Thursday, May 30, 2024

What happened to the days when men carried pocketknives?


My Front Porch Volume 304 for the week of August 21, 2023

Sam Houston is a syndicated columnist and newspaper executive. He is also an author, actor, playwright, and entertainment producer/promoter.

What happened to the days when men carried pocketknives?

Our culture changes every minute of every day. Sometimes the change is glacier slow, and it takes us a while to notice it. Occasionally the changes are very sudden and unexpected. But make no mistake, our society grows or digresses every day. I guess whether those changes are good or bad depends on your point of view.

In the mid to late 1960s the change was quick and occasionally shocking. The Beatles erupted on the music scene and almost overnight boys grew their hair to a length which previously would have been outlandish. Clothing styles changed to where bellbottom pants, “love beads” and sandals become a norm among the youth. Formality seemed to fly out the window. These changes shocked a great many people and sparked discussions around the family dinner table about decorum and societal norms.

I remember working at a department store when I was 16 and having the store manager send a young female employee home because she wore sandals to work! I can still hear him explaining to the staff how a girl’s “bare naked feet being displayed in public” was simply an image which the store did not want to project. The action of the manager seems rather shocking now, doesn’t it? It wasn’t at the time.

The 60s was a time when women went from wearing hats and gloves in church, to wearing slacks. Some young women even had the temerity to not wear a bra when in public! Men stopped wearing hats with their suits, suspenders gave way to belts, and some even stopped wearing undershirts. All these acts were significant changes in our cultural norms.

One of the changes which evolved over the last 50 years is many men have stopped carrying pocketknives. This is not to say no men still carry a pocketknife, but I believe the number has dropped precipitously since I was a child.

There are probably practical reasons for the change. Our society was much more rural 50 or 60 years ago, and having a pocketknife in the front pocket of your pants was necessary for a couple hundred reasons. It might be to cut the string on a box wrapped with twine, or the opening of an envelope. It could be used in an emergency when a screwdriver was not available, or when a splinter needed to be removed from a thumb. It could cut off the end of a cigar so when lit, it would “draw” better. It would cut the insulation off an electric wire that needed to be spliced, or even remove the skin off an apple. It had hundreds of purposes.

For my granddad, the major use of a pocketknife was to whittle on a piece of wood. No, he did not carve anything specific nor was he an artist. He simply carried a small piece of wood in his pocket and when he sat under the shade tree after dinner, he would “whittle” shavings while he enjoyed after dinner conversations or the setting of the sun. Whittling allowed him to keep his hands busy while his brain and heart could relax. He taught me to whittle, and I still enjoy it today. Sometimes I think most of what I know I learned under that shade tree listening to my grandfather’s thoughts, while we whittled.

I have a pocketknife my dad bought for me on my tenth birthday. It is in my tacklebox, so it is available if I need it when fishing. My mother gave me an ivory handled pocketknife which is the one I utilize when I whittle. I keep the edge razor sharp and over the course of my life there is no telling how many trees I have turned into shavings using that one single knife.

Not many men carry a pocketknife these days. A fella cannot carry one into a school, governmental building, or on an airplane. The world has changed, and I understand the reasons why restrictions are in place. They are reasonable and appropriate. It is an evolution in our society. It is a new “norm”. Is that part of the reason why men do not carry pocketknives, or is it simply a tool which is no longer necessary? Does it needlessly take up space in our pocket and is it rarely used? Who knows the reason, it just happened.

Before I leave this world, there will be many more cultural shifts. Not sure I will welcome them all.

I do hope it is always the norm to open the door for a lady, to address elders as “sir or ma’am”, and to shake hands with a man when you see him.

I hope looking a man in the eye when conducting business is always important, and keeping your word has meaning and purpose.

No matter what the rest of the world does, I will keep whittling and using my pocketknife. It may be a relic by the time it gets passed down to one of the grandchildren; maybe to the point where someone will have to explain what the utensil was used for.

I hope the important parts of our culture never change, but I fear they will, and it saddens me.

Thought for the day: Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.

Until next time...I will keep ridin’ the storm out!