We are getting gentle rain in Northwest Florida. I am on the porch, watching it fall. I love rain. We have been quarantined for 45 days, and I am going crazy. So the rain is a friend.
Maybe I like rain because of what it represented when I was growing up. See, the people I come from never stopped working. Not even on holidays, weekends, or during the World Series. It was always work, work, work. The only time they ever took a break was when the preacher was about to bury them.
Unless it was raining.
And this, I suppose, is why rain will always be special to me. Rain makes me think of days passed on the porch. The only time my father and mother would sit on the porch and refrain from blatant yard work was during a good rain.
My mother would be sewing something. My father would be shirtless, like a hick. He never wore a shirt at home. His people never wore shirts, either. He hated shirts. One time I asked my father what life was like before I was born, and I’ll never forget when he said, “We used to walk around naked all day.”
I don’t think he was telling the full truth because my mother was a hand-raising fundamentalist who did not believe in nakedness. If she could have had her way, I would have showered with my clothes on.
My mother’s fundamentalist food was always particularly good on rainy days. This is because my mother would bust her butt in the kitchen since she couldn’t bust her butt outside.
She had these gospel records she would listen to while she would be frying something. Or a gospel radio show she would have playing, where Baptist quartets sang songs that only men who were castrated could sing.
Her food was legendary. That’s another thing about my family. We grew up breaking all the modern dietary rules. We fried chicken, ate red meat, gluten, cholesterol, flour, butter, cheese. Anything that can kill you, my family has perfected into an art form.
My parents’ view on diet was: “Hey, my great-great granny lived to be 104, and she ate bacon.”
If you were to make a statement like that in today’s world, they’d sic the dogs on you.
But anyway, we always had something on our plates to “sop” with. Once you had eaten all the big stuff, you had to sop your plate clean with a biscuit.
If you didn’t sop, your plate became the legal property of someone who did sop, and you were regarded a family embarrassment thereafter.
Another thing I remember about rainstorms was the whittling. That was a big activity on our porch. The floorboards would be covered in curly white wood shavings.
My father always kept a DEATHLY sharp knife in his pocket. He was obsessed with knives. He always kept his knives honed sharp enough to commit random acts of surgery.
Seriously. He loved operating on people’s splinters with his knife. He enjoyed using the blade dig out thorns, cut bubble gum out of hair, slice rope for a tire swing, or whittling.
Maybe that’s why I love pocket knives so much. Maybe that’s why one of my most prized possessions is his little knife. One that I almost lost once.
But that’s another story.
My father once cut his finger off. His best friend, Ben, told me the story. I don’t know why my father never told it to me. I guess it embarrassed him.
The story goes: Daddy had been cutting something with his knife, the blade slipped, it cut the first section of his index finger clean off. Even the fingernail.
My father, who was as white a sheet, went to Ben and said, “I believe I’ve cut the end of my finger off.” That’s how he said it. No big deal.
The first thing Ben did was find the finger in the dirt, then he tossed the finger into his lunchbox, filled with ice. They left the jobsite and rushed to the ER. When the doc asked for the finger, my father opened the lunchbox and said: “You can have the finger, doc, but leave the ham sandwich. Ben gets cranky when he skips lunch.”
I’m probably screwing the story up. But you get the gist of it. Ben tells it better.
There’s a hole in your gut when someone dies. The hole never fills up. It just sort of gets softer around the edges and scabs over. But it doesn’t go away. Perhaps this is why I have been collecting knives. Maybe I’m trying to fill a hole.
My knife collecting started as a little habit, and then it grew into a full-blown compulsion. I collect antique pocket knives, new knives, found knives, kitchen knives, cheap knives, hunting knives, you name it. Whenever I see a knife I just buy it. It’s as simple as that.
My wife hates this. She always asks, “What’s the point? You already have a bunch of knives?”
I could say the same thing about her shoe collection, but I never do. Because I am a gentleman. And a gentleman would never say in writing that his wife owns enough pairs of shoes to shod a small Haitian village.
The rain comes down harder. My wife is frying a chicken inside. I hear the oil cracking in the pan. I guess she hasn’t heard, we’re not supposed to be eating fried chicken. Fried chicken will kill you.
But I guess we do what our ancestors did. Even when we can’t explain why. That could be why there are a lot of wood shavings on this porch right now. I’m grateful I still have my fingers.
Rest easy, Daddy.