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The Papa Files: A Lot of Things

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My brother sent me a wooden knife last week. Last year I sent him a Korean War vintage bayonet to replace the one Dad gave him fifty years ago, which I broke while trying to teach myself how to throw a knife. My target was a large tree deep in the woods of our backyard, and I was doing fine until I stepped back too far and the knife hit flat and the blade snapped off.

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The wooden knife my brother sent was much more special, though. He bought it at the P.X. when we were in Korea, and we used it in many games then and later, mimicking the shows we’d seen on TV, such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible, as well as other shows and movies. We stabbed each other and slit each other’s throat many times with that dragon-handled, square-edged blade. Until one day when I stepped on it and the blade cracked at the hilt. (I just now got the protractor from my artbox and measured the angle of its bend in my memory, and I have to say it was about twenty degrees off.) I got Mom’s school glue, applied a thin bead across the scar of splintered wood, pushed the blade into the proper position, and set it on the floor of my closet to keep it out of the way, where it stayed for several days before I remembered it. (We played a lot more games than just knifing each other.)

It turned out the blade wasn’t exactly straight, but it worked. Then my brother sat on it and snapped the blade the other way. I tried to glue it again, but it didn’t take. The first attempt at slashing a neck or stabbing a gut bent the blade a full ninety degrees. I don’t think I threw it away; I vaguely remember tossing it in the OD green toybox Dad built years and years before, and then it vanished from our memories. I think Mom threw it away after the last of her kids left home.

So it was with much surprise and delight when I got the same knife in the mail. Apparently it’s still a popular and even classic knickknack. And it is exactly the same. As soon as I freed it from its box of popcorn packing and bubble wrap, I waved it around and would have poked out my right eye if not for my readers. It might be a knick knack, but it’s dangerous in the hands of an elder.

I text my brother to express my thanks and amazement, and we had a short textversation about those old days. He sent me a jpeg of the only picture he could find of the original knife, which was sticking out of the chest of the vampire alien he and our sister put together and was lying in a cardboard coffin I constructed for Halloween. The knife is blurry. And that led to our complaining that we had so few pictures of so much of our lives. My final text to him was: I wish I could go back and take pictures of a lot of things. He responded: Same here.

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I wish I had taken pictures of the walls of every house we lived in to capture the decorations and furniture, and taken shots of the clothes in closets, the clothes and hobbies in my drawers and everything in every drawer, the yard and all that Dad put out there, and the cats we had (many more pictures than we took), and a lot more pictures of family and friends – and candid shots, not poses in front of a wall or curtain. And really, mostly, I’d take a lot of pictures of what was in our refrigerators.

About fifteen years ago I took a picture of my granddaughter sitting in front of our fridge while she was examining its contents. I came across it while looking for a different picture, and apart from its cuteness, I was captivated by what was sitting on those cold shelves. Instantly I wished I had pictures of what my parents had bought so many more years ago, what products were available and popular. Wouldn’t that be fascinating?

Since then I have taken pictures about every three years of what’s in our refrigerator. But now I’m going to make a permanent New Year’s resolution that every January I’m going to take pictures of everything. I estimate that it will require 117 shots to cover every wall, every floor of furniture, every closet, and every angle of the yards, not counting my wife’s garden, which would add another 130 photos if I want to record all of it.

But while most of those would be interesting to me years from now, they will never be as emotionally moving as pictures from my youth. Oh how I wish I had pictures of my electric guitar and three-piece drums from when I was 180 months old, as well as the books I had on my chest-o-drawers, and the Famous Monster models I had put together. And you know what? I would bring a video camera. Or, I suppose, this future’s phone would do.

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