Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pocket Knives

I watched an old man refuse to hand over his pocket knife to the deputies at the Justice Center. He turned around and walked out. A few minutes later he returned to pass through the scanner without the knife. He laid his vehicle keys in the basket and went to renew his driver's license.
The deputy called to him that he'd forgotten to pickup his keys.
"Keep 'em till I get back."
"We'd have returned the knife."
"Young man, I locked it in the car. I don't give up that knife to anyone. My father gave it to me when I was eight years-old."
Some years later I was watching one of the deputies admire the collection of pocket knives that he was holding for men who were transacting business and I asked him when he got his first knife. A smile of pleasure spread across his face at the memory.
"For Christmas when I was nine, my father gave it to me. I still have it."
What is it about the small knives that evoke a rite of passage from childhood to boyhood, which they treasure their entire lives? I posed the question on Facebook and the answers I got were from women.
Roberta Simpson Brown told me her father collected pocket knives and he gave her the ones she liked. She had one shaped like a coffin and several advertising Elvis. She never envied the guys because she had her own knives.
The famous Swiss Army knife came up in the discussion when one gal told of losing one while trying to cut a fishing line, buying a new one, and later finding the old knife crusted with mud, but still working. I carried an old Barlow in my camera case until the case expired from old age and it now resides in my desk to open letters.
Genealogies are traced with love as we handle the knives our fathers and grandfather's carried. A huge world of collectors meet to admire, discuss, appraise, and trade the sturdy instruments.
Nash doesn't remember when he got his first knife or when he started carrying one. It is a part of getting dressed in the morning like putting his wallet and keys in his pocket or combing his hair. He does remember each one he has lost over the years with fond regret like the one that had a tee bar that swiveled with one blade or the one with imitation pearl sides.
Another one he remembers is similar to the one my father carried. It was about two inches long with three blades and horn sides. My dad's was a Case with three blades, one of which had to be a fingernail file. I can't remember how many we bought over the years for presents after he'd lost the previous one in the garden. These shorter knives were often referred to a pen knives.
A good stout pocket knife has a many uses as it has owners: opening letters and boxes, cleaning your nails, pruning bushes and plants, cutting flowers, removing splinters, paring an apple into slices, and on-and-on.
A blade should be honed to razor sharpness to be effective for the many chores it is asked to perform and it must hold it's edge. What is your favorite use for a pocket knife?
Warm weather brings out that venerable institution of whittling and shooting the breeze. Many of the old men you once saw sitting in the sun were artists with wood  who'd produce small animals and toys for the lucky child who admired their work.
Times change, customs disappear with the years, but will we one day join the ghosts of the whittlers on the square?

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