22 May 2009

That Old Knife Mojo

I liked this little meditation from a forum poster about his favorite carry knife, a well-used pawn shop purchase:

    I rescued this knife from a pawn shop for only $20 about a year ago, and it is worth that and more, to me. Both the clip and spey blades were sharpened numerous times, and both have lost some of their original shape. The knife may have been exposed to some corrosive material or gas, because there is tiny pin-point pitting and freckling on both blades. There is a slight wobble to the clip blade. It is far from mint, obviously, but though I have two mint 94's, a mint 8OT, and a mint 194OT still in their boxes, this is my favorite Old Timer to carry.
    Why? Because it has character. It is a working knife, and whoever owned it before me, whoever felt the need to sell the knife to make some money, was a working man. There are scratches on the bolsters from being carried in a pocket full of keys to the pickups and tractors on the farm and change for the coffee at the cafe. Maybe it was sharpened so much because it was used to turn little bull calves into little steers, or cut open feed sacks or baling twine from hay bales. Maybe it dressed out dove, quail, and ducks, not to mention rabbits and other varmints, and a few bucks. I have used it to dress out a few birds, myself, and to cut rope and to sharpen pencils for the official scorebook at some recent high school baseball games.
My daughter asked me the other day why I liked my knives so much. I said, "It's a guy thing. I can explain, but you won't understand." Well, if you understand the above, then you get it.

That old knife, and any good folder, is a metaphor for a certain masculine way of life that generations of men fought to escape, and having escaped, at least some of us now miss terribly. Most days now I spend upwards of 12 hours at a computer, but in my youth I worked on a farm, and miss it terribly. I've never done more honest and fulfilling work.

Back then I gave my pocketknives some hard use, as working men always have. The knife in my pocket right now will probably never be used for anything more serious that opening packages and paring fingernails. But it also serves as some vicarious connection to my youth and to the archetypal working man for whom I will always be nostalgic.

Addendum: Check out this great piece appearing in the Times Magazine on working with your hands. Notable quote, on the unnaturalness on the modern white-collar world: "It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work."

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