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Vagneur: The importance of knives

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

I know a guy who loves to caress the sleek, black handle of a pistol he owns. He says it reminds him of a knife he used to have. When I was in the first grade, I think every boy in class had a pocketknife of some kind or other — and most of the girls, too. My daughter carries a wickedly sharp knife when she’s working on the ranch, and I know a local cowgirl who keeps a knife you don’t ever want to meet in a sheath near the small of her back. As weapons, knives are subtle, silent and deadly, but other than that, they’re way high on the “man’s best friends” list. How many times have you heard it asked, “Who has a knife?” And they’re personal, too.

Knives don’t have any particular attraction for me, but I confess to having a small arsenal of them. There’s the knife I carried on my belt for many years when I was in the horse business. A sharp knife can instantaneously save a horse’s life if it gets hung up in a lead rope or for any number of other reasons that require immediate intervention. It may seem strange, but I keep that knife with my old ski passes and race bibs.

Eddie Gregorich, a native Aspenite, mining enthusiast and creative genius, made me a splendid folding knife out of a worn-out file blade, the metal handle dressed with gold leaf from Independence Pass. I’ll never tell you where it’s kept. Then, there’s the bayonet that one of my fathers-in-law gave me from the Marine Corps carbine he carried in the Korean War. It was one of his cherished possessions, and I felt as though he was giving me the key to the kingdom as he solemnly handed it to me in a small ritual designed to stress the importance of the occasion. That bayonet resides in a hidden place, as well.

In 1962, Lawrence Ethridge, father of my high school girlfriend, gave me a Buck hunting knife, nearly identical to the “Special” still found in Buck’s most recent online catalog. Specifically, that knife was used for hunting every fall, and it dressed and skinned a lot of elk and venison — until we sold the ranch. Then, it mysteriously disappeared. Plainly, it wasn’t lost, for I kept better care of my important items than that, but it was gone, and a comment my dad threw off at some point in the conversation made me accept the missing blade without much question.

From time to time, I’d regret the loss, but I mostly forgot about it. My dad died in 1981, and as I went through his personal belongings, I found the lost dagger in a cabinet I’d been in many times before. It was placed directly in front at eye level, so conspicuous that a man with no eyes at all would have stumbled upon it. My dad was dead, and there was no explanation of why he’d kept the blade hidden all those years, but there it was, clearly a final gift, the last legacy of the many he had conferred upon me. And it cannot be denied that the mystery remains as much a part of the endowment as the physical presence of the knife itself.

My good friend Larry Grange and I met at a company condo in Snowmass Village in the spring of ’83, he a manufacturer of trash-truck bodies and his wife, Sally, an outgoing, pipe-smoking beauty who could cut through bullshit faster than a hot knife through butter. He gave me and my brother-in-law, Uncle Dan, each a knife, to celebrate the beginning of what turned out to be fast and lasting friendships.

Years later, it was my 65th birthday party, and Grange and I, through the many vagaries of life, hadn’t seen each other in 20 years or more, but he showed up unannounced to slap me on the back.

“I think about you a lot,” he said. “We should get together more often.”

“You won’t believe this,” I said, “but I think about you every day,” as I reached into my pocket and pulled out the Swiss army knife that he’d given me 29 years before, the logo worn off long ago. It clearly meant a lot to him that I still carried the knife.

“You didn’t know I’d be here, and still you had the knife in your pocket. Wow,” he said.

Say what you want about knives, but we don’t seem to talk about them much. They are personal, some are unforgettable, and when the question, “Anybody have a knife?” is asked, someone always does.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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