Pocket Knife

It is Sunday, and I am taking an actual day off. Sure, I did a few chores including changing the cat box litter and taking the garbage out to the compost pile. But today is basically a day when I will accomplish nothing at all. I have read that blog postings are more interesting with photos. Here’s one of the garbage:

Maybe we will get another volunteer papaya tree in the compost pile.

And it is a rainy Sunday, sort of cool, 69 F. I thought of making my usual fruit smoothie for lunch, but I wanted something warmer. There were some leftover (or plannedovers as we call it in our household) stuffed peppers in the refrigerator, so while they were reheating, I decided to sharpen the kitchen knives. OK, so maybe I will accomplish some small stuff today, just to justify my existence. I use a sharpening steel; using it frequently keeps the knives in top shape and just a few passes are needed. In the time it took the peppers to get hot, I had our set of three kitchen knives ready to slice and dice at top performance.

I belonged to a wood-turning group back when I lived in Seattle. At our monthly meetings there was always a featured speaker who demonstrated some aspect of making wooden items on the lathe. One night the speaker talked about how to sharpen tools. The thing that I took away and have kept for maybe ten years now was a surprisingly simple idea. If you look straight down on the sharp edge of a knife and you see light reflecting back up at you, then the knife is not sharp. He said, “If you can see an edge, then you don’t have one.” Now, a quick glance at the edge of any knife can tell me if the knife needs to be run over the honing steel.

I took an extra minute and examined my pocket knife. Yesterday I committed a no no by using the knife to clean off a tiny bit of hardened concrete from the electric panel in our new service entry wall. Sure enough, the knife needed a few passes over the steel, too. For the past few years I have used a knife that I purchased in a gun shop in Panama City. The selection was fairly small; I ended up with a somewhat heavy Master brand jackknife. It has a good solid feel and a lock-open blade, the latter a feature that I consider essential. It has a camo theme exterior, and the blade is blackened 440 stainless steel. The knife has a pocket clip attached, and whenever I am dressed, the knife sits clipped to the inside of my left pocket. When I bought the knife, I had to work the blade on a sharpening stone and then the sharpening steel, but now it is sharp. Damn sharp in fact.

It is important to know where your knife is at all times. Suppose your car plunges off a cliff, submerges in the ocean, and gets tangled up in a fishing net. If you know where your knife is, and you can instinctively get to it right now, you can cut the seat belt, then cut the fishing net to escape a watery demise just in the nick of time. Or something. Your daydream may vary.

My previous knife was a Swiss Army knife. I wore it on my belt for 20-some years. I still have it; it has pliers and scissors and a toothpick but no kitchen sink. But the belt sheath was leather, and leather is Purina Mold Chow here in the mountains of Panama. I liked the sheath; it even had a little sharpening steel in a separate pocket on the sheath.

My friend Clark wears a Leatherman on his belt, and I noticed that the Letherman sheath is made of Cordoba or similar fabric, much more appropriate for the tropics. I may go to a Leatherman someday as I miss the multi-utility function of my Swiss Army knife. Maybe I’ll do the belt and suspenders thing and keep the pocket knife and also wear the Leatherman.

My first knife was given to me by my Grampa Fred. Sorry, but I don’t remember much about it. I am named after him and he was my favorite grandfather. I used to walk to his house (two houses away from mine) and he and I would make bird houses in his basement carpentry shop. I liked cleanup the best; he would give me a smallish paintbrush and have me clean the sawdust out of the band saw. I think that was the start of my love of well made machinery. I still have his drill press, Homecraft by Delta brand. I used it yesterday; it must be 65 years old now and it still spins with the same whirring sound I remember from my childhood.

Of course my mother thought I was too young for a pocket knife, but I survived without incident. My older brother, however, accidentally stabbed himself in the stomach with his carving knife while he was carving an eagle out of a block of pine for a Boy Scouts project. When he stabbed himself I remember him saying with understated calmness, “Mummy, come here, I want you to see this.” That was a nice knife as I remember; you took the metal assembly of the knife out of its wooden handle, unfolded it, then slid the open knife back into the handle. I can still hear it click as it seated in the handle. I think it was made in Switzerland or Germany.

