I never knew his name, but he was a familiar face. He didn’t live in our village, but he came often by and stayed for a few days. He sharpened tools, knifes and scissors. He was from the South of Italy; his face was dark brown and looked weathered. He wore old clothes; his pants and shoes were old and the knitted, patched up cardigan he wore had seen better days as well.
I never knew his name, he didn’t talk much, but he was a frequent visitor on our farm. He was a knife grinder and made a living traveling from village to village, from city to city. My Grandmother always fed him well and he slept in our barn numerous times. He stayed for a few days and brought our dull looking tools back to life. They always looked shiny and brand-new when he left and all the knives and scissors in our house worked like they had just been bought.
He was traveling around in the area during the summer time and everybody treated him nicely. He made a little bit and money here and there, but he looked like he didn’t have much.
My Grandmother always send him on his way, with homemade sausages, bread and other goodies out of our pantry, and she fed him well during the days when he stayed with us.
When I got older I tried to find jobs during my summer and winter vacations and one year, when I was 17, I worked all winter long at a small bank in the next town. The job was boring; since there was really nothing to do, but it paid a little bit and I could put money into my savings account.
Back then there were no computers and people had to come to the bank to update their saving book. Saving accounts were little booklets, that kept track of the amount saved and they showed the interest that the bank had to pay bank.
Once a year in January, the people came by the bank and stood in line to see how much money their savings had earned during the year.
That day we were busy. I still remember how mature and how important I had felt, after I had just updated my first savings book.
There was a long line of people and they all waited patiently their turn. I always felt uneasy when I recognized a person’s face, it felt like I was snooping into their private life. Nobody knew that I had 5000 shillings (Austrian money back then round about $250) saved up and so it just didn’t feel right to know their money secrets. I kept my head down and I tried not to look into people’s faces, just did my job and added a few shilling here and there to their life savings.
All of a sudden I opened a savings book and the amount of money I saw written down took my breath away. It showed over 800,000 Austrian Shillings (round about $40,000 back then).
The savings book looked old and it hadn’t been kept very well , it was creased and crinkly.
My curiosity got the best of me and I looked up and tried to find out who the owner was. I added the interest amount and called the name of the person, because I wanted to know who it belonged to. I was holding the saving book in my hand and waited for the person to come forward. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the old knife grinder stepped forward.
He wore the same old clothes and the some old shoes. He smiled at me, nodded his head and took his savings account.
I couldn’t believe it; the old man who slept every year in our barn and sharpened our tools had so much money saved up. The guy that looked like a homeless person could have had the nicest clothes and the biggest car.
I wanted to tell everybody about it, but decided not to, it just didn’t feel right.
A few months later he came by our farm -like he did every year- and he greeted me the same way he always did. We looked in each other’s eyes and he smiled, he recognized me.
He nodded his head and he went to work.