Mama’s Knife

Mama had many knives and a whetstone that she used to sharpen them. 

Her two major kinds of knives were milkhiks and fleyshiks.  These were used all year long, except for peyskah.  They were the black-handled knives for meat dishes and the brown-handled ones for dairy.  They all had brass rivets in the handles to hold the handle to the blade, like a sandwich.  I especially remember the black meat-knives, for they were longer and not serrated.

Of course there was the peysakh set of silverware, which was wrapped in newspaper (Der Tog) and stored in the attic.  The knives in this set did not have wooden handles.  They were part of a beautiful set of silver.  All the pieces were very heavy, or seemed that way to our small, young hands as we carried them downstairs where we unwrapped the sheets of newspaper saved from past issues of the Der Tog.

That Special Knife

Mama had one knife that could have been used to cut meat or dairy, but never did.  It was used every weekday.  It was an all-purpose knife that had only one purpose--to sharpen her boy’s school pencils.  We called it the pencil knife.

At elementary and high school we had real pencil sharpeners that made points as sharp as a needle. 

Mama hated those pointy pencils.  She would say, ”I want my Fishele to see what he’s writing.  The lines have to be thick.” Those points made skinny lines and put holes in the blue-lined paper with a red margin down the left side.  So Mama sharpened my yellow Ticonderoga pencils every morning before I went to school.
No one else ever dared touch Mama’s pencil knife.  It had a thin, rough leather strap that went through the handle.  Mama hung this knife in the kitchen next to the wood stove, and it shone next to the sooty wall.

Naturally we boys all had our own pocketknives with five blades and used them to open the sacks of feed or whittle things.  They even had a screwdriver, a cork opener that never was used, and a bottle-cap opener that came in handy on many occasions.

Mama made sure that we never sharpened our pencils with our own pocketknives; they had to be sharpened with her very special knife. 

I still have a Valentine Card that I made with a pencil for Mama when I was in the third grade and we still lived in the Bronx.  We boys went to P.S.(Public School)  42.