I have always wondered why a jackknife is called that. A little Googlizing and I came up with the answer that sailors wore a folding knife on a lanyard around the waist. And a slang term for sailors was Jack. So, the word Jackknife was born. And why the k on knife? Dictionary.com says the word comes from Old English cnīf; related to Old Norse knīfr, Middle Low German knīf.

I have two young Panamanian neighbor boys who I have started teaching English to. Spanish is so straightforward. It is an easy language to learn because the words pretty much are written like they sound. Each of the vowels has one sound and one sound only. Last week I tried to explain why English has goofy words like knife. It just is, get used to it, memorize them.

Anyway, after an afternoon of bird house building with Grampa Fred, I would often stay at my grandparents house for Saturday Night Supper of beans and franks with sauerkraut. After dinner Grampa Fred would wash the dishes and I would dry. I remember that Saturday night was his night to use the copper cleaner on the copper bottoms of the Revere Ware set of pans. Organized by size, they were hung on the wall behind the sink, always gleaming and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He used to garden in white slacks and a white shirt, never getting dirty. He grew a rose garden that covered an entire house lot, and people would drive from miles around to walk through his garden. All visitors were welcome. But then after the dishes were done I would have to walk home in the dark past the big swamp maple trees that cast ominous shadows from the light of the moon. Oh how safe I felt having that knife clutched in my hand in my pocket.

My next jackknife was made at the Statue of Liberty. I know, because I bought it at the gift shop there. My family lived in New England, and one weekend we drove our church minister, Wells Grogan, to the port in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was taking a steamship to Europe, to learn more about religion my father told me. Now, in my 60s, I wonder how my father meant that statement. After the fanfare of the festive departure, waving at all the people in their fancy dress on deck (this was in the days when people dressed up to go to the movies!), we spent the rest of the weekend in New York City. That night we went to a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. I was very distressed because they didn’t have any brown sugar to put on my white rice, the only way I would eat it at home. And they didn’t have the open-faced hot turkey sandwich with gravy that I always ordered at the Chinese restaurant back home. Hey, I was five. Then we went to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. I think I fell asleep. Hey, I was five.

The next day we took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. This was way before the torch was closed from 1984 to 1986 for repairs, and it was very exciting to be up higher in the air than my tree house; it must have been a thousand feet higher. After climbing down from the torch, we visited the gift shop and my mother let me buy a small pocket knife with two blades. The body of the knife was made of the finest white plastic. On one side was a stenciled illustration of the Statue of Liberty, and the other side said, New York City. I treasured that knife for years before I was crushed, completely crushed when I read with a magnifying glass the inscription on the base of the larger blade; “Made in Japan.” All that time, deceived into thinking that it was made right there on the grounds of the Statue of Liberty.

Cynthia is now busy making supper, carving up a local avocado for guacamole. “The knives are nice and sharp, thank you.”

That’s all for now.

2 thoughts on “Pocket Knife

  1. I think McGiver would be proud. I had a jack knife too, It was fold up had two blades and a tool to make a hole in leather. The lock on the large blade was bent just enough that if pressured just right it would close on my finger. After at least a dozen times some right after another (I wasn’t five the last time maybe twenty five)I retired it to my box of memories. Unfortunately here in Seattle in downtown official buildings it’s highly illegal to have one, I lost the one on my key ring that I carried for nearly twenty years, almost attacked the guard with it when he said I had to take it back to my car two blocks away (down hill) so I donated it and went in.

    • I’ll bet that there is a book to be written about life experiences with pocket knives.

      Here in Panama, every bank building has at least two armed guards; one inside the building and one outside. When you walk up to the bank, the outside guard waves you with a metal detector like at the airport. You have to open your fanny-pack, backpack, purse, or any other packages you are carrying. Half the time he will miss my pocket knife. The other half of the time I have to take it out of my pocket and hand it to him. He then signals the inside guard to unlock the door and let you in. They put your lethal weapon in a box and return it to you when you leave.

      We have gotten used to all the private security guards, even at the supermarkets where there will be one in uniform and another half dozen spread around the store “undercover” and wearing white shirts (the typical kind with four pockets that I mentioned in the Music post). One time I saw two “white shirts” in the parking lot, one slyly slipping the other a handgun. The guards all have whistles and walkie-talkies so they can communicate. I wonder if they all have pocket knives.

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