“Will you use it, Mama?”
“Do you really like it?”
“I’ll treasure it until I die.”
We were talking about a kitchen knife that my son brought back from his trip to Kinmen this past weekend. Kinmen is a little island in the South China Sea that is administered by Taiwan.
He said he had no money left for souvenirs, because he spent it all on this knife. It is one of those traditional square-shaped ones my grandma had. She used it to hack at bones to make pig knuckle soup.
But this one is not an ordinary knife. It is made of artillery shells that were fired from the mainland China in the 50s. On top of that, it has dragon scale patterns in the steel that was created by a special process.
If it were not for this knife, I would have forgotten that China shelled Kinmen. Yes, of course, we all learned pao da Kinmen in history class, “shell Kinmen” that is. I had to look it up what year it was (1958). I also wanted to check how many were fired, because the knife shop catalog said “millions of shells”. Well, I didn’t find a number from an authoritative source. A Chinese article said that 20,000 were fired in the first hour on a 1958 day. Maestro Wu’s shop has been making knives ouf of those shells.
His catalog said Maestro Wu is the 3rd generation of a business that started in 1937. His grandfather used to carry a small stove on a bamboo stick, traveling around the island and making knives for folks. When there was a shortage of raw materials during the Japanese occupation period (1895-1945), he began using artillery shells of allied forces to make knives. Then there are the shells fired from mainland China.
“But it is not stainless steel, Mama, you really have to take care of it.”
“I know. My grandma never had a stainless steel knife, you see, I know how to take care of it.” I smiled back.
“What if it gets rusty?”
“I’ll have to polish it on a sharpening block to take the rusty layer off.”
We made tomato chicken pasta last night. The knife is the sharpest I’ve ever had.
I cleaned it, dry it, and smeared oil on it, just like my grandma used to do.
How history walks into my life just like this.