Monthly Archives: May 2012

From Sow’s Ear to Silk Purse


Blog by Steve Laug

This morning I decided to do a few more refurbs on pipes from my box. It is getting low on options as I have reworked the majority of the interesting ones. There are about 25 or so pipes to choose from now and many are in a real state of disrepair. As I sorted through them I came upon this one. I took it out of the box and turned it over in my hands. The bowl was clogged with the remnants of the last smoke – dried tobacco and sticky tars. I decided that this was the first pipe I would work on today. It would be a challenge to see if anything beautiful could come from this mess. It was a beat up old pipe. I think the previous owner must have always had it in mouth and chewed on it like a piece of straw and then used it to hammer nails. The top was chipped and dented with valleys and mountains and the whole covered in a thick coating of tars – pipe lava. The stem was gnawed on had deep dents and tooth marks. It was oxidized to a rich brown that stank of sulfur.

The first step in the process for me is always to ream the bowl and clean out the detritus of the past. I used a dental pick to get the remaining dottle out of the bowl and to make way for my reamers. I find that the dental pick works well as it is sharp enough to break into the hardened ball of tobacco remnant and remove it quickly. I work it around to clean out any loose leftovers so that I can work on the hardened cake that is left in the bowl. This one had a thick cake that was a bit crumbly and soft once the tobacco ball was removed. It would need to be reamed back quite a bit. I generally ream back to bare wood on these old timers as I want to start a hard cake that is not built upon the old crumbling base cake that was in the pipe when I started. I used the PipNet reamer on this one. I fit the cutting head into the T handle and began to carefully turn the reamer into the bowl. I generally do this over a plastic bucket as it is a mess. The coarse dust of the carbon that is cut away is a black cloud if you are not careful. I proceed slowly as it is easy to angle the cutting head and take the bowl out of round. Once it is done I tap out any dust that remains before moving the pipe to my work desk.

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On the desk I had placed a work surface that was washable and then took out the soft cotton wash cloths that I use to remove grime and stains and wet them with Isopropyl. I washed down the outside of the bowl including the rim. It removed much of the dirt the first pass and I continued to scrub until the cloth came back clean. For this part of the process I leave the old stem in place as it serves as a handle for me to hang on to while I am working with the bowl. I picked at the grime on the top of the bowl a bit with the dental pick and decided that indeed this one was a candidate for topping. The two pictures above show the pipe after the reaming and cleaning of the bowl. It is ready to be topped.

In preparation for topping the bowl I use a flat surface – either a hard flat board or a piece of glass to which I anchor the sand paper. This time however I wanted to try out a new trick that I had learned from a friend on one of the online forums so I anchored a piece of 240 grit sand paper on a Masonite clipboard and put the clipboard on the desk top. Topping the bowl is a careful process that involves keeping the rim flat on the sand paper and turning it either clockwise or counter clockwise until the chips and dents are minimized. The trick is to take if far enough to remove the majority of the dents and chips without changing the overall profile of the bowl. Too much of the top removed changes the pipe rather than merely restoring it. As I sand the top of the bowl I stop to check it regularly to see if I have removed enough of the damage to the bowl. On this particular pipe it took me quite a bit of time to take it down slowly to the point it was smooth enough to do the next step in the process.

Often once the top is close to being smooth enough the last remaining dents can be steamed out and then a minimal amount of sanding will finish the job. On this particular pipe the top was smooth after sanding it. There was no need to remove any further dents. However there were some major chips out the outer edge of the rim. To remove them would have involved sanding off a fairly significant amount of the top and would have changed the overall look of the pipe. I decided instead to chamfer the edges on the outer portion of the rim. I used a piece of sand paper held at an angle that I maintained throughout the sanding. The idea was to hide the battered edge and remove some of the damage while minimizing some of the larger chips. Once I had the outer rim repaired to my satisfaction I did the same to the inside rim to regain some of the roundness of the bowl. The previous owner seemed to have used a knife to remove cake so there were major chunks taken out of the inside edge. Chamfering the inner edge took care of most of the damage and made the rest relatively invisible to a quick glance.

I then cut a stem to fit – turning the tenon on a precast stem and also taking off the excess vulcanite on the area where the stem joined the shank. I wanted to get the fit to be precise without gaps. Once I had the fit correct and just needed to sand out the scratches I put the bowl in the alcohol bath to let it soak and remove the stain. I continued to work on the stem while it soaked. I generally leave the bowl in the bath for a minimum of 30 minutes and have even left them over night in an extremely dirty bowl. Once I take it out of the bath I wipe it down with a dry cotton cloth and let it dry. I then sand the bowl down to remove any scratches in the surface. I start with a 400 grit wet dry sand paper and work my way through the Micro-mesh pads 1500, 1800, 2400, 3200, 4000, and 6000 to get a good smooth surface. As I worked on the shank I noticed a fine crack that became evident as I removed the grime from the inside of the shank. I heated a nickel band and pressure fit it to the shank to take care of the crack.

I finished the bowl by re-staining it with a medium brown stain as an undercoat and then buffed and sanded it yet again. A top coat of oxblood stain followed that sanding. I find that the two coats of stain complement each other and add some depth and patina to the pipe that only the one colour does not give. It was then polished on the buffing wheel with White Diamond and then given several coats of carnauba wax. I had also finished the stem and put it on the bowl and buffed and waxed the entirety.

This is the finished product. I think you would agree it has ceased to be a sow’s ear and has become a silk purse!

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Plugging a burnout


Blog by Steve Laug

I picked up an old Dunhill Root Briar off eBay that I knew would have to have a lot of work done to make it smokeable once again. It was obvious that it would need a plug as it was burned out. Many probably would not have bid on it but I got it for cheap and thought it would be worth learning how to do a briar plug to repair it. With not a huge amount invested in it I figured it was worth the education I would get doing a repair. I often will buy pipes on eBay that are rejects for the sole purpose of learning a new skill in the repair department.

When the old Dunhill arrived I opened the package for the initial inspection of the pipe. I wanted to have a clear picture of what I would be dealing with in the repair. On the underside of the bowl there was some kind epoxy fill that had been injected into small burnout spot. It had been also daubed on the bowl to provide a layer of “insulation” or something. It was really a mess in terms of the application of the epoxy. No amount of wiping the bowl down with alcohol or acetone would remove the goo from the surface of the pipe. I sanded it until the bottom was back to briar alone and the glue was gone. I then used a dental pick to check the integrity of the bottom of the pipe. I wanted to find out from the outside how far the damage had gone into the briar. If it was charcoal like and soft I would know the extent to which I would have to drill out the bottom of the bowl. I marked the extent of the damage with a permanent marker to show how far the burnout had damaged the briar.

Once I had the outside of the bowl cleaned up and the burn out clearly marked I turned my attention to the inside of the bowl. Once I had cleaned out the grit and grime from the inside of the bowl I found that the previous owner had reamed far too aggressively and compromised the thickness of the bottom of the bowl. It was almost ¼ inch below the bottom of the airway. The bottom of the bowl was in fact very thin. Using my dental pick I probed the bowl bottom to identify the extent of the damage around the burn out hole. It was virtually the same as the outside. With that information in hand I was ready to drill out the spot on the bowl.

