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My Dad, My Pocket Knife, and His Birthday

Today is my Dad's 80th birthday.  Here is something from my personal blog at www.SouthPoet.com that I wrote for his birthday last year but still applies today.  Wanted to share it here--thanks!

My Dad, My Pocket Knife, and His Birthday

by Keith Shetterly, keithshetterly@gmail.com
Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved
My Dad, Sammy (not Samuel), may be getting old now, I guess, but he’s still spry.  I'm writing this tonight, and it's his birthday tomorrow, June 7th.  I’m older, too, really, but we love just the same.  For his birthday this year, I wanted to write his story, but I can’t, because I don’t know it all—but I can write a little of what I do know.  And what I remember.
He was born in what some would call a cabin on a mountain in Tennessee back in 1932, and he grew up there on that mountain and in the local school, eventually working for a time in the coal mines as many men did back then.  He joined the US Army, came home and married my Mom, and eventually fathered my sister and then myself before moving us all to Ohio so he could get out of the mines and into factory work.  My brother came along after that, six years my junior and a very different life than what I and my sister had, really.  My parents, especially my Mom, insisted we all be born in Tennessee, however, so she visited “down home, back to the hills” as they say to have my brother. 
Tennessee has always played a large part in all our lives, and even after we moved toOhio my Mom drove us kids down to Tennessee to spend every summer break from school.  Dad would visit us on weekends (it was a few hours drive), and he always took his vacation with us there.
My Dad is an affable man, prone to quiet but able to speak his mind quite plainly.  And sometimes quite humorously, too, though my Mom is usually the one with the more vocal wit.  In fact, my Mom couldn’t have asked for a better husband and partner, I think, as she is prone to speak her mind quite a bit louder than he does.  Seems a good match, and they get along—though sometimes that seems in spite of themselves, and that’s a good thing.  Over 59 years together and still rolling along.
My Dad is very smart, as is my Mom, and so we kids got a double dose of brains between the two parents.  I wish common sense passed along like that to us three children, which might’ve saved us all three more than a few issues, but that’s another story for another time (listen to your parents, any kids reading this!).  My Dad didn’t graduate high school, but I can remember him studying and passing the GED when I was young.  He also took a home-study course in how to repair TVs, back when they came in cabinets of wood and weighed a ton.  And back when they took a few minutes to warm up to even show a picture.  That side work provided a lot of extra money for us back then for many years, especially in hard times.  Even struggling folks wanted their TVs fixed, though there were a few times that Dad trusted someone to pay that didn’t.  He also helped friends and, more than sometimes, strangers who needed it.  He set the finest example, really, on that.
And that is my Dad, always learning, always working, always giving, always providing.  He was laid off a few times when I was young, and we struggled, but he always learned something about appliances or such that saw us through with some new side work he could do.  He was never afraid of working, that’s for sure.  And he and Mom always fought to save money for a rainy day. 
And those days came, but we were all still taken care of, somehow.  And through the good times, too, of course.  Even now, he’s been there to applaud me when I prospered, and to help me when I struggled.  When my oldest daughter tells me she thinks I’m a great Dad, I always tell her that I owe that all to my own Dad.
My Dad has always been good with his hands.  He made me a wagon to pull, once, that was made from the bottom of an abandoned grocery cart and some wood he put together.  I loved that wagon!  I have thought of it many, many times over the years, and it has put a smile on my face even at moments when I thought no smile was possible.
The past is always there like that, with my Dad, helping the future along.  For example, I carry a pocket knife these days that my Dad gave me over forty years ago.  I was just in Home Depot yesterday using it to cut the bindings on a fencing pallet so we could buy an item (the staff was thankful for the help, so don’t think I was doing something I shouldn’t with a knife my Dad gave me!).  I have it with me all the time.  When I’m worried, I reach in my pocket to hold it.  When I’m happy, I take it out and look at it.
I always liked pocket knives when I was young, and I remember more than once whittling and cutting myself on my finger trying to make a tough cut.  And I remember my Mom worried I’d do worse, but my Dad got me a pocket knife, anyway.
He actually got me several, as at first I lost a few.  The one I carry now is old and marked up, but so am I in some ways now, anyway.  This particular knife made it back to me oddly, I suppose:  I hadn’t seen it in many years, and on a trip to visit my parents in 2008 I found it in some items from my Granny’s house.  In a box with a few books, actually, which is probably where I left it myself long ago.
The pocket knife still opens easily, and the larger blade is still sharp enough for small tasks like the one in Home Depot.  The smaller blade is more for cleaning fingernails, but you don’t do that in polite company nowadays, so I don’t use the small blade much.
And that’s my Dad, really.  Old but still in working order.  Still useful.  Still sharp enough.  Still polite.
And, just like the knife, no matter where he wanders off to, he will always be in my life.
I love you, Dad.  Thank you for the knife so long ago.
And thank you for everything that you gave, that you taught, that you learned, that you built, that you sacrificed, and that you won.  We are all very, very lucky to have you for a Dad.
And Happy Birthday, too!!

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