My Pocket Knife

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I have a vivid memory of having only a single request for a present for Christmas in 1950. I was five years old, and the only thing I wished for was a pocket knife. I was delighted when I opened the small package. It wasn’t much of a knife, small and thin with a single blade and fake pearl on the handle. But it was a pocket knife and for me, probably my first rite of passage. Virtually everybody in my life carried a pocket knife, my brothers, my father, my grandfather, and all my uncles. Now I was closer to that group of men.

I carried that knife, or others, every day since that Christmas. I don’t remember the pocket knife being much of a thing at school until about the third grade. At that time, skills with the knife became essential to the other boys (and a few girls) and me. Being able to ‘stick’ the knife when thrown, at the ground, at a wall he or in the chest of invading Russian, became a valuable skill.

  We played knife games before and after school and during recess. Mumbly-Peg was the main game played. We would stand to face each other, maybe 3 feet apart. The object of the game was to throw your knife a distance out from your opponent’s foot. If the knife stuck, the opponent would have to move his foot to the knife and then retrieve your knife. Then it was his turn. If the knife did not stick, then you lost a turn. The winner was determined when someone could not spread his feet far enough and could not retrieve your knife.

We also played a Cross Country game where you would throw your knife from a starting point, and you could advance to the knife if it stuck. There was a goal line, usually the fence around the schoolyard, and the first to reach the goal line won the game. 

In those years, 3 – 6 grades, I would go to school with my knife and a pocket of marbles. Marbles were also huge in the lives of most of the student body. There are not many pictures that survive those school days at Broadbent Elementary School. Cameras were not in every pocket in those days. 

      You can tell from this picture that the economic status of the school students was far different than what you see today. If you look closely at our shoes, you can read a lot into the picture. Jimmy was from a family less well to do than ours; he is in rubber boots. My shoes are new and too large for my feet. We got new shoes only at the start of the school year, and they were sturdy, work shoe types, and always large enough to allow the growth during the school year. These shoes would become my work shoes next year. The funny thing is that we were all poor, but we didn’t realize it. 

From these humble beginnings, most of us turned out pretty good. Jimmy became a minister of a church in Washington. Like so many men in my age group, he recently died from liver cancer from Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.

As the years have passed, I have continued to carry a pocket knife. Even today, I feel naked if I don’t have one. Naked to the point of returning to the house to retrieve it if I get to town and realize that it is not in my pocket.

With the urbanization of our culture and the advent of political correctness, I have come to strenuously resent those who would call my pocket knife a weapon. To me, it is an essential tool that I use daily. In recent years that might be limited to opening boxes, but in the past, I have used it to kill fish, gut deer, peel oranges, open cans when camping and slice meat. The blade usually gets cleaned by a good swipe across a pants leg when necessary.

I have used my knife professionally also. Not often, but I can remember saving at least one life with my pocket knife. It was in the early winter when I was called to look at a backyard goat who was down and could not get up. Wintertime was often a time when those animals who were not fed well started to suffer from environmental stress. Backyard goats were often expected to survive on berry vines growing in the back yard. The first freezing weather would show the ones who had no reserve, and they were essentially starving to death.

We received a call to look at a goat who couldn’t stand. Arriving at the house, the driveway was packed with cars. We had to park some distance from the house. Dixie was with me on this call. Dixie was a short, trim, blonde girl who had worked for me almost from the beginning of my practice in Sweet Home. We walked up the driveway to the open garage, where a group of men was working on something. At the outside corner of the garage was a small, pitiful little goat laying flat out.

I knelt and did a brief exam. This gal was pregnant; you could see the kids kicking at her belly. She was skin and bones. I didn’t think there was any hope for her. The owner came over as I stood up. Jim was a young man with a full head of dark hair, the hand he extended was smooth and had no sign of a callous.

“What do you suppose is her problem?” he asked as we shook hands.

“Agroceryosis!” I said. “She is starving to death. I know everyone thinks you can tie a goat in a brier patch, and they will do well, but this little gal is pregnant and still trying to grow a little herself. I doubt if we can save her.”

No sooner than the words were out of my mouth, and she took her last breath. We stood for a moment and looked at the lifeless little goat. Then there was a noticeable kick on her belly. 

Dixie and I exchanged glances. “Run,” I said, “get a scalpel blade.”

Dixie was off like a shot. I watched her, and the kick in the goat’s belly. It is too far, I thought. She will not make it in time. I reached in my pocket and pulled out my knife. I hope it is sharp enough.

With a stiff swipe, I opened the abdomen. I pulled the uterus to the edge of the wound and opened it only slightly more carefully. I grabbed one kid by the neck and pulled him out of the open uterus. No pulse, hopefully, the next one will still be alive. I reached into the uterus and found a foot; it retracted from my grasp. I reached deeper and grabbed the kid by the back of his pelvis. He came out with one pull.

About this time, Dixie returned with the blade. A little out of breath, she was quick to turn her attention to clearing the airway of the little surviving kid. It took a deep breath, shook its head, flapping his ears, and then let out a short bleat.  

We took care of his navel, gave a dose of BoSe, and milked out what little milk was in mama’s udder. We gave him the milk with a stomach tube.

“You got lucky,” I said to Jim. “This kid will give your kids something to for a few months.”

Then, with a little bit of my Army voice, I said, “You need to drop by the office in the next hour or two. We will discuss what you need to do to raise this little guy and how to care for him later. We can also hook you up with a goat lady in Brownsville who has a herd of goats and will be able to help you out with some milk and more advice.”

Dixie smiled as I wiped my knife blade on my pants leg, folded in closed, and returned it to my pocket.

“I will remember that the next time you offer me a slice of apple off that blade,” she said.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

One thought on “My Pocket Knife

  1. My Dad always carried a pocket knife and that about the apple pie comment made me think of all the things he used it for and then peeled an apple for us but none of us ever died.

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