I sanded out the inside of the bowl with a dowel and sandpaper to smooth out the hack job on the bottom. I then drilled out the burned out spot from the outside of the bowl with a drill bit slightly larger than the area I had marked with the marker. I was careful to get all the burned wood. Once the hole was open I again tested the soundness of the surrounding briar with my dental pick. I wanted to make sure that the damaged briar was removed. I re-drilled it a second time with a slightly larger bit to remove what remained of the damage. I then cleaned the pipe yet again. I wanted to make sure that the inside of the bowl was reamed and sanded to bare wood and that the bottom of the bowl that remained was free of carbon and dirt. I washed the entirety with isopropyl alcohol and then let it dry out.

I measure the outer diameter of the hole in the bottom and the inner diameter of the bowl. I then cut a piece of briar to those dimensions. The briar plug was shaped like a “T” and was actually significantly bigger than the pin hole that was originally in the bottom of the bowl. I had decided to create a new bottom for the bowl and a plug for the hole I had drilled. I used some wood glue and coated the bowl bottom and the inside of the hole. I then inserted the plug in the top of the bowl and used a rubber mallet and a piece of dowel to drive peg to the bottom of the bowl. The leg of the T extended through the hole in the bottom of the bowl that I drilled out. I had purposely made it longer than the thickness of the bowl so that it would extend below the bottom of the bowl. Once it was in place it not only was glued but in essence was pressure fit. I laid it aside to dry over night before I worked on sanding the leg of the T flush with the bottom of the pipe. The next morning I sanded it flush with the bottom of the bowl. It was a great fit as can be seen from the pictures that are included in this essay.

Once the exterior was smooth and ready to go I turned to the inside of the bowl. The top of the T formed a new thicker bottom for the bowl. I had made it thick enough to provide a new briar bowl. Because of the thickness I had used a spade bit to re-drill the bottom of the chamber and give it a concave feel like the original bowl. I also re-drilled the airway so that it would come out in the bottom of the new bowl. I again used the dowel and sand paper to smooth out the junction between the new surface and the old surface of the chamber walls. I wanted the transition between the two pieces to be smooth.

The final touch for this old timer was a good coating of pipe mud on the walls and on the bowl bottom. The mix I use for the mud is cigar ash and water. Others have used pipe tobacco or a mix of various things but I like cigar ash. The bonus is I get to smoke a good cigar in the process. I mix a good thick paste that I apply with a brush and a pipe nail. I brushed it on and tamped it into place with the brush and the nail. It gave a nice grey ash look to the inside of the bowl. The inside looked as good as new. I left it to dry through the night.

I sanded the rest of the bowl be careful to not damage the stamping. Once it was smooth and the scratches and nicks were gone I stained the outside of the bowl. I gave it a second and third coat with a Mahogany and then a brown stain. Between each coat of stain I flamed the stain by lighting it with a lighter. I find that this sets the stain a bit better than an air dry. I also buffed between coats of stain to make sure the coverage was even. The final coat of stain was applied, wiped off and then buffed with white diamond and then carnuaba.

I let the pipe mud cure for several days before I fired up the pipe. I was curious to see how hot the bottom of the bowl became. Success!! It smoked cool and dry to the bottom with no heat to the hand. The patch worked well. Next time I do a patch I will try to blend the flow of the grain a bit more!

I have been smoking it for a long time now and continue to be pleased with it. The patch is starting to blend in a bit more as it gets a patina. The pipe still smokes dry and cool throughout the bowl.

03/30/2012

 

 

This week my computer died!!! I was forced to dig out a very old laptop that I have sitting in the basement  so that I could at least have access to the internet. While I was cleaning up the hard drive I found these old photos of the same pipe. The repair may be a bit more visible in these photos if you are interested to have a look.

Father Tom – The Comforting Smell of Smoke – PART 2


Looking Over the Gift

Father Tom arrived home late that evening. It had taken him several trips back and forth from Anna’s bringing home the gifts that William had left him. The warm weather had held out and there still was no sign of rain. On the dining room table were the two cartons of tobacco and a bag with the rack of pipes. Only another pipe smoker will understand the sense of expectancy that vibrated through Father Tom as he hung up his coat and put on his slippers. He picked up one of his favourite pipes from the study and packed a bowl of Virginia to smoke. He could hardly wait to get into the dining room and go through his gifts. He lit his pipe and walked to the dining room. He had cleared the table of everything but the boxes and bag and they were waiting to be opened.

“Now where do I begin,” he said to himself as he looked at the haul. “I think I will look at the tobacco first and see what William has put there.”

He opened the box of English tobacco first. He stacked the tins of Dunhill’s Standard Mixture Full on the table. There were 24 tins of it – all were older stock as seen from the tin design, great tobacco. He also unpacked the tins of Dunhill’s Baby’s Bottom and found that there were 6 tins of that blend. In the bottom of the box were two tins of the older version of Dunhill’s Night Cap and two of Dunhill’s Royal Yacht. What a haul! These were blends he never would have had the opportunity to smoke and now thanks to William he had a good supply of them. The Night Cap and Royal Yacht were bonus as well.

“William, William, you have taken good care of me my friend. It’s amazing to sit and look at these stacked tins of tobacco. What a gift. Thank you my friend, I am at a loss for words and cannot thank you enough,” he said aloud

Tom turned each tin over in his hands to see what date William had put on the tins. Each was marked with his characteristic scrawl noting the purchase date – all were old. He was salivating as he thought of the good smokes that awaited him in these tins of tobacco. He was so preoccupied with the tins that his own pipe had gone out, which was probably just as well. He would have been chuffing on it by this time.

He carried the tins back to his study and put them in his tobacco cupboard. They filled the better part of one of the shelves. He went back to the dining room and carried out the remaining tins. He would be well stocked in aged tobacco. After arranging them on the shelf he returned to the dining room to open the second box of tobacco.

He felt like a child at Christmas. He was so excited to open the box and see its contents that he had forgotten that it also contained the tamper collection and a letter from William. As soon as he saw them he took them out of the box and laid them aside. They created an immediate dilemma for him – dilemma may be the wrong word for the discomfort he was feeling but it was nonetheless real. Should he stop and read the letter or unpack the tobacco? What should he do? The child in him won out and Father Tom turned to the box of Virginia tobaccos. He lifted out the contents a stack at a time. The first two stacks (12 tins) were Dunhill’s Elizabethan Mixture (a favourite of his). Next there were two stacks (12 tins) of Copes Escudo – the old original version in the round tins. This was his all time favourite. Next were 6 tins of the original Scottish Rattrays Old Gowrie and 6 tins of Bell’s Three Nuns – unbelievable! All of these were favourites. He had newer versions of each of them but now he had the older ones as well. These were also dated on the underside in William’s inimitable way. He took a deep breath. His pipe was all but forgotten and laying on its side on the table.

“Unbelievable, William. You certainly knew what I like tobacco wise. This is an incredible legacy to pass on to me my friend. What can I say to you?” he said softly.

He sat quietly for some time as the enormity of the gift overwhelmed him. It was an amazing thing that William had done for him with these gifts. Tom knew that William had set these aside to be given to him long before he had died. William was never a big Virginia smoker so each of these tobaccos represented a carefully chosen present for Father Tom. William had paid attention to every detail of what his friend smoked and stock piled the tobaccos that made up this second box. It was as if William were saying, “Tom, the first box, the English blends is for you to remember me. The second box, the Virginias is my way of remembering you. Smoke in health my friend. Or as you have often been fond of saying, do this in remembrance of me.” Tom wept in thankfulness and missed the physical presence of his old friend.

