Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Pocket Knives

My life in appalachia - Pocket Knives

I’ve been around pocket knives my entire life-Case, Buck, Old Timers, etc. Pap says he feels naked without his knife in his pocket-The Deer Hunter feels the same-as do Chitter and Chatter. And even I carry a pocket knife in my pocketbook-The Deer Hunter bought it for me back in the day when we were still dating.

Somewhere laying along the studs inside a wall in one of the back bedrooms at Granny and Pap’s is a bone handled Case knife. When Pap was building the house he did all the work-from the foundation up. As he was sheetrocking the back bedroom-he closed up his knife in the wall. That’s been over 30 years ago-the knife is still there.

Recently I learned something new about knives. More times than I can count-I’ve seen men stand around and admire someone’s new knife. I’ve noticed after the looking is done-the knife is handed back to the owner-still open. I figured it was a sign of respect-you know-“I’ll let you shut it to make sure I don’t mess it up” thing.

I was wrong. The Deer Hunter enlightened me: Whoever opens the knife must also shut the knife or it’s bad luck. Who knew?


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.




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  • Reply
    Marc Nealson
    December 17, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Fantastic post. I too grew up carrying a pocketknife. Just a good ole Old Timer with two blades and razor sharp carbon steel. I recently went looking for another like it, but these days the real Schrade is gone; they’re making stainless ones in China. But I DID come across a great outfit making knives like they used to be made. Now I’ve got a bone-handled Great Eastern Cutlery knife in my pocket. Two blades and real carbon steel. Even my grandad would approve!

  • Reply
    Leon Pantenburg
    August 31, 2011 at 8:29 am

    I always carry a pocket knife. Generally it is a Swiss Army Classic and/or a Tinker. The tweezers are the best!

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    August 30, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    My grandmother told me about always giving a penny with the knife so the recipient could ‘buy’ it back the friendship wouldn’t be cut.
    And my husband gets twitchy if he can’t have a pocket knife — I’m sure that around the farm he uses it every day.
    I keep a knife in my car — I don’t carry a purse big enough to keep a pocket knife in.
    Never heard of the thing about not closing the knife if you didn’t open it.

  • Reply
    August 28, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    My earliest memories of a pocket knife was my daddy sharpening pencils for us kids to do homework. He could make a pencil look as though it was sharpened in a regular sharpener. Then….like everyone else listing their associations with pocket knives, I have carried one since I don’t know when and since 9/11 had the same disheartening problems in airports, courthouses, etc. It makes me sad to say I usually remember to leave mine in the truck these days. Now…I did not read a thing about Mumbeldy peg. I’ll bet at least one or two of the commenters on this subject have played Mumbeldy Peg.

  • Reply
    Laura @ Laura Williams' Musings
    August 27, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    I grew up with that one too. If Daddy handed me his pocket knife open, I gave it back for him to shut it, not because I would cut myself with it or anything but because of the bad luck if I were to shut it.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Well, what do you know!! I would have given bad luck to someone… for safety I would close it without a doubt!!!

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 9:30 am

    There’s a knife in every pair of pants here as well, my pants also always have a pair of pruners in the hip pocket as well.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Tipper, I recieved a complete boxed set of Old Hickory knives as a wedding present. There was a small card with a penny glued to it explainng to “buy’ the knives from the giver so as not to sever the friendship. I have carried knives most times. I have two that I use at work. T

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 8:34 am

    By the way, I also call it a “pocketbook”, while all those around me call it a purse or handbag.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Me, too. I’ve carred a pocket knife for years. I knew that whoever opens the knife must also close it. Who needs unnecessary bad luck?!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 27, 2011 at 8:16 am

    I have always loved knives, well guns too. I have a fine little knife I used to carry in my purse, but don’t any more.
    One of the many great things about the Deer Hunter is he always has a knife and not just a knife but a sharp knife!
    You know those dreadful blister packages they are so fond of putting things in these days. Well I struggle and struggle to get the darn things open. But if the Deer Hunter is around out comes that sharp knife and in a few seconds it is easily sliced open.
    I just love a man of action!

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 1:55 am

    My dad carried a pocket knife all his life and he could do a myriad of things with it (no need for a multi-tool for him). My husband carries one, and my son who is in his early 20s as well. And, well, you know I do too, albeit a very small one in my purse. Thank you for jingling those forgotten memories about my dad… sigh, I miss him.

  • Reply
    SandyCarlson (USA)
    August 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    I did not know that superstition–but now I do! Interesting post.

