Sunday, June 21, 2009

First cut is the deepest

The blade is still razor-sharp, the same kind of sharp that cut into the meat of my left hand and left a scar still visible between my index finger and thumb. It hurt back then, and bled profusely, but I didn't say anything at the time.

I might have been 8 years old.

The punishment for sneaking Dad's Navy knife and cutting myself with it would have been far more severe than the injury itself. I suffered in silence. The wound healed. The scar has been a lifelong reminder of my foolish efforts to cut the cover off a golf ball and get to the wound rubber string and mysterious liquid center filling. We did this all the time, me and my neighborhood buddies, but only once did I muster the nerve to attempt it with a dangerous military weapon. I learned my lesson.

We found the knife recently when my mother, sister and I were going through Dad's belongings. It never had gone missing -- most years it was stored safely in a bedroom drawer -- but nobody had thought of its whereabouts in the chaotic aftermath of my father's death. He died last fall, barely 10 days after being diagnosed with cancer. This is our first Father's Day without him.

There it was, in a box with other keepsakes. I removed it from its protective sheath and ran my thumb -- oh, so carefully -- over the old steel blade. The memories came rushing back.

I'm sure Dad had his own memories of the knife, but I don't remember him talking much about it. The MK1 had been issued to him when he joined the Navy in 1942, not long after our country entered World War II in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

Although the knife is considered a dangerous weapon, to my knowledge Dad never used it to kill anything. He was a shipfitter who repaired damaged vessels; he was never close to the deadly action of the war. But I have no doubt he knew how to use it. And he kept it, to use a Navy term, in ship-shape. (If you click on the picture you should be able to see the initials "E.L.S.'' carved in the sheath. That was my Dad, Eugene Lawrence Smith.)

Songwriter Guy Clark must have been speaking from memory -- and his heart -- when he wrote the intimate ballad "Randall Knife'' about a special blade his father owned, and the son coveted growing up.

My hand burned for the Randall knife
There in the bottom drawer
And I found a tear for my father's life
And all that it stood for

I took Dad's knife back home with me to spend some time with it, but only for a while. My son Zach began basic training this week at Naval Station Great Lakes -- he's in the Navy, just like his Grandpa -- and it seemed fitting that the knife should pass into his possession.

So I sent it to him last week, just before he reported, with this cautionary advice: Keep it safe, and don't cut yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Great story. As I was reading it, I thought, " This reminds me of that Guy Clark song," and then there it was mentioned. Numerous Pallisters have past through Great Lakes in the last six decades. Good luck to Zach.