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Happy Corner: Things To Do With A Pocket Knife

by Hazel Wells Tison

It is an invitation to dawdle as print time approaches if I decide to clean out a room or closet first,  Since I  have someone coming to replace some floor covering tomorrow,  moving “stuff” out of that room was on the agenda. Our house is the repository for Tison family history and there are treasures in many nooks and crannies so I am easily distracted. A small cedar chest contains the treasures providing today’s distraction.  First thing was a letter from Jack’s brother Tom. If you ever knew him, you well know that he marched to a different drummer. That he could write a perfectly good letter in very neat handwriting is a surprise. That he was in the military is also a surprise.(not to family who knew that.)That he could find a small private airfield near base where the pilot would give him his first airplane ride for $1.50 is a surprise.  That in the midst of basic training at Camp Lee, Virginia he could find a place to go fishing is no surprise at all. Fishing and hunting was what he was all about.  The September 11,1946 letter tells about his first flight.  Too shy, however, to ask the pilot to take him up he had to ask his buddy to ask for him.

Pocket Knives

But to get to my topic.  Among other treasures of Tom’s was a booklet by the Remington Company published in 1934 entitled Things To do With A Pocket Knife.  Jack’s and his Meeker Uncles were great whittlers and I have many monkeys among the family treasures that  have been whittled from peach seeds.  To this day, when I peel a nice peach or even a bucket full, my husband has to examine each one to see if one is suitable for whittling a monkey. I just learned where the inspiration for peach seed monkey whittling came from.  Remington’s booklet.

This valuable booklet also tells how to build a ship in a bottle. I have mentioned the Ship in A Bottle that is a part of the Doctor Paul’s Hospital lore.  As far as I know the Meeker/Tison boys never achieved the distinction of constructing a Ship in a Bottle. That distinction still belongs to the Greek, Steve Coutres who lived in Bonifay in the 1930’s and 40’s. 

Other instructions in the booklet include a lot of decorative things such as birds from small decorative ones to even a foot tall owl used as a garden ornament or to scare off nuisance birds;  fans which can be used as fans, billowing skirts for ladies, headdress for an Indian Chief, a flower, or a peacock’s tail.  In addition puzzles such as ball in a cage or caged animals, and wooden chains.

In addition to wood and peach seed, whittling materials include linoleum, soap, soapstone, celluloid, ivory, plastic such as bakelite.  I doubt you will find any celluloid today.  A more difficult whittling project is high relief and whittling in the round, decorative or functional where forms are whittled from the wood leaving the base intact.  Maybe this is something similar to chainsaw artist Chad Gainey’s work.   

When I was still teaching, the 8th grade put together Colonial Days and invited different people exhibiting skills needed in Colonial Days.  We had soap making, butter churning, quilting, black smithing, corn shelling, moon shine making to name some of the skills.  I invited my uncle James Archie Harris to exhibit whittling.  Although it is mainly thought of as something to pass the time, it also was a necessary skill:  making handles for axes, hoes and other work tools, furniture making, door latches etc. 

Until a few years ago, a boy without a pocket knife was not fully equipped.  Now if a child showed up at school with a simple pocket knife so necessary only a few years ago when my sons were growing up, he’d be in serious trouble.  His parents would certainly be called and most likely the law. 

The cartoon on the inside back cover leaves no doubt what the booklet is advertising.  “HEY FELLAS!  IF YA SEE A GUY STRUGGLING' TO MAKE SOME OF THESE THINGS WITH A KNIFE THAT WOULDN’T CUT HOT BUTTER, TELL ‘EM TO GO GET A REMINGTON AND DO THE JOB RIGHT.”

Whittling is not the only place a good sharp knife is necessary.  The company who makes the kitchen knives I use say that more people cut themselves with a dull knife. A sharp knife is a must have for whittling,  and it certainly makes for greater efficiency in the kitchen and other places.