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Is There a Knife in Your Pocket?

Whether folks call them jackknives, penknives or pocketknives, there was a time not too far past when any Adirondack Outlaw worth his salt didn’t consider himself fully dressed in the morning without one.

How many folks out there still carry a pocketknife?

I grew up with a knife in my pocket. There was a time when one of a young boy’s most memorable moments on life’s trail towards manhood was the day Dad let him start carrying a jackknife.

My very first jackknife was a three blade Old Timer. My dad gave it to me when I turned ten. I’d share a photo of it here, but one of the older scouts in my Saranac Lake troop later stole it. When confronted, he of course denied it, but other boys saw him showing off my knife after scout camp that year, bragging. So, I to this day know for certain it was him what took it. That was a hard lesson learned in a young boy’s life. When I lost that knife, I was heartbroken.

When I was a boy growing up in Saranac Lake in the seventies, most boys carried pocketknives of one sort or another. Bikes, baseball mitts, fishing poles, and jackknives; they were our prized possessions. Every young Adirondack Outlaw’s life essentials.

Some of us even carried jackknives in school. I always had one in my bookbag or pocket. We showed them off to each other. We challenged each other to see whose knife was sharper.

Who remembers playing a knife throwing game called “Chicken”? Two guys facing off against each other with one foot outstretched, each throwing their knife as close as they could to the other guy’s foot. The first one to flinch or move their foot lost. I wonder how many “winners” out there still sport scars from such schoolyard contests. Come on now, admit it. I know I’m far from the only foot scarred outlaw out there.

My father never got dressed without pocketing his jackknife. I can’t recall a day in my life when he was ever without one. Following his example, I’ve done the same. I never get dressed without sliding my jackknife into my pocket. In fact, I carry two, my father’s three blade Camillus knife and a single blade Buck.

One of the most frequent daily questions around the Monroe house, whether we are in camp, fishing, hunting, sitting around the Christmas tree opening gifts, or just out and about is, “Dad, can I borrow your knife?”

There are many different knife brands out there, both vintage and current. Old Timer, Buck, Case, Camillus, Barlow, Swiss Army…

Everyone has their own personal favorites.

Sometimes pocketknife attachments can simply be sentimental.

My grandfather’s “Imperials” pocketknife
I inherited it heavily worn with one blade broken
But I still use it in my workshop
It makes me feel close to him

Aside from the two jackknives in my pocket, I’ve always carried at least one more in my tackle box. It’s part of any good fisherman’s standard equipment; hooks, sinkers, swivels, bobbers, lures, weighing/measuring tool, needle nose pliers, a heavy-duty metal stringer and at least one good knife.

Remember those little multi-use knives various folks used as giveaway advertising for their business? The ones that came with a single small blade, pair of scissors and a file? I don’t know if that’s done any more, but I’ve still got number of them sitting amongst the lures in my various tackle boxes.

Of course, when I’m in camp, I’ve got with me more than just jackknives. My Leatherman’s tool, another bequeath from my father, complete with its blade, is always in its place on my belt.

There is also an array of knives in my fish and game cleaning kits. Each one has its purpose, including my trusty filet knife. An Adirondack Outlaw never knows when he’ll be called on to fillet up some lemonade bass, dill pickle prep a big northern pike, or field dress some freshly poached trout.

When I’m hunting, I go afield fully knife outfitted. Not only do I carry my aforementioned jackknives and Leatherman, but also my Buck sheath knife, another family tradition blade gift from my father.

I field dressed my first buck with that Buck knife when I was sixteen, hunting the ridges running down off Phelps Mountain. I field dressed and dragged that big eight-point buck all the way back down to the South Meadows parking lot all by myself. When my dad met me there, he asked, “Where’s the heart?” I’d left it back up in the woods. Dad made me trapse all the way back up the ridge to retrieve it.

These days, when I go afield, aside from my Buck knife, Leatherman’s tool, & the two jackknives in my pocket, I carry in my hunting kit a baggie full of field dressing pocketknives and sharpeners.

Thinking about all the knives I carry afield reminds me of that scene in “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (one of my all-time favorite movies) where Clint Eastwood is in his final standoff with the vigilante chasing him. He pulls pistols from every boot, belt and pocket. That’s me in the woods, only instead of pistols it’s knives.

(While I’m on the subject, when they get around to making a movie about my life, I hope they cast Clint Eastwood as me.)

Sometimes one or another of my “life brothers” who grew up beside me in Saranac Lake sends me a knife as a gift. I’ve amassed a nice little collection of them. I carry them on special occasions, like weddings, class reunions and funerals. I call them my “dress knives”. They all have homes on my display shelves and are greatly appreciated.

Of course, what good is a pocketknife if it’s not sharp? These days there are all kinds of handy knife sharpeners out there, but who remembers the vintage old school way of sharpening a blade using spit and a stone? That’s the way I was taught to sharpen knives as a boy by my father.

In closing, it’s hard for me to imagine how I’d get through the day without at least one good knife in my pocket. When my son asks me “Dad, got your knife?” As I pull my father’s Camillus knife from my pocket and hand it to him, I ask, “Why aren’t you carrying your own jackknife?”

His response? “Dad, my employer prohibits it. If I carried a pocketknife and my employer found out about it, I’d get fired.”

What a strange new world we live in these days.

In the world I grew up in, the guy without a knife in his pocket was the one who’d get fired.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:



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