Many of you who know me would be surprised to know that I almost always “pack a knife.” If fact, I have regularly done so since I was 12 years old. Ponder for a moment why I would do such a thing. Perhaps, your first notion would be that I carry a knife for protection. Perhaps, you may think that this habit is a carry over from my days attending a dangerous and violent high school. Perhaps, you may surmise that I have a violent and aggressive side. All of these assumptions would be wrong.
With that said, I do have a fascination for knives of the pocket variety. In fact, I have a small collection of them that I have gathered through the years. However, my pocket knife collection reflects more of my obsessive nature than a reason for my carrying policy.
As an aside, I’m writing this post on a Southwest flight to Portland, Oregon, so naturally I do not have a knife in my pocket at this time. However, there is one in my checked bag that will find its way into my pocket as soon as it is legal and convenient to place it there.
When I was growing up it was very common for boys (I don’t know about girls) to carry a pocket knife. They were inexpensive and useful for all sorts of things. Through the years I would either carry a pocket knife, or a keychain knife, on my person. In fact, it is as natural for me to carry a knife as it is for me to carry a cell phone. Just like with my cell phone, if I forget it I feel unsettled.
To me a knife is a useful tool that can perform endless useful tasks. Most of my early knives have been long lost. Cheaply made with inferior blades, they held the glamor of a Bic pen. However, that all changed with a knife that I call “Mother.” A strange name for a knife? Read on to hear her story.
In 1979 I started my first year at Northwestern University Medical School (NUMS). I was an older student, and poor as dirt. This was in contrast to many of my fellow classmates who seemed to have an endless supply of cash.
NUMS had a medical student lounge, but it was hardly used, with the exception of a few poor souls like myself. The lounge was a place for us to meet and eat our bagged lunches. Many of the other students bought their lunch at the hospital cafeteria, or dined at one of the trendy restaurants of Chicago’s Gold Coast.
My lunches would be pretty simple. A generic sandwich, a Capri Sun “fruit” drink, perhaps some chips, or packaged cookies. A fellow classmate named Tom, (yes, yet another Tom) would bring more interesting lunch fare, and could sometimes be found using his Swiss Army Knife (SAK) to expertly cut up a piece of fruit, or precisely slice up leftovers. For some reason it was fascinating for me to watch him using his SAK. At that point in time I carried a little knife on my key ring. It was only good for opening envelopes and cutting string. The knife that my classmate had was amazing. It had several different sized blades, a pair of scissors, a screw driver, a can opener, and even a corkscrew!
Several weeks passed as I watched him expertly peel oranges and spread peanut butter on apples. I decided that I absolutely had to have a SAK. Why you may ask? As a first year student my life was work, work, and more work. I justified that such a gadget would make my lunchtime more enjoyable, and in addition I would be able to bring more varied meals with me. In reality, I think the “quest” of getting a SAK served as a diversion from the drudgery of medical school.
The least expensive place that I knew sold genuine Swiss Army Knives was a suburban discount store called McDade’s. I had already gone through their catalog and knew which knife I wanted: the “Camper,” costing an expensive $29.95. I knew that I wanted scissors and a cork screw. In addition, the “Camper” had a little saw. I don’t remember why I thought a saw would be important, but I do remember that it seemed so at the time. I started to save and plan the trip to make my purchase.
The day arrived; I still remember entering McDade’s catalog showroom. I did a quick search and found the glass cabinet that housed the knives. They rotated around as their blades literally glowed from the brilliantly bright display light. There were so many models, more than what I saw in the catalog. There were knives with less gadgets, knives with more. One knife was so packed that it was at least an inch thick. Suddenly, I felt a twinge of indecision. This was a big purchase, and I didn’t want to make a mistake. I walked around the store to clear my mind and on my return I was resolute. It would be the “Camper.” I had the money for it, it wasn’t too thick, and it had the scissors that I coveted. Excitedly, I left McDade’s clutching a little box that contained my new possession.
It isn’t uncommon for me to buy something only to lose interest in it a short time later. This is not the case with my knife. It is amazingly useful for lunch, and for many other tasks. I have used every function of that knife countless times, including the little saw. My SAK has helped me make full meals and sharpen marshmallow sticks when camping. I used its corkscrew to open up bottles of wine on my Paris honeymoon. Its awl created a new hole in my belt, when my stomach got a little bigger. In addition I have used the scissors, can opener, screwdriver, and of course the blades.
I became so fascinated with my SAK’s functionality that I started a little SAK collection, which then expanded to a pocket knife collection. When my kids were younger I would take the collection with me on camping trips, and with much flourish I would bring them out one-by-one in demonstration. “Do you know what this attachment does?” I would ask with exaggerated excitement. They would then go around and guess. It is a happy memory.
Despite having a number of pocket knives, my original SAK holds the most significant place in my heart. It served me, and continues to serve me well. I have fancier SAKs, and more expensive blades, but I don’t have the emotional attachment to them that I have for her. I bought her in 1979 for $29. Although she is slightly worn and battered, she is every bit as functional now as she was in 1979. Next year she will be an amazing 40 years old. She has traveled the world with me, and has never failed me once. She was with me when I graduated medical school. She was with me when I married my wife. She was with me when my children were born. I would be devastated if I lost her. She is the reason that I became interested in pocket knives and was the “mother” or start of my collection. That is why I call her “Mother.”
You may think it strange for me to have such an attachment to an object, but there are few possessions that have served me so well for 40 years. I expect that I will continue to use her and love her for the rest of my life. It is my hope to pass her on to one of my kids as a practical reminder of me.
Dear reader, do you have an item that holds special meaning for you? I bet that it is not your latest iPhone, or your newest car. These things come and go. Objects that represent an emotional connection to something else tend to become important to us. Maybe it is an item from a parent, or a cherished photo, or a gift given to you. If your house was on fire what would you run back to gather? Those objects can tell us what is really important to us. I have “Mother.” What do you have?