As a young boy, there was one thing above all else that I wanted for my own. A pocketknife. Every man carried one and most boys somewhat above my age had one. I sometimes could borrow one, if I knew the boy really well if he wasn’t using it and the reason for borrowing it could be completed in a short time. It wasn’t like having one of my own. I don’t remember when I first started carrying one but I do remember the first time it started a fire in my pocket.
There was one other thing no adult man of my acquaintance would be without, whether he smoked or not was a few kitchen matches in his pocket. As I was learning to be an adult man, I also carried matches, just a few, in my pocket. We always lived near the edge of town and just a few steps out of our yard we were in an unexplored wilderness area and who knew when we would have to build a fire to cook something, keep from freezing, keep the wolves away, or just sit around and tell ghost stories. Anyway, the inevitable happened one day while I was playing. Something I had in my hand brushed by my pants pocket and caused the knife to strike one or more of the matches and wow, I was fighting fire. Beating on the outside of my pocket, I probably set off the rest of the matches in the process. I didn’t get any first, second or third-degree burns, just a scorched pants pocket which I couldn’t camouflage. Mom didn’t seem too upset, she just told me not to carry matches again. I didn’t for several days afterward.
However, the pocketknife was a wonderful thing. I could keep my fingernails clean and trimmed, shave off squares on the sides of my pencils; carve my initials (but never on my desk). Carving my initials always presented a problem that many other kids didn’t face. My first two initials had curves. It wasn’t like carving Ned E. Worthington – all straight lines N E W. But I suspect that having to carve those rounded P’s and R’s were the start of my wood carving.
The first thing I ever carved was a chain. I was working as a timekeeper in the Santa Fe freight yards in Amarillo, TX. one summer, and I carried a piece of a broom handle with me as I walked down through the yard. I think it was the hardest wood I ever tried to whittle on, but without any instructions, I whittled the chain links. Before the summer was over, I had a four or 5-link carved chain. A few years ago, I visited a wood carver’s museum in Colorado and one of the displays was a wooden chain carved from a pine tree. The tree was about 40 feet tall and the link at the bottom was about two feet across while the final link at the top was about the size of my little finger.
I really didn’t try to start carving figures until after I retired. A friend showed me some of his carvings and they caught my fancy so he helped me pick out some carving tools. The retirement area where we lived in Denver sponsored a wood carving class along with other arts and craft type classes for all us older folks to occupy our time. I think the thing I liked best about woodcarving was making all those curls of wood shavings. The more they piled up around my feet the happier I was.