In the course of my life so far, I've owned four knives: a pen knife, a Swiss army knife, a skinning knife, and a Leatherman tool. With the exception of the pen knife, each has some memories behind it.

Take the skinning knife, for example. It's pretty hefty, with a curved four-inch blade. On the back of the blade is a small hook with a cutting edge on the inside. The idea, as I understand it, is to insert the hook in the hide of an animal and pull. The hook's interior cutting edge should open the hide. That's why it's called a skinning knife.

Of course, that's what I was told. I've never actually used it for that purpose. The knife was a gift from my friends Mark & Hope when I left Albany for a new life in the back woods of central Tennessee. I still remember the dinner at which they presented it. Though it doesn't get much use as a knife, it serves another duty: bringing back memories of friends. The knife resides in my apartment's memory space.

The Leatherman tool is a practical tool that doesn't get used much. It was a gift from my friend Glacier when he realized that somehow he'd acquired three of them over the years. I was interested in its pliers and ruler. It ended up finding a space in my backpack, but isn't pulled out often.

For a while I had a pen knife, but it's lost in the mists of time. It disappeared so long ago that I don't remember acquiring it or losing it. The last time I used it was back in college, when I tried a little whittling. The blade didn't hold an edge, so I looked around for something better. When I found a better knife, I put away the pen knife, or perhaps gave it away.

A Knife Rediscovered

[pocket knife]

What replaced the pen knife was something that had been sitting in a drawer for years. When I was young -- eleven or twelve years old, perhaps -. my grandfather had given me a Swiss Army knife as a Christmas present. I carried it around with me everywhere, but soon lost it. I was probably upset at the time, since I don't like losing things, but got over it pretty quickly.

The following Spring, in the street in front of my house, I found a knife. I'm not positive it was the knife I'd lost, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong. The street we lived on received very little traffic, being on the far end of a cul-de-sac housing development. There weren't that many kids in the neighborhood. Also, winter was just ending. I'd probably lost the knife in a snowdrift in front of the house, and the vanishing snow had revealed its hoarded treasure.

I took the knife inside, looked at the corrosion on the blades, and promptly put it in a drawer and forgot about it for years. (Hey, I was young.)

So, while whittling the better part of a decade later, I recalled the old knife that had been sitting in a drawer for years. The next time I visited my parent's house I pulled the old knife out. It had suffered a little from neglect, but wasn't beyond hope. Steel wool and elbow grease took care of most of the corrosion; with some oiling, the knife was almost as good as new. I've carried it around in my left-hand pants pockets since then.

I've whittled some important objects in my life with it. There was the Talking Stick, which has since been passed on (as it should be). The knife's sawblade came in handy when I wanted to make a staff. While wandering the woods of my university's campus, I found a small tree that had fallen over. The knife made short work of its solid 1.5" trunk, and the long blade quickly stripped the rough bark. The staff accompanied me to Tennessee, and is with me now as I write this in Oregon.

Another use the sawblade found in Tennessee was cutting some aromatic cedar. A fragrant piece of it is near the skinning knife in my memory place.

The Knife Goes Wandering

I've lost the knife more than once. When Glacier and I made a journey from Tennessee to Oregon, I was convinced I'd lost the knife in a restaurant in Idaho. After going through a few hours of agony, it turned up the next week in the wash. I could have sworn I'd checked the pockets of all my clothes.

[missing pocket knife]

The latest episode started two weeks ago, while I was working a temporary job at the local university. One of the job's duties is to keep two display kiosks in different buildings stocked with bulletins. The job was going along fine until one day when I carried an entire box of bulletins to the kiosk in the other building's heavily-traveled first floor lobby. The box was heavy, and I dropped it on the floor with relief. Since the kiosk was low, and I needed to open the box anyway, I sat down and pulled out my knife. After slitting the box open I filled the kiosk, got up, and headed back to the office.

About half an hour later I realized that the knife wasn't in my pocket as usual. Two or three quick searches convinced me it wasn't in my possession, so I headed back to the other building. The lobby was empty, and no knife was in evidence. Inquiries to the building's lost and found revealed that no one had turned a knife in that afternoon.

[l o s t]

What could I do? Not much except make a sign and post it next to the kiosk. Considering the amount of college students passing through the building daily, though, I didn't expect to ever see the knife again. But I had to at least make an attempt, so I posted a sign with large Arial Black letters.

Glacier suggested adding "sentimental value" to the poster, and I considered offering a reward. Both additions seemed pointless, however. If the knife had been found by an honest person, he or she would return it without regard for sentimental or financial value. If a dishonest person had found it, he or she most likely wouldn't be swayed by either an emotional appeal or a reward less than the cost of a new knife. It really didn't matter either way; putting the poster up was as far as I was willing to go to appease my need to take some kind of action.

Friends sympathized and gave advice. Paul pointed out what I already knew: it was simply a material possession. He was right, of course, and I agreed with him. There was no point in dwelling on the ending of a twenty year companionship, so I didn't. We had a good run together. Twenty years is a long time. Heck, how many friends have I known for that long?

While thinking about replacing the knife, something hit me. The three knives that have had any significance in my life were all gifts. With that realization came the resolution to never buy a knife for myself. The next pocket knife I own will be a gift. One will present itself eventually, I thought to myself; I can wait. After all, I still had the Leatherman tool, though it's too large to carry in a pocket.

Thus resolved and at peace, the universe rewarded my equilibrium. Two weeks after posting the sign, it paid off. An envelope arrived via interoffice mail with the knife inside. Amazing. I was unable to discover who had found it, but the secretary in the office that sent it offered to send my thanks to the entire team. Thanks, folks. I owe you one.

A Question of Authenticity

For years I wondered whether the knife is an authentic Swiss Army knife. It was a present, so I don't know its origin. When I received it around 1978, it had the usual cross logo on its side, but now there is no sign it was ever there. The configuration of blades is unusual: a long blade, a combination bottle opener/screwdriver, and a sawblade. Finally, there's the imprint at the base of the long blade: ELINOX SWITZERLAND STAINLESS ROSTFREI, in an all-capital sans serif font. Some authentic Swiss Army knives bear the Elinox imprint, but I've heard that they stopped using that imprint years before I received this knife. For a long time, the knife's authenticity was a mystery.

An email message in August of 2004 resolved the mystery. The knife is indeed authentic; it's an economy version of the Lumberjack model. The logo on the economy models was printed on instead of inset, which explains why it rubbed off. The economy model also omitted the toothpick and tweezers. The regular model is still made, so I can replace my knife if it ever does finally disappear.

Thanks to Dan M. the identification, and to everyone else who's offered their help with this over the years.

The Future

The paranoia about weapons has made it harder to carry knives. I'm not particularly pro-weapon, but a Swiss Army knife is so often handy. Yet now Greyhound shakes down its riders for an extra fee just to put a knife in a Kevlar bag in the bus's luggage compartment. Grrr.

I've thought about getting a chain for the knife, but why bother? The knife has returned to me three times now. Perhaps someday its urge to go wandering will return. I'm not worried.

Last updated 13 August 2004
All contents ©2000-2002 Mark L. Irons