Norris Chambers Old Timer's Tales

A Simple Pocket Knife

by Norris Chambers

   In the old days every boy (and every man) carried a pocket knife. They came in many sizes, shapes and degrees of beauty. The farmer who used his knife for cutting harness, skinning skunks, peeling apples, cutting watermelons, heading maize, cutting fodder for the livestock, just plain whittling or for any of hundreds of chores that required a durable knife, usually had a rugged barlow that was sturdy, strong and efficient, but was not a thing of beauty.

  A town store clerk or barber or any dressed up dude might have a smaller knife with pearl handles, This was a pretty knife. Generally speaking, the size and the appearance of the handles determined whether a knife was pretty. Some of the pretty ones also performed well as a utility knife.

  The first year I attended school, I had acquired a beautiful knife that also was a very practical tool. It had colorful, sparking handles and the blades were clean and sharp. It was the envy of many of my classmates. It had been a birthday gift in an era when birthday gifts were meager or non existent. The uncle who gave it to me was overly generous. I don't remember ever receiving another gift from him. Perhaps it was because he had spent several months with us while recovering from surgery. But I entered the first grade of school with a beautiful knife.

  There was one classmate by the name of Othel who had a rather ugly, scroungy knife with a broken handle and one blade without a tip. It was definitely not in a class with my beautiful one with the sparkling, pretty handles. After a few days I began to notice something odd. A pretty, golden haired girl said, "Othel, let me borrow your knife. I need to sharpen my pencil."

  Othel willingly obliged, and she bragged on the old knife while she whittled on the pencil. About the time she finished, a brown haired beauty with dark eyes came up and looked Othel in the eye with a big smile. "Oh, what a nice knife. May I borrow it at lunch time to peel my apple?" Othel beamed with pride, "Of course! Any time!"

  I took another closer look at the knife. I still didn't see the beauty and charm that they had indicated it possessed. This scene was repeated every day. As it progressed, it became more exciting. There were at least a half dozen girls wanting to borrow that "pretty knife" for everything from trimming their fingernails to scraping the mud off their shoes. I became more puzzled about the obvious appeal of the knife.

  One day I asked Othel to let me see it. I looked it over closely. It was still a wreck. I couldn't imagine why it was so popular. I handed it back to him and wondered about it for another two or three days. The knife was still very popular with those girls.

  Finally, I decided to make the plunge. I had to have that knife.

  "Othel," I said, "How would you trade for my knife?" Before he looked at it, he answered,"Oh, about like you didn't have one!" I pulled the knife out of my pocket and handed it to him for inspection.

  "It is a pretty one," he commented, as he opened the big blade, then felt it for sharpness and edge evaluation. He inspected the two smaller blades then closed them.

  "I'd trade with you for a nickel to boot," he ventured. "It is a nice looking knife, but the metal might not be that good. Sometimes pretty knives are not real good." I thought about it. Maybe he was right.

  I had a nickel I had been saving all week. I dug it out of my pocket and handed it to him. He handed me the old knife and put the new one in his pocket.

  "You may have cheated me," he remarked. I began to feel a little better about my deal.

  About this time one of the knife borrowing girls came running up and exclaimed, "Othel, can I borrow your knife? I need to cut a raveling off my sweater." Othel pulled out the sparkling gem I had just traded him, graciously opened the blade and handed it to her, handle first. She took it, then looked at it and quickly looked back at him.

  "You've got a new knife!" She was really excited. "Oh, I love it - I love it! Can I show it to Hester?" She took the knife and ran around the end of the school building. Within a minute the whole group of girls came running toward us and swarmed around Othel.

  "It's the most beautiful thing I ever saw!"

  "It's gorgeous!"

  I walked off, listening to the chatter behind me. Others came to join the excitement. He told them he traded with me. A few of them looked my way, but most of them just kept crooning over the great knife he had acquired.

  I took my broken and scarred relic out of my pocket and looked at it closely. It didn't look any better upon close inspection. Slowly, it began to dawn on me what the answer was. The girls were more interested in Othel than they were in the knife. I had learned a hard lesson early in life.

  Ordinarily this should have been the end of the story, but I never gave up until I talked with Clifton about the problem. I explained in detail what I had done. He was horrified when he heard I had lost my pretty knife.

  "I've got an idea," he said, "I will talk to Othel and I'll bet we can get even." He didn't explain what he intended to do. I didn't think it was a fighting matter because it had been a fair and square trade.

  At evening recess, Othel came over to me and asked if I would like to trade back. He said the new knife was a little too big for his pocket and he missed the old one. I recognized the unfolding of a plan of action, even if I didn't know the details.

  "It is a comfortable knife," I told him, "and I am getting more fond of it all the time, but I will trade back for fifteen cents to boot." I knew he had fifteen cents because I had seen a dime and a nickel when he pulled the knife out of his pocket. He was quick to hand me the knife and the fifteen cents. I handed the old relic to him and we both went our separate ways. I found Clifton on the other side of the school spinning tops with a couple of kids.

  "What did you do to make him want to trade back?" I asked.

  "Not much," he answered, "I just got Red to tell him that old Dick at the drug store was a knife collector, and would give a dollar for that old knife he had. He took off, looking for you."

  "Well," I said, "I really appreciate your help - I made a dime profit, so let's go to the drug store as soon as school is out and have an ice cream cone on Othel."

  Clifton agreed. I had learned a valuable lesson about social and material values and once more Clifton had come up with a solution for a difficult problem..The moral to this tale (if it has one) is don't make a foolish trade unless you have access to a problem solver.


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