Back in 1968 I was three years old and my Dad took a job with the Panamanian Government teaching them how to fly their newly acquired Lockheed Constellation. The plane crashed on take off killing everyone onboard. My search to know my father began at an early age in a country as small and confused as I was.
My mother began another quest. Single, she had to balance work, raising her two boys and sanity. She worked as a Kindergarten teacher in poverty stricken Norfolk, Virginia so we lived in reduced rent beach houses in the Winter and traveled to stay with family in the Summer. We simply could not afford the rent when the arrival of tourists drove it up. Looking back I consider this lucky.
The endpoint of our cross-country adventures were always the open arms of Grandparents. My Mom’s folks still lived in Lindsay, Oklahoma. We used to joke that my Mom was the Homecoming Queen of a one stop-light town. I have many fond memories of fishing & hunting with my Uncle and Cousins. Here a boy was allowed to be a boy and that meant carrying a knife everywhere. My first knife was an old buck folder. A gift from my Uncle. He helped me connect with manhood in small simple ways; filleting the catfish we just caught, telling me stories of my Dad and letting me shoot a rifle for the first time. I fell in love with knives and have owned many since.
One Summer in particular stands out. My father’s side of the family lived in Phoenix, AZ. Since we were on the East Coast trips all the way across the country were not common. This Summer we would drive to Oklahoma and then take the Greyhound bus to Phoenix. I don’t know how my Mom survived it, but for my little brother and I it was quite an adventure. Mile after mile of “flyover” country out our window, colorful passengers (met my first drunk!) and plenty of travel games. We were eager to arrive in Phoenix, but the bus was high entertainment.
Granny was glad to see us and welcomed us into her home. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her to lose her son and spending time with us had to remind her of her loss. I can remember her taking us into the spare bedroom and pull out a box of memories. Pictures, his watch & wallet, matchbooks from every place he and my Mom visited on their Honeymoon and his Marine issue Kabar survival knife.
I hadn’t known that my Dad was a fighter pilot in Korea. Later my younger brother would take a job with the Army Corps of Engineers and out of curiosity track down our Father’s discharge papers. It took a lot of guts for my Mom to let her son keep that knife when Granny offered it. I find it amazing that I never did lose it. Knowing that my Dad carried it at his side while serving our country and brought it home with him with the dreams of sharing the outdoors with the sons he would some day have connected me to him through this knife.
When my own sons were just old enough to handle the Kabar without hurting themselves they got to hold the knife. It was their introduction to the GrandPa they didn’t get to meet. And as I retold the stories and help them connect with him that Kabar was the loadstone that gave tangible truth to the memories I found in my search.
A year ago my eldest daughter gave birth and I became a Grandfather. Right now my Addie Rose is too little to handle a knife, but the time will come when she will get to hear stories of her Great-Grand Father Earl while holding that old Kabar . Until then it will stay in my dresser where it awaits my occasional visits with Dad.