My First Knife.

Here is how the ritual of my first knife played out. It was Christmas Eve, and after opening the rest of my gifts, my dad gave me a small box. He gave it to me with an air of seriousness that one usually reserves for a religious rite.  I opened it carefully; as soon as I saw the Swiss Army logo I knew my time had come. I was a man now. Inside was a gleaming red and chrome Swiss Army Spartan.

My first knife.

My first knife.

“Now remember, be careful with that, it’s very sharp,” my father said, beaming with pride (and “Jim Beaming” as well). “Don’t cut anything you shouldn’t, especially yourself.”

“I will, father, and I will keep your trap lines running all winter.”  Did I mention our family teaches sarcasm at a young age?

First pocket knives are magical for boys, it’s often the first legitimately dangerous thing you are trusted with by the grownups. You feel like you’re about to grow a full beard any second, once they trust you with a knife. My knife felt like it vibrated with some life force of its own. The knife wanted to be useful, it would make me useful.

I immediately began a desperate search for legitimate uses for my knife. Short of opening the mail around the house though, there is not much call for a 10 year old with a razor sharp pocket knife. It just seemed cruel; I was always at the ready but, for some reason, no one needed a piece of rope cut, or a box opened, or a fish gutted. There was even a pair of screw drivers and a can opener on the thing but every time a screw needed turning or a can opening, someone had the proper tool already out by the time I wandered by.

Having been thwarted by reality, I began whittling.  That seemed like something a rugged fellow like I hoped to become would do. I sharpened three dozen sticks before I sharpened my thumb. Brand new Swiss Army knives are only slightly sharper than a scalpel.

I nearly always had my knife on me and, for that Spring and Summer, I was also rarely without a band aid. The knife would always find a way to bite into my tender flesh. One of its favorite tricks was to wait until I was trying to stab something and then suddenly fold and bite into my index finger.  My constant state of injury did little to slow down the incessant search for things that needed my knife’s attention. I also would find subtle ways to remind every adult male in earshot that I had a knife and therefore was one of the pack now. “Hey, have I showed you my knife? what kind of knife do you like? I like the Spartan.”

I was busy pestering my grandfather, a cranky old union carpenter with battle scarred hands who smelled like Pall Malls, when it happened. He was repairing something in his garage when he needed to cut a length of hose. “Shoot” He said, as he realized that he didn’t have a knife. “Hey, can I borrow your knife?” He asked me. As cool as James Dean, I shrugged and pulled the knife out and handed it to him. He cut the hose and handed it back. I turned to walk out of the garage. “Where ya going?” He asked.

“I think I need to shave” I said.

70 thoughts on “My First Knife.

  1. I can remember my first knife as well. It was something of an heirloom in that I got it from my great uncle. I can recall the joys of carrying it around, and the heartbreak that no one needed it. Great post, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed

  2. I love this line: “I immediately began a desperate search for legitimate uses for my knife.” This still happens to me when I buy or receive a new tool. I don’t need a metric set of ratchet sockets at this moment…

  3. When I was 13, my grandfather gave me the pocket knife he’d been given at 13. It had a long thin blade, a short stout blade, a hoof pick (much used as he’d worked with horses), a corkscrew, a leather needle (again much used), a bottle cap remover and a curve-bladed can opener. Made in Sheffield, it had beautiful mother-of-pearl inlays and the steel was superb. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to pass it on to my oldest son when he turned 13 because it wore out when I was in my mid-20s—the pins holding it together failed. Not surprising after 70 years. I gave the oldest a Swiss army knife for his 13th and how his brother is eagerly looking forward to his 13th.

  4. Haha, I’m afraid as a girl in my twenties I have to quell my own eagerness when someone asks if there’s a knife handy. My first knife was also a Christmas present when I was ten or eleven. I remember my dad being disappointed because someone else (a family friend) gave it to me. He has, however, since made up for that blunder by gifting me with all sorts of pocket knives, utility tools, first aid kits, and other tactical gear. Thankfully, my fingers have (for the most part) remained scar-free.

  5. Of course, Gramps gave the Madness her first knife when she was three months old. A silver swiss army with her name engraved. Manhood is getting easier and easier to come by, I tell you what.

  6. After just reading about another gun shooting, I was a bit skeptical to this post. I was a bit calmer when read it, but still want to be a grumpy old lady and tell you: Be careful with that knife.

  7. I’ve carried a pocket knife for as far back as I can recall. When I was about ten I often visited an old man, Mr. Saunders, who was 84 at the time. He happened to be trimming his finger nails when I dropped by one day, and when he was finished he showed me the brass in the back and explained that the brass was the mark of good knife. I brought mine out and it also had brass, just like his. That was a proud day for me.