It was at that point he remembered the letter. He picked up his pipe and relit it as he reached for the letter and carefully opened the envelope. He took out the folded pages that smelled of pipe tobacco. William had written this to him a pipe in hand. He unfolded the pages and read:

Dear Tom

If you are reading this it means that I have left this life and arrived at my reward! It also means that Anna has given you my gift. I want you to know what you have meant to me throughout the time I have known you – what has it been some 20 years or more now? I am a man of few words and entirely unsentimental as you know, so enough of that.

You have probably guessed that the first box – if you opened them as I predicted you would has many tins of my favourite smoke. If you don’t like it too bad!! My only stipulation on this gift is that you cannot give it away – that is unless you make a gift of it to someone as I have done for you on your way out! There are also some tins of Baby’s Bottom – Anna and I got a kick out of that when we bought it on one of our London trips. It is a great smoke and one you won’t be able to smoke without hearing me laughing in your ear. All of those tins are for you to smoke in remembrance of me as you used to say! There are also a few other odds and ends for you to smoke.

The other box has some Virginia tobacs that I have been stock piling since we became  friends. I kept an eye open at what you smoked and picked these for you so that you would know that I paid attention. I figure this way when you smoke these aged Virginias you will remember that I thought of you. There you have it. The tobaccos are for times that you want to get together with me and spend a smoke remembering. If you are half the man I think you are then you will not have any trouble conjuring up our discussions. You can always reach for one of those books of yours and go from there.

I asked Anna to pass on a few pipes to you as well as my tamper collection, what it is! She should also have given you my Old Boy lighter. I know you always coveted that finicky thing. Well now it’s yours! Hope you can keep it in working order! Oh as for the pipes – they have been cleaned and made ready for your use. They have all been buffed and polished. I would have done them myself but with my shaky hands these past months I figured I would send them out and have them done correctly. They are ready for you to smoke whatever you like in them. The Dunhill’s are all patent era pipes, in my opinion the best years that Dunhill made pipes. The blasts are all gnarly deep blasts – Shells they called them. They have to be my favourites. The smooth pipes are Root Briars and Bruyeres. I like the finishes on those. The two Charatans I picked up in England from the factory. I was a lot younger then and they were a lot cheaper than you will find them these days. Enjoy them all Tom.

One last thing my friend. I also wanted you to pick through the remaining pipes and give them out to young pipe smokers who are starting out and need some good smoking pipes. I don’t care how you distribute them just make sure they get to some needy pipers.

I guess that about does it my friend. I will miss you and look forward to seeing you when you get here! Take care of my pipes. Give my love to Anna when you see her next. I am sure she already knows what is in this letter but share it with her if you want!

Warmest Regards

William 😉

PS – Check the bottom of the box – there is a pouch of some aged Virginia for you to smoke in one of these “new” pipes!

He could hear William speaking to him as he read the letter out loud. Several times he had to lay it down as his eyes filled with tears. At other points he was laughing so hard the letter shook. William never changed even in this final letter. Anna would get a kick out of it the next time he visited her. He stopped and quietly fingered the letter. William’s friendship meant a lot to him and he had often taken it for granted. Obviously William had not! He took a deep breath and sat quietly for some time just mulling over the relationship they had over the past 20+ years.

Finally he picked up the small wooden box that he had set aside on the table top when he took out the letter. It was a plain box with dovetailed corners. The bottom was covered in a green felt. He opened it and fingered through the tamper collection. William had kept a dozen tampers. Each was unique in itself. There were 2 acrylic ones made by Bill D. and 3 wooden ones with brass feet. There were 2 Dunhill Tampers in ebony and brass and even a Czech pipe tool. Besides that there were 4 pewter figurine tampers of characters from the works of Charles Dickens. They were clean and well cared for – just like William’s pipes. These would be great to use when he was smoking in his study. He had a bad habit of misplacing tampers so most of the time he carried an aluminum pipe nail. They were cheap so a loss was no big deal. He would not want to lose these though! He closed the box and set it aside.

He drew the bag closer to him and lifted the rack out so that he could examine it. It was a dark cherry wood rack made to hold the pipes in profile and display them to their best advantage. The upper slots were padded with dark felt to prevent damage to the stems. The bottom of the rack was cupped and lined with felt to provide a secure base. He lifted out the pipes and laid them on the table in the order they were arranged on the rack. He looked first at the Dunhill Shell Briars. There were six of them, all straight pipes – three long shanked Canadians and three billiards. He looked at the date stamps on each of them and noted that there was one from each year from 1920-1925. They had a craggy, gnarly appearance to them. The deep blasts were very tactile and he could imagine how they would feel with the heat radiating from them. The stems were in perfect shape, no bite marks or scratches. The fit and finish of each was impeccable. Only William would have a collection like this.

The other four Dunhill pipes included two Root Briars and two Bruyeres. These pipes were all from the 1930’s and represented different years. The Root Briars included an apple and a billiard. The Bruyeres included a prince and billiard. This was a beautiful collection of early Dunhill pipes. He had never seen them all together before now. William had kept his collection private. So to see them together was astonishing and to think that all of them were in stellar condition. He would take good care of them. The last two pipes in the rack were Charatan pipes one a Supreme and the other a Selected. These were beautiful pipes – the first a classic Charatan Dublin shape and the other a straight grained billiard. This was a stunning collection and it raised the quality of his collection of pipes. William had left him some amazing pieces of pipe history.

He sat for a long time just staring at the pipes. He carefully placed them back in their respective slots in the rack. He then picked one of the Shell Briars the 1920, a Canadian, to smoke. He stood up to go and get some tobacco and remembered the PS in William’s letter. In the bottom of the box was a bulging leather Dunhill tobacco pouch. He opened it and inhaled – Three Nuns. He would not forget that smell ever! He packed it in the old Shell Briar, lit it with the Old Boy lighter and sat back in his chair at the dining room table and smoked the bowl. By the time he had finished it was late.

He was overwhelmed with the magnitude of William’s gift to him. He would call Anna in the morning to pass on his thanks. She would laugh at his tale of the unpacking process and be thrilled that he was enjoying it already.

He raised his pipe and said, “Thank you again my dear friend. I am sure you know the depth of gratitude I feel toward you. I miss you William. Until we meet again”.

I am certain dear reader that William winked at Father Tom from the beyond and chuckled to himself as he drew in on the best smoke that he had ever tasted! His collection was in the right hands.

03/22/11

Father Tom – The Comforting Smell of Smoke – PART 1


The Comforting Smell of Smoke

Father Tom got up from his desk and looked out the window. The rain had finally stopped, it had been a steady rain since he had started working at his desk around 5:30am. The early spring was a tough time in Vancouver as everyone had grown weary of the grey skies and the rain. Even the soggy landscape was tired of it. Sprouts of green had pushed through the soil as if checking to see if it was time to break out. Today was a respite for everything – even the birds seemed to sing more loudly. Trees seemed to stand up straighter and lift bud- laden branches toward the sun. Father Tom knew that “sun worshipping” Vancouverites had already filled the outside tables at every coffee shop and restaurant and the benches in the parks.

