An old friend gave me a new pocket knife for Christmas last year. I decided rather than lay it up somewhere that I would “carry” it.
And I am most comfortable with a pocket knife in the bottom of my pocket. A pocket knife takes me back to my early days in Brim Hollow. My grandfather, Herod Brim, was an expert when it came to pocket knives. In the Riddleton community, he was a whittling legend.
In my mind’s eye, I can see him vividly as he sat in a cane-bottomed chair, knee-deep in cedar shavings, in the ditch across the road from Leonard Carter’s General Store.
My friend, Bobby Dias, confirmed that the whittlers used to fill that ditch with whittled cedar spirals. He went on to say that a regular prank involved someone sneaking in behind the whittlers and setting the shavings on fire.
“That would make Pa Davis so mad,” Bobby laughed.
Pa Davis, whose given name was Bethel, was a former sheriff of Smith County. My grandfather named one of his favorite dogs after Pa Davis.
I’m sure you have read about his dog, Ol’ Bethel. He’s in chapter three of my second book, “Snowflakes in Summer Time.”
My grandfather got off to a rocky start as a whittler when he attended the fair in Dixon Springs as a young boy. My mother tells of two events at the fair that made lasting impressions on him.
In those days, you could buy all the lemonade you could drink for a nickel. My grandfather spent one of his nickels on lemonade. But he drank so much, his Aunt Kit made him quit. He was not happy.
The other event involved a booth at the fair which advertised on a big banner, “Learn How to Whittle — Five Cents.” After serious consideration, young Herod decided to spend his nickel and go inside.
After all the would-be whittlers took their seats, a man came into the tent and stood before them. He took out a long piece of cedar whittling timber and pointed it toward the ground. Then, he opened a blade of his pocket knife and slowly pushed the blade of the knife toward the end. As he did, a long, slender shaving spiraled ahead of the knife blade.
When he reached the end, he looked into the eyes of those eager to learn and said, “Boys, always cut away from you, and you will never cut yourself.” Then, he turned and walked out of the tent. The demonstration was over.
My grandfather stomped out of the tent. Aunt Kit reported that she never saw him any madder, before or after. I never recall him cutting himself while whittling.
My grandfather had a small collection of pocket knives. He usually toted a Case.
But he took special pride in a John Primble and a Camillus he owned. A Schrade-Walden was another one of his favorites.
He knew knives, and he knew how to read the steel in each one. In his day, the steel in knife blades was softer than the stainless steel used today.
He took many a pocket knife home to sharpen for his friends. I recall he charged 50 cents for his work. He could put an edge on a knife blade that was plumb scary.
I remember his teaching me how a razor-sharp edge felt on the tips of my fingers. But the proof was in the shaving. He would lay the blade to his forearm and the hair would roll off at the stoke of the knife blade. Then, he would look at me with his eyebrows raised, and his eyes would sparkle.
Being a farmer, my father always carried a four-blade pocket knife. He preferred a Buck or a Boker. The largest blade usually had the tip broken off where my father had used it as a screwdriver.
One blade, the second largest with a rounded tip, was his castrating blade. To quote my father, it was always “sharp as a briar.”
Of course, on a farm, the uses of a pocket knife are endless. There are always strings to cut, cans to open and sticks to sharpen. And on Sunday at church, if the sermon got slow, you could always take out your pocket knife and clean out from under your fingernails. I recall with fondness witnessing my father doing that on many occasions.
You might say my affinity for pocket knives is a part of my heritage. That’s why I think every man should own a good pocket knife. You never know when it might come in handy.
And who knows? The world might be a better place if we had more whittlers.