My father kept this make and model of knife strapped to his ankle in a leather sheath for the portion of my childhood he was present. He had his initials, B.G. for Berwyn Gore, carved into its chestnut handle. There were a few trivial differences. The wood's varnish had faded, for one, but it kept its reddish hue. It was also chipped up by the time it made it onto my father’s ankle, but these are the foibles one comes to expect from the relics on the shelves of Amos's Trading Post in Canonsburg.
I still remember the weekend—our first and last camping trip—when he took his shoddy brand of mercy on me with a fishing net and this knife.
I only gleaned that my old man got the knife at Amos’s during a pit stop there en route to the campsite, when he bought me my own—my first. Amos, who had crow’s feet and gray hair like cotton candy, wafted a scent of sawdust around the store when he came out from behind the counter. He shook my father’s hand, asked him how he was and how that knife of his was holding up.
I wandered around the store, looking at guitars and records in the back before my father called me to the front and told me to pick out a knife for the trip. I looked at the selection under the counter and behind the glass, then pointed at something resembling a machete. My old man almost keeled over laughing before Amos pushed something resembling a toothpick toward him and said, “I think this is more his speed.”
At the campsite that weekend, my father pulled a cooler, radio, and folding chair out of the bed of his pick-up. He grabbed a sweating Yuengling, popped in Tom Petty's Hard Promises and told me, "Go nuts." I didn’t know what he meant, but knew not to ask, so I followed a dirt path into the woods. I picked up a twig and flipped it in my hand until the path ended by a stretch of the Youghiogheny so narrow I mistook it for a creek. I sat on a log there, plucked out the blade of my dinky knife, and tried to whittle the twig into something resembling my father's, while "The Waiting" hummed low in the distance. When I was done, I carved my initials, E.G. for Evan Gore, into the handle of the mediocre shiv I’d fashioned.
I took a nap and came back at sundown, dinky knife in pocket, weakly whittled shiv in hand. My old man asked, "What'd you catch?" but didn't like my answer.
"What do you mean nothing? You went out there with one knife and made another. That's two you didn't do a thing with. Hand ‘em here." He held out his hand and I gave him the dinky knife he’d bought. He pocketed it and said, “The other one, too.”
I held it behind my back, but he grabbed my arm and ripped it out of my hand. He walked over to the pick-up and pulled a fishing net out of its bed. Before he disappeared into the woods, he tossed what I’d whittled into the dirt.
He came back a half-hour later, jeans wet to the knee, with three walleyed pikes: two for him, one for me. He laid them on the cooler and lit a fire before hiking up his damp pant leg, pulling his knife from its sheath, and gutting them.
He stopped to watch me, shook his head, carried on cleaning them, and said, "How you gonna provide for anyone when you lose your shit over dead fish?"
I didn't have an answer.
He left later that year, so I guess he never planned on helping me figure it out.
I can certainly vouch for his knife, though. It's tops.
About the Author: Mike Wilson lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blast Furnace, The Good Men Project, and The Five-Two.
Story Song: “Old Man” by Neil Young
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone