Friday, March 30, 2012

On Pocketknives: Ralph Settle

As an addendum to my original post on pocketknives, I've asked some others to share their own knives and the stories behind them.

I mentioned in my original post that it was my friend Ralph (author of the fictional blog A Ralph Down South) who inspired me to carry a pocketknife. Ralph was born and raised in Inman, South Carolina, and carries a Buck 505 "Knight," like his dad. He has included his thoughts on that knife, as well as story about his grandfather's Buck Stockman.

My grandfather carried Bucks his entire life. He grew up during the depression and very much knew the value of a dollar. Buck knives were well made…in America…and always got the job done, plus they were affordable. His motto “if the knife is worth anything, the man who made it would have sharpened it from the factory”. Buck never let him down in that regard, they always came razor sharp. I still remember the last knife my grandfather was given, the Buck Stockman. He had the same knife for years…he did not replace a knife for the sake of owning a new knife. To him a knife was an old friend, trusted and reliable. He used the knife everyday of his life, from working on tractors or cars, whittling a childlike “pipe” for grandchildren (a small stick and the top to an acorn), to castrating hogs. Eventually Gran (what I called my grandfather) lost his old knife somewhere. It could have been in the barn, in the house, in a patch of woods or pasture. None the less he was in the market for a new one. The Christmas of 1993 my dad gave Gran a Buck Stockman. He was complete again. He used his new knife for 3 months and it was in his pocket the morning he passed away that following March. Putting his knife in his pocket was as routine as a pouring a cup of coffee and a kissing my grandmother on the cheek to start the day. My dad was given the new Stockman back after Gran passed away and while moving Gran’s old recliner (ironically the one he passed away in as well), we found his old Stockman. I guess it’s fitting that we have two Buck Stockman’s to remember him by, one for my father and one for me.

Ralph's grandfather's Buck Stockmans

That said I wear dress pants and suits most days of my life. Gran was dealt a much more friendly hand in life as he was able to farm most of his. He did not make a ton of money but he lived a rich life. The Stockman fit his life, three blades, large and robust. The Buck 505 Knight is slim and has but one blade. It fits well in dress pants and does not protrude out and become visible for the whole world to see. It is still very much a Buck. It holds an edge and has been very reliable. I thought I had lost it once but it was in the cushions of a friends sofa…a pattern emerged, knives like furniture.

Ralph and his dad's Buck 505 "Knights"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On Pocketknives: Ryan from A Gentleman's Journal

As an addendum to my original post on pocketknives, I've asked some others to share their own knives and the stories behind them.

First up is Ryan, who lives in Tennessee and writes the blog A Gentleman's Journal. If you haven't read A Gentleman's Journal already, be sure to take some time to peruse it. Ryan is a great writer and has some great thoughts on Southern society and, of course, being a gentleman.

Like Trip, I didn't grow up carrying a pocket knife. Which is odd since as long as I can remember, my dad and my grandfathers have never been without one: pocket knife, and handkerchief, always. I have since come around to both. My pocket knife was given to me in the fall of 2003, by my offensive line coach, Kip Cloninger. We were having a team meal at a steak house, the day before our senior homecoming game. Coach stood up and announced "Seniors, listen to me. The rest of y'all just shut up and eat. Y'all are men, and men ought to always have a knife. You can never know when you'll need it." He gave us each these black S&W Cuttin' Horse locking blades which all of us, in simpler times, carried everywhere for the rest of the year. Including school.

That knife has seen its more pristine days. Wherever it is now (much to my lament, I can't find it right now) it has a broken tip, little to no enamel left on the blade, the belt clip broke off so long ago that I can barely remember it ever having one, and the swing button fell off who knows when. But, as with books, I find that to be evidence of love. And love that knife I have, very nearly to death.

That knife has cut rope, dressed a rabbit, opened many a box, peeled apples, whittled (it's still whittling if you just shave a stick, right?), cut the foil off a few bottles of wine, spilled my poor thumb's blood, and loosened a few screws in its day. I have used it for everything. Maybe its disappearance is akin to a dog going off to die. Maybe I had utterly used it up, and it couldn't bear the thought of just falling apart in front of my eyes, so it just r-u-n-n-o-f-t, never to be seen again. Wherever it is, I hope it knows it's loved and missed.

Not to be without a knife, I asked my dad if he had an extra. He looked around for a bit and produced three options: a huge walnut handled hawk-bill (which, aside from its inherent bad-assery, is not very practical), a more traditional three-bladed wood-scaled Craftsman that he found while flipping a house, and his silver Kamp King from the 60's. I didn't want to go to prison for having a scimitar in my pocket or risk losing my dad's boyhood knife, so I chose the Craftsman. And we're getting along just fine so far.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Pocketknives

I've had this post in mind for years, literally. I'm not sure why I haven't gotten around to it before, but I finally did.

I didn't grow up carrying a pocketknife. In fact, it wasn't until 2008 that I decided to carry one. I was convinced by my friend Ralph, who, like his father, always carries one, so I went out and bought a dinky little Buck Solo model which I carried until I received a Buck 55 that Christmas. Since then, I have had that Buck in my pocket literally every day.

I like the Buck 55, which is the small version of the famous Buck 110. It's not the biggest, it's not the sharpest, it's not the fanciest, it's not the most expensive, but it suits my needs. I like the overall size and the size of the blade, the classic styling, the fact that it's a lockback, the practical blade shape, and the fact that, unlike a lot of Buck's products, it is still made in the USA. While I have grown attached to the one that I carry and hope that I never lose it, if it does ever become misplaced some day, the pain will be eased by the fact that another one can be purchased for around $30.

