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

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