That afternoon, Father Tom had arranged a visit with Anna, the widow of one of his old parishioners and a dear friend. She lived within walking distance so he lit a pipe and began the walk. He enjoyed walking as it gave him time to reflect. Today was no exception; he took the time to think about Anna’s husband William. He was a classic old gentleman always dressed in a suit and tie. When home he removed his coat, but not the tie, and put on the same old cardigan each time. There was always a pipe in his mouth and he loved smoking aged English tobaccos. His favourite blend was Dunhill’s Standard Mixture Full. It was a blend that was no longer available but William had many tins of it in his cellar. Odds were that they were probably still there in his study in the credenza by the window where he kept his tobacco and pipes. Father Tom’s memory was filled with visions of William and him deep in discussion with pipes smouldering, sitting comfortably in the old leather wing back chairs in the study. The smell of the rich tobacco was tantalizingly present in his thoughts. William had been a fine man. This afternoon would be a good visit. It would be a pleasure to sit with Anna and share stories and memories of William.

Father Tom was so deeply engrossed in thought that he almost walked passed Anna’s house. It was a lovely cottage style house located across the street from a park. The front yard was still a well manicured English garden. Anna maintained it with the help of a neighbourhood gardener. He opened the gate and walked up the path to the steps. He put his pipe in a pocket of his Harris Tweed jacket. As he came to the front door he removed his cap and knocked. It only took Anna a minute to answer the door. She was one of those women who had become more beautiful with age and retained her charm and grace in a wizened visage crowned by white hair drawn up in a bun.

“Hello Father,” she said “Do come in. I have the tea and biscuits ready. I thought that we would sit in William’s study. I haven’t changed a thing in and it is a comfort for me to sit there and feel his presence.”

“Anna it is good to see you. I think that William’s study would be a great place to sit and visit”, replied Tom.

Anna stepped aside and Father Tom entered the home. Anna closed the door and led the way to the study, even though Tom had been there many times before. They passed the parlour on the right and a bedroom on the left. The stairway to the upstairs was just past the living room and the study stood across the hall from them. The study door was open and inviting as they came to it. The comforting smell of pipe tobacco and smoke came from the room. It was clear to Father Tom that since William’s death, Anna had kept the room’s door and windows closed to preserve the tenuous aura of William’s pipe.

“Anna this place smells just as it did when William was alive. I almost expect to walk in and hear him call out from his chair. Everything looks exactly as it did the last time William and I sat here and enjoyed a pipe,” said Father Tom.

Anna chuckled quietly. She had expected this response from Father Tom. She knew that he had loved William and they had enjoyed many evenings in this study smoking their pipes while discussing books and history. They were alike in so many ways. “Father,” she said “he would indeed have called out to you when he heard the knock. He couldn’t be bothered getting up and opening the door but he would have called out and then I would have answered it.”

They laughed together as they pictured it. Tom imagined William shouting from his chair, pipe in hand and book on his lap. It seemed as if that had been just yesterday. It was hard to accept that William had been gone for over six months. They made their way to the chairs that he and William had shared. The coffee table in front of the chairs held a tea pot with two cups and a plate of biscuits – Digestives. Anna was prepared. She sat in the chair that Father Tom had always occupied in the past and gestured that he should sit in William’s chair. She poured a bit of milk in the cups and then the tea. She handed the cup and saucer to Tom and offered him a biscuit. He took one and settled back quietly into the depths of the wing back chair. Anna picked up her cup and saucer and did the same. They sat quietly with their tea.

Anna broke the silence that surrounded them. Her voice brought the good Father back to the present. He had been gazing at the side table to his left and was reflecting on the half smoked pipe that sat in its rest with a book next to it – Elie Wiesel’s “All Rivers Run to the Sea”. The book mark showed that it was half read.

Father Tom turned back to Anna and said, “I am sorry Anna; I was lost in memories and did not hear you. I guess I am not much good as visitor today.”

Anna laughed and said, “Not a problem Father. I often find myself sitting in that very chair doing the same thing. I was saying that I have a few things I want to talk with you about. I am going through William’s things and I have a proposition for you. But first what kind of hostess would I be if I didn’t ask you to light up your pipe. Would you like a bit of William’s tobacco to smoke? Yes? Here let me get it for you.” And with that she walked to the credenza and picked up a jar of Dunhill’s Standard Mixture Full. It was the same tobacco that he and William smoked when they were together.

She handed the jar to Tom and he opened it. He raised it to his nose and inhaled deeply, breathing in the rich aromas. He took his pipe from his pocket and loaded a bowl. He was about to reach for his lighter when he saw William’s Old Boy lighter on the table next to him. He took it and lit his pipe. He drew in deeply as he lit the pipe and exhaled the smoke. He watched Anna as he lit the pipe. She had her eyes closed and was quietly enjoying the rich room note of the tobacco.

“So many memories in that smoke Father. I cannot tell you how often I come to this room to sit and enjoy the smells of William’s pipes and tobacco. Thank you for bringing fresh smoke to the room.”

“Anna, smoking this tobacco brings to mind time spent here with William. The last time I was here we were discussing that Wiesel book on the table. William was taken with Wiesel and was reading as many of his books as he could find. He was intrigued with Wiesel’s concept of suffering and the human spirit.”

For the next hour as Tom puffed on the tobacco, he and Anna exchanged memories of William. Story after story was told. They laughed and cried and sipped their tea. They were encircled by a wreath of rich tobacco smoke and Anna was in no hurry to talk about the subject of her request to Father Tom. Time stood still for these two old friends.

As the bowl came to its end Anna quietly broached the topic of her proposition. “Father,” she said “I would like you to have some of William’s pipes and a good portion of his tobacco. I would give it all to you but I still enjoy the lingering smell of smoked pipes and tobacco that are part of my memories of William.”

“Anna, I’d be honoured to have some of William’s pipes and tobacco. Are you sure you want to do this?”

“William and I spoke often of this before he died Father and he wanted you to have his best pipes. He even set aside the ones that he wanted you to have. I remember him laughing and saying he would not give you his knock around pipes as you already had too many of those. He put them on a rack inside the credenza. They have your name on them. He also wanted you to take any others that you wish and give them to fellow pipe smokers. His only request was that you keep those on the rack for yourself. Let’s have a look.”

They walked to the credenza. Anna opened the door and lifted out the rack that William had labelled for Father Tom. There, in his shaky handwriting was Father Tom’s name. He had also scrawled his stylized wink behind Tom’s name. There were twelve pipes in the slotted profile rack, equally divided between sand blasted and smooth pipes. He took each one out and looked it over. They were beautiful not only in their making but in their memories. Each had been one of William’s special pipes – smoked only in this study.

Anna spoke as Tom handled each pipe. “Father, he also set aside another one for you. This was one of his favourites, an Andreas Bauer smooth meerschaum with an amber stem. It has some beautiful colour to it now – I remember when we bought that one. We were on holiday in Vienna and as usual William insisted that we stop at all the pipe shops. When he saw that pipe he could not take his eyes off of it. He picked it up and never put it down. He carried it around the store with him as he took in the sights and smells.  He insisted that you have it to keep its story going and add your own memories to it.” She handed the meer to him and said, “While you are looking at it I will go and warm our tea.”

