My Knife

Donald Shephard

I carry a small Swiss Army knife in my pocket most of the time. It is a part of my dressing routine. I put on my clothes, an act for which we can all be thankful; a handkerchief goes into my left pocket; my watch is strapped around my wrist; my wallet goes from the bed stand to my rear pocket; small change goes into my right pocket; and my knife follows suit. They all know their places and require little thought or effort on my part. This has been my routine for many years except the role of knife has had several players.

My first love gave me my first knife before she left me. In 1952 when I was twelve, my mother had invited Florence down from Scotland to watch the Coronation of Elizabeth II with us. To be precise we went up to London and watched the Coronation Procession. When we arrived at the parade route, my family stood at the back of the crowd furthest from the railings but Florence and I stepped over the people who had slept on the street all night and made our stand at the railing. She gave me confidence to do such a bold thing. Before she returned to Scotland, Florence and I went shopping for a gift for her brother. He wanted a knife and I was to help select one. I chose a sheath knife suitable for a boy scout on steroids. When she left for Scotland, Florence gave me a smaller knife as a keepsake. Of course, I lost Florence’s token. Perhaps it fell through one of the innumerable holes in my trouser pockets. Perhaps I was simply careless and left it lying somewhere. Still, I remember Florence as the first girl to treat me as an interesting person not merely a pesky younger brother.

My sister, Marian, brought me a cheap and rather useless knife from Switzerland. I carried it for a while more from duty than for any utilitarian purpose. Shortly after losing that gift, I used my maternal grandfather’s knife. My mother had very few mementos of her father. The knife was one and some cold chisels for cutting stone were the others. My mother was rather upset when her father’s knife disappeared.

Next my family got me an army surplus jackknife. It was bulky in my pocket and had a steel probe that was either for taking stones out of horses’ hooves or for killing people. I used it for many purposes except those two. It might have lasted a year, after all I was getting older and growing more conscious of the world around me.

When I was seventeen, I hitchhiked down through Paris to Fontenbleu with four high school friends. Although I came home stony broke, I had managed to buy my brother a French locking knife. It had a bone handle and a ring for releasing the lock. There was a single blade that held a decent edge. My brother had just immigrated to Australia. I never quite got around to mailing him the knife. I carried it for many years from then until after I had also immigrated at 24 to America. I used it for most of the twenty years I was an Agricultural Inspector. I honed that knife so much that its blade lost half its length. When I retired it to the tool shed, I did not immediately replace it in my pocket.

When I moved to more desk-bound positions in government, I began carrying a small red Swiss Army knife. It was unobtrusive in my pocket, contained a pair of scissors that were handier than the blades, and held a toothpick. I have a small mouth and big teeth so I found the toothpick to be very satisfactory.

By now you will have observed that I am a tad bit absentminded. When I became a trainer for the state, I frequently flew to southern California. Most trips, I remembered to forget my knife but once or twice I forgot to remember it. I did put it in my stowed luggage on a trip to Thailand to train some air pollution specialists there but I forgot and put it in my pants pocket for the return trip. We went through three different banks of metal detectors in Bangkok airport. I am not sure about their effectiveness because they also X-rayed our stowed luggage. It was full of gas pump nozzles which vaguely resemble hand guns but they said not a word. During the flight from Bangkok to Tokyo, I saw a loose thread on my shirt so I absentmindedly took out my knife, pulled out the scissor attachment and began to trim the offending thread. My training partner looked at me in horror and whispered, “Put that away!” Both the knife and I survived the flight undetected.

That was not the only occasion when I forgot about my pocket knife. It did not trigger the metal detectors and I did not volunteer its presence. On a trip south, my number was called and I was subjected to a random search. I gave them my knife and vowed to leave its successor behind in future. On a trip to visit my sister in England I bought a blue Swiss Army knife. It has two blades, potentially dangerous scissors, a small red light I use for an obscene ET joke, and an embedded ball point pen. How fitting for an absentminded writer. As long as I have my knife, I can write anywhere except, of course on airplanes. I intend to take this one to my grave.

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