  • Reply
    John Bobby Stonecypher
    August 26, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    I have carried a tree brand boker.
    My Daddy Had one so did his Daddy.
    We all had knives with 4 blades.
    I got my boker in 1956. It the best one I have ever seen. I think
    Daddy got his in 1944. I got put up.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    I’ve never heard about the bad luck with the knife, but hubby has always opened his for me and taken it back to close–maybe that’s why.
    All the guys in our family carry one, but I don’t guess any of the women do. We all carry scissors in our pocketbooks.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 26, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Tipper–Reading through all the comments, you obviously struck a responsive chord with lots of folks. As I read the various comments, one other thing came to mind which is probably a sad commentary on the state of affairs in today’s world or else a reflection of the way I appear to the world at large.
    When I went to the Social Security office to do thre requisite paper work when I turned 65 years and 8 months, a decidedly overweight but genial fellow met me at the door with this comment: “You look like a guy who would carry a pocket knife.” I had no idea what that was all about but I said, “Yep, in fact I’m carrying two. Want to see them?”
    Well he might nigh had a conniption fit crossed with a red-eyed hissy. He could shuttle me out of the door (and hearing range of others) quickly enough. “You can’t come in here with a knife,” he said.
    Stubborn mountain soul that I am, I just had to ask why and told him I’d about as soon come in without my britches on as without my knife. He wasn’t interested in that alternative either, and told me, by now in no uncertain terms, that I needed to put my knives in my car.
    “Feeling it,” as I once heard a dog trainer say about an overwrought young pup, I said, “I ain’t got a car.” Then I figured I’d pulled his string about as far as it would go, and added, “but I’ve got a truck. Does the government still allow a fellow to drive one of them.”
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Sherie Rowe
    August 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    I got my first knife from my daddy when I went to Girl Scout camp. My oldest son got one from my grandpa Shorty before he passed, although he lost it in the snow. Knowing how to use it was so important to us, maybe even more so now with the way things are going!

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    I guess Daddy gave me my first knife when I was a teenager. A few years ago my husband gave me a Leatherman knife; it has all sorts of blades, and the thing I used most was the needlenosed plier.
    I remember when Daddy and the other bus drivers would “swap” knives, without knowing what they’d be getting.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Not sure I’d ever heard about the open knife being closed by whoever had opened it. However, like Mary and Jenifer, I remember my mother telling me you had to give someone a penny if they gave you a knife. Wouldn’t sever the friendship that way.
    In the 8th grade, I was the only girl that had to turn in a pocket knife when the school principal collected everyone’s knives one time. I know I got mine back, not sure about all the boys!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    August 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    What boy in the 1940s and ’50s would have any respect if he didn’t carry two knives? The first knife was as good as he could afford, but usually a Barlow. The second knife was for dropping knives and that possession changed, sometimes daily, as dropping was as routine as putting on Wildroot Cream Oil.
    I carried at least one pocket knife all my life, until recently. The knife I was carrying was a very nice knife I had got dropping knives with my brother-in-law, who wasn’t from Appalachia and didn’t understand what I dropped on him would not be superior. When he died, many years later, I kept the knife for a while longer, remembering him and missing him and thinking of him each time I used the knife and in a short time I sent the knife to his wife for her rememberance; I should have never kept his knife. He didn’t know Tennessee folkways.

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    August 26, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Tipper: “oh boy “one of my favorite subjects.nothing like a good ole case,or buck stockman, however my mostest and bestest is a robson pocketeze two blades, its been through a couple wars and still holds a fantastic edge. a man just feels naked with out a good blade. k.o.h

  • Reply
    Ronald D. Weddle, MD
    August 26, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I grew up on a farm, and now am a family physician. I have carried a pocket knife ever since old enough to have one (or maybe earlier :)). It is tremendously helpful to have readily available at work. The inability to have a pocket knife with me infuriates me when I fly. I always have one or more in my checked bag(s) to have when I reach my destination.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    August 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Tipper, my first pocket knife actually came with a pair of Tuff Nut blue jeans. It was a small one with the Tuff Nut logo on it. I lost it soon after but my dad got me a new one. I have carried one since in my pocket.
    The first rule I learned was when looking at someone else knife give it back the same way it was handed to you. We use to drop knives. You would take a knife you wanted to trade and drop it into the plam of the other person without knowing what you were getting. The only rule was it had to be a knife but sometimes you would get a really bad one. I have many now but only one or two that I carry. Some just don’t feel comfortable in your pocket. I have a few scars on my hands from messing with sharp knives!
    Great topic!!

