I became nostalgic today as I was sharpening a pencil with a paring knife, a skill I learned from my mama. All of the pencils in my childhood home became short stumps with hand-honed points. My mama liked knives.
Apparently she liked knives from an early age because she told stories about playing mumbly-peg as a child. Mumbly-peg was a game that involved scoring points by throwing pocket knives into patches of dirt. I don’t recall her describing the rules of the game because I was distracted by the idea that my mother played with pocket knives as a child. I’m certain she didn’t wear a helmet when she rode a bike.
For a period of time in my high school years I carried a switchblade knife in the pocket of my coat, along with a string of rosary beads. The acorn/tree. But that’s a story for another time.
Mama had a way of slicing and peeling food items that looked really dangerous. She held the knife in her right hand using her right thumb as the stopper for the knife blade. To this day, I do it the same way and people shudder when they watch me. She never cut herself. I haven’t either.
But she cut herself many times doing things that should have been less dangerous. Her trips to the Adventist Hospital ER were legend. I take that back—many of the ER trips were for one of us kids, injured when one of us “accidentally” got a head busted open by coming in contact with the heel of her shoe. On the way to the hospital, she coached my brother to tell the ER personnel that he fell and hit his head of the coffee table. Once when she cut her own hand using a knife to pry open a can of tuna she told the Adventist ER doctor that she fell and cut it on a whiskey bottle. I said, “Mom! That’s a lie—why did you tell him it was a whiskey bottle?” She smirked and said, “Those Adventists don’t drink. I thought it was more interesting than saying it was a tuna fish can.”
And she had a thing about sharpening her knives. Her favorite carving knife had a wooden handle and a blade about 10 inches long. Over time it became curved like an ancient Turkish scythe used in battle against the infidels.
Her things are all gone now, disbursed to various people or taken to the thrift store—her pink hand-crank ice crusher, her big aluminum pot that she used to cook spaghetti sauce (including the incident when my brother threw a wad of chewed up grape bubble gum in the sauce, giving it an uncharacteristic and unexplained grape flavor), and her olive trays. All gone.
I wonder what happened to the ancient Turkish weapon she called a knife. I could use that knife to sharpen my pencils.