Blog, Grandfather, memories

More on Pocket Knives

My Paternal Grandfather – Seated

Yesterday’s post about Swiss Army knives brought up a few memories of my paternal grandfather. I grew up in southwest Virginia, and all men carried a pocket knife. Young boys often received pocket knives as a coming of age gift for a birthday or maybe Christmas.

The knives were never like a Swiss Army knife. The one I most remember from my grandfather might have been a Case two-blade knife with a bone handle. He used this knife for everything. My Dad gave me my grandfather’s knife to pass on to my son and I think I may have it locked away in the safe deposit box. (Note to self: Give this knife to my son.)

These folding knives were sometimes known as a jackknife (and may be where the jackknife dive acquired its name). I do not profess to be a knife expert. There are thousands of different styles and types and materials.

Image courtesy of Pixabay (altered)

In thinking about how this knife was used, I was showered with memories. I can close my eyes and see my grandfather sitting on the porch step whittling away. Whittling is a term used to describe the practice of shaping wood using a knife. Unlike carving, whittling usually produced simple objects, often functional in nature.

For example, if we were roasting marshmallows or hot dogs, a branch would be cut from a tree and the leaves and twigs removed with the knife and the end whittled into a point. Stakes were whittled for gardens and often simple toys like whistles were whittled from a good branch.

Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Agriculture in Britain- Life on George Casely’s Farm, Devon, England, 1942 D9817, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

Dowsing sticks (also called divining rods or witching sticks) were cut for the practice of finding underground water sources. A dowsing stick is cut from a flexible tree branch that contains a place where the branches fork. The ends were often shaped and designs sometimes carved into the length of the stick. The term ‘water witching’ has nothing to do with magical powers but most likely got its name from the use of a witch hazel branch.

It was important that these knives remained sharp. I remember seeing my grandfathers methodically sharpening their blades on a whet-rock or a whetstone – a finely grained stone used for the purpose of sharpening knives or other tools and implements. (Whetting means to sharpen.) If they had no suitable whet-rock a leather strop was used or even the leather belt they might be wearing.

Beyond cutting branches or rope or vines, the pocket knife was also used to peel or slice an apple out under the apple tree if they were hungry.

The knives were used for grooming, too. I remember my grandfather cutting his nails or cleaning out from under his fingernails with his pocket knife. Might sound gross to think it was also used to cut fruit, but these knives were kept clean and pristine and always sharp.

Memories are certainly a thing of mystery. I never imagined my post yesterday would bring me down this path. All good memories. It’s good to know my synapses are firing.

Blog, father, Grandfather, memories

My Fondness for Tools

Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Day 352

Maybe it was my relationship with my grandfathers that gave me my love of tools. I remember roaming around our barn where my paternal grandfather had all sorts of tools in a relatively basic workshop. Everything was organized. I knew early on what hammers and wrenches were fits for a particular task. His nuts, screws, bolts and nails were sorted and stored in pint jars whose lids had been nailed so the jars would hang neatly from the bottom of a shelf once screwed onto the lid.

I played with his bench vise, chalk line, plumb bob, and yellow folding ruler as often as I did with any toy I may have had.

It was with great satisfaction I watched him fix the old push button lock on our front door by applying graphite from a squeeze bottle. I thought it was magic. At one time he had been a cobbler and we used his small anvils mounted on short pieces of 2x4s to crack black walnuts.

My maternal grandfather was a talented carpenter. I have a table he made from ebony he brought back from the Philippines. Almost all of the furniture in my grandfather’s house he made. His wood shop floor was covered in saw dust and he had more power tools than hand tools. When I wanted to learn to make a quilt, he cut the small quilt pieces in his shop using a sharpened chisel.

My father spent some time as a draftsman and my brother and I used his t-squares as guitars long before we knew their real purpose. Later, when I was a teenager, he often tinkered with our cars and it was not unusual for me to be sitting in the garage handing him the right sized crescent or socket wrench when he called out from under the hood of the car.

Today, I have my own collection of tools used in my jewelry-making. I remember these men in my life and am thankful I was exposed to the tools they used throughout their lives. More often than not, I am the person wanting to stop by Harbor Freight while out running errands.

