,” sighs Chris.

“Despite the TEAR HERE instructions on each pack,” says Rocky, “getting into these peanuts is tougher than getting into Fort Knox!”

Chris says, “This is where my nail clipper comes in handy. It takes me a while to clip through the hermetically sealed bags, but I’m the determined type. Unfortunately, just about the time I get the bags open the airplane descends for a landing and all food and drink must be put away!”

My husband, Dan, recently gifted me with a new gadget for opening jars. I suspect this is his way of making amends for enjoying those olives so much. He tells me this modern gadget will make my time in the kitchen much easier. But if my past experience with modern gadgetry is an indication, it’s likely his gift will be just another source of frustration!

Cookie Curci is an experienced freelance writer, born and raised in San Jose, California. Cookie writes syndicated columns across the country, and wrote a “Remember When” column for The Willow Glen Resident for 15 years. Her work has been published in 15 Chicken Soup for The Soul books, and in the series of “Mother’s Miracle” books ( Morrow books).

She has a short story in the new book “ELVIS”, Live at the Sahara Tahoe; has been published in San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury news, Woman’s World, Primo magazine, Mature Living, and many websites.

Cookie is currently writing for several Italian American newspapers and magazines, they include LaVoce Las Vegas, Amici Journal, L’italo Americano, Life in Italy and Italiansrus.