Kathy Joy, Author of Winter Whispers
February 12, 2020
Some Dove chocolates have been lurking in my desk drawer at the office; I’ve been able, somehow, to resist them. But today is different. Today, as the calendar marches inevitably toward Valentine’s Day, my resolve is weak.
So today I’ve opened the little foil packaging and here’s what the inside message says:
“Believe in those you love.”
And just like that – a flood of memories leaked from my heart. Memories of my own sweetheart, Roger Hoffner, who died way too soon.
I believed in him.
And because I carry his memory like a treasure, I still believe in him – in the present tense.
Roger grew up in a time when boys admired men who wore leather gloves to work and tucked knives into their pockets to use when needed. He wanted to emulate them.
He was raised in a country swath of America that believed in ruggedness and self-sufficiency. He learned, by example, that you don’t toss something in the trash just because it quits working – you figure out how to fix it and you take the time to do it right.
He grew up in a time when bicycle skeletons were salvaged from junk yards; kids learned how to dismantle them and rebuild them to their own specifications: banana seat, high bars, squeeze horns and pedal brakes.
Living as a kid in the green rolling hills of Northwest Pennsylvania, Roger worked odd jobs for uncles in exchange for a hot meal and maybe a game of poker. He learned to drive tractor and toss hay bales into the mow, long before he was driving a car.
One of Roger’s most prized possessions was his pocket knife. I’ve kept it in my jewelry box.
That little 3-blade wonder came out when the girls got Barbie Dolls at Christmas time, the toys impossibly ensconced in those hard plastic packages.
The small but capable knife was used on our farm to:
- cut twine,
- fix a wooden latch,
- remove a splinter,
- break the ice on the horse’s buckets,
- shorten a piece of tack when saddling up and once,
- to remove gum from our oldest daughter’s hair.
I saw him:
- slice a watermelon,
- sharpen a pencil,
- open a can, and
- cut bait from the fishing line.
I often saw him cleaning his fingernails with the smallest blade.
Eventually, as his own nephews grew responsible enough, Roger started gifting little pocket knives to them so they’d be ready for any eventuality.
Each of our daughters also received a pocket knife when the time was right.
I fondly remember their papa cutting reeds by our pond with his knife, to fashion them into organic musical instruments for the girls. They held the long green leaves “just so” and blew through their thumbs and fingers to render nature’s finest music.
The sound came out something like chirping crickets mixed with bird warbling – it was simply beautiful.
The pocket knife, over the years, came to mean much more than simply a handy little tool. It represented a hearty resourcefulness. A hard-scrabble work ethic, a readiness for just about any situation.
I spoke with another guy who carries one, and he told me he’d attended a concert once and was horrified when the security guard confiscated the tool and tossed it carelessly into a garbage bin.
My friend fished his pocket knife out of the bin and left the venue; he was not going to lose a lifelong companion over a one-time event, so he went outside and people-watched while his wife enjoyed the music inside the arena.
That’s how strongly men of a former generation feel about their pocket knives, and that’s how strongly Roger felt about his, too.
I miss him.
I carry Roger’s memory in my heart. I will forward his legacy to my son-in-law. On his birthday coming up, I believe I will gift him Roger’s trusty pocket knife.
I wouldn’t want Nick to find himself in a situation and not be prepared. Especially when the day comes that he takes his own kids fishing and needs to cut some bait.