Hominy & Hash
AN EVERLASTING LIGHT FOR ALL OCCASIONS
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Any day is a good day at Universal Studios Orlando and so it was just that when Tom and Stefanie waited out the rain by playing cards under a canopy. Their 10-year old son tinkered in an arcade nearby, feeding quarters into the slot that started a mechanical hand holding a claw able to grip a prize -- but you had to be quick.
Obviously, Ryan was quick enough because his smile said he landed a winner. As he studied the plexiglas box and saw what was in it, his smile turned to frustration: no way were his parents going to let him keep a Zippo lighter, he thought, as he shuffled toward their table.
He was right, of course, but he wasn't prepared for their fury - not at him - but at the lighter. They looked at each other, spoke simultaneously saying, "would you believe this?" A 10-year old can walk into a penny arcade and come out with a lighter.
They planned what they would say in a letter to Universal Studios, another to the company responsible for selecting prizes and even a letter to the President of the United States because the Zippo was adorned with the Presidental Seal.
They spent their fury in the planning stages and never did get around to writing letters. The lighter was tossed aside, still in its original wrappings, and life went on. At least Ryan brought it to them, they figured.
A few days later, Tom needed to light a jasmine candle he'd bought for Stefanie.
"Where are the matches, Stef?" he called.
"I don't have any, Tom. Use that lighter."
That sounded like a good idea to him so he retrieved it from the closet where they hide stuff, he told me, especially things before Christmas.
After prying it from the Plexiglas box, he burst out laughing.
"What's so funny?" Stefanie asked, but he couldn't stop laughing, he just held it out to her to see for herself while he rolled on the floor, redfaced, unable to get his voice.
It was a flashlight! Yes, Zippo company must have diversified. As the expression goes, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." People stopped smoking and lighters went out of fashion. So, what were they going to do with all those cases they kept manufacturing at a time they couldn't think of a rainy day?
I researched Zippo and discovered it's not a rusting factory on the side of some sooty road, it's an all-American company celebrating 70 years in Bradford, Pa.
Unlike Bics, Zippos are not disposable. In fact, I don't think you could pry them out of the hands of those who use them. I know the feeling.
Zippos would light our cigarettes at the beach on a windy day, during those summers of misspent youth where one hand held a Lucky Strike and the other a Zippo.
I told Tom how useful they were for so many things. On cold nights we would light the Zippo, then snap it shut and rub our noses and cheeks with the still warm smoothness of the stainless steel case. It was soothing. It was an adult pacifier. I can look back on such scenes of my teenaged years but nothing I can say could vie for attention like the letters to the Zippo company.
For example: A soldier wrote that he and a buddy were making a run for it when two shots were fired. Both of them hit him in the chest and destroyed his Zippo -- but the Zippo saved his life. The crushed piece of metal never leaves him now, it's his good luck charm.
This past July, there was an international swap meet where thousands of people from all over the world browsed through a tent of collectibles. What I thought was gone with the wind is still around for that very reason: wind.
The Zippo is a favorite with the Harley-Davidson motorcycle crowd. One letter writer raved he could be going 50 miles an hour and still light a cigarette with his faithful Zippo.
Another writer spoke of his father and what his Zippo must have meant to him. It had dents and scratches and had literally been through war.
His Dad would stare at it, fold it through his fingers and seem to remember when every scratch, every dent was placed there. His memories, never spoken aloud, seemed bearable in the company of his old friend, Zippo. It had been there. They both came home.
The great World War II correspondent, Ernie Pyle, on August 7, 1944, said "I truly believe that the Zippo lighter is the most coveted thing in the Army."
Zippo ranks way up there with those quintessential American brands, like Coca Cola or Ford. Although its usefulness is outliving its original purpose, the manufacturing continues.
I like the idea the company can still answer the question: "Got a light?" by offering a Zippo -- batteries included.