Knife Day

Cliff Williams
Department of Philosophy
Trinity College
Deerfield, Illinois 60015

 
When my stuffed bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, came back from China with Peter, he had a small, red pocket knife attached to him. Usually Pooh comes back with a pin from wherever he has been, but this time it was a knife.
 
Several years later, Peter was killed in a fiery car collision. It happened a year after he graduated. He was on his way to Trinity College where he was going to meet his mother, whom he had not seen for three years. The knife acquired sentimental value to me.
 
Pooh went to visit Erick with the knife attached. I thought, "Maybe I should take the knife off, just in case something happens to it." But I let it go.
 
Pooh came back from his visit with Erick without the knife. I was stricken. I asked Erick about it. He didn't know, and he couldn't find it.
 
Erick graduated. Three years later he popped into my office. "Do you remember that knife I lost?" he asked. I did, indeed. "Well, I felt so bad about it that I got you another one." He pulled out a hand tool set that contained a pair of pliers, two knife blades, a saw, two screwdrivers, a scissors, and a can opener, all in one handy implement. It was encased in a cloth holder that could be attached to one's belt. I promptly attached it to my belt and wore it for the rest of the day, and the next day, too.
 
That semester I was teaching Problems in Philosophy, a senior course with eight students in it, all male. One day shortly after acquiring the replacement knife, I said in class, "Let's have a knife day. Bring a distinctive knife for show and tell."
 
The day came. I closed the door to the classroom, showed the class my new knife set, and told them the story of how I had gotten it. Someone had brought a machete with a ten inch blade. Someone else had brought an even longer African knife. Various other knives were produced, all accompanied with much admiration, except for the common table knife one of the students had pilfered from the cafeteria. He was booed.
 
A year and a half later I threw a party for myself to celebrate having taught college for 30 years. Josh, one of the students present at knife day, came. All of us at the party got to reminiscing about memorable college events. Josh said that he liked knife day, and, he said, the part he liked best was that it was illegal.
 
"Illegal?" I asked.
 
"Yes. Against college rules," he replied.
 
"Really?" I asked with astonishment.
 
"You can't have a knife with a blade longer than two and a half inches."
 
"Oooooh." I said. "I see. . . . If I had known that, I wouldn't . . . Hmmm. Actually, I can't say what I would have done."
 
Josh grinned. "I bet you would have had it anyway," he responded.
 
I grinned back.