One would think securing canning jars for one’s modest canning endeavors would be a simple enough process.
But, intrepid person that I am, yesterday I decided to try to score a large stash of jars from a woman who posted an ad on Craigslist. After a brief conversation with her son, I was off to get my beauties! What could possibly go wrong?
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The road to Sweet Home, Oregon is long and lovely, and as I was driving the hour and 20 minutes there, I decided to put my (ahem) Wharton education to good use to calculate just how much I was saving by going on this quest. And while I’m not the most mathy person, I pretty quickly figured out that this was a stupid fucking idea. Really. When you add in gas, a breakeven at best.
Of course, I also used my Wharton education to apply some cognitive dissonance, and rationalized this trip by pointing out to myself that I’ve gone much farther for much stupider things. So there.
It was only as I was a couple of miles away and turned the corner onto the seller’s street, onto a road that was dark and foresty and where the only houses I saw were shacks (complete with dirt yards and chickens and scrap wood and tin holding them together), that I had another brilliant thought: that mayhap arranging to drive out to bumblefuck to someone’s house where I only knew them from Craiglist was not the best of ideas. I spent the next 2 miles coming up with ways to work lies into the conversation: “Oh, so my FB Canning Group was so excited that I’d be coming to this exact address for all these jars” and “Sorry I can’t stay long, my friends have calculated exactly how long it’ll take me to get home from here so that we can go out for libations.”
The house that I pulled up to looked innocuous though….and then The Brothers came out. Obviously the woman’s sons, who for some reason immediately brought to mind the movie Deliverance. They directed me to the backyard, behind the house, and I figured what the hell, in for a penny, in for a pound, no?
At which point I met the Canning Jar Maven, and immediately thereafter her husband, who totally looked like Uncle Jesse from the Dukes of Hazzard. After the standard pleasantries, he was the first to speak.
Uncle Jesse, booming: So where’s your husband and why didn’t he come out for some target practice?
Yes, in a total breach of etiquette I failed to keep up my end of the conversation, because quite honestly, I had no clue how to respond. If I did have a husband, why in the world would he come with me to get canning jars? And what would he shoot at, where and why? Do people assume that if you’re going to Sweet Home you’re going to shoot at things?
Luckily, we quickly turn to the jar situation, and The Brothers (who are perfectly polite and helpful and lovely) start packing them up for me into my boxes and bags. Then things take another turn towards the odd.
Canning Jar Maven: So do you know anyone interested in those old or antique jars?
Me: Yes, me! I love them, try to pick them up whenever I can.
CJM: Have you heard of the Red Book?
Me: Umm, no.
CJM: It’s like the Blue Book for cars, but for canning jars instead.
CJM: I have hundreds of old jars that I’ve looked up in the Red Book.
Me: That’s great, can I see them?
They all fall eerily silent. It’s weird. Finally CJM speaks.
CJM: Well……I don’t really like to let strangers know about where the jars are located.
Me: Okay then…well, how much do you want for them?
CJM: Each one has a different price, they’re all different.
Me: Okay so…. (not sure why she’s telling me about the jars if she doesn’t want to show them)
CJM: They’re worth a lot so I have them all in a special place.
Me: Well what kind do you have? Can you show me a couple? Give me an average price?
CJM: They’re all different.
We seem to be at a stalemate here, and Uncle Jesse and The Brothers have remained silent. I think they know better than to involve themselves in CJM’s canning jar negotiations.
CJM, relenting: Okay, I guess maybe I can show them to you.
Me: I’m trustworthy! Really! TOTALLY trustworthy! People love me!
Uncle Jesse: Well if you weren’t you wouldn’t tell us, now would you.
Me: Okay, so you have a point.
CJM is walking slowly towards what looks like a shed. She stops though, hesitates, looks at me. I smile brightly and trustworthily, and she continues walking.
