Love affair with a kitchen whatchamacallit

WHEN IT CAME TIME to replace "Mr. Aun," we shed few tears – but did experience some trepidation. Although his visage had long faded and his surface was wearing thin, he had been a part of our lives for nearly 25 years. Could we find another so reliable? Did we even know where to look?

As my husband and I reminisced about Mr. Aun, we realized that he was among the first of our shared possessions – one of those little things couples acquire in that early stage when every item is imbued with special meaning.

Steve brought Mr. Aun home from a trade convention. As a campus film programmer, he was invited to attend a meeting of like-minded volunteers in a nearby city.

He returned with a bag stuffed with assorted trinkets handed out by lecturers, musicians, and event coordinators vying for students' attention. A motivational speaker had been giving away pumpkiny-orange rubber disks printed with his caricature, the name "Mr. Aun," and a phone number. No, it wasn't a frisbee, but one of those bendable things you use to open tight jar lids.

I was immediately drawn to Mr. Aun, as we fondly named the whatchamacallit. Growing up, I had never seen one of these. My mother had relied on my father for jar duty, just as I handed the tougher cases off to Steve. Feminism aside, guys just seemed better suited to this sort of task, although Steve would diplomatically thank me for "loosening" the lid.

But with Mr. Aun's assistance, I was a woman in charge. A few quick raps on a counter edge, a twist with Mr. Aun, and voila! I could open any jar on my own.

As Christmas approached, I thought about buying Mom a Mr. Aun as a stocking stuffer. But then I remembered the carrot-peeler incident.

One summer I had returned from camp with news of the most wonderful invention – a carrot peeler. No longer would I have to scrape away at a carrot with a paring knife. With a few deft movements, I explained to her, the peel comes off in strips. My mother wasn't impressed. She said she was quite familiar with carrot peelers, and then she explained how she felt that they stripped away the nutrients stored under a carrot's peel.

While Mr. Aun might not have a place in my mother's kitchen, he was certainly welcome in ours. He helped with salsa jars in graduate school, baby food in early parenthood, and lately, pasta sauce for a quick dinner before family members head off in different directions. But Mr. Aun's time had come.

The kitchen store featured a wall crowded with gadgets. I slowly made my way down the row. I brushed off a clerk's offer of assistance, embarrassed that I didn't know the real name of my longtime "friend" and helper.

I spotted a flat, white-rubber flower shape labeled "jar opener." Could this bland item truly be related to our charming Mr. Aun? Indeed – and at 99 cents, the chance at a new friendship was certainly priced to please.

I admit no feelings for the interloper, whom we call Mr. Aun in deference to its predecessor. In fact, in the back of the cutlery drawer (near the carrot peeler) now rest several Mr. Auns, including a yellow one from the local bus system and a green shamrock shape handed out by a radio station for St. Patrick's Day.

When it comes time for my children to stock their kitchens, I will gladly pass on one of my Mr. Auns (as well as a brand-new carrot peeler). What better tribute to his memory than to hear our grandchildren one day ask, "Where do you keep your Mr. Aun?" when they make peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches at our house?

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