(Here’s my column from today’s Greenville News.  I hope you enjoy it!  Especially if anyone has ever insisted that you leave behind or surrender your knife.)

My grandfather Wetzel was a knife collector.  Not the kind who kept his knives in elegant glass cases, polished and never used.  No, he was a hard-working truck driver who kept horses for a hobby.  His knives, most of which are now in my possession, have handles long worn by his calloused hands.  Their blades are dark and pitted, though many are still sharp as razors.  I’m sure he bought knives often; whenever he saw a new one that caught his eye.  Most of them probably weren’t terribly expensive then, though if they hadn’t been so loved and oft-carried, they might be now.

The knives he left to me are quite an assortment.  Some are novelty knives, with the names of companies on them.  Some are farm knives with old wooden handles.  Some don’t even have brand imprints, but others are Bokker, or Case XX.  To those who know knives these names have meaning.  They were works of art in their time; functional elegance to a man they way designer shoes or handbags might be certain women.

I learned, from Grandpa, to collect knives.  And I collect them exactly as he did; with an eye to function.  My knives are getting worn.  They rest in my pockets as I go about my life; I use them almost daily in small ways.  Some of them accompany me into the woods with my children.  I’ve taken them half-way around the world and all across the country.

My children, boys and girl alike, are likewise afflicted.  Something about the shine and edge of the metal, the way it feels in our hands.  A knife is one of mankind’s oldest tools.  Humans have made them of sticks, stone, bronze and iron for thousands of years.  We have carried them since we knew what ‘sharp’ meant, and how ‘sharp’ could help us.

Each of my kids is developing his or her little collection of treasured knives.  They’re good children and use them safely.  Their knives are representations of utility, of function.  Their knives serve to help them to feel capable in the world, rather than helpless to help themselves.

Over the years, they have begun to buy knives for me as gifts.  (I’ve trained them well!)  Every birthday, every Christmas I can count on at least one shiny new knife; maybe a Gerber, maybe a small Scottish Dirk, maybe a beautiful, hand-made skinning knife.  It’s a small delight we share with one another.

When I was young, I carried a knife almost every day of high-school.  I used it to open things, to cut what needed to be cut.  It was simply a thing we did then.  And yet, as far as I know, no one was ever killed or maimed in a knife-fight at old, now defunct, Barboursville High School.

Thank heavens we home-school.  If any of my children slipped up and brought a knife to a public school (as I did for years), they’d end up punished with far more severity than most repeat-offense, driving under suspension, drunk-drivers ever face.

Sadly, America seems to be waging war on people like my grandfather, like me, like my children.  Something has shifted.  A knife, no longer a tool or work of art, is instantly a sign of malicious intent and violence.  On our recent trip to New York City, I was reminded of this as I passed through the metal detector 1) to board the airplane, 2) to board the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and 3) to enter the Statue of Liberty…all on the same day, the last two within 30 minutes of one another.  (Ironic that, isn’t it?  Searched by guards before viewing the emblem of American freedom?)

Ever since the tragic events of 9-11, we have all been viewed with the same distrust, the same suspicion, the same uniform assumption of our inherently dangerous nature.  Ever since those twisted murderers boarded the airplanes with box-cutters (ugly, artless, plastic-handled box-cutters), citizens like me have been rendered ‘knife-less’ on every flight, around the world.  We can’t even carry our knives into museums in Washington, D.C.  And many workplaces have the same rule.  ‘No weapons,’ doesn’t just mean firearms.  It means anything with a blade.

It seems a small thing, I know.  But somehow, the knife in my pocket still represents something to me, a reminder of an ancient need to fend for myself.

Or maybe it’s one of the few remaining emblems of personal freedom and individuality; ideas once treasured but now considered threats to security.  Whatever that is.

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