Pipe Dreams

There are many things in short supply in this modern world. There is not enough kindness and not enough love. Ok, those are easy. Here is another: there are not nearly enough old men who smoke pipes.

When I was young, an old man smoking a pipe was a common thing. My grandfather smoked a pipe and so did my Uncle Bob – although he surely would not have thought of himself as old.

They stood out in a world where most of the smokers burned cigarettes. My father, for example, was a Tareyton smoker. I was like most children of cigarette smokers and considered secondhand cigarette smoke the most vile thing imaginable. But the smoke that wafted from the pipes of older men were like, well, a breath of fresh air. Where cigarette smoke was stale and acrid, pipe smoke was fragrant. Where the cigarette smoker took drags during almost any activity imaginable, pipe smokers were usually calmly sitting reading the paper or having a nice conversation.

Cigarettes were a smoke of convenience. OK, and of addiction. But pipes were something different – they were a hobby unto themselves. All hobbies have their paraphanelia, and pipe smokers had theirs. In addition to the pipes themselves, there were pouches for tobacco, little metal tools for tamping and scraping, the little fuzzy pipe cleaners, the ashtrays with the cork knobs in the center (for thumping and emptying an upside-down pipe bowl) and even some unique lighters.

I was always mesmerized by the pipe smoker’s rituals. I still remember a visit to my college roommate’s Uncle Bert, a retired history professor. During a wide-ranging conversation, he was constantly at his pipe. He would pick it up and light it, puff on it, then set it down. A few minutes later he might dig out some burnt tobacco and dip the bowl into the pouch of fresh tobacco. He would tamp it down. Then light it again, and I would wait for that sweet, fragrant aroma to waft over my way. That pipe was his companion and he seemed incomplete without it.

The men with pipes were also seen in the old movies. Those men always seemed so wise and thoughtful.

Pipe smokers were men of authority! The kind of men whose opinions were valued and who were not swayed by fads.

And everyone knows that Santa Clause is a dedicated pipe smoker.

I tried to become a pipe smoker when I was in college. I imagined how great it would be to be in total control of that fragrant cloud, and went (with my similarly inclined roommate) to a local drugstore to get equipped. First came the inexpensive Dr. Grabow pipe, in an appropriately sophisticated style. Hillbilly corncob pipes may have been fine for both Granddad and Uncle Bob, but not for me, nosir! Then the plastic pouch of Borkum Riff tobacco, and matches. Lots of matches. And away I went.

It was not a great experience. The taste was bitter, it burned my tongue, and it was just not that enjoyable. The other problem is that I was, by then, a cigarette smoker as well, and the pipe just didn’t provide the nicotine hit that I craved. And thus the dilemma – it seemed that pipes gave most of the enjoyment to the onlookers and almost none of it to the smoker, where cigarettes flipped the script in the other direction.

I later picked up some more information and bought a better pipe and better tobacco. By the time I was an adult I had happened upon a small tobacco store with a knowledgeable man at the counter. He pointed out the jars of fresh tobacco blends and after listening to my tale recommended one called (I still remember it) Banker’s Blend. What a revelation – it was not bitter, it was fresh and moist (where the drugstore stuff had been dried out) and finally offered me (as the piper) all of the enjoyment a pipe had provided to me (as the pipee).

Two people who are NOT the author and Marianne

But a funny thing happened, which was that I met the lady I would later marry. She would put up with a lot of things, but there was one area where we had a major incompatibility: She could not abide kissing a smoker. It was understandable, really. As a non-smoker, I had not enjoyed that experience either, so as a then-smoker I understood. I had been on an on-again/off-again relationship with cigarettes for awhile and I totally quit smoking on the day I got married. Other than maybe five or six of cigars over the past thirty one years I have remained smoke free.

But I still kind of miss those old pipes. I have been thinking about this recently after a friend and fellow blogger began a blogging project devoted to the pipe-smoking life. He is the son of that long-ago roommate, a man who eventually upped his pipe-smoking game far beyond what I ever attained. The new blog’s opening effort pointed out all of the rookie mistakes I had made those many years ago and also reminded me of how the fragrant aroma of pipe smoke has virtually vanished from modern life. I wonder if I could pay him to just ride around in the car with me for good conversation spiced with the pleasant aroma of pipe smoke.

I am still married to that lady who does not desire to indirectly partake of pipe smoking in hubby’s smooches, and am happy to honor that preference by leaving my old pipes packed away – uh, somewhere. But I have let her know that should I outlive her, there may be one old man who will fight the tides and re-ignite an ancient tradition. That day I may up the count of old men who smoke pipes by exactly one.

