Although the Transportation Security Administration just retreated from a decision to allow small pocket knives on airplanes, for the moment, it prompts a question.

Does anybody still carry a pocket knife?

My granddad always had one handy. As a North Carolina tobacco farmer, he often would grab his handsome two-bladed knife from his pocket to peel an apple. I can still see the entire peel coming off in one uninterrupted twirling work of art.

My father-in-law also would have his pocket knife at the ready. The retired Navy Yard electrician could deftly shave a wire for splicing if necessary.

But it seems his knife more often was used for other practical needs such as opening an envelope or cutting through tape on Christmas packages.

In any event, no problem was too big or too small for the always available pocket knife.

I inherited three or four of those knives. I still have them on my dresser but never carry them because I’m sure I’ll never need one. There’s a chance I’m missing an opportunity to be an immediate hero, but I’ve yet to figure that out. People with pocket knives seem so prepared.

Blade runner

The little tools are generally no longer than 3 to 5 inches. Some might contain two, three or even four blades. Know what a “nail nick” is? That’s the little slot that allows the fingernail to pull the blade from the handle.

For the purposes of today’s column, I’m talking about the simple, slide-into-your-pants pocket knife.

The knife that carries a bottle opener, corkscrew, scissors and screwdriver is a subject for another column altogether.

I even saw one of those knives with a hidden toothpick in it. Talk about the ultimate multitool! But that’s not what we’re talking about here today.

The pocket knives that became popular with farmers and others here in America took root in the early 20th century. The handle was often wood-grained, but it might also have a pearl or cracked-ice finish.

No self-respecting pocket knife owner would ever think about letting that instrument rust. True pocket knife lovers would tell you that a dull knife is a dangerous knife. It was never smart to struggle to cut something. Actually, those words of wisdom still apply today.

I have faint memories of playing a game as a child that involved throwing a knife at my brother’s feet.

I’m not sure where my parents were when this was going on. We must have been proficient at the game, though, because all of us reached adulthood with all 10 toes intact.

Sharpen your senses

If some people still carry pocket knives, what are the reasons?

Pride, protection and preparedness may be the most common answers.

I understand two of those three, but I’m still not sure how much protection a 2- or 3-inch blade might afford. Maybe in just the right circumstances in just the right hands, it might make a difference.

If everybody on a plane had a pocket knife, though, would we all be safer? I guess it depends on what the bad guys might be carrying.

Reach Warren Peper at 937-5577 or wpeper@postandcourier.com.