Pocketknife Superstitions: Never Fold a Knife Someone Else Opened

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Photo: Pocketknife, courtesy of Matthew Vanitas
Photo: Pocketknife, courtesy of Matthew Vanitas

Coming to age in the coalfields of West Virginia in a time when many superstitions were still alive and practiced, so much of my father’s daily walk was influenced by old wives tales passed down to him from generations long passed.

He’d religiously knock on wood anytime he mentioned something good.  If birds were ever heard chirping at night, a sense of anxiety would fill him as he’d await what was certain to be an impending death and when that death finally came, he’d again worry about who the next two would be, as it was common knowledge that death came in threes.

These superstitions were a way of life for him and so many others from the mountains of Appalachia, but above all the other odd practices was his insistence that only the person who opened a pocketknife was to be the person who closed it.

One time as I got older, I thought I’d aggravate him and I made the fateful decision to quickly close a knife he had opened and had sitting on a carburetor as he worked — I quickly realized that this was not some old practice he respected, but rather something he truly believed: bad luck would follow a person who closed the pocket knife another man had opened.

Another superstition he had was that he would never outright gift a pocketknife to someone else — doing so was an omen that such a friendship would be severed.  Instead, he’d always insist on being given a penny in exchange.  This was one he believed whole heartedly, as a friend of his had died in a plane crash not long after gifting him a pocketknife.

For men like my father, the pocketknife was an essential tool to his daily life and would be used to slice apples growing wild from a tree in our field or cut through the hard plastic of a Christmas present.

Just for kicks, I’d sometimes ask him, “Dad, do you have a pocketknife on you?” and he would respond, “I got my pants on don’t I?”

His world was one heavy in superstition and in use of a pocketknife, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that the two were inevitably married.

Who are the kind of men who still carry pocketknives?  They are the type of men who earn an honest living, work hard and stand fearless in a world gone mad.  To put it simply, they are the type of men the world could use a lot more of these days.

Like articles like this? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Voice: A Collection of Memories, Histories, and Tall Tales of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

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