    • Thanks for reading. I almost always have a pocket knife and I travel a lot so it’s a miracle I usually remember to throw them in my checked luggage lest TSA improve it’s collection.

  8. The only remembrance I have of a pocket knife is that I used it to play mumbly peg. Now there’s a game that I bet very few boys today have ever heard of. By the way, I am 71, so I may be way ahead of most of you.

  9. My 12 year old recently received his first pocketknife.
    Holes in the bedroom wall are normal, right?!?
    Nice post, thank you. 🙂

  10. wow, great post man. i can almost taste the nostalgia.

    i had a really good buddy (who was a bit of a wild card) who used to tell me “knives and fire are what separates us from the apes.” i’m not sure if he was right, but to this day, i almost always carry a knife and a lighter everywhere i go. you never know. 😉

  11. I’ve always wanted my own Swiss Knife as well…Sadly, until now, I don’t have one…I almost cut my pointing finger when I was a kid…nonetheless, I want my own Swiss Knife very soon!

  12. My first knife was a Swiss Army knife (the same one with which I earned my whittlin’ chip), for some reason, I thought it was a great idea to run my thumb down the blade one day and.. yep. I lost it in the field of our farm a couple of years later when I was about 10 and it was a very sad day for me. Years later, when I was home on leave from the Corps, my Grandfather announced that he spotted something in the pasture whilst on his tractor – it was my trusty thumb-cutter.

  13. I almost bought a Swiss army knife for my 13 year old son as a Christmas present this year. I decided against it as it is, well, a knife after all. However, I know feel like I am denying him a rite of passage! I shall rectify this situation forthwith.

    BTW, I enjoy your blog. It’s good to get a mans perspective on life.

  14. The last guy who worked at my farm said he knew how to use a knife at the firs interview. Then, later, he had to, and cut towards himself, and got hurt bad! Don’t lie at a farm job interview! 🙂

  15. My first, and only real knife, was my shiny green Girl Scout knife that I used incessantly to whittle popsicle sticks into fancy daggers. That is until I took it to camp and while whittling on a stick, a dreaded Grandaddy long-legger had the audacity to walk onto my hand and in my haste to throw off that horrible creature, I flung my beloved knife into the great unknown.

  16. I had a Swiss Army Pocket Knife that was given to me by my grandfather but it was taken from a party we hosted never to be seen again. I was walking by the knife shop tonight and had the urge to buy myself a new one. There is that sense of responsibility that comes with owning a pocket knife, but it also brings one back in time. Thanks for sharing. I will one day soon own another.

  17. I remember with fondness receiving my first knife. I love the idea of transmitting responsibility to the next generation. Someone asked me when I think it would be appropriate to give their child a knife and i said “What! You would do something as irresponsible as giving a weapon to a child!! I swear, people these days…”

  18. My Norwegain uncle sent me my first real knife when I was only five. He’d wrapped it in a scarf. Mum and Dad didn’t see only saw the scarf. when I opened the parcel. It came in a lovely leather sheath. By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs I had blood all over my hands. It was so sharp I hadn’t noticed, and didn’t feel the pain until afterwards. Was I impressed with that little baby!

  19. Ahh, brings back memories of my very first pocket knife. It was Summer and we went walking in the forest – the perfect set-up for nearly chopping my finger off! Just as a tip: never attempt to fell a small tree using a pocket knife, it will backfire eventually. Great post, congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  20. Been carrying one since the 4th grade. Woulda been the 3rd grade, but I did cut myself the first day with the knife and my mom overruled my dad!

    Took a year before he could talk her into it again. That time, I hid every scratch and cut until I was… Let’s seem I just turned 49, till I was 49!

    Now if I could just carry it in my carry on luggage again!

  21. Pingback: Freshly Riffed 61: This Is It, Boys, This Is War | A VERY STRANGE PLACE

  22. Definitely a rite of passage, the shaving of your face with a pocket knife. You also are not a man until you clip your fingernails with the attached scissors.

  23. My daughter and grandsons(ages 11 and 12) were just here for Christmas. Daughter was intimidated into buying the 11 year old a pocket knife “for fishing.” His brother bumped into him as soon as he opened the knife, his wrist was slit 3″ long, much crying and bleeding ensued, an ER visit was considered, but their health insurance is not in effect until 1/1/2014. A trip to CVS and sixty dollars later for butterfly strips, antibiotic ointment, gauze pads, ace wrapping, clips and a Hershey Bar things seem OK (except for the dried blood on the carpet and the trauma the screaming and crying caused the poor dogs). No knives, no BB guns, no slingshots, no darts, no wooden swords…nada, at Nana’s house ever! And I mean it this time.

  24. Oh yes. And it never stops either. I just bought myself a CRKT Swindle for christmas. Mad the wife mad. Worth every penny. I even had to sneak a picture of it into a post called The Pen. Great story.

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