In this, our current winter of storms and tantrums and the solid silence of ice and snow, and as the years advance, it has become more and more apparent to me that my pipes are more comforting than I have ever imagined.
Especially since I have been manacled by ice and covered by weather customary to more northern climes. This New Ice Age has locked me away, unable to smoke my beautiful pipes. Blessedly, spring is not far away. Not all hope is lost through these wicked, cold portals.
I refrain from smoking in my house for several reasons, all established by my wife. So, I have become accustomed now to smoking outside the house, working on stories on my deck with a laptop, or driving my car to and fro from various errands or events. Thus my automobile has become very dear to me.
My pipes are there to bring cheer in times of need and despair. Wintry depression has settled over the land here, but as I gaze at my pipes, I am lifted, renewed and reminded of another time and place: Youth squandered, money lavished on ill-advised adventures, moving from job to job driven by blind ambition, and finally in the fall of life finding some peace in the knowing those days are over.
Photo by Fred Brown – Taken While Smoking His Pipe Outside in the Snow
Like most pipe smokers, I identify my pipes with an event: gifts from other pipe-smoking friends or from colleagues with whom I worked and was given a goodbye present to recall the good times; a buddy who sat across a news desk from me, who told me he wanted me to have his favorite Custom-bilt billiard from the Tracy Mincer-era of that pipe’s history because he could no longer smoke, on doctor’s orders.
That’s what I call my "gift" period, as in Picasso’s Blue or Cubist periods.
Other periods that I have recognized this winter (since I’ve had time on my hands) are my Charatan Seconds Period, Edwards Period, Ardor Period, Ashton Period, Dunhill Period, Ferndown Period, Savinelli Period, the Peterson Period, Boswell Period, Meerschaum Period, and, of course, the Cob Period.
All of these periods are characterized by a variety of shapes and represent different phases in my life. The periods do not portray all of my collection. That’s because like any curator, there are several individual pipes that are one-off, such as the Former Canadian, the Barlings Billiard, the Bjarne Giant and the Royal Cigar Dublin, that are from another era.
It is like any long-lived life with many sides, twists, turns, times, phases, places and events. The belle epoch of my time has been this fascinating hobby, this thing with pipes, our thing we have with pipes.
My father did not smoke pipes. He was a three-pack-a-day Chesterfield cigarette guy. He died early.
My grandfather did not smoke a pipe either. He made moonshine and drank up his profits before dying young.
My grandmother smoked a pipe.
I loved that woman! She was my heroine, unafraid as she meandered the shadows of life.
Maude, of whom I have spoken of here before, was a small woman, bony even. But she was as strong of mind, body and spirit, as someone twice her size. She strode through life, balanced by her convictions and family traditions.
Lord, that woman worked. From before sunrise to long after sunset. She hauled water, chopped wood, cooked three large meals for hard-working husband and sons on a wood stove, and smoked her handmade corncob pipe throughout her long days.
I once picked up one of her many cobs, which she kept in a sewing basket in her bedroom, and puffed on it. I loved the taste and the smell. It was pure-D burley, but it tasted like something exotic to me.
Yes, my grandmother let me light up one of her pipes filled with burley. I puffed and puffed, feeling so big and important. She told me a story of how she saw her uncle walking up the road as he came home from the war—that would be the Civil War, or as we knew it then, The War Between the States—with an empty left sleeve. He was smoking a cob as he ambled up the red-dirt road.
I puffed and puffed on a night porch amid the chirping crickets listening to her singsong story. And then all that burley hit me like a cannonball in the pit of my stomach. I began to go green around my gills, my grandmother said.
"Let that be a lesson to ye," she said. "No more pipe puffing until ye are a man."
That evening, sick as I’ve ever been, I had visions of shells exploding and men limping home on makeshift crutches, dragging a leg, or as if looking for their lost arms.
I followed my grandmother’s advice and did not smoke another pipe or anything until I reached my freshman year in college. At 18, the law of the land said I was an adult in that time. My first pipe was a gift from a high-school girlfriend.
Then I entered what I call my Drug Store Period: Kaywoodies, Yello-Boles and cobs. I attempted to find cobs that reminded me of my Maude’s cobs.
I failed to mention that Maude also dipped snuff at the same time she smoked her cob, but I was never man enough to accomplish that monumental feat.
At college, my professors smoked very fancy pipes—Dunhill billiards and bents. My philosophy professor, Dr. Gettys, smoked a billiard, which he lit with a match. Those of us who were the dullest bulbs in the class sat in the back of the classroom and took bets on how long it would take for Dr. Gettys to light his pipe and just at the right moment, blow out the burning match a second before it reached his fingers.
Edwards Pipe Store in Atlanta was one of my first retail hangouts. I wandered in frequently, studied the pipes on the wall and smelled the wonderful tobaccos in large glass jars. The old-timer behind the counter would let me fill my pipe with whatever hit my fancy. And of course, I was always in the mood for another Edwards Algerian briar.
Then one day I spotted a photo of Ed Rowley, who was a partner in the Tampa-based pipe making operation at the time I was in my Edwards Period. There was Ed in a blowup photo on the wall, smoking this amazing-looking Canadian. Smoke curled enticingly from his pipe above his exquisite mustache.
"You like the Edwardian Canadian?" asked the old guy behind the counter, expressing just the right phrase to ignite my pipe lust in wild flames.
"I have one," he said.
I bought it immediately, afraid others in the shop would see it and grab it before I could make the purchase. I hauled out a pound of Scottish Moor tobacco to go with that beautiful Edwardian Canadian.
And, after 50 years, the Edwardian still has a hint of Scottish Moor, despite my best efforts to smoke it out.
Of course, the Edwardian remains the center piece of my Edwards Period. I have one other Edwards pipe that has endured, but I unfortunately (and stupidly) traded yet another Edwards at a pipe show for some lesser pipe. Goodness, what was I thinking?
My addiction is, you see, is that I’ve never met a pipe I didn’t like.
I admire pipe collectors who drive deep into the history, lore and purchase of pipes of one or another brand name. They become keepers of a kind, authorities on such brands as Comoy’s Blue Riband, or Custom-Bilt, or Dunhill, or any of dozens of other pipe makers of the past and present, and then collect them every which way but loose.
My passion has been more of a reflection of my pocketbook at the time. Shall we say, a passion defined by the current state of my economic graph, an eclecticism based on the absolute bottom line.
Therefore, my meager assemblage does not contain the high-octane high-end priced pipes of some of the Great Danes, or even from makers in the Golden Age of pipes of the past. No, mine is more of a buckshot approach, a reflection of my youth, I suppose.
I also fall back on the words of my grandmother Maude.
"You look before you jump. Don’t buy something you can’t afford. Stay away from whiskey and wild women. Be kind to others. Make me proud."
Fortunately, I followed most of what Maude taught me. The uh, whiskey and wild women part, is another story. I won’t go into making Maude proud.
But I always had her mind when I made some sort of big decision in life. What would Maude do?
Yeah, Maude would buy that pipe.