The Art of Graceful Disappearance

Wayne Thomas, my friend and colleague since 1986, and business partner for over 15 years, has decided to retire at the end of the month. Wayne has always been a world traveler and he has decided to roll up his house, store only his most essential possessions, and to live light at various places of his choosing around the world. A truly enviable retirement and we all wish him good fortune, health, and joy.

I have already been the beneficiary of Wayne’s retirement in the form of interesting book donations (finally I have a copy of Skene’s again), drafting tools (I still like to lay out concepts by hand, and his drafting tools are much nicer than mine) and socket sets.

The process has been under way for about a month, and just about every day Wayne checked in at the office with a: “I have a gizzymewhat, does anybody want it?” Some are gratefully accepted by his colleagues and others end up tossed in the dumpster behind the office, or become donations to various charities.

During this period I was on vacation, and when I returned to the office I found a little pocket knife on my keyboard.

Wayne was not in that day and I wondered where it came from. It was a knife I recognized as identical to a knife I had known and owned in my distant past, but had not seen in decades, if not longer. It was a quite pretty Wilton Fijenoord Shipyard pocket knife, but it was fouled, corroded and covered with green ink. I wondered if it was the same knife, or a knife that had turned up somewhere and was left on my desk due to the Dutch connection.

I opened it, and when I closed it, I noticed that the small blade interfered with the large blade when it was folded back in. And that fired off a ton of synapses. That small blade had a small bent in it, which blocked the larger blade when it was folded back in, and that was the knife I owned so many years ago!

I took it home and spent some time cleaning it up and it was much nicer than I ever remembered it to be. I don’t remember how it came into my possession, but my family always had a strong connection with that shipyard. A large project on the SS Nieuw Amsterdam that Henk van Hemmen ran in that yard in 1968 actually was the cause for our eventual move to the United States. That knife was my father’s and came with us to the United States in 1976, and somehow I ended up using it after that.

When Wayne returned to the office, I asked him if he had left it on my keyboard and he said he found it in one of his father’s toolboxes that had been in storage forever, and, since it was a Dutch knife, he figured I might want it.

I provided him with my proof that I used to own it, and that completely mystified us both. Wayne strongly agreed that a Dutch shipyard knife was very unlikely to have belonged to his Ohio father, and he had no personal recollection of ever having seen it before. I had never been near his father’s tool box, there was no reason for it to end up in that toolbox, and I certainly had not seen that knife in a decade or much longer.

This left us confused, but it also provides an interesting connection between Wayne and I that reflects deeply on our long friendship. Wayne and I first worked together when we worked for Johan Valentijn in Newport, RI in 1986. It is entirely possible that I had that knife on my desk and that at some stage Wayne used it. When he packed up to go back to school, it ended up in his possession, accidentally or as a gift. It is equally possible that it ended up in Wayne’s possession at any other stage in our 35 year working relationship.

The actual path matters little, the knife is back and it will reside on my keepsake shelf together with other keepsakes such as pieces of famous ships, AK-47 pens, a half evaporated mini bottle of Mescal with worm, and some shackles that were overloaded and bent in Newport in 1986.

Wayne is insistent on not memorializing his retirement, but inadvertently he did, and provided me with an excellent memento of our long working relationship and friendship by enhancing this little knife beyond its original significance by this strange long trip it took.

It also shows that the past never leaves and continues to build new trails into the future. We cherish our past Wayne, but we all are looking forward to learning about the new trails you will be blazing.

Happy Trails!