Friday, May 8, 2015

Knives at Dawn

Well, maybe it wasn't really dawn, but that makes a good title.  Picture this:  2 young men in pegged jeans that hang off their hip bones.  They both have jack knives in their hands.  A crowd gathers of similarly dressed young men.  They too have knives.  Young girls and children gather to watch the duel. They are all on the edge of the school yard.  The two men start to throw their knives.  Where are the school officials, the police?  Well the 1950's and 1960's were anther time.

This was not a fight, it was a daily game of knives skills.  Back then all young boys/men had pocket knives of various blade lengths.  Some girls had knives.  They were taught how to use a knife, and not to use it on another person.  Teachers didn't freak out over knives in a class room, no big deal.

But what were these young men doing?  They were playing Split, a version of mumbley peg. (I tried to set up some links but Google is bonkers today and nothing will load.) So my knowledge of mumbley peg is it is a old knife throwing game with many versions.  Mark Twain wrote about the game in one of the Tom Sawyer books.  Some versions you had to complete 15 different throws of the knife.  Other versions involved throwing the knifes at targets, often feet,  and some versions they threw while sitting in a circle.

I imagine every town had their own house rules.  I told a friend about mumbley peg and in her home town it was a marble game.  How tame.

Split is a very skilled knife throwing game.  The two people stood facing each other, each of them had their heels and toes touching.  The object was to throw a knife at the outside of the opposite person's foot.  The knife had to stand up when it landed.  You had to hit within a certain distance toward the foot.  If you did, the person had to move his foot out to where the knife hit.  If you weren't in that distance, the other person threw toward you.  This went on until your opponent spread his feet so far apart he couldn't stand, or the knife hit the foot.  In all the years I watched this game, I never saw anyone hurt. 

Can you imagine that game on a school yard today?  There would be reporters, police, and court cases.  This was a very normal game and no one worried about it.  From second grade until I graduated from high school( all on the same campus), I watched them throw knives.  I admired their skills, and never really worried about a body hit.  Kentucky boys are very skilled with knives. 

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