I stopped by the county this morning and passed through the metal detectors installed at the front entrance. Into a plastic bucket I placed my phone, some spare change, and my keys before walking through the machine.
Upon proving to the deputies posted nearby that I was not concealing anything, I gathered my sundries and continued on my way.
“Excuse me,” one deputy said, stepping in my way, “you’re going to have to check that here.”
My keychain, consisting of a half dozen keys and a full-sized Swiss Army knife, would have to stay with the fine deputies of the Rusk County Sheriff’s Office while I handled my business in the courthouse.
Fair enough, after all, if men were angels no laws would be necessary.
“When I was a young man like yourself I always carried a pocketknife,” he said. “But it’s not something you see much anymore, I’m not sure why.”
I responded that I didn’t know if any of my peers did so, that I only do because of the convenience my knife offers.
But as I left the courthouse I began to think on what the deputy told me. I cannot help but wonder what has changed culturally that something at one time considered “essential” has become a relic of a bygone era.
Doing a little research on the subject I learned that the popularity of carrying a pocketknife has ebbed back and forth since the Iron Age.
In the Classical Era a folding pocketknife was a common accoutrement, especially for those who lived in the vast wilderness outside the city gates of Rome and Athens. But by the 1st Century A.D. the popularity of pocket knives began to give way to sheathed blades across the classes, both practically as well as stylistically.
A marked rise in popularity occurred in the American colonies during the late 16th Century as farmers, maids, lawyers, and nurses found them to be useful tools that were easy to carry and were helpful in a variety of scenarios.
During the Revolutionary War soldiers on both sides of the conflict were provided one as part of the basic military equipment, a tradition that carried on well into World War II though I’m uncertain if it’s the case anymore.
When I was still just a wee Cub Scout I was given a “Buck” knife by my dad, and I also remember having an ancient “Old Timer” knife that was bequeathed to me by, well, an Old Timer. Apparently they trusted my 8-year-old self enough not to be a violent lunatic with the razor-sharp knives they gave me.
In my teens I discovered Swiss Army knives (no doubt inspired but the hit 1980s MacGyver) as well as more vicious weapons like switchblades and “Butterfly” knives, though the latter never appealed to me as being even remotely practical when compared to the former.
My current Swiss Army knife weighs about a half-pound dangling off the chain that connects it to my keys. It is nickel-plated steel with brass flanged brushings, and could easily be used as a self-defense weapon during a late-night stroll. Even if I didn’t have time to pull out the blade, getting kissed upside the cranium with a half-pound of metal is going to do some damage.
I’ve noticed that, with the rise in terrorism and violent crime in recent years, the concern over building security has increased considerably. Which, in turn, has had an impact on what people carry with them… especially if they spend any amount of time in an airport.
Of course, I imagine men have entered the Rusk County Courthouse for years with knives on their belts or buried in their pants pockets with loose change… but that time has gone. So too, it seems, has the idea of walking around with a knife on one’s person at all times. It’s just one among many cultural affectations that is trending toward the obsolete. Whether it is for the better or worse, who can say.
Me, I still find carrying a pocketknife useful.
A favorite pastime of mine during lunch is sitting under a tree with a book, an apple, and a pocketknife. I’ve never achieved “nirvana” doing this but it’s a good way to unwind in the middle of my workday. It’s also handy for opening letters, mending fences, or other tasks one doesn’t think about until you find yourself stuck without anything sharp to use as a tool.
So, if the privilege of carrying a knife on my person means occasionally checking it with the good sentries at the entrance of the courthouse, I don’t mind.