Quality Parenting in the Good Old Days: Get Your Knife


I’m sure we all remember things we hated hearing our parents say – things like take out the trash, mow the grass, sit up straight, don’t scratch yourself in church and stop peeing in the yard.  (Okay, those last two are things my wife says. But you get the point.)

As a youngster, what I dreaded most was hearing my father say, “Get your knife and come here.” That would put a report-card-sized knot in my stomach every time.

First, there was the problem that I never had my knife with me. This was inconceivable to my father because a pocketknife was an essential part of his being, like his wallet and wedding ring – or more accurately, his ring finger. He just expected everyone to have a knife at all times.

Before the smartphone came along, this is what everyone carried for work and entertainment.

When he told me to go get mine, it would cause a mad scramble as I tried to remember when and where I used it last. Assuming I found it, that just led to the next problem: My knife was always dull.

Daddy would feel the blade, shake his head and tell me to sharpen it on his old whet rock. That usually worked about as well as giving a calculator to a chimpanzee and telling him to do your taxes. I still don’t understand how my father could turn his old Case into a razor with about three strokes on the stone. Even now, I can use the same tools and technique and turn mine into a butter knife.

But it didn’t matter how sharp or dull it was because I’d still have to do whatever it was I needed the knife for in the first place. At best, it would be something simple like peeling onions or potatoes, or cutting the stems off figs. But if he drove up with his boat in tow, it was a safe bet that he had a mess of fish, still in their natural state.

I’ve written before about the definition of a mess of fish. For my father, the definition depended entirely on who was going to clean them. If one or more of his sons was at home, a mess was as many as he could catch before running out of daylight or bait, plus any that his buddies might give him along the way. Bringing back a basket with fifty to a hundred bream and shellcracker was pretty common.

My grandfather, Daddy Mac. This is a mess of fish.

Another equally unattractive possibility was that he had shot a deer, one or more hogs, doves, ducks, squirrels, quail or any combination of the above. Being edible and available was a deadly combination for critters that crossed my father’s path.

No matter what he brought home, it usually meant I was going to spend an hour or two with my hands in fur, feathers, scales, guts and/or blood. If I had a date that night, too bad. An acid bath and a vat of Old Spice wouldn’t get rid of the smell. (Imagine what a confidence booster that was!)

When Daddy passed away in 2002, my mother gave me four or five of his old pocketknives. For sentimental reasons, I gave a couple of the knives to my son.

It would come as no surprise to my father that his grandson now has no idea where those knives are today. Nor would he be concerned about something silly like sentimental value. Instead, he would probably just take Jimmy to the hardware store and buy a new one.  Or, more likely, he would tell me to to give him one of mine. And I would gladly do that, except I don’t know where any of them are right now.

That part wouldn’t surprise him either.




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