Tony Vagneur: A dull memory turned sharp
It was one of those things, a rare find, packed away in a box my parents had carried from Woody Creek and kept in storage for umpteen years. At one time, there were many such boxes of valuable books, of photographs, rare awards and blue ribbons, the kind of stuff no one wants to throw away.
Tragedy struck in the form of a flood, the result of heavy rain over a period of days, seeping through the concrete walls, a window and sneaking up on the unaware, creating havoc, covering the basement where my dad had kept much of that material stashed.
Ruined were most of the books, photographs and important historical papers. This was all material important to the legacy of our family, and to the history of Aspen and Woody Creek, but as the song says, c’est la vie.
My parents died, I inherited what remained of said cache, and bumbling through some of it one day, came across a priceless item — a kitchen knife from days gone by. Oh, it wasn’t much to look at, not like some stainless-steel blade with a gem-encrusted handle. Nor was it one of those bulky kitchen knives that seems to be found on most kitchen counters, stuffed into a holder of some type, kind of like King Arthur’s Excalibur.
Nope, it was simplicity at its best, a long, thin, straight blade, about an inch in depth, curving up into a gentle point. It could slice through a roast or a prime rib with the greatest of ease and spent time on the basement table where we cut and packaged wild game. It had a touch of flexibility to it, not much, just enough, and curiously, it was discolored a bit with age, not rust. It wasn’t pretty, and that was its ultimate downfall.
The cutting edge had a slight concave shape to it, the result of being drawn across a whetstone countless times. My dad was a stickler for sharp knives, from the one in his pocket to the ones kept in my mom’s kitchen.
“Dull knives are dangerous,” he always said. Experience has proved him correct.
The handle was made of wood, probably a well-polished piece of workmanship when new, but years of use had rounded the edges and the sheen, whatever there had once been, had turned to gray-dull. The small bolts that had held the handle to the steel had broken or come apart at some point, and my dad had reattached the handle using brass rivets. That was the crowning mark that sucked forth sentimental recognition from deep within my being.
Just a knife you say, but so much more. It represented my father and mother working together, him sharpening and repairing the blade, her using it every day in the kitchen, without much thought between them either way toward such an insignificant item.
And after losing so much in the flood, mentioned above, to discover this knife tucked away in a box of other kitchen accoutrement, packed with care some 45 years before, brought a sense of excitement to my breast. An inanimate object, it provided a walk down memory lane I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. And it immediately went into my knife drawer, where it became the knife of choice.
There was the night a woman came to prepare dinner at my house who exclaimed as she pulled the knife from the drawer, “Oh my God, where did you get this ugly knife?” It offended her sensibilities apparently and she recommended I throw it away.
And then there was the broken neck, laid up for weeks, unable to fend for myself, with various people helping out with cooking, preparing lunch. Wonderful people, including my daughter, who was my No. 1 caretaker.
About five years ago, I moved out of that house. And as I packed up the contents of the knife drawer, the subject knife was not there. It was impossible to say how long it had been gone. I might have used other knives in the drawer, not being conscious of what was there, or wasn’t. Maybe it had been my imagination all along?
Every time I reach for a kitchen knife, I am reminded of that unusual blade that meant so much, resurrected from a useless life in storage, bringing back a surprise glimpse into my mother’s kitchen of many years ago.
Maybe like childhood memories, old knives just fade away.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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A faithful reader, known to his internet friends as “Ski Bum,” sent me the following quote after my last column. It seems fitting this week.