A few years ago I was up in DC visiting a friend and some of her friends seemed to be astounded by the fact that I carried a pocketknife. Now, these two girls are legitimate Yankees, so I guess it's somewhat understandable, but while I would never suggest that carrying a pocketknife is a habit only performed by Southerners, I do have a feeling that it is more common here in the South. Maybe that has something to do with our more agrarian roots, but who can really say? For me, carrying a pocketknife is now second nature, and I often panic when I think that I forgot my knife (turns out that it's usually in my pocket after all). I have used my Buck to remove tags, open boxes, open mail, open that damn plastic clamshell packaging, peel fruit, whittle sticks, and even breast-out ducks. Obviously a 2-3/8" blade wouldn't be great for self-defense, but there have been a few times when I've been a bit more peace of mind knowing that I at least had some sort of blade on me.

A few years ago I read a book called Supper of the Lamb (which the true A Trip Down South fan will recognize from my fourth post ever) by Robert Farrar Capon. It's probably on my Top Ten Favorite Books list (note: I do not have a literal list), but it's an amazing book that I think is best described as a combination cook book and theology book. Capon has some serious digressions throughout, including one about pocket knives. I've reproduced it below; it's a long passage, but I'd say it's worth the read, as is the entire book.

I grant you that I have overstated the case: Not all men have pocketknives. I was carried away by the force of my upbringing. I was raised, you see, in a tradition in which it was considered improper for a man to be without a knife on his person. (Seriously, I hound my sons to carry one, just as my father hounded me, and his father him, and so on, world without end.) My grandfather had a number of dicta, all of which were aimed at delineating how a gentleman should comport himself. One of them was: No gentleman should ever be without a pocketknife. You would have to have known him to appreciate the full paradoxicality of the statement. He had the most elegant manners of any man I ever met, but he was ready for anything--fish or cut bait, figuratively or literally--you take the full measure of the man: A gentleman should be able to prepare a light supper without removing his jacket. Obviously, you would have loved him.

Both my father and grandfather preferred what they (expectedly) called gentleman's knives: thin, graceful ones with pearl or gold handles. For myself, I have for years carried a large Swiss Army knife (the kind that has not only blades, but saws, scissors, screwdrivers, tweezers, a file, an auger, a can opener, and--again, expectedly--a corkscrew). In my father's eyes, such a knife, while admittedly fascinating and obviously useful, was gauche. It tried to be too many things at once (my father was a stickler for using only real tools, and for using them right)--and it was too bulky for a gentleman's pocket. I suppose it marks me as the degenerate son of a great house, but as long as I carry a knife at all, and keep it sharp, I hardly think my forebears will disown me.

I feel the day coming, though, when the pressure of my upbringing will force me to lay aside my portable Swiss workshop. They taught me too well. Deep in my subconscious lies the proposition: An old man without a thin, gold pocketknife is not a real old man. He is a man who missed his calling: no ancient priest of creation, but a superannuated acolyte who never earned the badge of his profession. My ownership of a gold knife, therefore, is only a matter of time. I could not think myself ripe without it.

What is true of my family, however, may not be true of yours. Many men are so taken up with the world of machines that they think it idle to carry a pocketknife. After all, you say, chocolate bars are scored to break easily, cigars are now manufactured with holes in their heads, and the post office efficiently breaks all package strings before they reach the addressee. Who needs a knife?

Your points are well taken. Let me direct your attention, however, to some factors you may have overlooked. First, while chocolate bars can be eaten without a knife, many of life's more satisfactory alfresco delicacies are intractable--even inaccessible--unless you have one. Candy never relieves the monotony of long family car trips half as well as an impromptu dispensation of sausages and cheese. Pepperoni, touristenwurst, landjaeger, cervelat, salami--name what you like--any of them, thrown whole into the back seat along with Daddy's pocketknife, will provide more wholesome diversion than chocolate ever could. If you children are contentious, of course, it will tend to bring out the worst in them. But then, with contentious children, so will anything else. At least it keeps them fighting with each other, and not with their parents.

Your two other points may be dealt with more briefly. For the first: Not all cigars have holes in their heads; until they do, no wise man should go through life (unless he has the elegantly sharp teeth and a miraculous bite) chomping the ends off expensive cigars. For the second: My only answer is that you have never received a package from me. What I tie up stays tied forever, unless you have a knife. You will sooner find a piece of postal clerk caught under my string than you will find the string missing form my package.

For the rest, however, let me simply ask you: How, without a pocketknife, do you pick a piece of privet blossom for a present to your second youngest daughter? How peel an orange to prove the goodness of creation? How amaze your friends with you ability to splice rope on a deserted beach? How open the clams you dig on an idle afternoon? (Even with a pocketknife, it isn't easy; but it is something a gentleman should practice till he masters.) And lastly, how is the race of men to survive boring lectures, conferences, and committee meetings without a knife with which to whittle away the time? We give fold watches when men retire. To keep them sane, we should give them gold pocketknives when they start out.

So much for the digression.
If you don't carry a pocketknife, I hope I've presented a compelling enough case to consider picking one up. They come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges, so just find what works best for you. Also, be sure to leave it at home if you're heading to the airport...

As an addendum to my post, I've asked some others to share their owns knives and the stories behind them. Links to all of the posts are presented below.

Ryan from A Gentleman's Journal
Ralph Settle
Jay from Red Clay Soul
Henry Sanders
Joe Gannon
Greg from Manifold Destiny

Matt Summers