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    August 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    My husband has a knife he always carries with him that was given to him as a young boy by his father. Our two sons carry their pocket knives that we gave them in their younger days too. All feel these are special and yes, they would feel naked without them!

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 11:08 am

    I always carried a small Case knife in my jeans pockets everyday. That was until security measures at courthouses and other government buildings became so strict!
    I have always heard that however someone hands you the knife, be it open or closed, you always return it the same way or you will have bad luck.

  • Reply
    Dale Anderson
    August 26, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Have carried a knife since I was a youngster. Now 84 years old and always have gotten that sick feeling when one is lost or misplaced.

  • Reply
    Wayne Newton
    August 26, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Tipper, growing up in Wiregrass Country, Papa always carried a pocket knife; he also lost many of them.
    After a day of searching the farm over, and threatening everyone, he went to Baells Mercantile to find another; a man couldn’t farm without his knife!
    One reason he lost so many was that when in the fields, plowing, planting, cultivating, right on through to gathering, things broke. With his knife and wire-pliers, he could fix anything, and in order to fix it, he got down on the ground.
    After a lot of swearing and praying he finally got it right, and in gathering up stuff, he often missed the pliers or knife, for they were covered by the loose soil in the field.
    In the back corner of his chest-of-drawers, after his passing, a cigar box was discovered. It was filled with old, rusted pocket knives, keys, pliers; stuff he had plowed up in the fields over the years, likely the ones he had lost.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 26, 2011 at 10:39 am

    In the rural areas a knife is a tool not a weapon, though it can be used as one should the need arrive, and a boy’s first knife was a symbolic “passing of the flame” showing that he was deemed mature enough to carry the responsibility that was inherent with possessing something which could cause harm to him or others. The knife covered the time in my life when I was being tested to see if I had matured enough to advance up to being trusted with the larger responsibility of using a firearm to hunt with. Jo’s father has attitude as I do about “having my britches on”. I too feel naked without one or serveral knives in my pocket and have always used them as tools. During forty plus years as a LEO I have cut many a seatbelt to extract victims from accidents as well as never knowing when you will happen across an interesting stick that crys out to become a walking stick. Returning a knife to it’s owner in the same state they presented it to you is simply a sign of respect for that person’s prized property as well as a return in the trust the owner showed you if they offered you an open knife. The handshake originated as a way to show you were unarmed and as an extension of that handing someone an open knife shows you trust them, and returning it to them the same way shows that you return that trust even though you may not even think about it at the time it is part of our culure that’s engrained in your “raisin”. Many people not raised on farms do not realize the need for these tools.

  • Reply
    Tim Mclemore
    August 26, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Maybe it is something that’s bred into us, Wikipedia says that the pocket knife dates back as early as 500 to 600 b.c.
    I know I can not make it through the day without mine, if I leave it at home the day just is not the same.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    August 26, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I have loved pocket knives all my life. I first borrowed my Daddy’s knife at an early age to whittle sticks at church while the men stood around outside and smoked. My first one was a gift from a neighbor when I was four. My love of knives lead to my woodcarving interest and eventually to Jack Hall, the best carver ever, at the John C. Campbell Folk School in 1978, which has been a good thing for my whole family.
    I have an ample collection of pocket knives, many from the flea market at Murphy, but my greatest pleasure has been giving knives as gifts. I have kept a list and since 1966, I have given away 145. Who will get number 146?
    Thanks for arousing a pleasant memory.

  • Reply
    Elizabeth K
    August 26, 2011 at 10:19 am

    My husband never goes anywhere without his knife, nor did my dad. As for me, there’s always a scissor along with a little pocket knife with lady bugs in my handbag.
    As for the person who opens the knife having to close it, never heard that. I heard many years ago and always make sure never to hand anything sharp – knife, scissors, what have you, directly to anyone. Put it down and let them pick it up or it will cut the friendship between the two.

  • Reply
    Mama Crow
    August 26, 2011 at 10:09 am

    When my stepdad, Blackie,died, he have his beloved pocket knife to his best friend, James. James became a great friend to my mother and I, and became sort of our “fill in Blackie” to fix things, and do heavy stuff for us. He promised me the knife before he passed. Alas, he had to give up the knife to the authorities in Atlanta at the bus station before he boarded a bus home (post 09/11 when security was really tight). It was such a part of his person, that he completely forgot it was in his pocket, and had no where to leave it for safe keeping. He begged the man to let him pay him to mail it back to his home, but the man would not. He grieved the loss of the knife, but he grieved even more that I would not know the joy of owning Blackie’s personal pocket knife.

