Rummaging around the pachyderm-sized briar herd recently, I ran across old friends and one surprising ancient addition.
You know how it is. For sentimental reasons, you begin to yearn for those dear memories and times. The Pundit is just a softy when it comes to pipes and tobacco reminiscences, which always lead to more stories.
This particular pipe was a gift from an old newspaper reporter colleague. Clark Porteous, Memphis (Tenn-o-sea, of course) Press-Scimitar, was one of the best at the game of journalism.
For instance, he was present when former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill Jr. from Boston coined the now oft-quoted political phrase in front of a gaggle of news types in Memphis, “All politics is local.”
Clark didn’t miss a beat with that delicious description from a master politician.
At the time, Clark was not only a veteran reporter but also a constant pipe smoker. I was, as Christopher Marlowe once referred to Shakespeare “an upstart crow” in the newsroom.
I was in a room of giants and verily understood my place.
Clark loved his pipes. From time to time he emptied an ember-glowing bowl into his trash can, setting the thing ablaze. There was a commotion, naturally, but nothing out of the ordinary. It was classic Clark.
Years later, Clark came to me and asked if I continued to smoke a pipe. Of course, I said. Why not (still the upstart crow!)
“Here,” Clark said, handing me what appeared to be a beat-up old jalopy of a pot-style pipe.
“Well, thanks, Clark,” I said, taking the pipe with just two fingers, not wanting to touch the thing too closely.
“It’s a good smoker,” Clark said. My question, of course, was, if that, why give it to me?
“I wouldn’t be giving up this good smoker if my doc hadn’t told me I had to stop smoking.”
Clark was nearing retirement, and so was his smoking, after maybe six decades of puffing furiously over countless stories on deadline.
I took the pipe, of course. Stored it away, thinking maybe I might clean the drabby-looking wad of a pipe one day.
And there it rested in a box for many years, until I ran across it and took it with me to a pipe show. I asked a knowledgeable old-timer if he knew anything about the pipe.
“Looks like a Tracy Mincer Custom-Bilt to me,” he said.
Well, okay, then, who is Tracy Mincer? It was then I discovered that Mincer was something of a legendary pipe maker of the 1930s and ‘40s. His rugged, heavily rusticated pipes became popular for a time.
At one point, his pipes were identified “as individual as a thumbprint.”
Who knew, right? At least, not an upstart crow. Never imagined such a thing in the pipe world.
I cleaned the pipe and began smoking. Clark had been so right. This piece of ancient briar was indeed a marvelous smoker.
No matter what I tossed into it, the Custom-Bilt (if indeed that is correct; you Mincer aficionados can correct me at will) performed like a mythical fairy emerging from the mists of folklore. Sublime aroma swirled from the pipe Clark had so graciously awarded me, for some odd reasoning that I still puzzle over.
Soon after the gift, Clark retired, but then took up the editorship of a nearby community newspaper for a time.
Of course, I treasure the Clark Porteous pipe. Even an upstart crow knows how to appreciate greatness.
And speaking of greatness, we now turn our attention to one of the legendary figures of Tobacciana—Sir Winston Churchill, who was also once a wartime reporter. Yes, you read that correctly. Sir Winston interspersed his yearning for action as an early soldier and war correspondent.
While in Sudan using his sterling contacts in London, he was able to attach himself to a campaign. And while at a war front, he also worked as a journalist for The Morning Post, a conservative newspaper in London.
Then, as we all are aware, he became one of the most famous politicians, Prime Ministers, and larger-than-life legends in World War II when he took the English language to war.
In fact, that quote is oft attributed to another news icon, Edward R. Murrow, who supposedly authored the quote: “Winston Churchill, mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born Nov. 30, 1874, and died Jan. 24, 1965.
Now before you run me out of town on a rail, I am well aware that the PM, as they say in Merry Ol’ England, was a cigar smoker of renown and was rarely seen without his favored Romeo y Julieta or La Aroma de Cuba smokes.
Occasionally he also puffed a pipe.
I was once given the rare opportunity to interview Sir Winston’s grandson, Winston S. Churchill, a journalist, former war correspondent, and a member of the British House of Commons from 1970-97.
He was in Knoxville, in 2006, to honor the 60th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s famed “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946.
That speech, his grandson said, alerted America that the United States and the world faced Russia not as an ally, but as an enemy. It marked the beginning of the Cold War.
One other premier newsman born in November was “Uncle” Walter Cronkite Jr., the 19-year-veteran anchor (1962-81) of CBS Evening News.
Cronkite was born Nov. 4, 1916, and died July 17, 2009.
During his time as a broadcast journalist (1937-81), Cronkite covered world events including World War II, Nuremberg, Vietnam, Watergate, the Iran Hostage Crisis, and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lennon.
And, quite naturally, Uncle Walter was fond of his pipes and tobacco.
Who can forget the finishing line to his famous TV news broadcasts:
“And that’s the way it is,” Cronkite’s end of show catchphrase, which was followed by the day’s date.
And a parting quote from PM Churchill: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
Even an upstart crow understands attitude is always enough to get you through the day.
With a pipe and tobacco, of course.
Below photo: Gift from old newspaper pal, described as a Tracy Mincer Custom-Bilt years ago at a pipe show. (Photo: Fred Brown)
Fred Brown's Pipe Smoking lifestyle meanderings for November 2021