03-Finding a Knife

Grandpa is sitting at the table across from me, waiting while mama is finishing preparing dinner. He’s waiting because I have to prick my finger to take the test for the book’s first lesson – about the book’s care. It’s not that the lesson was hard, mostly I have to do my best to keep the book safe – it’s that I am afraid to prick my finger. Grandpa did it so well and fast last night that I didn’t even feel it. However, today when polishing the knife clean, I went backward and cut clean through the rag! That rag was tough, we’ve been using it to clean and scrub all kinds of things, and it didn’t take any effort at all for my knife to cut right through it. I’m a little afraid I might cut my finger off, and Grandpa says I have to master my fear and prick my own finger.

“Joe, there’s a trick or two to this. Think it through and tell me how you can be sure you just prick your finger instead of cutting it.”

“Ummm…maybe if I just touch the tip of the knife…”

“Ok, that’s a start, what else?”

“The knife’s only sharp on one side so I must have to hold it some way where I can’t run my finger across it.”

“Good. Look at the knife, and imagine touching it with your finger. How would you hold the knife so you can’t cut your self if you draw your finger across the blade?”

“Well, if I hold the knife so the blade faces the table, the the back is up and its not sharp, so I can’t cut myself touching the back of the blade.”

“Ok. That’s good, now how are you going to hold it so you can prick yourself, but not cut across the blade?”

“Well, when mama is sewing she sometimes pricks herself with a needle if she forgets her thimble.”

“What happens?”

“Well she jerks her finger back and sticks it in her mouth!”

Chuckling, “Ok, so if your knife was a needle, how would you prick yourself?”

“With the tip! But mama’s needles are round and the knife is flat. Pricking with the tip won’t leave a little circle hole it will cut.”

“True. Hold the knife with your left and put your hand on the table with the knife’s tip towards the ceiling. Good, now rotate the knife so that the blade side is facing you. Now, if you jerk your right hand towards you because of the pain, the backside of the knife, where it isn’t sharp, is away from you and can’t cut you if you jerk your hand towards you. This is the only time I want you to hold the knife so that the blade is facing you. The rule for knives is for you to hold the knife so that the blade faces away from you – towards what you want to cut. Other sharp tools may have different rules. This exception is because your finger is what you want to cut, but only a very little, and only because your confidence is so low. As you learn, you will not do this, even to cut yourself.”

It takes me a couple of times to reach out to the tip before I manage to finally touch the end of the knife hard enough to cut myself. It’s only a minor cut, and it only hurts a little before I drag it back and place my finger on the cover of the book where I did last night to take ownership of the book. There’s a faint flash of grey light, and it’s over. When I open the book, I can finally turn to the first page of the second lesson. I’m disappointed because the page only has a few words on it…”Convince someone to let you sharpen their knife. You must tell them that you are an Apprentice Tinkerer, and this will be the first knife you sharpen.”

I look at my Grandpa, and he grins at me before saying, “Nope. It has to be somebody other than a Tinker – even if it doesn’t say that. Any Tinker you ask will tell you the same thing. Start asking, and you’ll learn why.”

And with that, I get down from the table and run into the kitchen. “Mama – I’m an Apprentice Tinker! Can I sharpen one of your knives – it’ll be my first!” To which she replies, “There are no knives here that need to be sharpened by an Apprentice when a Master has done the work.”

“Oh. Are you sure I can’t sharpen one for you?”

“You’ll not be getting one of my fine knives to ruin the edge so that you can learn. Find another to give you a knife you’ll learn a lesson on – and you’ll not be doing your lessons with that knife at my table – you’ll be in the shed where the other tools are.”

Feeling a little rejected, I leave the kitchen and head back out to the dinning table where Grandpa is getting up. “Sound like she gave you permission to go out – but I wouldn’t be late for dinner!”

Picking up a little, I think about where to go and who I might ask. The only person I know who has many knives is the butcher, Mr. Feldson, but it will take me an hour to walk into town, and I won’t get back before dinner. Dad will be home soon, I could ask him! No, he lets Grandpa sharpen his knife too. Wait! I already have a knife! “Grandpa, I can use my knife!”

“That’s a good idea Joe, but it won’t satisfy the lesson. What were your instructions?”

“Ummm…I have to convince someone to let me sharpen their knife and I have to tell them I am an Apprentice Tinker.”

“That’s right, and don’t forget you have to tell them it will be the first time you sharpen a knife. Maybe you should think a little more about this.”

“Ok…” I grab my book off the table and head upstairs to my room. This is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, and so far, it isn’t very fun. But I promised Grandpa, and he used a magic cranberry on my book. I had to find somebody. Ma said I would ruin her knife, and if she thinks that, then others will too. How do I convince somebody to let me sharpen their knife if they are afraid I’ll ruin it? They won’t let me if it’s already sharp, so it has to be one that needs to be sharpened. People who need their knives sharpened come to Grandpa’s market stall. Turning from the stairs and looking down, I ask, “Grandpa, can I go with you to the market tomorrow and ask people who come to your stall?”

