The Pearl Handle Pocketknife

Writer Audrey McDonald Atkins takes Christmas Day from down in the dumps — quite literally — to jubilant.

Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins

The pearl handle pocketknife.

It was a gift from Granny to Baw one Christmas long ago. A gentleman’s knife, it was a fine little thing, a knife you could take to church. No, it wasn’t any ordinary, everyday knife to scrape the dirt from under your nails or sharpen a pencil. It was fancy, like a piece of jewelry you could carry in your pocket.

Somehow, though, in all the Christmas whirlwind of tissue, colored paper, and ribbon, the pearl handle pocketknife was lost. Baw was crestfallen. Despondent. A search was launched. Had it been thrown away with the trash? The knife was never to be found, and we never knew what happened to it.

- Sponsors -

And that’s how the pearl handle pocketknife became part of family lore.

And that’s why every Christmas since, when someone receives a tiny treasure, as soon as the teensy gift has been opened and exclaimed upon, someone will say, “Put it away! Don’t let it be like the pearl handle pocketknife!” You can count on it. Every year.

This Christmas, the presents had all been opened, the pearl handle pocketknife invoked, and all the trash gathered and taken out to the Dumpster. As we were basking in the holiday glow and contemplating a preprandial libation, it occurred to me that I had not seen Mama open one of my gifts to her — her main gift — a string of quartz, pearl, and turquoise beads. Had I wrapped it? Where was it? Surely she had gotten it. Surely.

I tried to be sly.

“So, Mama, did you open all of your presents?”

“I think I did,” she said.

“Did you have one from me? Maybe a smaller gift wrapped with a bigger one?”

“I got the socks you gave me,” she said.

By this time, I had attracted the attention of Daddy, Husband, and Brother.

“Was there anything else in the sock bag?”

“Well, I don’t know,” she says. “The bag was thrown away.”

Thrown away? Thrown away! Just like the pearl handle pocketknife! 

We dashed outside and into the alley where the Dumpsters stand. To our relief, our bags of trash were still close to the top. By perching on the retaining wall and leaning most of my upper body into the belly of the beast, I was able to reach our garbage bags and drag them out past the dinner remnants, commode parts, and other refuse. Frantically flinging wrapping paper right and left, and attracting more than one curious look from passersby, I managed to find the missing gift bag.

And the beads were still inside, waiting to be unwrapped. Waiting for Mama. Found, unlike the pearl handle pocketknife.

What else did we find among all that trash? A happy ending! So next year as we unwrap our gifts in a flurry of colored paper, ribbon and tissue, instead of worrying about what may be lost forever, we can remember what was found, and laugh as we recount a new piece of family lore — the tale of how we fished a string of beads out of the Dumpster on Christmas Day.

Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog

Get the best of Mobile delivered to your inbox

Be the first to know about local events, home tours, restaurant reviews and more!