The Special Meaning Behind a Man's Oil Can Collection

Keeping the machinery of our relationships running smoothly

Some people collect coins, some collect cars. Ted Leipprandt used to collect oil cans
The Special Meaning Behind a Man's Oil Can Collection
To Ted Leipprandt, oil cans symbolize the power of love and the importance of "oiling" relationships to keep them running smoothly. (Biba Kayewich)
Jeff Minick

Wedding rings, Cupid with his bow and arrows, roses—red for romantic love, yellow for friendship—love knots and friendship bracelets, swans or doves: these are just some of the traditional symbols of love, romance, marriage, and affection.

Many such symbols have deep roots in the past. From the ports of Greece to the coastal plains of India, for instance, seashells symbolized love. Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” depicts the goddess rising from the sea atop a lovely scallop shell. The Greeks and Romans deemed the apple representative of love and desire, and for centuries, the Japanese have considered the leaf of the red maple a token of love and loyalty.
To these lists, I propose we add a new symbol of the heart’s affections: the Ted Leipprandt antique oil can.

An Unexpected Gift

In early August, a bit worn down from caring for grandchildren while my West Virginia son and his wife were bringing a little boy into the world to join the clan, I returned home and found a medium-sized package, light as gossamer and with a return address unknown to me. Inside was another box, darkly stained on one side. After cutting open that box, I found an oil can with a message attached by a piece of brown twine.

Instantly, I was swept back into that scene in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” in which the Scarecrow and Dorothy use just such a device to loosen up the rusted hinges of the Tin Man. It's silver in color, with an inkwell-shaped base and a long thin pipe for the delivery of oil. One pumps the bottom of the can, just as in the movie, and out comes the oil.

 To Ted Leipprandt, oil cans symbolize the power of love and the importance of "oiling" relationships to keep them running smoothly. (Biba Kayewich)
To Ted Leipprandt, oil cans symbolize the power of love and the importance of "oiling" relationships to keep them running smoothly. (Biba Kayewich)

The Note

The note tied to the can deserves to be quoted in full:
The Significance of an Oil Can

Growing up in a Christian home, in a farming community, I learned many life lessons that I have strived to embrace. This simple oil can is symbolic of the power of love.

Let me explain: Before heading out into the fields with a piece of important machinery, Dad impressed upon my brothers and me the importance of lubricating the metal parts to reduce the friction, and subsequent wear. Iron and steel can be easily worn and broken by not lubricating regularly. Consequently, we were reminded to oil and grease all the moving parts. We most certainly knew the value of the oil and the can that contained it.

Relationships are like that: We need to constantly “oil” them to keep them running smoothly. I personally believe that oil is synonymous with love. Our Christian teaching reminds us that God loves us, and we are to love our neighbor, as we love ourselves.

That being said: My purpose of giving you an oil can from my collection that I have acquired over my many years of antiquing is to remind you that love, like oil, will prevent friction from harming your many valued relationships.

Thank you for helping me to celebrate this milestone in my life.

Ted S. Leipprandt

The Letter

Why a Ted Leipprandt from Pigeon, Michigan, had sent me an oil can with its message of love and relationships at first baffled me.

Fortunately, Mr. Leipprandt (pronounced lie-prandt) enclosed a long letter explaining everything. In the first paragraph, he told me how much he had enjoyed some of my articles in The Epoch Times and the paper itself.

In the following two paragraphs, Mr. Leipprandt offered some personal information. He and his wife, Peg, a native of Georgia whom he met while in the Army, have been married 67 years. They raised three sons and a daughter, and have 15 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

He recently celebrated his 90th birthday, which was the milestone in his life, an event attended by more than 150 family members and friends, hailing from states as far away as South Carolina and California. Others were local folks from Rotary, coffee groups, and church.

In the fourth paragraph, Mr. Leipprandt explained that he and his wife collected antiques. “My big thing was oil cans,” he wrote, but a recent move into a senior retirement center had forced him to give up his collection of more than 150 oil cans of all types. After reading one of my articles about relationships, he decided to give everyone who came to his birthday party a can and the affixed note as a “party favor.” He then sent one to me as a thank-you for helping keep him in a positive frame of mind.

Life Lessons From Mr. Leipprandt

By his gift and his letter, Mr. Leipprandt offered me, and the rest of us as well, some valuable lessons about living.
Marriage. A new study from the University of Chicago found that marriage is the key element for individual happiness in the United States. The study points to the rapidly falling marriage rates of the 21st century as the leader in American loneliness and unhappiness. Mr. Leipprandt’s 67 years with Peg is living proof of those findings.
Community. Mr. Leipprandt’s hometown of Pigeon has 1,200 residents. He and his family have clearly engaged for decades in that community, building up lasting friendships. Here again is a cure for our current plague of loneliness in our culture. Whatever the size of the town or city we call home, civic organizations, churches, and other entities can serve as vehicles for the making and molding of lasting relationships.
Lessons From the Older Generation. Just as Mr. Leipprandt is teaching his family and friends about love and an oil can, he himself learned these and other lessons from his own father. In his brief description taken from his boyhood, we discern respect for a parent, the importance of taking care of our belongings, and the value of hard work for the young. Mr. Leipprandt’s story demonstrates that the old have some great gifts to pass on to the young. They are the bridges across the artificial chasms of age created by our culture.
The Care and Maintenance of Connections. Of relationships, Mr. Leipprandt believes that “we need to constantly ‘oil’ them to keep them running smoothly.” After pondering his brief comparison of love and oil, three words came to mind: respect, tenderness, and caring. These are some of the oils that keep that machinery in operation.
Moreover, his mention of the Christian teaching that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves in fact extends beyond those bounds of religious faith and is universal in application. It simply means treating our family, friends, and yes, even strangers, as we ourselves wish to be treated. Think of the troubles that today plague our families, our communities, and our country, and then consider what a difference it would make if we all took those words to heart.

The Gift Spreads Its Message

Today, the Leipprandt oil can occupies a place of honor on a low bookshelf in my den. The shelf rises only to my waist and so allows even children to see the device once used to keep machinery running. Already one of my grandchildren asked me about its function, and a visiting adult picked up the can, read the note, and opened a conversation about love.

Ted Leipprandt’s oil can may never replace the hearts and roses on Valentine’s Day, but as a symbol of love, it more than meets the criteria of truth, beauty, and goodness.

Is there an object that holds a special meaning for you? Let us know at [email protected]
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make The Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va.
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