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.
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.