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Authorities confiscate the weapon and call for lockdown when grade school children show up at school with knives, even penknives. And sadly, perhaps they must. It’s the world we live in today.

But it was different when I was a kid. From the time I was in about 5th Grade well into my 20s I carried a penknife everywhere I went. It wasn’t a weapon. It was an all-purpose, highly functional tool.

My penknives came in different sizes, colors, and styles. I loved and lost them all. Somehow they eventually found a way out of my pocket and turned up missing, permanently. This was always a sad moment—my “friend” was gone—but it also meant I could pick a new one.

I used my penknife for whittling, playing “Mumbly-Peg,” cutting things as needed when I was in the field or woods (which was often), and later as a young teacher, cutting out newspaper articles for later reference. Having a penknife in my pocket was a kind of ready necessity for going out into the world.

I was not all that different from a lot of young guys at the time. Many of us carried penknives and no one intended to use and certainly never did use them in a threatening manner. Our penknives were just a part of coming of age, one symbol and artifact of our manhood. No middle class young man in the 50s and 60s grew up without a penknife.

It’s interesting to note how much culture has changed, even with respect to something as simple as a penknife. Today, they’re used by hunters and workmen but aren’t much in evidence anywhere else. As I noted earlier, schools now have extensive policies referencing all manner of items qua weapons. Any kid showing up with a penknife is considered a threat. I’m not taking shots at schools for this. But it’s a sour comment on where we find ourselves in the early 21st Century.

So maybe I’m a member of the last penknife generation? I don’t know. But I’m glad for my penknife memories. They bring back a time too soon gone.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

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