“That too is a clever idea Joeseph, but no. First you need to do this on your own. If you don’t understand by suppertime tomorrow, I’ll tell you why.”

“Ok, but can I ride with you into to town tomorrow if I have my morning chores done before you go?”

“Yes, I think that would be alright, and if you stay the day, you can ride back with me too.”

There is a bell over the door in Mr. Feldson’s butcher shop that rings loudly when I push open the door. He’s chopping something on the big table behind the counter while an older woman watches. He then wraps it in brown paper and turns around to present it to her. “That’s a rack of pork ribs and slab of bacon, Ms. White, will there be anything else?”

“Not today Mr. Feldson, thank you kindly.” She took the two wrapped packages and placed them in a cloth bag.

I had to quickstep out of her way when she turned in the little shop and headed for the door, bringing me to Mr. Feldson’s eye. “Well boy, are you here to pick up someone’s order?”

“No sir, I am a new Apprentice Tinker, and I am looking for my first knife to sharpen – and I know you don’t want me to ruin any of your good knives to learn my first lesson, but I thought since you had so many knives you might be able to help me.”

“So, you’re Kevin’s grandson, Watershed right?”

“Yes Sir, Joeseph’s my name.”

“Well did your grandpa tell you to come see me?”

“No Sir. He said I had to figure this out on my own.”

“Humph. How old are you boy?”

“I turned eight two days ago, sir.”

“I can help you since I think I know what part of the lesson you are learning is supposed to be. But it comes in two parts, and if you don’t learn the first part on your own to tell me, then I won’t tell you the second part. If you want to learn the first part, I want you to go out to the market and watch your grandpa for the next two hours. Then come back and tell me what you have seen and learned.”

“Sir, I’ve watched my grandpa lots of times”

“I’m sure you have boy – but have you watched him when you were an apprentice? You’ve new eyes and ears – go use them!”

And so I watched. I saw how he smiled at everyone, and nearly everyone smiled back. I saw him sit on the bench, waiting for people to come to him. He didn’t call out like the woman with the meat pie stand or the baker’s apprentice. People would just come up to him and show him something they had that was broken, and he would discuss with them if it could be repaired and what the cost might be. He may offer them something new for the old thing and a few slugs. Some people would ask for something that he would then pull from his cart and sell them. I watched for several hours, and before mid-day, I returned to Mr. Feldson’s shop.

Nobody was at the counter when I returned so he spoke right to me while I was still standing in the door. “Well boy, did you run off and play and then finally remember to come back?”

“No Sir, I watched and I think I learned what you wanted me to see.”

“Well, come in and tell me then – and close the door so we keep the flies out.”

“Well, I saw that nobody haggled with my grandpa, and nobody left angry. Sometimes, sad or disappointed, but not angry like that lady yelling about weevils in her bread from the baker’s shop.”

“So you saw that ruckus, what else did you see of it?”

“I saw my grandpa go over to her and say something low and quiet to her, and she clammed up and left in a hurry – she looked a little afraid of my grandpa.”

“That would be the right of it. Do you know why?”

“Not all of it, but everybody trusts my grandpa. He’s not the mayor so people don’t have to listen to him, but they do. Do you know why that is?”

“I do, and because you saw it, I’ll get to the second part like I said, only I think that there’s somebody who can help you more with that than I can.” and he reached under the counter to pull out some folded butcher paper and placed it on a something that was wrapped in butcher paper on his counter. “Now, you take this beef tongue and note to Rachel Smith, the smith’s wife. Do you know where the smithy is?”

“Yes sir, I’ve been a couple of times to get things for my pa”

“Good, don’t bother the smith, go around to the house and knock on the door to see Rachel.”

Knocking on the door, “Mrs. Smith, I have a delivery from the butcher.”

It took a few moments before a lady with an apron covered in flour and wiping her hands answered the door. “I’ve never seen you before, are you a new apprentice to Mr. Feldson?”

“No mam, I asked him for some help ’cause I am a new Apprentice Tinker and I am trying to find my first knife to sharpen. Delivering this roast and this note are the next part of my task.”

“Did you read the note?”

“No. I’m learning my letters, and I maybe could read it, but it was folded up and it didn’t seem like Mr. Feldson wanted me too.”

“I see. Come in then and sit in one of the chairs by the hearth, so you don’t get flour on you while I put this away and read the note.” She then placed the meat, still in the paper, in her chill box and then opened the note. After reading it, she asked, “Joeseph, what if I told you that Mr. Feldson told me to give you 5 copper slugs and send you on your way?”

