Renea's Pocket Knife

A few years ago while attending a writer’s conference in Calhoun, Georgia, I met the ever-so-vivacious, Renea Winchester. I quickly learned that Renea is a writing dynamo, composing stories and books that appeal to me on a very personal level. I devoured her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes, and upon reading the last page, jumped up from the comfort of my recliner and blurted out, “Bravo, Renea, Bravo!”

 Renea Winchester's keepsake story is about her uncle's pocket knife.

Renea Winchester's keepsake story is about her uncle's pocket knife.

So, when I began my journey of collecting keepsake stories from my small network of friends, family members, and other writers, I called on her. I knew that if Renea could find time in her busy schedule to contribute a story to the project, that her story would wow me. And as expected, I was wowed

Renea’s story is Project Keepsake perfection. Her words embody the essence of the project—that the items we keep hold deep, powerful memories. We keep things to help us remember.

She wrote about a pocket knife—an heirloom from her uncle. Renea revealed the origin, the history, and the memories associated with the blade. Renea’s story titled, “Uncle James’ Pocket Knife,” begins on page 10 of the book. Here’s a short excerpt from her masterpiece.

When he wasn’t working for the power company, he converted chunks of wood into beautiful creations. Using a simple pocketknife, he transformed wood into wonders doing so with an expertise I secretly longed to emulate. Back then, only boys were allowed to whittle. The same holds true today. There aren’t many women carvers.

No one in the family could have anticipated my uncle’s sudden death, or the enormous hole his home-going created.

During the spring of 2012, his daughter-in-law, Gail, honored his memory by attending Decoration Day. Instead of bringing a green bean casserole or a bucket of fried chicken, she brought a knife case filled with James’ collection.

“I thought some of the nephews might like one of his knives,” she announced.

As the boys gathered around, I whispered my request to her, “Can I pick one out?”

She nodded.

Peering into the red-velvet-lined case, I waited my turn as others selected new knives probably because they believed that the unopened boxes contained the more expensive tools.

“That’s a good knife,” one nephew said as the blade clicked into place.

“Go ahead,” I urged them secretly in my heart, “Take your knives, just leave the one I want.”

I waited my turn praying silently that the most valuable knife would remain when my turn came. With scratched silver edges and visible bits of rust, the knife I wanted had jingled with pocket change and been dumped on the dresser at the end of each tiring day. Bending my fingers around the tool, I slowly opened the blades. Testing each with my thumb, I struggled with my emotions. I could almost see James’ fingers forcing the blade into a piece of cherry. The blades—worn slick with use—were, to me, perfect and priceless.

With a pierced heart and cascading tears, I closed the knife, pressed it to my heart then said in a trembling voice, “I’ll take this one because it still bears his fingerprints. I want it because I remember him using it.”
— Renea Winchester, "Uncle James' Pocket Knife" from Project Keepsake

Most recently, Renea released Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches (Mercer University Press), another rollicking read brimming with stories of life, love, and connections. Like her first literary work, the beloved Billy Albertson is front and center. Renea shares bits and pieces of her days spent with Billy and the interesting parade of friends, family, and neighbors who frequent Billy’s urban farm.

 Winchester's new book is a rollicking read! Available at brick-and-mortar bookstores and online at major booksellers.

Winchester's new book is a rollicking read! Available at brick-and-mortar bookstores and online at major booksellers.

She also fuses dozens of Southern-inspired recipes into her stories. Readers learn the magic of pouring a small bag of Lance peanuts into a bottle of ice-cold Coca-Cola—a delicacy that took me back in time to my childhood. Cream-style corn. Microwaved Moon Pies. Buttermilk biscuits. She included so many Southern favorites and all are meticulously woven into her narratives. 

Thank you, Renea! Thank you for contributing your keepsake story to Project Keepsake. Thank you for being the voice of encouragement during the low points of my publishing journey—your friendship and candor sustained me. Most of all, thank you for your books that are as radiant as you are—shining a light on the things in life that are most important.


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