At my house, growing up, we had the Big Knife. I don’t know if it was the same at your house, but besides a hammer and two screwdrivers, a slotted and a Phillips head, there was only one tool we needed, and that was the Big Knife.
The Big Knife was my dad’s go-to knife in the kitchen. He had other options. On occasion he might use one of his cleavers if, say, he were chopping up spareribs, but generally speaking, he used the Big Knife for everything.
He used it for vegetables and potatoes, he used it to filet fish for sashimi, to carve our Thanksgiving turkey, to score the tops of those kalbi rib cubes.
My dad also used the Big Knife for other odd jobs, cutting string, wire, or a section of hose. In our house, if the question was cutting, the answer almost all of the time was the Big Knife.
My mom found the Big Knife useful as well. In the yard. It was tough enough to handle smaller shrubs and tree branches. It was her go-to tool for taming the wild philodendron vines that always threatened to choke out our trees and eat up all the open space.
When my mom came out into the yard with the Big Knife, all the philodendron vines tried to look innocent. They knew she did not love them the way they loved our trees. It was either her or them, and armed with the Big Knife, it was her. Always her.
At night after we’d all gone to bed, my dad performed two tasks in the kitchen. He would either kill cockroaches or he would sharpen the Big Knife with an equally big steel rod. You knew which one he was up to because you would hear what sounded like firecrackers exploding as his rubber slippers pounded the roaches into the concrete tile floor, or you would hear the long, almost musical whooshing scrape of metal on metal as he honed the Big Knife with the passion of a samurai sword craftsman.
My dad made sure the Big Knife was always ready for action, be it indoor or out. I often wondered why the knife didn’t just wear away with all that sharpening. To my thinking, given my dad’s religious sharpening ritual, there should be less and less knife. But it never seemed as if it the blade were shrinking away, growing smaller with each sharpening and with such heavy use.
Before Leatherman there was Excalibur, and before Excalibur, there was the Big Knife.
One day while I was probably wasting my life away watching television, I heard my mother call from the yard.
“Lanny, come out here, and bring the Big Knife. Hurry!”
The desperation in her voice was unusual. I found it hard to believe that she’d encountered some branch or vine that had suddenly seemed in urgent need of cutting, but there was no doubt she sounded as if in some kind of real distress.
Just to be sure, I shouted down into the yard, “Did you say to bring the Big Knife?”
“Yes, bring it out here! Hurry! Hurry!”
I went down to the kitchen, grabbed the Big Knife, and tore out into the yard.
“Where are you?” I called out.
“Down here! The lychee tree! Hurry!”
Whatever it was, this was no joke. I ran down to that lower terrace. As I neared the lychee tree, I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing. It looked like my mom was trying to push some kind of big bag up into the tree.
“Hurry! Hurry! Cut the rope! Cut it!”
Then I realized what it was and I froze.
“Cut the rope!” my mom screamed, her face red from the effort of what she was doing, compounded by the screaming.
I came back to my senses and sawed at the rope that hung from one of the higher branches. Thankfully, my dad had the Big Knife razor sharp. I severed the thick woven hemp in no time and helped my mom ease my grandfather, her father, to the ground.
“Oh my God, Daddy!” my mom cried. “Daddy! Daddy!”
All I could do was stare at my grandfather, his face purple from the rope cutting off the blood supply to his head.
Loosening the noose, my mom eased it over his head. My grandfather coughed several times, the normal coloring gradually returning to his face.
We sat him up, one on each side, supporting him while his breathing eased.
Finally, “Why did you do that?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” my mom said. “You don’t think I would let you do this.”
“How many times have I told you,” my grandfather said, “that I wish I were dead?”
My mom hugged him, began to cry. And so did I.