So there’s that. And now I’m in a dark shed with CJM, and while most people with canning jars have them tossed into boxes and will quote a price per box, this Is far from our situation here. Oh no.
Because to CJM, each jar is a special snowflake, wrapped in newspaper and carefully nestled into a box, the contents of which are unknown. Because I’ve expressed an interested in blue jars though, CJM starts going through every…single…box. Sigh.
Eventually we wind up with a little box full of jars, that now we need to price. Individually. Because each and every jar has a yellow slip of paper in it, showing in painstaking detail all sorts of information about said jar. Except the price, of course.
We head back into the house, and Uncle Jesse pulls out a chair for me at the dining room table. He also offers me a beverage, and is then kind enough to remove his gun from the table as well. Yes, the gun. That’s normal, right? CJM and I get down to the serious business of haggling over canning jars….and I very quickly realize that this is not going to be a quick endeavor. Because she takes these little yellow slips of paper – and on each one is a number that corresponds to a list she has on many other small pieces of paper (I have no idea why this extra step), and then from that we can look at the corresponding page number in her Red Bible. Why she didn’t just write the price down as well initially, I have no idea. Because yes, when she gets to that page and finds the entry, there’s a recommended price. But in between she’s explaining all the nuances as to why one jar is a particular number as opposed to another (“see, the script on this one is slightly more slanted” “this one has a bubble” “this jar has a 13 on it”) (for that last one I suggested that might be a bad thing, since wouldn’t it be unlucky?) (I don’t think she liked that).
The first jar takes about 20 minutes.
So to recap. I’m in the middle of nowhere with jar lady and her gun-toting family and it’s getting dark.
This does not seem to be a recipe for success.
Somehow I manage to convince her to just forego the middle step, that of her sheets of yellow paper, and go right to the Book. Plus there are some jars where I figure it’s just not worth the bother. Her book system works well enough – some jars are pretty cheap, and others are stupidly pricey, but it’s kind of evening out – until we hit a glitch in the system.
CJM: Oh, I really like this little blue one. I’m sure it’s worth a lot.
Me: Yeah, sigh, I really like this jar too (figuring there’s no sense downplaying that, since we’re going by The Book here).
CJM: Let’s see...here it is…..what?? $1-2?
Me: Oh wow. Well, it’s in the book!
CJM: NO, that can’t be right.
Me, cheerily: But we’re going by the book, right? That’s our system!
CJM, determinedly: No. $3.
Me: But…..but the price in the book! What about the book?
In the end we come to a deal on 9 jars and I pay her a stupid amount of money for my preciouses, but I’m getting some cool jars, so there’s that. And there’s been no target practice in the house, so that’s a bonus.
I’m getting ready to leave, when she proudly shows me some of her own canned goods.
CJM: See, and here are my green beans…
Me: Oh wow, green beans. You know The Truth About Green Beans, right? That right there is basically botulism in a jar.
CJM: What? How’s that?
Me: Every time you read about people getting botulism, it’s always green beans. Nope, I don’t trust ‘em.
For some reason I’ve now segued into speaking with a folksy patois. I apparently have been assimilated.
Me, hitching up my dungarees: Ayup, don’t trust ‘em a’tall.
With that last salvo, I take my box of special canning jars, and bid them all a cheery toodle-oo.
On the way home, my GPS routes me to the “scenic route,” and other than worrying that I’ll hit a deer (I see one on the side in the trees making its way towards the road), it is indeed supremely lovely and bucolic, with covered bridges, and my experiences at the gas station I stop at. The 2 younger guys who walk up to my car are laughing their heads off; I suspect I know what they’re laughing at, and sure enough…
Gas Station Guy: Hey, that’s an awesome bumper sticker!
Me: Yep, sums it up nicely, doesn’t it?
GSG: That’s for sure. Very true!
He later asks if he can take a picture of it, and I of course tell him to feel free. Because yes, it sums it up indeed.
A day well done, to be sure.