Tinker Trader

paringI stood at the sink soaping my sponge and carefully stroked the last two items, my twin paring knives. One had been a gift to my mother. She no longer needs it. And one for me. I was promised this would be the last paring knife I’d ever need. I was sixteen at the time and wasn’t necessarily seeking out a life mate in a paring knife. That was forty years ago. I realized that I have owned this knife for 15 years longer than I’ve known my husband!

Mrs. Margaret McGuinness was the Executive Director of the Somerville Home for the Aged when I worked there as a teen. She was a woman in her eighties, strong, clear-eyed, and in fact her eyes sparkled with a youthful exuberance. Mrs. McGuinness was short and stout. She had tightly cropped, curled white hair, cat rimmed glasses, and wore a dark pink lipstick. She often adorned herself with pearls and clip earrings. She had a firm, confident voice. Her full figure was held together by a full body shaper – or as they were known then, a girdle, which made a swishing noise as she walked.

On this day, she came to the employee break room carrying a small cardboard box. Someone asked what was inside. She withdrew a single item from the box. It was wrapped in tissue paper. As she unwrapped it, she revealed a small paring knife. She then told the simple tale. Several years ago, her church sold the knives as a fundraiser. The twelve or so unsold remained in the box. The knife had a stainless steel blade and aluminum handle. She further explained that since the knives held their edge so well, anyone only really needed to buy just one. Perhaps two or more if planning to share as a gift. The fundraiser only did so well, since the knife lived up to its name – no need to replace it unless lost or stolen. I was intrigued and asked the price. Three dollars she answered. I quickly bought one for myself and one for my mother. The box emptied without much effort.

I should take the time to explain that I felt somewhat skeptical. Afterall, my grandfather was a knife grinder by trade and profession. His sharpening wheel resided in his box truck which he drove on his route in the North End of Boston. He was the knife sharpener on this most esteemed route in some of the best restaurants in Boston! I knew firsthand what effort goes into keeping a blade crisply sharp. Unlike many people, I know what a truly sharp knife is.

Realizing their age, I can’t help but feel the knives have held up better than me. Mrs. McGuinness was right about these little beauties. Hmmm… this is starting to sound like a commercial. I always felt the wanderlust of a tinker trader. I’ve spent a lifetime looking for just the right product to sell at local fairs. I have a friend who owns an onion ring food truck and travels to New England carnivals all season and makes a bucket of money. I have another friend who makes and sells unicorns, only unicorns at select fairs throughout the northeast. I once tried to sell my own handmade photo greeting cards but I quickly became bored with the handmade process and quit. Later in life, I worked for a nonprofit hostel and there developed a great maple granola recipe and would sell canning jars full to guests and at local fairs. I recently enrolled in a “bringing your food product to market” business workshop and quickly became frozen by complex licensing requirements and food regulations.

Standing by the sink, I envision myself at flea markets and fairs with a few boxes of the paring knives, bringing my own 40 year-old specimen as proof of the promise “this is the last little gem you will ever need to buy.”