The informant is my papaw, KB, who is 68 years old and lives in Huntsville, TN, where I grew up. He was raised in the backwoods of an Appalachian region of Kentucky. He had lots of odd sayings and beliefs, but there is one superstition that I vividly remember throughout my childhood.
When I was young, I would often help my papaw work on stuff around the house or outside, which of course required tools, including the classic pocket knife.
KB-I remember when you couldn’t figure out how to close the knife, but I just couldn’t help you. I had to explain why I couldn’t, so I told you what I had always been taught. It’s bad luck to close a knife you didn’t open.
Interviewer- What would happen if you did?
KB- I don’t know and I don’t wanna find out. I just know it brings bad luck, especially with that knife, some say you end up accidentally stabbing yourself with it.
This superstition is one that my grandpa holds as a concrete rule of life, and for some reason, I do too. I do not necessarily believe I will have bad luck, but it’s a belief that’s been embedded in me. The power of folk belief is so strong that even though there is no evidence to support it, a multitude of people believe it. Though I could not find the origin of this folk belief, I did read about it on Appalachian Folklore pages, suggesting it was most commonly known in that region. There is an overarching theme of importance that Southern men assign to their tools, specifically their pocket knives. In my town, it’s a guarantee that if you look in a man’s pocket, you’ll find one, even in schools is extremely common. Therefore, it makes sense that folk beliefs would arise regarding the sacred tool. There could have been an ownership aspect to the beginning of the superstition. Perhaps the only person allowed to open and close the knife would be its rightful owner, promising if someone borrowed it, they would have to give it back or face a stroke of bad luck.