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).
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.