Anna left the study and Tom turned back to the rack of pipes. Ten of them were older patent era Dunhill pipes while the other two were smooth straight grain Charatans. He would go over them more thoroughly when he got home. He was astonished at the thoughtfulness of his old friend. These pipes were in perfect shape, clean inside and out. He would not have to do anything to them, they were ready to smoke.

“William, my old friend these are amazing. Thank you so much for your kindness,” he said out loud.

Anna walked in the room with the fresh pot of tea and placed it on the table. She startled him as she said, “Father, I am so glad that you like the pipes. William was insistent that you have them. Forgive me for not giving them to you sooner but I was not ready to part with them until now.”

“No problem Anna… your timing is perfect! What better time than this while we are talking of William together.”

“There is a bit more Father, I am afraid I am not finished yet. Did you notice the two cartons to the left of the credenza?  I know your penchant for Virginia tobacco so you will find that one of the cartons contains nothing but that. The other contains William’s favourite tobacco – Dunhill’s Standard Mixture Full. I packed those for you as well as several hand packed tins of Baby’s Bottom that he picked up at the London Dunhill Store the last time we were there. We laughed together at that name. I am afraid there are just a few of those left. There is still quite a bit more tobacco that I will pack for another visit. You will have to come back anyway to look through the rest of the pipes. Now let’s have another cup of tea. Pack a bowl of that tobacco on the table and light your pipe. I am looking forward to enjoying the smells and memories of another bowl.”

Father Tom carefully put the rack of pipes back on the credenza. He was stunned with the kindness of his old friend. He sat down and picked his pipe up from the table where he had left it next to William’s half smoked one and loaded another bowl. He used the Old Boy lighter to fire the tobacco and raised his pipe, “Thank you Anna and I lift my pipe to you William. I could not wish for a better remembrance of you my friend. You will always be with me as I smoke these.”

Anna wiped a tear from her eye and smiled at Father Tom. “Here is your tea Father. Now where were we…? Oh yes, that Old Boy lighter you have been using is also yours. I put William’s tamper collection in the box of Virginia’s for you. There is also a letter that William wanted you to have. You can read it when you get home.”

With that Father Tom and Anna sat for the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the visit and the smoke. I am sure dear reader that William was smiling as he watched them; knowing that his well cared for pipes had been placed in the right hands.

03/21/11

Father Tom – Christmas – A Gift with a Story Attached


Father Tom heard the front door open and felt a slight draft creep in under the parlour door. He called out to whoever had come in, “Whoever you are, welcome to my home. I am in the parlour relaxing with a pipe.”

The foot falls became louder as they came closer to the parlour door. He recognized the familiar tread. The parlour door creaked open on its hinges and his housekeeper Mrs. Conti came into the room. She was dusted with a fine snow on her already white hair but somehow managed to still look warm and cheerful in spite of the cold air outside.

“Good evening Father. Have you had anything to eat this Christmas evening? There are plenty of leftovers in the fridge from yesterday you could have helped yourself. Oh, by the way it was a fine service you gave earlier this evening. Now I am off to the kitchen to see what I can put together for your supper.”

“Thank you Mrs. Conti. No, I have not eaten. I have just been sitting here preoccupied with my thoughts and my pipe. Mrs. C. I am curious to know if you might have seen someone drop off the box that was in the entry way when I came home this evening.”

“I’ve no idea Father; it was not here when I left for a visit with my children this morning. Why don’t you open it and see what it is. Probably a Christmas present one of the congregation left for you. I’ll leave you to your thoughts Father, while I fix your supper.”

And with that she went to the kitchen and Father Tom was left with no more information than he’d had before about the package. When he had come home earlier that evening he had found a mystery box sitting on the floor inside his door. The mystery was not how it got there but why it was there and who had sent it to him. He could not remember having ordered anything from his favourite tobacconist or from the booksellers. There was not a return address on the box, just his name and address on the label and it had a local post mark. He had taken it into the parlour and left it on the side table next to his chair. It sat there now and all he had done since coming home was to sit and look at it wondering what it might be. (Now that might seem odd to you, if you are one of those who tear into things as soon as you see them, but Father Tom was not that way. He liked to try to figure it out before he opened it. He loved solving those little mysteries as there was so little else he ever solved in one short moment.)

“I guess I won’t make any progress on discovering what is in the box and who it came from without opening it! Humph maybe then I can solve this riddle.”

Without any further hesitation, he took off the wrapping paper from the outside of the box – just a plain brown wrap with tape at each of the folded triangles that held it tightly to the box. He carefully opened the paper – his brothers had always been bothered by his slow methodical way of opening packages and given him grief over it for years. But this habit remained with him unchanged after 60+ years of seasoned practice. Once he had removed the brown wrapper from the box he folded it neatly and laid it aside. The box itself was nondescript, just a brown cardboard box the size of a shoe box. There were no labels or printing on it that might have given him a hint about what was inside. It had been taped closed. He sat for a long time staring at the box just wondering about the hands that had packed it and what it held inside. It was not very heavy as far as packages went; nothing like those that held his books when they came by post. Nor did it have the shape or feel of a box of his favourite tobacco blends from the tobacconist.

He took his pipe knife out of the pipe cabinet next to his chair. With a deliberate motion he sliced the tape that held the box closed. He opened the flaps on the box and peered inside. He did not shake the box or jiggle it to try and guess its contents, he merely opened the flaps. When he did, the smell of good tobacco escaped from its open top. Maybe he had ordered something and forgotten. Whatever it was, it smelled good, comforting and somewhere in the back of his mind a memory niggled that told him he had smelled this before. He stuck his hand into the box and began to remove the tissue paper that filled it and obscured what was hidden inside. He folded the tissue paper and he added it to the neat pile of wrappings. At the bottom of the box nestled among the last pieces of crumpled tissue was an old pipe – an Oom Paul. It was beautiful and had the patina of a well smoked old-timer. There was something about this particular pipe that spoke to him. He took the pipe in his hands and laid the box aside. He turned it over in his hands trying to remember where he had seen the pipe before.

He held the pipe to the light beside his chair so he could better examine it. The stamping on the shank identified the pipe as a BBB Own Make. It was a beautiful piece of briar with birdseye on the front and back of the bowl and grain running parallel on both sides of the bowl and shank. There was a silver ferrule and a military mount silver end cap on the stem with hallmarks that identified it as having been made in 1919 in Birmingham. As he rotated it to the right, he saw initials HJH engraved in the silver of the ferrule. Who did he know that had those initials? He struggled to put a name and a face with them. Nothing! He raised the pipe to his nose and inhaled deeply. Perhaps he could identify the tobacco from the smell and trigger the memory of the man and the place. There was a deep, rich, earthy smell to the pipe. The cake looked to be just the right thickness and it gave off the aroma of Virginia or possibly a Balkan blend. There was none of the cloying smell of aromatics or the flowery smell of Lakelands. He held it closer to the light to look inside the bowl to examine the condition of the cake. What a surprise! The pipe had been packed and was ready to smoke. He touched the tobacco with his forefinger and found that it was springy to his touch and not too dry. No wonder the box and the pipe smelled the way they did. How strange to open an unmarked box and find a pipe packed and ready to smoke. This riddle certainly was not to be easily solved.