“Then I would be very sad that Mr. Feldson didn’t keep his word to me, and I would still ask you if you had a knife you would let me sharpen so I could learn my first lesson. I would even tell you that you could keep those slugs if you had a knife you would let me sharpen.”

“Excellent. Well, Mr. Feldson didn’t ask me to give you any slugs; he asked for me to learn if you were committed to being a tinker’s apprentice and, if so, then to tell you why we can have a tinker and a blacksmith in this town. Do you already know why?”

“No, why would there be a problem with a tinker and a blacksmith in the same town?”

“I want you to tell me what you think a tinker does and what you think a blacksmith does while I finish kneading my dough.”

“Ok. A tinker fixes things, like broken pots and dull knives. Sometimes he sells things, like needles and thread, scarves and hats, ribbons, and lots of little stuff. A smith makes things, like hinges, and rakes, scythes, and nails.”

“Ok, that’s a part of the truth. A smith makes things of metal and then uses things like wood and leather to complete them as necessary. He may repair broken pots and shoe horses and many other things. He does many things a tinker may do; all expect one – he generally doesn’t travel when he practices his trade. He may travel to find a place to live, and then he sets up a forge and does business from there. Most towns will have a blacksmith, or even two, but most villages won’t have one. Instead, villages will rely on a tinker – because tinkers travel as part of practicing their trade. They go from village to village and fix those things that a blacksmith may make or repair, sell those things that you might find at the dry goods store or the tailors’ shop. Villages don’t have the ability to support the craftsmen and artisans as a town does – there aren’t enough people to give them enough work to buy the things they need to live. So the villages rely on tinkers and merchants to fill in the gaps.”

“So why is my grandpa in the market and the smith and the others aren’t mad at him?”

“Think about what you saw today when Mr. Feldson had you watch him. Now I’m going to tell you what your grandpa sold those people even though I wasn’t there – ready? Honesty. Every person that did business with your grandpa expected an honest trade, opinion, and/or advice. Every person expected that your grandpa would tell them the truth as he knew it and not embellish it or exaggerate it. Tinkers take an oath, at least true tinkers do, and it shows in the one thing that every tinker does – sharpen a knife. Your grandpa is a Master Tinker, and while he is too old for the road now, his experience is helping Cranberry Valley be an excellent place to live and grow. There isn’t a person in town who doesn’t respect him and wouldn’t help him. So if you’re going to be a Tinker like him, you will have to show that you are honest and that you are deserving of our trust.” She paused there as she had to cut the dough and place it into pans to rise. Then she picked back up while washing the flour from her hands. “Your first demonstration of that was that you did what Mr. Feldson asked; you watched, listened, and learned about your grandpa. You didn’t run off, and he knew because he was watching, and you came right here with my roast and delivered his note without reading it. You even went above and beyond when I offered you slugs to turn them away and ask about a knife. This shows dedication and honesty and is needed for you to be given what you are looking for. So come with me, and we’ll go out to the smithy and talk to my husband, Carl.

And we walked out to the smithy where it was hot and loud and smelled of burning things and ash. We waited until Carl, quenched the horseshoe his was working on.

“Husband, I would introduce you to a newly made Apprentice Tinker whom Mr. Feldson saw fit to send to us. According to Mr. Feldson, his name is Joeseph, and since I haven’t heard it from his own lips, I will have to take it in trust”, she said with a wink.

“Sorry Ma’am, Sir, I am Joeseph Watershed, and I am a new Apprentice Tinker looking for my first knife to sharpen.”

“Rachel, you think this boy is worthy of a knife to sharpen?”

“Husband, I think he is a new apprentice and while he has not shown guile or knowledge of being tested and stayed true when three forks were placed in his path.”

“Well, that is encouraging. Very well, come over here, lad. I will show you three blades made by my apprentice, Tom, you pick one, and I will give you three days to return it to me sharpened by your own hand.” Walking over to another bench, he pulled own a drawer and placed three unfinished blades about 100cm in length out onto the table. They all looked about the same.

“Sir, I wouldn’t know which one to pick”

“Now that’s a little bit of wisdom to go with honesty and deserves a reward. See the fine cracks along the spine in this one; it didn’t temper right and is brittle. It should not be sharpened as it will break. This one here that has a rounded tang will be harder to hold without a handle. So that leaves this one that is blackened, with a flat tang, and shows no cracks. It’s ugly and a little rough, and I think an excellent knife for a new Apprentice Tinker to take a hand at. While it is my apprentice’s work, as master of the forge, it belongs to me. Bring it back, sharp, in three days, and I will sell it. I will give half to you and half to my apprentice. Do a good job, and your reward will be greater than just your first lesson.”

He wrapped it in a rag, tied it with a bit of twine an handed it to me. I took it from Carl and waved to him and his wife and ran back to the market.