Thu04242014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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It’s not just for whittling

Next to my keyboard there is battered old pocketknife that belonged to my grandfather. It’s seen better days. I have no idea of the brand. The little plate that identified its maker is long gone. It’s a simple affair. It had two blades and is in a green case. My granddad died 40 years ago, and I have no idea how old it is. One knife, the shorter of the two, is broken off. No doubt Poppy, as we called my granddad, used it to pry something open and it wasn’t up to the stress. The second is still functional, but it’s been sharpened so many times that its shape has been distorted. I don’t use it, of course. It’s a keepsake, and is a connection to the roots of my own passion for the pocketknife.
Pocketknives, for many, are something of a throwback. A handy tool, that in our progressively urban world, is often associated with farmers, outdoorsman, and, of course, folks who sit on their porch and whittle. Usually, the latter, to some of my city friends, is an image that’s also associated with drinking moonshine and playing the banjo on the front porch. But pocketknives have moved well beyond that. And I have several that prove that point. I have one, that has, let’s see, a saw, three kinds of screw drivers, a cork screw (very important), a can opener, a pair of scissors, tweezers, tooth pick, fish hook remover, and several other tools I haven’t quite figured out yet. It’s handy, but it has one drawback. It’s heavy and in my pocket manages to feel like I am carrying a brick. So, my preference is for something smaller.

I am not sure my grandfather, a farmer turned printer, would have had much use for all the extras I enjoy, but then again, he came from a simpler time. Still, we probably use them much the same way. Whether it’s prying open paint cans or opening a package, I don’t think the uses of a pocketknife have changed that much.
It’s also handy for cutting up apples, getting the corks out of wine bottles, and, oh yes, is an absolute necessity if you’re going fishing. Also, I have to admit, I occasionally, just like the stereotype I noted earlier, mindlessly attacking a piece of wood. That’s not carving, it’s whittling, it has no purpose that I can surmise, but it’s amazingly relaxing. But, sorry, so far, I haven’t taken up drinking moonshine or playing the banjo.
I have, however, learned that carrying an old-fashioned pocketknife in the city isn’t always easy and probably not advisable. I do a lot of work on Capitol Hill and, for good reason, anything remotely resembling a weapon, as innocuous as a pocket knife might be, isn’t welcomed. I usually, if I have a Hill visit on my schedule, leave my pocketknife in my desk but one time I forgot. Not wanting to surrender my Swiss Army knife, or worse, get questioned in some lonely office by the Capitol Police, I carefully tucked it under a small pile of leaves near the bike rack in front of the Dirksen Building. I imagine this violated some rules as well, but I didn’t want to lose this all but new knife, and it was there when I got back.
 Sometimes, though, when my knife meets up with the authorities, there isn’t much I can do. On a trip to Montana I forgot to put my knife in my baggage. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Officer found it in my carryon bag. He was nice about it, but said under the rules he had to confiscate it. I didn’t put up any resistance. I knew the rules. However, I was pleased to find out later, that the TSA keeps these knives it confiscates and routinely turns them over to the states to give them to the Boy Scouts and other outdoor groups.
My collection of pocketknives has probably gotten a bit out of hand. I have them stashed all over the place. I have at least a dozen, and during the year I probably manage to use them all.
It’s a handy tool, but also something I enjoy. The uses I can find for it continue to amaze me. But right now, on this hot summer afternoon, I think I might put myself in a simpler time, one Poppy would appreciate, and just go and whittle.

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