Image Credits: Long-ago advertising for pipes and pipe tobacco as well as one for pipe-smoking wearers of swimwear. All of which are either in the public domain or which are still effectively hawking the depicted merchandise. All such advertisements are being published gratis, so for any extant purveyor of advertised items, you are quite welcome for the complimentary ad space.

23 thoughts on “Pipe Dreams

  1. My Dad was a dedicated cigar and pipe smoker since I can remember. He gave up on pipes when he said he “lost his pipe tooth”, which was the tooth he always rested the pipe against in his mouth. I became a cigar smoker, since by example men smoked cigars, but flirted with a pipe every now and again. Somewhere in my storage space, I have all my Dads old pipes. I’ve flirted with pipe smoking every now and again, you’re correct that the smell is wonderful, but it can be very ‘fiddly’, and you’re correct again, more of a hobby that cigar smoking. You’ll be glad to know, in my city, there’s actually a pipe club that meets at a local cigar lounge every Saturday morning, and yes, there are women in that club as well. They also have an old pipe smoker that repairs pipes, and polishes up the stems etc., can make a pipe look like new; I’ve been thinking about taking my Dad’s pipes in there.

    I believe Smokers Choice in Brownsburg Indiana, one of my favorite cigar lounges nationally, also has pipe people that meet there, call or check the website for info. And I have to say, I defend the corn-cob pipe as a cheap way to get into pipe smoking, and quite a smooth smoke as well. You’ll be happy to know when I had a pal whose son was first going to college, I gave him a “care package” of books, music, AND a pipe with one of the blends I used to like! Isn’t that when you were first supposed to smoke a pipe?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess the lesson is to start before my teeth start to fall out. 🙂

      I have come to appreciate the humble corncob. I thought myself too good for it when I was young, but I appreciate things that are both good and simple far more now.


  2. Ah yes, the smell of a pipe instantly takes me back to childhood. My grandfather too was a constant pipe smoker, I remember his pouches of Amphora tobacco and watching him relight the pipe several times to make sure all of it had burned.

    Unfortunately the pipe was also responsible for his sandpaper-like voice in later years, and for the esophageal cancer that killed him. So although I`d love to be a pipe smoker I don`t want the full effect. Is there a way to light one and just leave it around for the occasional whiff, like incense?

    If you ever get yourself a Studebaker I think you’ll need to get out your pipe and buy a fedora, if only for appearances.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Gaaa, I knew somebody would bring up that pesky cancer thing. I agree that a lifetime of pipe smoking can be harmful to a fellow’s health, but that’s the beauty of my plan – I figure that by the time I start back in I will be old enough that everything else will be wrong with me too.

      And I agree – the interior of a Studebaker simply must be steeped in pipe smoke aroma.


  3. Thanks for the shout out! Nice to hear some provenance regarding your early years. I will firmly puff until I puff no more, with a bevy of listerine strips hidden everywhere for repeated use.

    In a world where everything will eventually kill us, I think pipe-smoking’s relatively benign. Better than cigarettes at least, perhaps. I smoke both so screw it, I say.

    A drop of peppermint oil clears the palate from most of smoke mouth, but it takes some Jameson and salt to clear a Grabow or Sav of the borkum riff!


  4. Also- hell yeah! Find a beater and I’ll drive around and pontificate about a wide range of topics with a pipe in my hand. Sounds fun.

    Your car mentor Howard had a favorite blend at Riegel’s in Georgetown called “Floor Sweepings”. The bulldog pipe stand I take all of my photos with came from him.

    Dad has a Shideler’s blend. John got an ounce and a half of it a couple of years ago. Georgetown, at least, keeps all of their old custom blends in a rolodex.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I also had an Uncle Bob who was a pipe smoker. Yes, the pipe tobaccos had (have, I guess) a very different, nice smell. He had a lamp that had a table/ashtray that went all the way around it and a special rack for his several pipes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My father must have tried smoking pipes for about fifteen minutes because he owned a nice little wooden pipe rack with a compartment for tobacco. Which I found in the attic and appropriated for myself. When I eventually find my pipes I will find that too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I was never interested in smoking but could not resist the call and image of the pipe when I flirted with them in college. My pipes disappeared when my wife arrived. It never occurred to me that I could possibly outlive her but you raise an interesting scenario!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess smoking a pipe will be a great pasttime for an introverted old man – it will probably repel a moderate amount of company, and leave lots more time for reading and writing. 🙂


  7. In my early 20s, I sporadically smoked from a pipe with friends of mine in college at parties; I always enjoyed it but didn’t personally adopt the habit beyond that. When I was 18/19 years old, I tried being someone who would occasionally indulge in high quality cigars, but I quickly realized that I was unwilling to commit the funds or the time to making that an ongoing thing, especially during the winter when it would have meant spending quite a while outside in the cold smoking one, and usually without company. I still enjoy a cigar here and there, but maybe once a year if I’m lucky.

