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The Barlow knife was stuck about shoulder high in the hot bark of the old tree. Shoulder high to a nine year old isn’t that high, I guess. But there it was. I was half delirious from fishing and Florida sun – the kind that sticks to your skin. Of course, knife-loving boy that I was, my first thought was to pocket the thing. Then, knife-loving boy that I was, I thought, “dang, someone might be coming back lookin’ for that.”
I had, myself, left a knife in a tree by a stream a year before. Even though I knew it was dumb while I was doing it. Even though my Grandpa had told me - always in the hand or the pocket. And someone took my knife. I know, ‘cause I went back the next day at first light. It was gone.
And it had hurt me.
Then, I looked at it closer. Saw the muck where the steel met the wood. That knife had been there a while. I shook the sticky drops of sun off my face, put my rod down. This? This was a conundrum. Wasn’t nobody coming back for that old Barlow knife. But.
But, hell, how long had it been there? There was something almost sacred about it. I knew it was filled with the memory of fishing trips and campfires and that it still held the memory of the hand that had held it. Who was I to take the Barlow from the Pine? No Arthur, I. Just a knife-loving boy who loved stories and saw a bunch of them in the patina of that old steel. The way the scales were rubbed smooth in parts. The scratch marks on the blade that told me someone had sharpened it on a wheel.
Just like my Grandpa did with his work knives.
I don’t remember how long I stared at that knife. And I’ll allow that time has probably prettied up the patina on the memory, but I do know that it was enough to stop a fish-loving boy from fishing. At least for a day.
Straight flummoxed. Ethics and all. I was a morally precocious boy, born feeling guilty.
I went home and sharpened my knives. The right way. Not out of any disrespect. Just because it gave me more time to think. And I had a whetstone the size of a pink eraser.
I didn’t have a grinding wheel.
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