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    August 26, 2011 at 10:08 am

    I’ve heard that all my life Tipper. It becomes just a natural thing to do–hand it back the way you got it. You should locate that knife in the wall; cut a hole in the sheetrock so you can see it; put a piece of plexiglass over it and a frame around it and leave it for posterity!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 26, 2011 at 10:03 am

    My husband carries a pocket knife. I have a small case knife I carry when out in the woods or hiking. You never know…

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I’ve had a knife since a small boy and remember the first time I sliced my leg whittling, of all things, a cross. I carried one in high school, as did all of the guys, big buck knives. I whittled in Art Class and won the Art Award my senior year for……whittling.
    I have carried a knife with me on a lanyard for many many years now. I recall having to unload several at the airport many years ago and then put them back in my pockets. Boarded the plane with them. The good old days.
    As for handing them back, I was always taught to hold the blade at the tip, sharp side away from your fingers. One would then say “Thank you” to show you were ready to receive it. I wonder how everyone was taught how to sharpen their knives?
    So someone else says “pocketbook” besides me and my mom. Good!

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    August 26, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I knew! My husband has always went by that saying. Everytime he hands me one already opened, he tells me not to close it. He always carries one with him in his pocket and so does one of my sons. They’re handy little things to have around.

  • Reply
    Sandy Kalvaitis
    August 26, 2011 at 9:39 am

    I love how you jog my memory. The thing I seem to remember is that if one person opens the knife and the other closes it the friendship is cut. My husband was a “city boy” when I met him. He was a project but I knew he loved me when he bought me a pocket knife and had my name engraved on the blade.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 9:37 am

    I recon I’ve always had a pocket
    knive. Back in the day just about
    every kid at school had one and
    enjoyed showing them off during
    recess. A few years ago an idiot
    broke into my house and of all the
    things he got, my daddy’s pocket
    knife affected me the most. He got
    it in 1942 and I kept it beside
    the kitchen sink to peel taters
    with. Along with some guns, I’m
    still looking…Ken

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 26, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Tipper–When we get close to Christmas, I’d like to do a guest post (or blog, or column, or whatever the proper term is) for you on a story of a pocket knife connected with my fahter’s boyhood. I won a verbal storytelling contest with the tale a few years back, and if I do it half-way justice, anyone who reads it and doesn’t have a catch in the throat or a dampness in their eyes should forthwith make an appointment with either a pointy-headed pyschologist or maybe a primary care physician, because they don’t have a heart. It’s something which needs to be shared in the holiday season though, not during dog days.
    Accordingly, I’ll simply say I carry a pocket knife all the time, own well over a hundred, and have fond boyhood memories of carving fittings on slighshots, whittling, and most of all, listening to old men tell lies and swap knives at the local gathering place in downtown Bryson City. The location was known as “Dead Pecker Corner” and I’m not being naughty, just giving a historical bit of nomenclature.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Rosann Kent
    August 26, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Tipper, I treasure the pocket knives in our family collection. And, yes, we always handed them back open as well. I can see my grandfather’s hands closing the Case while I write this. (He was missing a few digits, but that was from run-ins with a hotwater heater and a mad sow, not a knife:)

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    August 26, 2011 at 9:21 am

    There’s no doubt about the feeling of having your knife in your pocket. I always have it and use it for a variety of things. Just yesterday was stripping the bark of some locust limbs. Sometimes my wife, if she sees me cutting something in the kitchen like a slice of cheese, will ask where else have you had that knife. I just smile and say, you don’t want to know.

  • Reply
    Wanda in NoAla
    August 26, 2011 at 9:12 am

    We always carry knives and I am amazed at how often we use them. But be careful…I got busted at the courthouse for having a knife in my purse! I guess the guard could tell by my red face that I wasn’t a terrorist and gave the knife back when I left the courthouse.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Loved this , Tipper! I too carry a pocketknife in my pocketbook! It often comes in handy too.
    An old tradition around here, you can’t take a knife as a gift. It must be paid for, or bad luck will ensue. Usually a penny is exchanged for the knife.
    Wonder what we will do now that the government wants to phase out pennies?

  • Reply
    teresa atkinson
    August 26, 2011 at 8:48 am

    My daddy always carried a knife too – and a little pair of pliers. I have both of those items. – I use his pliers in my crafting all the time – gives me a reminder of him.