He reached for a pipe cleaner and ran it through the stem. It came out clean. He removed the stem and ran it through the shank. It too was clean. The vulcanite stem was freshly polished and shone with a warm, ebony glow. The silver had been polished and had lustre as well. He sat back again and puzzled over this odd package. He held the mystery monogrammed pipe for a bit longer – HJH. It was well smoked and broken in but very clean. It was as if the pipe’s previous owner had just prepared the pipe for him. No matter how hard he tried to put the puzzle together it continued to elude him. He had no idea what it all meant – that was for sure. The clues were there in his hands, clearly before him but the solution seemed to be just beyond his reach at the edges of his memory. He could not shake the feeling that he had held this pipe before and that the person who sent it was someone he knew well. He sat quietly for a few moments looking at the old pipe and letting it float through his memory. He was brought back to the present when he could hear Mrs. Conti moving in the adjoining kitchen. The unmistakeable smell of a meal being prepared for him was beginning to drift into the room. Time had seemed to stand still for him, and he had no idea how long he had been sitting there letting different thoughts drift through his mind, in an attempt to identify the gift giver among his pipe smoking acquaintances. He associated names and faces as he did this. He could almost smell their tobacco and hear their voices as he went through them in his mind.

He reached for his matches and tamper as he came to a decision; maybe he would remember if he could taste the tobacco and smell the smoke in the room around him. He struck the match on the striker and put flame to the tobacco. He saw it coil and writhe as the flames touched it. He smelled the initial smokiness before he even tasted the tobacco. Yes, it was a Virginia with Orientals blended to perfection – its sweet grassiness and the tartness at the back of his throat was exactly what he loved about a good Balkan smoke. He knew he had tasted this tobacco before. It was one he had indeed smoked and enjoyed. In the back of his mind he knew it was one of his favourites that was no longer available. As he touched a second match to the tobacco to give it the final light he pulled the smoke into his mouth and quickly shook out the match and laid it aside. He settled back to a mysteriously wonderful smoke. The smoke curled from his mouth and around the button of the pipe. It swirled in a twist around his head and wreathed him in a wonderful smelling cloud. He disappeared into the smoke for awhile letting it carry him through his past.

As the smoke moved through his mouth and out his nostrils memories flooded his mind. He knew exactly who had sent the pipe to him. The old pipe spoke to him from the smouldering tobacco. He remembered a sidewalk pub, a table where he sat sipping espressos and smoking his pipe with a friend. They were laughing and talking. On the table sat an old tin of tobacco that had been opened. They had both filled their pipes from it and were enjoying the aged tasted. He recognized the lid with its four green squares on the top – Dobie Four Square Mixture. The face of the man across the table came into focus. The pipe he now held was the same one the man in his memory had been holding. The tobacco he was smoking was the same tobacco as that aged tin. The initials HJH now made sense to him and so did the package.

Just a few weeks earlier an old friend of his had died. Father Tom had been asked to officiate at the funeral. It had been hard on him as he realized that he was truly gone. The burial made it seem so final. He had wept as he said the funeral liturgy for him and then laid his remains to rest in the cemetery next to the old church. He had known him as Jim Hughes. He had never thought much about any additional names that his friend may have had. He missed him though and thought about his absence every day. After the burial, Father Tom had gone home and spent the evening thinking about Jim. He had taken out his own pipe – the one that he had often smoked when they had been together, and packed it with one of his own favourites – Escudo. He had smoked a bowl to the memory of his friend. He had breathed a quiet “Rest in Peace, dear friend” as he sipped the aged coins of Virginia and Perique.

Now, this Christmas evening, he held that very pipe in his hands. He knew that this old Oom Paul had been Jim’s pipe. That pipe that held so many memories and could have told many stories about their friendship was now his. How had the pipe come to be sitting in his entry way this Christmas day? How had it come to his house in this box already packed and ready to smoke? Why tonight of all nights was it here? How had Jim managed to see to the delivery of this fine gift? Those and many more questions raced through his mind.

Suddenly it all made sense to him. He could imagine how Jim had filled the pipe with this chosen tobacco, tamped and ready to smoke to be shared with him. In his mind he saw Jim gently pack it in the box among the tissue paper. Jim had chosen to pass on this gift to his old friend and set about making sure it got delivered just in time for Father Tom’s Christmas evening smoke. He sure missed his old friend. Jim must be laughing at the trouble he had had identifying the source of the gift. He must have been amused at the struggle to grapple with it and then the sudden light that came on as he lit the pipe and smoked it. He must have been thoroughly enjoying Father Tom’s befuddlement and subsequent enlightenment.

“This one is for you Jim, Merry Christmas! You must be sitting and enjoying the discomfort you caused me in trying to figure out this gift my friend. Enjoy my thanks and savour the aroma of this fine old baccy!”

He enjoyed the bowl and the memories that it set loose as he smoked it. He sensed the presence of his old friend in this special Christmas gift. What a delight to have been remembered by the one whose presence he missed so dearly. In the background he could smell the aromas of a great supper that was just about ready. He knew that very soon Mrs. Conti would call him to the table for the Christmas evening meal and a glass of flavourful Shiraz. But until that moment he would sit and smoke with his friend and savour the memories that would always be attached to this old pipe.

12/12/10

Father Tom – A curl of Smoke


The door closed behind him with a chuff of air as he hurried into the old house from the cold winter weather outside. He stamped his feet and tapped them against each other to knock off the snow. An involuntary shiver shook his body as he took off his coat and adjusted to the warmth of the house. He hung the top coat and scarf on the hall tree next to the door and flicked his cap to the top of the rack with a flourish. He kicked off his shoes and slipped into the warm wool slippers he kept beside the door ready to receive his cold feet when he came home. It was always good to be home. As he moved toward the parlor he thumbed through the mail on the hallway table and left it sitting unopened as nothing cried out for immediate attention.

Another long week had ended for Father Tom. It was Sunday evening and finally he had some time to relax and regroup before another week rushed to greet him with its speed and fury. He made his way into the parlor and bent to turn on the light by his chair. He went to the fireplace and knelt on the hearth rug, took a match from the match safe by the fireplace and struck it to kindle the fire. As the match brought flame to the kindling and newspaper crumpled under the lay of logs in the fireplace the flame began to take hold and the kindling began to burn with its characteristic crackle and pop. He rubbed his hands together in the rush of heat that radiated from the fire and let its warmth move over and through him before he stood and walked toward his recliner in its place next to the fireplace. He noticed that Mrs. Conti, in her usual efficient manner, had laid out a simple supper on the sideboard next to his chair. A cold Montreal smoked meat sandwich on marbled rye with a small bag of potato chips would wait while he unwound from the busyness of his day. He poured himself a nice glass of port to sip while he had a pipe before dinner.

He unbuttoned his vest and arched his back in a stretch to take out the kinks. He reached to the clerical collar that was at his throat and unfastened it and laid it on the mantle then he took a seat by the fire. It was good to be finished for the week. His week began on Monday and ended on Sunday evening so for him another week was finished. His Monday was a day off and he had not even taken time to plan anything more than a trip to the local pipe shop to pick up some needed pipe cleaners and a few more tins of tobacco for his cellar.