    For me, moderate tobacco use (pipes, hookah, cigars, etc.), much like alcohol, is fun in social settings. These days I spend time with quite a few people who smoke cigarettes, and while I have no intention of picking up that habit, I will say that, for them, it does seem to facilitate socialization with other smokers. Everybody goes out and smokes together, and talks while they smoke, all the while knowing they have at least one thing in common. I’ve definitely seen friendships form that way. I’m also kind of envious of them for that; although, for health reasons, I think I’ll stick with the path I’m on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is funny, I quit cigarettes almost 32 years ago (I will have to write about that experience some time) and do not dare have another because I will be immediately sucked back into a life of nicotine dependency. Ask me how I know. However, I have had an occasional cigar since that time and I am left able to either smoke another the next day or not have another for the next 3 years and I’ll be fine either way. I presume it’s because cigars (and pipes) are not about the inhaling but about the puffing.

      I can say from experience that there is camaraderie from being part of any group of outsiders, smokers included.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just an FYI, cigarettes have a ton of nicotine in them, at one time the cigarette manufacturers actually put MORE nicotine in them because they said that they wanted to make sure that the smoker received the same amount of nicotine blast from each stick! Some manufacturers may still be doing this. The way they manufacturer cigars, where they stack up the dried leaves, wet them down, and let the stack reach a certain temperature, before they break the stack down and rebuild it again, and repeat the process, actually leeches nicotine out of the leaves. This lowers the level of nicotine substantially. You are correct, it is a “taste” thing like wine. In fact, a high level of nicotine is what allows you to inhale smoke into your lungs, it actually anesthetizes the lungs. If you ever get a lung full of cigar smoke, you’ll be lucky if you don’t pass out! I’m 67, and have been smoking cigars on and off since I was 20, and if I can’t “taste” it, because I have a cold or some other taste reducing malady, I don’t bother to smoke, and I never have any type of withdrawal that makes me crave having one soon. The only people I know who actually claim to inhale cigar smoke are life-long cigarette smokers whose lungs are probably damaged beyond belief anyway. My Dad smoked cigars since the end of WWII, and died at 87, with no smoking related maladies.

        Cigar “chompers”, i.e. those who have one stuck in their puss at every moment and chew on it, have the same level of mouth cancer as “chaw” users (something as a city boy, I never saw at all, and a supremely dirty habit). As we all know, “chaw” is the worst cancer habit, followed by cigarettes, then pipe tobacco, followed by cigars (but practically never because of lung cancer). Pipe tobacco cancer may, may, have more to do with the fact that you are smoking flavor additives or even sugar, no one knows. Much pipe tobacco is ground up cigarette tobacco that doesn’t have the same processing as cigar tobacco, so may contain higher levels of nicotine. Nicotine is the devil here, with a similar experience to “kick” like heroin!


  8. My grandfather smoked a pipe and usually used some type of cherry tobacco in it. I can recall him puffing away when we were visiting my grandparents when I was a youngster. He had his chair, (a worn straight-back chair that had seen better days) and beside it, a stand-up ashtray (wonder if they still make them?) I can picture him sitting there in a cloud of smoke. When he wasn’t in his chair smoking the pipe, he was on a low footstool in front of the TV jeering or cheering the Maple Leafs or various wrestlers at Maple Leaf Gardens.


  9. Your blog brings back memories of my Uncle Jim who would smoke a pipe when he came over to visit my dad. I remember it as a rather pleasant smell, with a tinge of vanilla to it? (Neither of my parents smoked). Unfortunately my uncle developed a sore on his lip in his later years, and there went the pipe smoking. I have in my possession a shoebox of old items from my dad’s side of the family, old jewelry and pocket watches, and there are quite a few ancient corn-cob pipes in it dating back to my grandfather (who I never met) and great-grandfather etc.


  10. I can only think of one person I ever knew who smoked a pipe – he of my parent’s generation and me a mere child. Way back in the 1970’s. I don’t smoke but I have to admit the pipe always seemed a classy look, similar to a pocket watch. Certainly beats the look (and smell) of a cigar. And glad you included Bing Crosby in the images. I can picture him in at least one of his films with a pipe. Not even sure it was lit; more of a prop to enhance his acting.


  11. Pingback: 2022 – Crossing The Finish Line | J. P.'s Blog

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