  • Reply
    Jenifer Mullis
    August 26, 2011 at 8:48 am

    in our family, the tradition is that if you give a knife as a gift, you also must give them a penny to buy it from you, because it’s bad luck to give someone a knife,lest they get cut by it. I don’t know if it’s an old German tradition from my dad, or something from my mother’s side.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 8:47 am

    that is news to me about the open knife. my dad put his in his pocket when he got up and took it out at night, if he changed clothes it was transferred, even when he dressed for church the knife went with him. when it was time for a gift we would get him a new one, he would not use it until the other was lost or broken. he was attached to his. when i carried a purse, i had one also. i stopped with the purses about 10 years ago.

  • Reply
    Mary Berrong
    August 26, 2011 at 8:36 am

    My hubby always has his pocket knife on him. He told me long ago about the bad luck thing. We have four grandsons and he has given all of them (except the two year old) a knife that is special to him. He has more knives than I can count.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Hubby and I both carry pocket knives where ever we go. He has several different ones and I just have one!

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I just heard that about closing knives also…I had never heard it until out office manager mentioned it when I let her borrow my knife one time (I never leave home without it either). She’s a great lady from “up a holler” and is well versed in those traditions

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    August 26, 2011 at 8:16 am

    I know what you mean about the pocket knives, my hubby and my dad always carried one. I’ve also heard that it’s bad luck to not let the one that opened it close it. I’ve heard that one so much that I’m afraid to close one

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 8:15 am

    Hubby always carries his knife so it’s handy at all times. I also started carrying one around the homestead.. seems I never know when I’ll need it. I remember walking around the garden last year and needing to cut something… didn’t have my knife on me, drats. I also carry one in my purse at all times.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 7:15 am

    My Daddy also said the same thing about feeling naked without his knife. When asked “Billie, do you have your knife?” His answer was always “Well,I’ve got my pants on don’t I.” (with a laugh)
    At Christmas, someone would always get a new knife or a good flashlight. For a little boy, the first good knife was received with pride.
    Over his 93 years, Daddy received so many knives that he had a “work” knife, several knives for special needs, and a couple of “show” knives for Sunday and dress-up occasions.
    Knives are so important that to receive one as an inheritance is a treasure.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    August 26, 2011 at 7:11 am

    More “H—” was raised at our house if Dad lost his knife!…Of course the boys were asked first if they had it?..Then every chair cushion, floor space and table were searched for the knife…with Mom checking pants in the laundry that were waiting to be washed as well as the (dreaded and already soaking wet)ones in the washer!! As usual it ended up right where he left it out of his pocket while working or after his bath..ha
    I never could totally understand the obsession with that old knife..until later years..
    One time my brothers were playing “mumblety-peg” with it..Aquiring it while Dad was busy in conversation with a Uncle..Soon Dad realized what was going on..He yelled so loud at them you would think the world was coming to an end…My Uncle asked..If he was he worried about the boys getting hurt? He told him, “Heck no, I’m worried about my knife!”….It seems he had that knife since he was a boy and it was part of him…
    Thanks Tipper, and no I never knew the significance of handing back and open knife…and have seen it done at flea market knife swaps for years….

  • Reply
    Rick Kratzke
    August 26, 2011 at 6:58 am

    I too have been around knives all my life and am quite fond of them. I to this day carry one with me always. I do have to say though I never heard of that thing about closing the knife, very interesting.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 6:47 am

    my dad also carried a small pocket knife. whenever anyone needed a package opened, it was out like a flash-“here, let me get that…”

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    August 26, 2011 at 5:19 am

    When my father passed away I bet we found 20 pocket knives around the farm. One in his truck, one in the barn, one in the garage, not to mention the one he carried on him. I must admit I carry one many times now myself.

  • Reply
    penn ashe
    August 26, 2011 at 4:59 am

    Oh yes….that knife thing is almost a law. Lots of people will give the knife right back to you if they open it and you close it. You have to open it back and then give it back to them. Actually, you have to give it back to them in the same state as they gave it to you. Open or closed. I can remember my dad always carring a pocket knife. It was always a Case or a Queen Steel. He taught me how to sharpen a knife too. I always have a knife in my pocket too. Mine is usually a Buck or a Gerber.

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    August 26, 2011 at 4:16 am

    Once when my grandfather had surgery, my uncle strolls back into the waiting room with a sly grin on his face. Holding out his hands, my grandfather had brought 6-8 pocketknives with him prior to surgery! 🙂 Don’t know if that was a record for Holston Valley Hospital or not….:)

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