A few day ago I received a package in the mail and did as I have done thousands of times in my life: I reached into my pocket and took out my pocket knife, which I used to open the package. While I was slicing the package open I began to think about the knife that I reached for so reflexively.
It was a Christmas present from a now long-dead uncle. I was barely a teen, and it was intended to replace a long line of cheap feed-store Barlows and miscellaneous junkers that I had used since I was about seven. I can still remember the thrill I felt as I opened the fitted cardboard box it came in. A Camillus it was, in the much-favored "Stockman" pattern. Three different specialized blades, each of them adequately factory sharp and later destined to be brought to the requisite razor edge. The scales of the handle were dark bone with a little losenge of German silver on one side for the owner's initials. I dropped it that first time into my left hand pants pocket and savored the feel and weight of it there as it pressed lightly into my thigh. Of course I didn't know it at the time, but it was destined to live there for the next fifty-five or so years and still counting.
In those days every boy had a pocket knife of one sort or another. It was as essential as one's pants. You used it to cut the string off a bale of hay or straw, slice up an apple from the orchard, whittle on a stick, skin a squirrel, cut a twig to toast a marshmallow on, spread peanut butter on a cracker, remove splinters, pry a stone out of a hoof, cut a new set of bootlaces, or pare your finger nails. Not a day went by that it didn't see a dozen uses or more.
From the fifth grade on it was a given that every boy in school had a knife in his pocket. There was no secret about it, nor any need for its presence to have been a secret. The idea that we would do damage to each other was as foreign to everyone as anything could have been. There were two infallible indicators of the arrival of spring: the marble games would begin at recess, and the mumbledy-peg tournaments would begin. For those unfortunates not familiar with the arcane rituals of mumbledy-peg I will only say that it is a complex game played by sticking your knife into the ground in various rigorously prescribed moves.
The other day I read a news article about a high school boy who had been suspended from school. He had helped someone to move and a steak knife had apparently slipped out of a box and lay undetected in the bed of his truck until it was noticed by a security guard in the school parking lot. A concept called "zero tolerance for weapons and violence" dictated his removal from amongst acceptable people. I read that article and knew that I don't live here any more. None of my peers would have recognized that term-- weapons-- for our Barlows and Schrades and Cases and Camilluses.
I am sad for the boys who cannot know the tingly delight of a new pocket knife, a gift from some loving person who knew that nothing could please a boy quite so much. And in 2060 will any of today's boys have the pleasure of taking out their likewise aging companion and feeling the patina of its worn scales, looking at the blade that has been thinned and shaped by hundreds of sharpenings, and remembering the places it has been with them and the adventures they have had together? I wish the answer would be "Yes, many!" but I fear that is not so.
This reverie has been brought to you by one of those "old style boys" who hasn't quite yet lived up to being one of the new, improved citizens of our brave new world.