Sometimes, if you really want something, give it away first. When it's finally yours, it will mean much more.
Pocket knives are a Southern thing and mostly carried by males of all ages. But to my recollection, the pocket knife is rarely an object for personal purchase but almost always a gift from one man to another. Maybe it’s not like that where you are, but it’s like that for me.
So if a man sees a pocket knife that he really, really admires, he must make a plan whereby you are the eventual recipient of this knife as a gift, and I am proud to announce that this month I got my knife. And it took less than 35 years of waiting.
This tale starts in 1971 at Farmer’s Hardware in Athens, GA, where I worked for three years as a college student. I may someday write a book about the many things I learned at Farmer’s Hardware and how turning lemons into lemonade is an art relying heavily on serendipity, but this tale is not about that. This is about my pocket knife.
Farmer’s Hardware was big and mostly ‘to the trade’ and closed on the weekend just to accentuate that fact. But they had a magnificent display case of pocket knives manufactured by the ‘Case XX Cutlery Company’. To an idle farmer or builder waiting for his chicken wire to be measured and cut, this display case was the waiting room TV of today. Literally, a hundred different types were displayed under glass with many, not all, available from the inventory kept underneath.
Long knives, short ones, yellow handled and bone handled; all waiting to be touched and rubbed and maybe purchased. They had names like Sow Belly, Coffin Jack, Gunboat and Melon Tester. The one style of knife that was NEVER available was the Butterbean.
It was in the display, but never in inventory. A Case XX Butterbean knife was the perfect size, with two blades and rounded edges that would not wear out the pocket of your overalls or jeans. That's how it got its name. The ends looked like silver butterbeans. It was sometimes called a Canoe Knife due to the profile. It was the first one ordered by Farmer’s Hardware management and the first one refused and put on back order by the manufacturer. Seems every boy in America wanted one and you were just gonna have to wait.
Oh, a few came in over the years I worked at Farmer’s, but they were rationed to the best customers or most tenured employees. I was not destined to get one, ever, but I never forgot my desire for the Butterbean either. Flash forward to 1980, and I’m spending my weekends in Southampton, NY on Long Island. On one particular Saturday, I'm shopping in a local store for some sort of barbecue accessory. There in a small display was a Butterbean not only for sale but also with real red bone handles. And I had real green money.
My dad’s birthday would come around eventually, and I knew that until then it would be mine to play with and clean but not abuse. I remember fondly showing off that knife for about six months, waiting for Dad’s birthday and telling my friends how important this all was to me and watching their eyes wander. Not unlike you’re doing now, but stay with me, OK?
January of ’81 I gave the Butterbean to Dad, who, like many gentlemen more accustomed to suits than jeans, placed it in the top drawer of his dresser and likely forgot about it. That’s a shame, but if you forget about it and it’s in a safe place, you’re not losing it either. When Dad passed away, my siblings and I got to choose from the handkerchiefs and tuxedo studs and sterling ball marks within that drawer and my keen eye settled on the knife, but I did not take it. To this day, I don’t really know why.
I remember telling the family it had been a gift from me to Dad and they surely would have wanted me to have it, but instead it ended up in the pile of sentimental items Mom would keep in her top drawer. I’m pretty sure she never pulled it out and opened the opposing blades and admired it as I would have, but she kept it safe and in an easily findable spot.
Sadly, about a month ago, but owing to the passage of time and the vagaries of cancer, the rightful keeper of the Butterbean became once more unclear. It remained unclear for less than a day as I found my way to Mom’s dresser and recovered the treasure token with no guilt or hesitation. Anyone interested inseeing it today need only know where my dresser drawer might be.