The talk this evening turned to walking sticks and then to whittling.
"Have I shown you my scars?" I asked my wife.
I hadn't, it turned out, so I held out my left hand and scanned the top knuckles.
"Oh, I see that one."
I found the other for her and told her the tale, which I'll tell you now:
I was at Raven Knob, the Boy Scout camp for the Old Hickory Council. I was thirteen, and it was between two sessions I was attending. Rather than go home for the day, I hung out with an older counselor, Phil, up at the health lodge. He was otherwise occupied, calling his girlfriend for the afternoon.
To kill time, because this is something you do to kill it, I sat on the porch with my Boy Scout knife and was starting to whittle a neckerchief slide out of a small block of wood, something to replace the stodgy grey standard issue metal one. My kit was supposed to be shaped like a squat 'funny' crow's head, with a big curved beak that I would eventually sand to a fine finish, then hand paint black and yellow, and finally apply a thick coat of varnish. Then I'd wear it proudly to meetings and field compliments.
Lots of Scouts carve their own slides, and when you were at camp, you could tell a lot about a guy's depth into Scouting by his neckerchief slides and patch collection. Mine was a Level 1 sub-basic kit, simple enough for a Cub Scout to carve, and that also represented my commitment to the program: my destiny as a rock musician was already inevitable by then.
My father had shown me how to use the whet stone when I was a small child, so I knew the value of a sharpened knife. Unfortunately, I had not bothered to put that knowledge to use before I left for camp, so at some point in shaping the beak, the dull blade slipped deep into my fingers and I was bleeding instantly and profusely.
Lucky stroke to be at the health lodge, as Phil was soon located and he confidently administered first aid as any good Boy Scout would do. It took a while and a lot of pressure before the bleeding stopped, and I wore gauze and bandages the whole second session, including swimming. (The unfinished slide sat in my top dresser drawer for many years, blood-stained and abandoned.)
When I got home from Raven Knob, and after a shower, I called my neighbor Charles with whom I was playing guitar in a little folk combo, the PeChes (that's an abbreviation for Peter and Charles, if you're wondering). We got together at my house with our new Kent electric guitars, plugged in my amp and began rocking, and then I noticed that blood had begun pouring out of my whittling wounds again and onto the carpet as I bent the fingers to fret the chords.
It was really hard for the thirteen year old rocker, but I had to put the guitar down for another few days until my cuts healed more convincingly.
I still have the faint scars that I got to show off to my patient spouse tonight. Every time I get down about music or the music business, I need to hold them up real close to my face and look at the little fading white lines and remember how bad it felt to not be able to play the guitar for those days and know that most everything heals in time so you can and should keep on playing.
But maybe not take up whittling again.