Tuesday, June 23, 2009

archetypes: precision grinding

there was a clanging of a bell and the summer sun warmed me outside in, and i was happy. ephemerally, of course. that seems to be all the happiness i am capable of having: plucking it, and blowing it out, like a patch of dandelions, or birthday candles, until i come upon another moment of joy as burgeoning field, or the next rite of passage.

the bell that is clanging belongs to a truck that has driven me back through the years to the times in my childhood when i first heard that sound. i have a nostalgia for precision grinding which was, is, and always will be what the bell comes to offer. it belongs to the sharpener, the anachronistic man who sharpens the knives. just now he came by in a truck, moving too quickly, not keeping pace with the bell, as the first old man did, pulling his green handcart down the street where we passed our time, tossing frisbees and attempting increasingly higher jumps over a length of knotted rubber bands.

the bell rang and we children could not answer its call. we looked at the old man and his bell, and the cart, and the grindstone in frustrated desire because we did not have anything to sharpen. the scissors we had were plastic and none of us actively wielded a knife. truth be told my mother was still cutting my meat for me. the old man would come and ring the bell and we would all stop the tossing of frisbees and the jumping over of rubber bands because we were drawn to the old man and his bell, dragging the cart with the stone behind him. we would not start to play again until he was some distance down the street because we were watching in the hopes that some neighbour would barge through their front door and stop the old man. they never did.

the day came when that bell rang and i could no longer resist its lure. i rushed into the house intent on stopping the old man before he went along on his way to drag the cart and the stone and the bell through the streets. my mother found me arming myself, availing myself of the cutlery drawer, of every knife contained therein. it seemed very important to me that i should give the man purpose, to make the stone come alive with his foot pedal, and add the spark to the stone to the cart to the bell. i'd never seen the spark because the man was a living relic of a by-gone era -- when getting blades and the sharpening of them was not as simple as it was now. in my own cutlery drawer here in the future lie a few mismatched pieces from the sets that were offered as a premium when you bought x amount of groceries at the store. they don't do that any more. now you just buy cutlery and have done. and you certainly never sharpen it. you buy stainless steel. you buy stay-sharp.

the old man's custom was gone. my mother would not help him. she would not let me bring the knives to the old man. she said it was expensive and we had our own whetstone should we ever need to sharpen a knife. i can testify to this: we did indeed have a small stick of whet, it looked like a grey stick of double mint. and it had been used by somebody somewhere once. there was a groove that hollowed out that double mint that made me distrust it. it was too used, it had seen its day, it would not set off sparks like the grindstone surely would. it was a dull plodding thing, not the spark of a moment. But she would not relent, and i knew i would not be able to meet the bell, the cart, the stone, and the old man's eyes when next i heard the bell.

i heard the bell again today but i did not meet this old man's eyes either. he was driving too fast, racing ahead of the era he evoked. i wonder how he finds happiness in this way, not living in the present or the past but in some strange amalgam of both. perhaps he needs a horse and cart, and a renaissance fair.


  1. I don't know how I missed this post but I did. It's lovely! Very sad and nostalgic and extremely evocative. I could see every scene perfectly. Nice work.

  2. i love this. plain and simple. it reminds me of better times. less complicated times. i think there was more love in the world when this man was not an anachronism.