One rainy Sunday afternoon in about 1976 my friend Britt Pounds and I decided to spend the day cutting golf balls open. We didn’t have anything better to do, and we each had a pocketknife, and my dad had thoughtlessly left a feed sack half full of golf balls where we could find it.
If you’ve never cut a golf ball open, you might not realize what’s inside of one. Once you get the hard outer shell off you find a pretty thick layer of rubber bands. Or, more accurately, one rubber band about a mile long wrapped around a hard rubber ball, which is usually about half the diameter of the golf ball.
Anyway, as I was cutting the cover off one of the balls, my knife slipped and I cut my left index finger just about off. The knife went to the bone, and I ended up having to be sewed up at the local clinic. Which indicates that it was a pretty bad cut, since by the time I was 15 I had cut myself so often that I rarely went to a doctor unless I was in danger of losing a body part. Even then it had to be a fairly important part.
Not that I was unusually dangerous with knives, but I used them a lot, and it was a rare week that I didn’t draw some of my own blood. If I had stayed in Boy Scouts long enough to qualify for a Totin’ Chip Merit Badge, I might have been a lot safer with sharp instruments.
To be awarded the Totin’ Chip Badge, a Scout has to learn and demonstrate proper etiquette for handling axes, saws, and knives. Instruction is specific to the point of tedium. There are rules for carrying, using, sharpening, storing, and juggling all these tools, as well as the proper way to hand them to someone else, and take them from someone else. Well, maybe not juggling. But I’m not real sure, since I didn’t stay in Scouts long enough to earn my Totin’ Chip.
The rules are detailed for a good reason – axes, saws, and knives are dangerous if not used properly. If you decide to, say, cut a golf ball open with one of them, you have to be careful, or you could cut a finger off.
But the skills required to earn the Totin’ Chip Badge are necessary for a Boy Scout, because Scouting requires a boy to spend a lot of time outdoors, camping and hiking and getting sunburned and such. And you can’t do most of that stuff without using edged instruments.
Which is why you’re probably going to wonder what the people in charge of the Boy Scouts in the UK have been drinking when you find out that they have decided to ban Scouts and their parents from carrying knives. And we’re not just talking about machetes and axes and crosscut saws here. British Scouts are no longer even allowed to carry ‘pen knives,’ which are not much good for anything except cleaning fingernails.
The purpose of the Boy Scouts is to teach boys to be respectable men and valuable citizens, and from the beginning an important part of Scouting has been learning to properly use knives. But since the Brits have managed to outlaw guns and have now started going after swords and knives, I guess it was inevitable that anything with a sharp edge would eventually be taken away from the Scouts, too.
This decision was evidently reached in a roundabout way. A Scout spokesman said, “The Scout Association plays a key role in helping young people develop the confidence, maturity, and self-esteem they need to play active and responsible roles in their communities, and to resist the peer pressure that may attract them into local gang culture. We believe that young people need more places to go after school and at weekends, where they can experience adventure without the threat of violence or bullying and the need to carry weapons. Scouting helps to prepare young people with valuable life skills, while keeping them safe by not carrying knives.”
I guess if you really tried, and worked at it for a long time, you might come up with something dumber than that statement. You can’t teach responsibility by taking it away. It’s like the old Hee Haw doctor. When someone came to him and said, “Doc, it hurts when I do this” the doc would say, “Well don’t do that.”
My oldest son, Courtland, was installed as an Eagle Scout last month. He didn’t stab me when he attached the ‘Eagle Scout Dad’ pin to my shirt. As far as I know he never took a swipe or a poke at anyone with a knife, and hardly ever cut himself. Overall he’s a lot safer than his dad is with knives.
But then, he never spent an afternoon cutting golf balls open . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who still carries Band-Aids, and a tourniquet, wherever he goes. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org