For Sale: Grandpa’s Nail Clippers

I wrote this piece as part of a class competition. SPOILERS, if I hadn’t done well would I have included it here? The competition was who could write the story that created the biggest emotional response? It didn’t have to be true. The contest started in groups of five. Everyone read each other’s stories and voted for the best. The top two would move on and be read to the whole class. The professor read these stories and the groups would deliberate before voting. During deliberation, the professor endorsed this story and I ended up winning a gift card.

The nail clippers that saved a life.

            For sale: Antique finger nail clippers. Reasons to buy, the amazing story about the life they saved and the guardian angels that accompany the person who carries them.

            This isn’t a ghost story about a spirit trapped in an object, waiting to be free. This isn’t a story about a doll that was so beloved by a deceased girl that the mother’s spirit protects the doll at all costs. This is a real story about a tradition held by many brave men and the reason why they carry something so odd with them all of the time.

            My grandfather was a kind man. He spent a lot of time in his workshop, he liked turning wood. He made some fantastic bowls on his lathe. I remember camping with him in the summers. When he wasn’t asleep in his chair from listening to the birds, he was sliding a specialized blade across a piece of fallen aspen that he had found. He had a lot of these knives. They were crafted especially for carving wood. They allowed him to make shapes and patterns that wouldn’t be easily achieved with your standard pen knife. Although grandpa always seemed to have one of those on his person too.

            Summer after summer, we would spend time together. I began to notice that he had a few things with him wherever he went. For a while I thought it was curious. We would leave the house and I would tease him, “Did you bring your knife?” Sure enough. He had it. One day, he replied “I’ve got everything I need. I have my knife, my keys, and my clippers.” I had noticed that he had nail clippers with him everywhere he went. But they were always attached to his keys. I assumed it was a convenience thing. After all, they came in handy when the knife slipped, and he nicked a finger-nail.

He handed me the keys, so I could start the car and drive us away. This time, I paid special attention to the nail clippers. They seemed simple enough. They felt heavier than the kind mother always trimmed my nails with. I asked grandpa how old the clippers were. He told me that he had gotten them back when he joined the airborne. The airborne was a unique group of soldiers that would use parachutes to position themselves behind enemy lines. Grandpa had served with them but didn’t really talk about it.

For some reason, on this day. He opened up and told me a story about a mission he was part of. He jumped out of the plane and began falling toward the jungle. That particular day was a bit stormier than he was accustomed to. The fall was hard to control. He managed to fall at a safe speed, but couldn’t really direct himself to a good, flat landing spot. He said it was more important to him to fall at a safe speed at the time. Although after this experience, he regretted that idea.

His chute ended up getting caught in a tree. He was left dangling just a few feet above the ground. The force of his harness catching his body weight had tightened the restraining straps significantly. He couldn’t get them undone because of the awkward angle his body was in. Gravity had him strapped in tight. He pulled out his knife and began working on the lines connecting his harness to the chute. It would be easier to cut those than to cut the harness without cutting himself. After all, a skilled wood carver never cuts toward himself.

After cutting the first line, he fell a short way before the other line caught him. The force of the fall caused him to lose his grip on the knife, which was wet from the storm. He was trapped. He told me about the fears that raced through his mind in that moment. He expressed his frustration that he had survived the jump only to be stuck like this, waiting for some more painful demise. Thoughts of starvation, imprisonment, and suicide by strangulation chased each other through his mind. As any man would do, he felt around for something else that could free him. He stumbled across a set of fingernail clippers. It seemed like a long – shot to him. But he began to work. Eventually, he freed himself from the remaining parachute lines. He was able to return to his squadron where they were able to save a few lives.

He has carried those clippers with him for years and not told anyone about the memories that lie in them. He believed that the souls of those people on that day had much respect for the simple tool that was used beyond its purpose and aided in their rescue. He believed that they offered some kind of protection to him. Even if it was just mental. He never suffered from any kind of stress disorder or emotional trauma. He believed that there was a reason he needed to keep those clippers.

Grandpa is gone now. I hope that this story fills you with hope to say that there is always a way out. Even if it isn’t designed that way.

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