It is worth repeating, the last day of school and Christmas were always the two happiest days of the year. They were followed close by birthdays and Fourth of July celebrations. Certain events of those special days pop up so clearly.
I wonder why it is that some events or actions seem to stick and others fade away. The folk’s habit of taking pictures of so many events definitely helps to spark recollections but even a few of those photos are fading like the memories they detail.
I can recall the yellow Tonka dump truck I received on my sixth birthday and it being so warm that November day I could play with it in the tractor tire sandbox. I also remember the day dad and I rolled the tractor tire home from the OK Tire Shop and the thing almost getting away from us coming down Seventeenth Street.
The last days of school have their own set of memories for me. Our tradition for a couple of years were strawberry milkshakes at the drugstore up the street from Browns shoe store. The drill of the milkshake machine would drown out conversation until the metal cylinders were brought to the table, each one of them in a cold sweat. Pink brain freeze sucked through paper straws was the official start of summer vacation. The squishy squeaks of the imitation green leather booths and chrome trimmed tables and mom pulling extra napkins from the dispenser as fast as they would pop out making sure we didn’t “leave a mess” are pictures that aren’t waning.
Over the years even the last days of school seem to run together. When you think you only have twelve of them to remember, you would think a person could do a better of job with the details.
I can tell you, with clear recollection, my last day of high school.
It wasn’t for any prank I pulled or remarks I made to the administration. Although I did miss a golden opportunity to leave a mark. If you recall from previous stories I was at this stage, signed and sealed to go to the seminary in the fall. So, in retrospect, I probably could have gotten away with just about anything and the nuns would have overlooked it.
I can say that safely now because everyone that taught me at this stage is dead.
They can give their response at a later date.
On the last day of senior high I came home for lunch which was my usual routine. We had a half hour for lunch and in that time I was able to make it home, eat a sandwich or whatever mom might have ready, have dessert, which one could never miss, read the cartoon Pogo in the Lincoln Star (which was the only reason we subscribed to the paper) and make it back to school before the bell. As much as I hated school, I enjoyed the walks back and forth up and down Eighteenth Street. I could probably still do it with my eyes closed.
It is what I received on this last day which made the day different and I have carried that day with me almost every day since.
Sitting on my plate was a small box about the dimensions of an average smartphone and a half inch in depth. “Old Timer” was etched across the top of the box in black calligraphy the style of the old west wanted posters. The lid of the box lifted off with precision as if it was made by a master craftsman. The box had another unique quality, the tag did not read from, “Mom and Dad,” this time it only said, “From Dad.”
Lifting the lid revealed a Senior Old Timer pocket knife nestled in a form fitted piece of black foam.
The knife’s side handles were made from stag horn and secured with three rivets on each side. It sprouted three open reflective steel blades, each still a virgin to the work expected out of pocket knife.
There was also a note inside the box,
“Every man should always carry a good knife. Dad.”
And I have every day since.
Pocket knives were important to dad, and I am going to say even to Grandma Casey. Maybe that’s where the habit of always carrying a knife started. The first knife I ever received was from Grandma Casey as a Christmas present when I was nine. The knife was double wrapped. On the outside was Grandma’s thick wrapping paper, the kind that you saved and could easily be used again, and the second layer was a note, “This belonged to grandma, I thought you might like to have it.” It wasn’t a particularly masculine knife. The handle was decorated with glitter imbedded red, green and yellow stripes but the blades were as sharp and mirrored as any blade found on a Tenderfoot Scout’s new Boy Scout knife.
I carried that knife in my pocket until I joined scouts and bought my first of many scout knives with grass cutting money.
In an effort of full disclosure, I don’t have perfect recall of such things as Grandma’s knife…I still have the knife wrapped in the note tucked safely away.
I never knew dad to be without a pocket knife. Every birthday and Christmas morning, dad would produce a knife to slice the ribbons that Santa tied so tight or cut the tape that Santa also seemed so fond of using.
When we were out for picnics it was dad’s pocket knife that sharpened the sticks for hotdogs or s’mores.
When dad opened envelopes, I never knew him to use a letter opener, out came the pocket knife to slice a clean edge.
When dad passed there were enough pocket knives in his drawer to pass around to grandkids, Teresa and Mary. I should have put one in the coffin with him, but I missed that opportunity. I am sure today, walking around heaven, he has reached into pocket looking for a knife only to be frustrated not finding one.
Please tell me they allow knives in Heaven.
I went back to school that last day with a knife in my pocket. Something today that would most likely have me thrown in jail, be labeled a threat to the community and my life ruined. I am also confident if there was a shakedown of my class that day, you would probably find most of the guys with a knife in their pocket. That’s just how life was.
The Old Timer and I have been through a lot since that day. We been separated a few times by neglect or carelessness but we always found our way back to each other. Today, the knife blades are tarnished but they still get sharpened on a regular basis. The horn handles are a worn a little smoother from in and out of the pocket but it has aged well.
My Old Timer has sliced open birthday cards, gifts that were taped with more tape needed and on occasion even a few pieces of meat when the flimsy plastic knife of carry-outs failed. Old Timer has tightened screws, scraped paint, cut ties to hold up tomato plants, dug deep to remove splinters from the palm of my hand, gutted a few squirrels and catfish and has been on every successful or unsuccessful trip into the woods. The trusted partner has also cut the tip off every cigar I have had since 1973.
That’s a few cigars.
And, the Old Timer was with me on the motorcycle trip from Philly to Connellsville and it was with me every day I worked on staff at our Boy Scout Camp.
The last thing the Old Timer and I did with dad that I cherish was sitting on the back porch smoking our pipes. Dad would pull out a different model of the Old Timer, pop open the blade and scrape the carbon from the inside of pipe bowl with the precision of a master carver. He clicked the blade back to its base with a firm metallic snap. I performed the same action with mine, sliding the longest blade around the inside of the bowl and then clicking the pipe against the ashtray that always sat on the porch table. We would both load our pipes, dad tamping his down with a practiced finger, me, I used the solid end of the Old Timer to tamp mine down.
We sat on the porch like two Arab sheiks puffing on their hookahs watching the slow passage of the world up and down Eighteenth Street and the squirrels performing their high wire act on the 220 power line.
It was often up to me to start the conversation;
“Yes it is.”
“Won’t be many more like this.”
“Pass me the matches.”
“Need my knife?”
“Thanks’ dad, I have mine.”
Then the porch was quiet. Blue jays would holler or a turtle dove would sound a mournful coo to break the silence as smoke from two stokers would weave out through the screened porch.
When I pass, (and I am putting it out there now to whomever is responsible for me,) slip my Old Timer in the coffin with me so that I can take it to dad on my last day on earth so we can celebrate the way we did, the last day of school.
All part of growing up is, always having a good knife in your pocket.
“Every man should always carry a good knife.” Francis H. Casey