Tom Ridge might not appreciate the extent of my sacrifice, but I have now made a generous contribution to homeland security.

Of course, Tom might not get the point as one who says he has to leave his post as secretary of homeland security because he cannot get by on $175,000. I cannot relate to that any more than he understands the real value of a 25-cent purchase more than 50 years ago.

Under the special circumstances one day in their lives, a band of newspaper editors and reporters might have thought my little item worth all of Mr. Secretary's salary, although the whole lot of them might have struggled to come up with just the initial two bits.

That doesn't mean they wouldn't have thought it worth the price, though. The gang who traveled through British Columbia about 30 years ago should know that the item they once revered is no longer with us.

Like any item that even marginally resembles a knife when it enters airport screening these days, my 25-center has paid the ultimate price. It has been confiscated and probably destroyed by some of Mr. Ridge's bureaucrats who know too little of merit as opposed to replacement costs.

I do not blame them, however. I know better. While hurrying to Portland International I simply forgot about the penknife I have carried on a chain in my pocket since circa 1950.

Hardly uppermost in my thoughtsIt was not a full-fledged jackknife by any means. I am wise enough to leave the pocket knife behind when I even start to think about entering the airport.

The little penknife, on the other hand, hardly entering my consciousness as a knife of any kind. It had about an inch and a half blade, one blade only and that one would not stay sharp for more than five minute. But it did come in handy at times. Like sawing a banana in half. Beyond that I have trouble thinking of its capable pursuits.

There was an exception, though; that bus tour of members of the press through British Columbia.

It was hot and even bus travel can be wearying when bounding around all day over chunks of blacktop that passed for highways in British Columbia several yeas ago.

Someone more familiar with the climate had sensed as much and, lo and behold, when we came to a spot in the middle of nowhere, what should appear from the car that stopped to meet us but a treasure trove of ice-cold beer.

Oh, did the cheers go up, even from reporters who did not approve of the beverage. Yes, there is a small offshoot of that persuasion within the noble profession.

But the cheers soon turned to outrage when no bottle opener showed up with the bottles. Those who were such heroes a minute before now faced a hostile mob of thirsty reporters.

But then I remembered: My penknife purchased for 25 cents those decades earlier. It had a small, not terribly efficient bottle opener at the foot of the blade. It wasn't much. But it was enough to open every one of those bottles of beer that hot B.C. afternoon.

You think that wasn't worth Mr. Ridge's whole salary that he cannot live on? It was the only opener of any type in that bus that day and I was something of a hero, because I had it.

Had it, that is, for another 25 years or so until I made the mistake of going to the Portland Airport. No, I made the mistake of not leaving my handy little gadget at home.

The lady who snatched it was nice about it. She suggested that I could take it out of the airport to the car and leave it there. But we wanted to get to the event that was our destination sometime before the cleaning crews took over. Besides, one trip through security is enough for any airplane traveler these days.

If I had to go into self-defense mode, I think I would have had more protection from the fingernail clipper that shared the chain with that knife, but I still have it.

But that's all right. I knew the rules. I also know why they exist. And I suppose my little penknife was destined to pay a price by giving its life to homeland security.

It was there when it counted, however; standing tall as a 25-cent draftee beside Tom Ridge's inadequate $175,000. And I bet there are still several old reporters and editors hanging around their favorite haunts who recall the time a knife smaller than their little finger saved the day in B.C. one hot afternoon.

"Wonder what happened to that funny little knife with the bottle opener on it," one old veteran will venture.

I cannot bear to tell him.

Jerry Tippens is a retired journalist who writes an occasional column about south Clatsop County and the Nehalem Valley.


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