Monday, December 23, 2019

Notes from my Knapsack 1-2-20

Notes from my Knapsack 1-2-20

Jeff Gill


Tied up in knots



One challenge in growing up today is knowing when you have.


As the oldest in my family, I think back to the important step it meant when Mom let me put down a regular fork for one of my younger siblings instead of the salad fork that "little kids" used.


Older folk than I talk about getting long pants or other now past rituals of maturity. One that I share with earlier generations, which now is starting to make a divide between me and my younger cohorts, is the masculine act of tying a tie.


In younger days, I had the classic clip-on tie, bow or straight down type. But you knew you were on the direct route to manhood when you learned how to tie a tie, and it was your road to walk on your own when you tied it yourself.


Now I have about thirty ties in my closet, and rarely wear them. The holiday season gets out the six or seven I have that are Christmas themed, and there's a couple of Halloween and patriotic and religious ones each, plus a Chicago Cubs tie I had to get in the year of their World series victory. But more and more, ties are an anomaly, an aberration where they were once an expectation.


I'm a Christian preacher, yet even in church I'm often the only one in worship with a tie on, and truth be told I have a fair number of Sundays when I don't even wear one to preach – something I could not have imagined 30 years ago. I still feel a bit obligated to put one on for funerals and weddings, even when I'm not the officiant, but it's not unusual for even the groom to be open collar.


College presidents and captains of industry are eschewing neckwear; putting on a tie is a statement of sorts, but darned if I know what it is. I know bow ties are a Gordon Gee thing, and wearing one seems to suggest a certain sort of intellectualism, or at least idiosyncrasy. But I have to say on those occasions when I put on a hand-tied (not clip-on) bow tie, there's a certain awe, or perhaps just bewilderment, as other men ask "did you tie that yourself?" Knowing how to tie a necktie knot is an esoteric skill up there with rebuilding carburetors or sharpening an axe.


And I've found myself tying a great many ties at weddings for the groomsmen in the last decade. It's no longer a rite of passage for young men, and even fathers often aren't themselves up to speed with the whole Windsor, Four-in-hand, adjustable knot concept, so they can't teach it to sons.

Somewhere I heard that the necktie craze began with Croatian mercenaries having a certain flair for how they tied their scarves, marching into Paris, and these Croatians from Croatia by some linguistic devolution became "cravats." Could be, and I'd hate to look it up to disprove it. A fascinating book my fashion design professor sister told me about, "Sex and Suits," explained how the modern dress suit got its medieval start as foundational garb underneath a suit of armor. So why not a Croatian scarf giving birth to my Italian silk tie?


As you prepare for work, or play, or going to church, or costuming for an occasion, men just need to remember one thing: don't complain to women about having to tie a tie. Seriously, just don't.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he still wears ties, but not as often as he used to. Tell him about fashions you're glad or sad to see go out of style at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 12-28-19

Faith Works 12-28-19

Jeff Gill


The Package – a story



[This is a piece of fiction, fourth of four parts, for the Christmas season]


On the way into his town's only shoe repair shop, Jerry reflected on all the twists and turns that had taken him to this place.


He had gotten a package on his front porch, nicely wrapped in Christmas paper, which after some hesitation he'd opened up, to find a box re-used from another address, which he visited in hopes of clearing up the mystery of the gift.


The lady in a wheelchair there had confirmed that the box inside the wrapping paper was something she'd discarded, and together they'd opened it up to find a used but well repaired pair of boots. They enjoyed their conversation over the puzzle, talked about their personal history a bit, and agreed to meet again; Jerry had also agreed to deliver a load of boxes she had waiting on her porch to the Salvation Army, filling in for a church friend whose vehicle had broken down.


He'd ended up eating at the soup kitchen, making more friends with the cooking crew and had offered to come back next month to help them cook – he'd make more new friends in the last 24 hours, Jerry reflected, than he had in the last fifty years. And then he was about to introduce himself to the cobbler whose tag was still attached to the boots he'd received without any other information.


Inside the shop, he did just that, explaining his curiosity about the nearly-new boots that had come to him in such a seasonal but surprising fashion. The cobbler at the counter turned the boots over, looking at the soles and nodding in agreement: "yes, that was my work." And he flipped around the tag, where only a number remained above the missing part below the perforation.


"Do you know who had you fix up these boots?" Jerry asked.

"Well, yes," said the cobbler. "I have the records, and I know who, but I'm not sure about telling you. It seems almost, well, unethical."


"Oh," replied Jerry. He hadn't considered the possibility that the shoe repair place wouldn't tell him. The trail ended here.


"Look," the cobbler said, leaning across the counter. "I don't think I can tell you his name or give you his phone number, but . . . you see him every week."


Jerry walked out, holding his boots, and went back home thinking through what he'd learned at the shoe repair place. The package came from someone he saw every week. Not the mail delivery person, that was someone he saw multiple times a week, ditto the paper delivery. He was lucky, he didn't see his doctor every week like some did; he didn't attend church, or hadn't for years, anyhow, but it wasn't a pastor. So who was it? And then it hit him.


The next time Jerry took his trash tote out to the curb, he waited until he heard the rumble of diesel around the corner; he stood there with it as the garbage truck came up and the driver swung down out of the cab. His beard was broad and white and bushy, and while his tan coveralls were stained and a bit ragged on the cuffs, he had a bright red stocking cap with a bright fuzzy snowball on the top.


"Hey there, Jerry," said the garbage man.

"Hello, um – I don't think I ever learned your name," he answered.

"It's Nick. Good to meet you official, like; don't shake, I'm sticky," replied Nick, offering a fist bump. Jerry bumped him back, then pointed down.


"How do you like my boots?"


"They look good on you. Hey, I hope you didn't mind; I pick up all kinds of too good to toss stuff and throw it in the cab. You came running out a few weeks ago with your trash late, and your boots looked so ratty I thought, hey, why not. You seem like a nice guy, and they looked like your size. They fit?"

"They do. But those were just my, sort of, slipper boots for shoving my feet into. I have a good pair."


"Oh, I'm sure you do," said the garbage guy, having swung the totes into the truck as they talked, and as he was about to jump back into the cab. "If you really can't use 'em, pay it forward, I always say. You never know what good you do by passing your blessings along."


As the truck moved on down the street, Jerry thought, no, you never really do, do you?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you've learned about paying it forward at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.