The Life of The Knife Feb15


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The Life of The Knife

I had just turned eighteen that month, but I had lived as an adult since I was twelve and got my first adult job, serving ice cream at the local Sweet Shop.

World War Two had just ended after four long years when we all took as many jobs as we could handle to make up for our boys and men who had gone to fight that War. Now they were returning and looking to take back some of those jobs.

Even though we girls had been more than busy working at whatever was needed to support the War effort, we had become very reliable doing grown-up things, while at the same time we remained very juvenile and slow about the rest of life. We lived at home and had little experience with the opposite sex partly because our long working hours and lack of young men in our age group, for being either in the Service or working at a War job also.

So when Mary, my best Girl Friend at the Telephone Company announced the arrival of her brother Bob, a pilot from the Air Force. She was hoping to help his return by getting him some dates among her telephone friends. I declined to put my phone number on the list she held on a clip board. The girls listed were far more experienced than I and I was sure I could not compete.

We both worked split sixes, which meant we arrived in the morning at six A.M. when the telephone was very busy and worked for four hours until things slowed. Then we had four hours off for lunch and reading… sometimes shopping if we had any money.

We had to be available for the next four hours of heavy telephone traffic. Thus we worked four more hours and were finally sent off at six P.M. … But to return at six A.M. again

After an hour on the bus to get home we were exhausted and had to catch it again by five A.M. which meant getting up and dressed before four A.M.

The buses went on strike that week at eight A.M. Mary arranged for her boy friend to lend his car to her brother, Bob, so he could be my Bus for that night.

Now I can skip ahead three months to his twenty second birthday September, 9,th. That was the day we were married.

So green as I was about men and the rest of life, probably, even though I was just barely eighteen, I felt old enough as I had worked as an adult in seven different jobs since I turned twelve… I was certain I could manage anything… I couldn’t.

Suddenly married with my own tiny one room and kitchen household to manage I was lost.

I walked to the market and came home with a whole chicken. It was the cheapest because it was whole and I certainly had to watch the budget. So okay how hard can that be?

I stood at the little sink counter and looked at my purchase. At least the head and feathers had been removed. Now what? I picked up one of my brand new knives. My home was filled with lovely wedding gifts, dishes, pots and pans, towels, sheets, three toasters and interesting kitchen stuff I hadn’t had time to look at yet. I just stood there wondering where to start.

Then I got an idea… I’d call my Dad. He was home and laughed at me and my problem about where to start with my chicken. He decided to drive over and show me. He laughed because we raised chickens and rabbits all during the War. How had I missed the million he had killed and cleaned for our meals?

Was I Downtown Los Angeles selling handkerchiefs at Robinsons Department Store? Off at the leather factory trimming Welders Gloves? Probably at the Sweet Shop making a chocolate malt. Or sitting at the Switch Board in the Telephone Company, connecting Long distance calls. I was sure not watching Daddy kill a chicken. Now I needed to know what came next.

He pulled out a long butcher knife. It was one I had seen all of my life resting on the wooden cutting board.

I tried to hand my Dad one of my brand new stainless steel wedding knives.

“I thought that would be what you would have.” He told me. “See this blade? “

I looked at the ugly old grey streaked knife blade.

“Mine are all new.” I explained.

“That’s why I came with this one. This is a real knife. The steel blade looks old and grey because it is. I have all of our knives like this. Real steel will sharpen and you will have it for the rest of your life if you take care of it. He picked up my new stainless steel knife and sliced a potato sitting on my counter.

“Now you cut it” He told me, handing me the new knife. I did. It cut. He handed me the old knife from home and I cut the potato again and felt the knife side through like silk. It was so much sharper!

“You see? It is not possible to sharpen those shiny, treated to keep them pretty, steel blades like an old plain ugly steel knife. So you keep this old butcher knife of mine. It’s as old as you are, but it will always take a good sharp edge on the knife sharpener.”

He handed me an old wooden handled, with peeling blue paint, knife sharpener. “Keep it clean and dry. It will never look as pretty as the stainless ones, but when you want to cut for real use this one. Let your guests use the pretty ones.”

And so the old steel knife became mine and I cut my first whole chicken into pieces after Dad showed me how to reach in a pull out the guts.

This knife was my kitchen king for the next years but by then the wooden handle had come loose and even though the blade sharpened fine, I had a hard time with the split handle. It was always at the bottom of the knife drawer and I knew to search it out when I needed it.

It raised four children and all of their guests. Fourteen grandchildren and now fifteen so far, great-grandchildren, and their guests, and by the time we were married for sixty eight years… all of our own guests… one day it was gone. I knew it was somewhere but failed to search for it. Mainly, I had not been cooking as much and my daughters and granddaughters and a couple of grandsons, who helped me in the kitchen, wondered why I always used that one broken knife. I spent a lot of time explaining that old steel blade that my Dad gave to me. It was now, at least, eighty six years old and doing fine…except for the handle.

Today my daughter Pam handed me a piece of newspaper wrapped around a stick .

“How Odd!” I unwrapped the stick and there was my king of knives wearing a brand new handle looking just like it did when my Father gave it to that eighteen year old bride just learning her way in the kitchen. It fit my hand perfectly just as it always had. The lovely dark hard wood and tiny bright brass dots held tightly the same ancient steel blade that I had learned to need for all important cutting. Now it looked ready to carry on forever.

Pamela’s son, John, had taken it and made it new again. His craftsmanship perfection. I wish my Dad could see it now!

I must state clearly that this knife must go to the very talented John in my Will. Bob and I plan to live to 100 or more, but after that I will happily part with the knife my Dad gave to me when I was eighteen and John gave it new life when I was eighty seven.

Beverly Mosier February 2015.