Blog, father, Grandfather

Remembering with Love on Fathers’ Day

Day 266

I hesitated before writing this blog this morning. I know so many people for whom Fathers’ Day is a negative trigger. Even my own children may struggle with it some. The reality is that there are always going to be a mix of good fathers and bad fathers, some of who were given the title of ‘father’ by blood and not by action, and some who truly stepped up to fulfill the role of a father in any way possible. I am here to celebrate and acknowledge the latter.

I grew up in a time when families lived close together. I was fortunate to know and love both my maternal and paternal grandfathers very well. I can remember their voice, their demeanor, and their gentle spirit even though both were larger than life.

My maternal grandfather was an agricultural teacher in the Philippines in the early 1920s. I remember sitting on the floor listening to his stories. It was a world I could scarcely imagine. On one visit, I remember reading his diaries from his time there. The stories were other-worldly to me. I have tried unsuccessfully to find who has a copy of his diaries and journals but no one acknowledges having them. It is such a shame. It would be such a rich history to pass down to his great-great-grandchildren.

One of my fondest memories of him was when my daughter was on the verge of learning to walk. I was struggling financially and one of my uncle’s bought my daughter a walker. She was such a lightweight her feet would not touch the floor. Later that afternoon, I saw my grandfather (who was recovering from a stroke) walking to his workshop in his walker with my daughter’s walker in hand. Half an hour later, he returned and tossed the walker on the living room floor and said, “Now try it”. I put her in the walker, her feet touched the floor and off she went. She hasn’t stopped since. He had taken the walker and wedged shims in-between the springs to relax them a little.

My paternal grandfather was a good bit older than my grandmother. He was tall, with big hands and a huge heart. He made me stilts when I was a small girl — I was on top of the world! When he took walks into the woods he took me along and pointed out plants to be wary of. He always had heart problems and took nitro-glycerin pills although he would never carry them with him. He passed away on December 15th, gathering mistletoe and greenery for Christmas decorations. My brother and I would find him, lying peacefully on the hillside overlooking the valley that had been his home for well over 70 years. He always used to tell me he only wanted to live long enough to see his grandchildren old enough to tell someone when they were hurting or when they needed something. He was a kind and gentle giant.

My Dad was my best friend. I could talk to him about anything. I am not sure how many women had such a close relationship with their fathers. I know I was fortunate. He saw me through some of the most difficult times of my life and was always there to catch me when I thought I would surely fall. His voice is so loud in my memory. I can hear him call my name even now. There is never a day that I do not miss him. It was a week before Fathers’ Day when he passed away. I was just a week away from a final hug from him that I was never to receive. But life has a way of coming full circle. My son hugs like my Dad did.

These men were not perfect. But fathers need not be perfect. They need to be present and loving and kind. These men were those things and more to me. I did not do so well choosing fathers for my children and for that I will always have some level of regret. My Dad filled an important role in their lives as has my husband. He’s been an amazing step-dad and grandpa for my children and their children. We have managed to build a wonderfully blended family for which I am forever grateful.

Today I honor and remember these men in my life. They had so much to do with the way my own children are raising their families. We were fortunate to have this kind of strength and love that we could always count on. And even though they have passed on, their presence is still felt in all the tiny little moments that make a family.

Happy Fathers’ Day. I’ll see you on the other side of the stars.

Blog, Grandfather, growing up country, Home, Mountains, nature

I’m a Little Bit Country

Day 119

I am so proud of my country roots. I grew up in a small valley tucked away in the mountains of southwestern Virginia. It was the place my ancestors settled when they left Ashe County, North Carolina and the place I called home most of my life. It’s not my home now, but it is the place where my core beliefs were formed.


As kids, we had the freedom to roam anywhere just about anywhere. We usually had a pair of shoes for the school year, a pair of shoes for church, and a pair of tennis shoes for summer. We went barefoot most of the time because wearing shoes was so restricting. I can remember being about 7 years old, sitting on the walkway that led up to my grandmother’s house, waiting for the dew to dry so I could play in the grass.

I read a lot now about how children need to have the opportunity to explore outside to develop a sense of curiosity about science. Boy, oh, boy did we have the opportunity. We left the house in the morning and did not come back until dinner time. (I honestly do not remember going home to eat lunch, but we must have had peanut butter and jelly at some point during the day.)

