John Rigas, August 4, 2006
Jack-Knives and High-Tops
One of my clearest memories from the first four grades of school was the high-top shoes I and the other boys
wore every day. Laced all the way to the knees, they complemented the knickobocker pants (“knickers”) we also
wore, which extended from the waist to the knees. Always tucked in a pocket on the outside of our high-tops was
a small jack-knife, with which we whittled wood, opened packages, and most of all played “mumbly-pegs” and
other games on our way to and from school and during recess. These activities were part of our daily ritual, and
we would have been lost without our trusted jack-knives. They filled the role that “game-boys” do for many
children today. They were our toys, not weapons.
What amazes me today is how innocuous and non-controversial these knives were. We never fought or damaged
property with them, and we were never questioned about bringing them to school. In contrast, I shudder to think
what the reaction would be if my grandchildren or their friends tried to carry jack-knives to school. I can only
wonder what the difference is. My father never allowed me to own a two-wheel bicycle, fearing that I would
seriously injure myself. Yet, he thought nothing of my toting a jack-knife wherever I went. Statistically, he was
probably right: more children in those days were hurt from riding bicycles than from using jack-knives.