A Sip of Honey Wine
The name of the main character in this story has been changed in deference to his family.
His name was Kenny – Kenny Pruitt. I knew him for only one summer. He stayed down the street from our house with his Grandparents. Although he was 17 and I was only 13 we became really good buddies. My Mom, who always carefully monitored who I “hung with” never seemed to have any problem with Kenny and me being pals, even if he was older. She met him – liked him – and that was that! Kenny and I spent a whole lot of time together that summer. His friendship turned my 13th year into one of the best summers of my younger life.
Kenny had just graduated from High School somewhere in Pennsylvania, and was visiting with his Grandparents before reporting to Basic Training in the US Navy. It was 1950 – the beginning of the Korean War.
Kenny owned a hunting knife that I absolutely lusted after. That knife helped me to understand the meaning of covetousness. I drooled after that knife. Kenny used to let me play with the knife and the more I touched it the more it got a hold of me. That hunting knife cast a spell as powerful as any I have ever experienced.
I dreamed about that knife. I could describe its every detail even when it was not in my possession. I was a prisoner of that hunting knife. Many of our hours together centered on that knife. We played Wimblety Peg and carved our initials in the big tree at the Vennel’s house. We actually used the knife to craft a wooden sailboat that we ceremoniously launched at Wilson’s lake. It sank on its maiden voyage!
The hunting knife was our companion on day-long hiking trips all over the county. Mainly, we went to the old gravel pit in Franklinville where the knife served as a valued tool in helping prepare and cook lunch over an open camp-fire.
We explored the ruins of the old glass-works in town. We used to dig in the slag piles to find pieces of antique glass and long-forgotten tools. We took turns using the knife in carefully digging our excavations.
One of the glass-work’s ruins featured “secret” underground passage-ways that used to run under the former buildings. It was reported on good authority that the ruins were haunted. Of course, every kid in town knew about these secret tunnels. They where fun to explore regardless of ghosts.
There was added excitement about going to the ruins because they were “off limits.” Parents warned us repeatedly to stay away from the ruins. The Superintendent of Schools traditionally make an annual announcement about the dangers of the ruins and implored us to “not venture there.”
There were “keep out” signs and danger warnings all over the property. All of the adult warnings and “keep out” signs stoked our sense of adventure and served as an invitation to every kid in town to go there frequently. Kenny and I had no fear about going to the ruins because we always carried the trusted hunting knife for protection , although we were not sure if it would work against a ghost attack.
I really got a surge of freedom when Mom finally let me take the public bus to the old Glassboro movie house for Saturday matinees. Mom gave permission to ride the bus and go to the movies only if Kenny would be with me. King Soloman’s Mines and Destination Moon were two of my favorite movies. They were serialized so it took several Saturdays to see a whole movie.
I remember one day, while waiting for the bus, we used Kenny’s hunting knife to carve initials in a wooden bench at the bus stop. A police officer stopped and scolded us for our carving work. I guess our punishment was not more severe because the bench already had hundreds of names carved in it.
We went swimming at Wilson’s Lake and fishing there as well. I caught a bass one day and wanted to use the hunting knife to gut the fish. Kenny refused and said, “I don’t want you to stink up my knife with fish guts.” That was the only time I can remember that he did not let me borrow the knife.
We started our days just after breakfast and went full-speed until well after sunset. We played, adventured, had long conversations about life, explored and went flat-out all day long the entire summer. Time passed at warp speed.
Finally the dreaded day came when Kenny had to leave. He said his farewells to his grandparents and stopped by to say good bye to me. He invited me to accompany him to the bus stop where he would catch a bus that would take him home to Pennsylvania for a short time before reporting for duty in the U.S. Navy.
We shared small talk as we waited for the bus. I was feeling real pain at the thought of my buddy leaving town. If truth be told I was also going to miss that coveted hunting knife.
I think Kenny was having a real tough time as well. Maybe his thoughts were not so much about what he was leaving, but about the uncertainties toward which he was going.
I remember the tears welling up and the burning in my throat as the bus approached and stopped in front of us. We were sort of stumbling over our words trying to say something important and then it happened. Kenny quickly handed me his hunting knife and said, “Here I want you to have ‘our’ knife. Take real good care of it. Maybe it will help you to remember me and the great summer we had.” I was speechless.
With that he jumped up the bus steps. The door closed and the bus pulled away. Kenny was gone. I did not even get a chance to thank him. Kenny was gone! For a brief moment I just stood there looking alternately at the knife and then the bus, which was disappearing out of sight
In a daze I crossed Delsea Drive and started home. At first it was a brisk walk, then a half run, and then a sprint all the way home. The faster I ran the faster my tear ducts worked. I burst through the front door sobbing. I went straight to my room and cried the afternoon away.
Long after Kenny and I said good bye, I realized it was not the knife that I wanted so much. It was the companionship and friendship of an older wiser kid – a future Navy man – a genuine in the flesh hero who was going to fight the evil forces in the world and save freedom and democracy and all that really important stuff. And just to think – he was my buddy for a whole summer. And I still had his hunting knife to remember him by.
I saw Kenny one time after that. After Graduating from Navy Boot Camp, he came for a final visit to his Grandparents before reporting to duty aboard a ship somewhere off the coast of Korea. He looked splendid in his Navy uniform. We talked only about fifteen minutes and I showed him I still had “our” knife, and finally got a chance to thank him for his wonderful gift.
We both agreed that we had shared a really remarkable summer –an unforgettable summer. We joked that the hunting knife had been our third companion. We then said a final good-bye.
Sometime in the next year, Seaman Kenny Pruitt – United States Navy, died in the icy waters of the Pacific Ocean off of the nation of South Korea. He died a hero in combat.
At hearing this news I quietly wrapped “our” knife in a clean handkerchief and placed in it a special shoe box along with my other childhood treasures. There was another long afternoon of tears.
I still have “our” knife.