Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's a Manly Sort of Tool...

So, I was listening to this earlier today. It's President Lyndon Baines Johnson, ordering some custom-made lightweight slacks from Hagger, and while I was cracking up at him saying, "Leave me about an inch from where the zipper ends around under my... back to my bunghole," it was something else that he said that got me all thoughtful and wandering around in my memory.

Ol' LBJ has a very strong Central Texas accent, which is something I've gotten used to hearing since I've lived here, though I think it got softened somewhat during his years in Washington, D.C. It got my attention, though, when he asked that they add about an inch to the side pockets, because whenever he sat down, "my knife and my money fall out." And boy, wasn't that a familiar complaint, because my dad used to say that all the time after he moved out of the oil fields and into the office, a change which required him to wear suits and dress slacks. The pockets weren't deep enough to hold his change, his keys, and his jackknife, and my mom usually ended up at her sewing machine, with his suit trousers over her lap, pinning extra fabric to the pockets to make them deeper. Because in the South that my dad grew up in, a man was never caught without his jackknife in his pocket.

A jackknife was sacred.

What's a jackknife?

Well, I don't know how it is up north, but most men from the southern half of this country used to carry what we called a jackknife or a pocket knife with them everywhere they went, and they weren't used for defense or for cuttin' somebody up bad, etc. They were used to do little things, like... sharpen a pencil, or cut the gordian knot most little kids manage to mangle their shoelaces into when they're first learning to tie their shoes, or pick out a splinter in the same kid's foot because Daddy let them run around barefoot, because they couldn't tie their shoes any more, etc. It could be used to cut string for bundling newspapers together, or the tip of the blade could be used as a makeshift screwdriver when that little screw that holds the ear piece to one's glasses fell out, or to cut a blooming rose from the rosebush in the front yard to give the elderly lady from across the street who'd come over to give the family the cookies she'd just baked. Need a fishing pole? Daddy would whip out his jackknife, cut a tree branch, then cut some string, pry apart a paperclip to bend into a hook, and there you go. Were you misbehaving? Out would come the knife to cut a switch from the hazel bush so Mom could apply it in the way she deemed most effective.

It was sort of an everyman's tool of the trade. You'd see them pulled out in barbecue joints to slice sausage into small pieces for little ones to nibble, or into chunks for chewing. Or to cut a plug of tobacco for chewing (EWWWWW!!!). I remember watching one of my great uncles whipping it out and using it to pry a rock out of a horseshoe when his horse started limping, and then wiping it on his pants before cutting a chunk off an apple to reward the same horse for her patience. You don't see them much any more. Especially in these days of heightened airport security.

My dad got me one for my thirteenth birthday, and I was very proud of it, too, even though I'm not a boy. I guess he got tired of me asking to borrow his all the time when I needed to put a new hook on my fishing line! I still have it, though I don't use it any more, because it's very fragile now. But, I have a Swiss Army Card Knife that the Husbandly One got for me about ten or fifteen years ago, which I keep in my purse. It's not the same thing, but I use it for just about everything when I'm out and about.

It's kind of weird, I admit, to walk by the little shelf where the Husbandly One puts all the things that he keeps in his pocket; wallet, keys, phone... but there's no jackknife. I'm used to it now, but... it just seems like such a husbandly, fatherly sort of item, and it's odd not to see it there.

And I remember after my father had died, and one of the first times I went back to the house where I'd grown up after the funeral, I was walking toward Mom's room, and hesitated, because right there, on the sideboard by the door, behind the photo of my nephew... there was my dad's little pile of things. Wallet, keys, assorted change, odd little items he'd either picked up, or been given by friends... and his jackknife. Yeah, it made me tear up.

And do you know, when I went to Mom's new house, I walked into her bedroom and there on her dresser, in "his" corner, his little pile of things. Wallet, keys, change, odd little objects... and his jackknife.

It seemed kind of right, and made me think that maybe it makes that house feel a little more like home for her. Like he's still there with her, even in the new place.

Whatever works.

It's still funny to think that even when he was president, LBJ carried a jackknife in his pocket. How the world has changed, in ways large and small.

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