He talked to himself as was his custom as he settled into the fine old leather recliner. He sipped his port and said, “Ahhhh. I couldn’t ask for anything more than this! A good smoked meat sandwich, a glass of port – what a great supper Mrs. Conti has laid out for me. And now a blazing fire in the fire place and a comfortable chair to relax in with my pipe before I eat what she has prepared! Life is good!” The smooth rich port seeped into his cold bones and combined with the warmth of the fire he was soon comfortable and at ease. His week had closed and now he could afford to spend some time alone with his thoughts while he enjoyed his pipes and tobaccos. Though he enjoyed people and dealing with all of their joys and sorrows he needed this time to recharge and nothing provided that better for him than time alone in the company of his pipes.

He reached to the side of his chair into the small smoking cabinet that held his favourite pipes and tobacco. It was a dark, carved piece of furniture that he had been drawn to when he saw it because of its functional provisions for his hobby. It had a small cupboard that held six of his pipes in an upright rack and still had room for several tins of tobacco. On the top was a beautiful (at least to him it was beautiful) ashtray. Next to that was a small holder for his matches – equipped with a striker and room for a tamper and pipe cleaners. It fit comfortably next to his chair at just the right height so that he could reach it while sitting. He looked over the six pipes in the rack and selected a small bent Dunhill Shell Briar Dublin to smoke. It was a favourite of his – not because it was a Dunhill, but because it fit his hand perfectly and had never failed to deliver a great smoke. The Shell finish was very tactile because of the deep ring blast that encircled the bowl. As he held it he enjoyed the feeling of the pipe in his hand. From the stack of tins in the cupboard he picked up an open tin of Escudo. He used a coin from his vest pocket to carefully lift the lid from the tin. It was dime that he kept in that pocket for just this purpose. Held between his thumb and forefinger it was the perfect tool to lever the lid off of a tin of one of his choice aged tobaccos. He used it every time because he was meticulous about closing his tins to keep as much air out as possible. He did not like overly dry tobacco and hated to lose some of the taste by rehydrating it.

He pinched together a few of the coins of the tobacco between his fingers and placed them in the palm of his hand where he rolled them into a ball. He carefully stuffed the ball into his pipe. He enjoyed the taste of the Escudo prepared this way. Some of his friends always rubbed out the coins of Escudo but he found the flavor more pungent and full using his chosen method. No matter how care he took with the tobacco as he stuffed it into his pipe a few shreds of tobacco inevitably found their way onto his lap and finally into the space between the cushion and the arm of the chair. He raised the loaded pipe to his nose and sniffed the aroma of the great Virginia/Perique blend and savoured the tang in his nostrils. “Mmmm…what a great smell… it promises a fine smoke.” He had always enjoyed this part of the ritual of pipe smoking. For him it was a necessary part of his enjoyment of the pipe. That initial sniff began the magic of his smoke.

He struck a match on the striker on the top of his cabinet and moved it over the top of the bowl, pulling the flame to the tobacco as he gently sucked on the stem. The first light ignited the tobacco and it began to twist as it sprung to the top of the bowl. The charring light caught on and the nice smell of sweet Virginia rose above the bowl. It smoldered for a bit and then went out. Father Tom tamped it down with a small pewter pipe nail he took from the cabinet top and then struck a second match and watched as the tobacco caught fire and a thin curl of blue smoke thickened and rose from the bowl and then seeped from the edges of his lips and around the button of the mouth piece. He settled back to enjoy the full flavoured smoke of the aged Escudo. On the edge of his mind it niggled at him to check on how much Escudo he had left in his cellar but the thought quickly disappeared in the magic of the smoke. He was moving into that comfortable zone that pipe smokers seek in those alone moments of contemplative smoking. Nothing was better than that quiet place.

He pulled on the smoke with his mouth and let the smoke roll through his mouth and out his nose the taste of sweet Virginias mixed with the spicy pungency of Perique on the back edges of his tongue, in his throat and in his nostrils. The flavours of the blend tickled his senses with its usual urgency. The combined ability of a good pipe and tobacco to melt away the edges of a long hard week was a continuing source of enjoyment and amazement to him. He never quite understood how it all worked but he loved that effect as he smoked. It seemed that his cares and struggles just melted away as he was given perspective on his life in the act of smoking his pipe. As the smoke curled around his head he closed his eyes and settled back into the old leather chair. He pulled the handle on the side of the chair and the foot rest came up under his feet. He let out a quiet sigh as he drifted into the zone of the smokey air around his head. The blue smoke wreathed his head and he sat quietly, reflectively in the smooth flavor of the smoke. All thoughts of the smoked meat sandwich on the sideboard disappeared in to the taste of his pipe. He was lost in the space of the moment and all other thoughts has slipped from his mind.

Father Tom must have sat that way in an almost mystical state for the better part of an hour. The only noise in the house was the sound of the grandfather clock in the entry way to the house. As it struck 8:00pm he was roused from his state. The pipe had gone out and the room note of the fine Escudo hung in the air around him. He tapped the ash out into his potted fern next to the chair. The old fern seemed to love the ash almost as much as he loved the tobacco. He reached for a pipe cleaner and ran it through is pipe from button to bowl. He then folded it and swabbed out the bowl itself and tapped out the last of the ash. He placed his pipe in the rack inside the cabinet and put the tin of Escudo back in the stack of tins. He laid the tamper on top of the cabinet and picked up the burned matches and the folded pipe cleaner from his ash tray. He dropped the foot rest on the old recliner and pushed himself out of the chair. He threw the matches and cleaner into the fire and then went across the room to the sideboard and picked up the plate of his supper and carried it back to the chair. He sat down and set it on his lap and sipped his port. Then he took a bite of the sandwich and savoured the smokey taste of the meat. This evening had turned out to be exactly what he needed. A sip or port, a smoke of good tobacco, a great sandwich and the crackling fire to give him warmth. He turned and looked at the stack of books on the mantle and eyed the title that would be his companion with his evening pipe. Life was good and Father Tom enjoyed the moments of this evening with all the pleasure it had as if there would be no more.

12/04/10

Father Tom – Breaking the rules together


It was good to be outside again. The cold winter winds and rain had kept him uncomfortably chilled and housebound. Father Tom had not left home other than to go out on his visits and parish work for more days than he cared to remember. Today he had woken up early and saw the clear sky outside and checked the temperature. It appeared that the Pineapple Express had arrived with a shift in the wind and it was actually warm enough to walk outside. He decided it was a day for a walk along the sea wall. He packed his satchel with a good book, a couple of tins of tobacco, his favourite pipe along with a tamper and Zippo lighter. He left a note on the kitchen table for his housekeeper letting her know he was taking the day off and did not need breakfast or lunch. He put on his top coat and his cap and locked the door behind him. He walked to the bus stop and caught the number 19 bus to Stanley Park. The bus was pretty empty as it was still early for the second run of commuters. He sat back and looked out the window as the bus ride toward the Park began.

The bus arrived at the first stop inside Stanley Park and he got off. He walked along the side walk by the Yacht Club to get to the sea wall. It looked like it was going to be one of those rare days in Vancouver, the sun was shining, it was crisp and cold and there was no one walking along the path. “Perfect”, he thought as he began the walk along the sea wall taking in the cool air and looking for the right bench to on which to sit and relax in the sun. He grabbed one of the memorial benches along the walk and sat down to pack a pipe. He knew that it was no longer permitted to smoke in the parks of the city and certainly not here on the sea wall but it was a quiet day and no one was out and about so he thought he would smoke anyway. The waves were lightly breaking just beyond the edge of the sea wall. He could see the scattered debris of the storm of the last few days on the beach below. The cruise ships and cargo ships were anchored in the harbour against the beautiful backdrop of mountains and bridges made the setting calming to the soul.