It was nothing for us to strike out and walk the railroad tracks to go swimming or just go for a walk. We swam in the creeks, caught crawdads and night-crawlers, went fishing and swung from huge grapevines wrapped around the branches of trees. We crossed the creeks by jumping rocks. We knew where to watch for snakes and what to do if we encountered one. We learned to look at the leaves on the trees or the clouds crossing the mountains as a sign of coming rain.

My grandfather took me into the woods when he gathered mayapple and ginseng constantly teaching me to watch out for the stinging nettle or poison ivy along the way. He would show me the hidden Jack-in-the-Pulpits and sing me old-timey songs. It was a wonderful way to grow up.

We had very few toys. Instead, we played games outside. Some familiar and some we made up. Tin Can Alley (kick-the-can) was a community favorite. We also had a game similar to hide-and-seek called No Bears Are Out Tonight which had its own original song to go along with it.

We walked everywhere we went. Along the way, we broke milkweed stalks to discover if our love was true. We popped the seed pods on touch-me-nots. We gathered glass pop-bottles to turn in for the 2-cent deposit in hopes of having enough money to buy bubble gum or candy at the small local store.

It was a great way to grow up.

I sat down tonight to write about some of our country traditions, but that may need to wait until tomorrow. For now, I am happy to be doing a little mental time-travel.



ancestors, Blog, childhood, Grandfather, memories

Remembering My Grandfathers

Day 105

I spend a lot of time on WordPress Reader perusing other blogs, looking for a sense of commonality with strangers, I suppose. It’s amazing what we all have in common if we let our guard down.

Today, I was inspired by Elizabeth Slaughter’s Blog: Saved By Words. Her entry today Jumping for Joy took me back to my childhood and the simple gifts my grandfathers gave me.

My Paternal Grandfather

Grandpa sitting on the running board

I have written about Grandpa before in several blogs, but most recently I referred to him as my Gentle Giant. He was a very tall slender man, who had neatly combed white hair and a raucous laugh. With me and my siblings, he was always such a gentle man. There was no hint of the rough and tough scoundrel that worked for the railroad when he and my grandmother were first married.

I am not sure they were poor, but they definitely lived off of the land and managed by wit and determination. I remember my grandfather making me a TV set out of a huge cardboard box. (At least it seemed huge to my six-year-old little body.) He cut an opening and somehow attached knobs for ‘tuning’ the channels and for adjusting the volume. I, of course, was the star of whatever show happened to be playing in my head. Such a creative toy for a creative child.

We lived with my grandparents for a while and I remember quite well my grandfather crafting a pair of stilts for me out of rough-hewn 1×2’s. I weighed very little and was not very tall at the time, but man, oh, man, I felt huge up on those stilts. There was never a moment that I was afraid. Even with splinters piercing my skin, I was on top of the world.

My Maternal Grandfather

Granny and Granddaddy 1916

Granddaddy worked in the Philippine Islands before and after he and my grandmother married. When I was born, they lived on their farm in Virginia.

Running the farm was hard work. There was always gardening to do, cows to milk and land to maintain. I loved him very much, but don’t remember him interacting on a little kid level much.

Later in life, however, when my daughter was born, he had time. I will never forget the time I brought her to see them. My Uncle bought her a walker, but she was such a little thing her feet would not touch the floor.

Following his stroke, Granddaddy used a walker to get around. I still have a vivid picture of him walking down to his shop (he was a great carpenter) with my daughter’s walker clasped between his hand and his walker. An hour or so passed and he came back up to the house from his shop and tossed my daughter’s new walker on the living room floor. “Try it now”, he said.

I put her in it, her feet touched the ground and off she went! She hasn’t stopped since. Baby walkers at the time had an X-shaped frame with springs at the junctions and wheels to allow children of different sizes to use them. He had taken the walker to his shop and hammered shims between the springs to loosen them. He was a man of few words but great love.

I was a fortunate little girl to have these two men for my grandfathers. They were such a big part of my life and the memories are so vivid as if it all happened yesterday.

Thank you, for the inspiration Elizabeth.