He put his satchel on the seat next to him and took out the tin of Elizabethan Mixture, an older version of the blend by Murrays, and packed it in his pipe. Over the years he seemed to almost do this without thinking to get a good pack. It was just the right load to give a good draw. He took out his lighter and rolled the wheel and got the flame going and drew it to the tobacco. The bloom sprang up at the touch of the flame and caught fire. He drew gently on the bowl pulling the flame into it. He tamped the tobacco and struck a second light to the bowl and watched as a billow of smoke rose from the bowl. Ah this had the makings of a great day! Sunshine and no wind, perfect for an outdoor pipe. It was a shame that the city had made this a guilty pleasure, but at this rate, the way he was feeling it would be worth the fine or warning. He put his satchel on the ground beside him and settled in for a good smoke.

As Father Tom sat smoking his pipe there was a rustling in the brush behind his bench. The rustling grew louder and sounded as if someone was walking through the brush toward him. He turned to the side so that he could see what was going on in the bush and waited, watching while he enjoyed his pipe. He wanted to see what was disturbing his solace – at least he knew it was not one of the constables who would ticket him for smoking! They did not traverse the woods of the park. After a few moments an odd figure walked out of the bush. I say odd not because of any prejudice regarding his state, but because of his appearance. He was a fairly tall individual – at least 6 feet. His clothes had that lived in look to them. His pants were covered with debris and dirt with several other pairs of pants peeking out below the cuff.  His belt was a piece of rope that was knotted in a half hitch and his upper body was covered by several layers of clothing as well. The top one looked like a slicker that was a bit camouflaged; the cuffs of a flannel shirt in greys and reds stuck out with what looked like the ragged cuffs of a union suit peeking out at the wrists. He wore a pair of fingerless gloves to keep his hands warm. His head was covered in hair – a long scraggly beard and moustache covered the lower half of it and long, unruly hair topped it off. His face bore the weathered creases that came from having lived outside for a long time.

To Father Tom’s surprise the fellow had an old pipe tucked in the corner of his mouth and there was a wisp of smoke curling up around his face. The pipe looked like it was a regular feature, a part of his face. He grinned at the good Father, gave a chuckle and said, “Looks like there are at least two of us here who have the good sense to break that obnoxious new Parks Board ruling against smoking in public spaces. Mind if I share your bench and join you for a bowl?”

Without waiting for a reply he sat down next to Tom and took a deep draw on his pipe and it came back to life. The smoke rose from the bowl. He had a contented look on his face as he puffed, leaning back and looking around him at the world – it seemed all was as it should have been. He was quiet for a long time and Father Tom wondered if he should interrupt the quiet to introduce himself to this fellow piper. He decided not to break the silence and to just sit and wait, quietly puffing on his own pipe. The sun shone on them both, the birds on the water made the only noise of the day. Things could not have been in better harmony.

Finally the nameless smoker, interrupted the silence and said, “M’ name’s Bill”. He said nothing more and returned to his smoke.

Father Tom responded in like manner, “Name is Tom.”

They shared the comfortable silence for awhile and both puffed contentedly on their pipes. The billows of smoke encircled the bench on which they sat and you could not have found two more contented looking pipers in all of Vancouver. It was a beautiful day and they were enjoying a view that was hard to beat, a smoke that was delightful and the company of a like minded brother of the briar. As they both came to the end of their bowls the feeling of contentment and restfulness lingered.

“What are you smoking Bill?” Tom asked.

“Whatever I can get a hold of is what I smoke,” replied Bill. “I’m not particular at all. Whatever I pack and light, I taste and enjoy! Doesn’t pay for a man of my means to be too picky about his choice of tobacco.”

“Guess that is true enough Bill. But me, I am partial to Virginia tobaccos and those that have a dab of Perique in them. I don’t smoke many English blends and almost never smoke Burley ones. Today I have a couple of tins of aged Virginia here with me. I have some Dunhill Elizabethan Mixture and some stoved Virginia Flake – Dark Star. I was going to load a bowl of the Dark Star would you want to give some of it a try?”

With that he took a tin of 1997 McClelland’s Dark Star out of his satchel and opened it. He took a few of the broken flakes between his thumb and forefinger, placed it in his palm and rubbed it out. He rolled it into a ball, springy and light, and loaded his pipe. He noticed while he did this that Bill was watching intently. When he had finished loading his pipe he passed the tin to Bill. He quietly watched as Bill copied what he had seen him do. Tom lit his pipe and pulled the smoke into his mouth. “Dark Star is sure a good smoke”, he thought as he contentedly smoked a bowl.

He watched as Bill set the tin down on the bench between them and tamped the tobacco with his forefinger. He took an old Bic lighter from his pocket and set fire to the tobacco. He puffed on it a few times, tamped it again with his finger and gave it a second light. He sat back, closed his eyes and savoured the tobacco. He gave a contented nod of his head as he exhaled the smoke. There was a palpable silence around the bench as the two men sipped the smoke of the aged Virginia.

“I like it!” exclaimed Bill. “Man this is really good stuff. I can see why you enjoy smoking it.”

“Wait until it burns down a bit deeper into the bowl. It is an amazing smoke. The dimensions of flavour are truly remarkable,” Tom said. Then with an after thought he added, “Maybe that doesn’t matter to you as much as it does to me but…hey what can I say, I love this tobacco.”

Bill turned toward him with a bit of a twinkle in his eye and said, “Don’t be mistaken, it matters to me as well. I just don’t get to smoke this kind of stuff that often!” With that comment he closed his eyes and sat back to enter into the smoke with a silent revelry.

The two men sat quietly, each in their own world. Each one left alone to their own thoughts as they sipped on the smoke. If you had walked by at that moment you would have seen two older gents contentedly sitting in a haze of smoke with a slight smile on their faces and the sun shining down upon them. They looked, in their contentment, as if nothing could have been better in their world.

As the tobacco burned down to the bottom of the bowl and left it mottled ash remnant behind in each of their pipes, the men turned toward each other. Tom looked down at the nearly full tin of Dark Star on the bench silently mulled over how he was going to give it to Bill. As Bill tapped out the ash in his pipe against the heel of his boot he murmured, “thank you Tom. That was a memorable smoke for me. Can’t remember when I have last had a smoke like that in good company to boot!” He rose to leave and stuck his empty pipe in his mouth. He looked back at the woods and said, “Take care Tom. Maybe I’ll meet you here again one day.”

Before he could walk away Tom rose as well. He bent and picked up the tin of Dark Star and handed it to Bill. He said, “Here Bill, take this with you. It is nearly full and there is a lot of good smoking to be had in that tin. I hate to see you wondering when you will get to taste that again. Enjoy it. You have given me a great day!”

After shaking hands, the two men parted company. Bill went back into the woods behind the pathway and Tom started heading back to the city. The ocean was on his left as he walked and weighed the day’s events in his head. It had been a great day and he had thoroughly enjoyed the company and the scenery. Now it was time to get back to his work. It was starting to get cold so he stopped and reloaded his pipe with some Elizabethan Mixture and lit it for the walk back to the bus stop. At least his hands would be warm and he could enjoy the pipe as he walked.

02/01/11