Father Tom – An unexpected encounter

Early Tuesday morning Father Tom put on his clerical collar and his Harris Tweed jacket before walking to the parlour to pick up a pipe and tools for the day. He put a little bent Dublin in his pocket and a pouch of tobacco, tamper, pipe cleaner and his lighter in the other. He had to be at the hospital at 6am because one of his parishioners was due for surgery that morning. It had become his custom to be there with them before surgery and before the anaesthesia so he could encourage and comfort them. He lived fairly close to the hospital so he walked there.

Upon arrival he took the elevator to the 4th floor and found Mrs. Nathanson’s room. He knocked gently on the door, called out softly that he was there and heard her invite him in. They talked for a brief time and she shared her fears and expectations with him. He finished his prayer just as the orderly came through the door to take her to surgery. He squeezed her hand and said, “See in a little while.” He walked with the cart all the way to the door of the surgical suite and bid her farewell.

Tom walked back to the surgical waiting room and checked with the nurse to find out when the surgery was to be over. He gave her his cell phone number and asked that they call him when the surgery was over and Mrs. Nathanson was back in her room. Since she had no relatives in the city and her son was in Europe and would not arrive in Vancouver until the next day, Father Tom was the contact. He took the elevator down to the cafeteria and ordered a coffee and a quick breakfast. He picked up a newspaper and took it to the table with his breakfast. He scanned the pages quickly and then laid aside the paper as nothing caught his eye. Once breakfast was done he carried his tray to the cart and headed to the main entrance.

Before going outside he packed his pipe with a bit of tobacco he brought with him and lit it before heading outdoors. He put on his cap and began the walk from the hospital to Cambie Street – just a few blocks away. It was far enough for a good pipe. He wanted to catch the train up to his favourite pipe shop and pick up 100 grams of his favourite shop blend and some pipe cleaners. He would have just enough time before the surgery was over to get the tobacco and get back to the hospital.

He arrived at the train terminal after a 10 minute walk and put his pipe in his pocket, bought the ticket and went down to the platform to catch the train. Within a few minutes he was on his way for a short ride to the 41st Ave. station where a short walk would take him to his favourite pipe shop – RJ Clarkes.

He walked up the stairs, crossed the street and entered the pipe shop. The owner was in the back at the counter and nodded his greetings as he helped another customer. Father Tom, made his way to the jars of house blends and picked out his favourite. He knew it was a McClellands 5100 blend but he bought it from this shop regularly to have an excuse for visiting. He took time to inhale the aromas of several other jars of tobacco – he knew that the day would soon come when the jars would be moved behind the counter and covered to meet the increasingly harsh Vancouver laws regulating the sale of tobacco. He would miss the readily available buffet of smells and textures of the various blends so he always took time to savour the smells.

The other customer left and the shop owner said to Father Tom, “How are you today Father? What can I get for you?

“I am doing well, just stopping by before I go back to the hospital. I’ll take 100 grams of this blend and then two bundles of pipe cleaners. I could also use a bit of lighter fluid for my Old Boy. Thanks Richard.”

Richard poured the contents of the jar onto the old scale on the work table and measured out 100 grams. He took a bag and labelled it with the house name and then lifted the scoop off the scale and slid the contents into the bag. He had done it so often that not a thread of tobacco missed the bag. He sealed the bag and carried it to the cash register and put two bundles of pipe cleaners and a can of lighter fluid on the counter with it. He quickly tallied the total with the dreaded tax and quoted it to Tom. Tom took out his clip and handed Richard the cash and thanked him. He took the tobacco and other purchases and slipped them into his coat pocket – the opposite one he had his pipe in!

“Thanks Richard; I will be back another day for a chat. I have a parishioner at the hospital that should just about be done with her surgery so I need to be heading back. Take care of yourself.” And with that and a farewell from Richard he headed toward the door. He paused outside the door and relit his pipe then made his way back to the train and on to the hospital.

When he got to the hospital his pipe went into his coat pocket again. It would be fine until he walked home later. He took the elevator to the surgical waiting room and found that as he walked through the door his cell phone rang. He looked at the receptionist and they both laughed.

“Mrs. Nathanson is on her way up to her room. They will need about a ½ hour to get her settled in. The surgery went very well. The doctors are very pleased. You can head up there if you would like.”

“Thanks”, said Father Tom. He then went back to the elevators and took it to the fourth floor. Once he got there he remembered that there was an outdoor patio that he could wait on and enjoy a bit of sunshine. He found it and settled into a comfortable chair near the wall overlooking the downtown. He looked around and saw ash trays on the tables so he took out his pipe and relit it. He sat back and looked around the deck. Off to his left he noticed another pipe smoker sitting at a table. He tipped his pipe to the other man and continued to contentedly sit with his pipe. He was lost in thought momentarily and failed to hear the footsteps behind him. He gave a start as the voice behind him said, “I see you found my hiding place. Great place for a pipe eh?”

The man then sat down across from him at the table and Tom noticed then that he was wearing scrubs. They introduced themselves to each other and contentedly sat smoking their pipes.

“I look forward to my post surgery smoke here on the fourth floor patio. I am hoping the hospital continues to forget that it is here and doesn’t make it a non-smoking patio as well. I am not sure where I would go then. It is great to be able to sit here away from the door and other people and decompress after a surgery. What brings you here Father?” said the surgeon.

“Hmmm. It is a great place. I did not know it was here and would not have guessed but for the ashtrays. I have a parishioner here who underwent surgery this morning. She is due back to her room very soon so I thought I would step out for some fresh air while waiting for her. When I found I could have a pipe while I waited it was a bonus.”

With that exchange of words Father Tom’s pipe was finished. He looked through the door and could see that Mrs. Nathanson had not come back to her room yet. So he took the bag of tobacco from his pocket and after running a pipe cleaner through his pipe, packed a bowl of the new tobacco. He laid the bag on the table between the doctor and him. He took out his lighter and fired it up, tamped and relit and settled back for a bowl.

The doctor reached across the table and took the bag and opened it and put it to his nose. “That smells great. What is it? Smells like Virginia and looks like it as well.”

Tom answered, “McClelland’s Red cake, 5100. It is my go to smoke. Help yourself to a bowl if you want to.”

The doctor tapped out his dottle in the ashtray and ran a cleaner through as well. He loaded a bowl of the 5100 and lit it. He sipped contentedly at the smoke and it was obvious he was enjoying it. He commented, “Where did you pick this up? It is just the right moisture level for me. I really like it. I generally have been smoking some stuff I pick up downtown that is a Virginia Burley blend and it is no where near as good as this.”

“Ah… RJ Clarke’s on Cambie and 41st. They carry it all the time and you can find it under the name on the label. Great smoke.”

With little more conversation they settled into the quiet comradery of the pipe. The cadence they shared almost matched. The wreath of smoke around them both showed the contented state of the two pipers. After a short time Tom saw the gurney with Mrs. Nathanson being wheeled into her room. He relaxed knowing that he would finish the bowl before his visit.

The surgeon stood and put his pipe in his pocket and thanked Tom for the tobacco. He said, “I hope to meet you again here on the roof! Have a good visit with Mrs. Nathanson. Her surgery went exceptionally well and she should recover with no complications at all. I have to head back to work now as I have appointments to see to at the office. Take care.” And with that he left the patio.

Tom was speechless for a moment as he realized that he had been sitting with the surgeon who had done his parishioners’ surgery. He had to laugh as he thought about the fact that the surgeon was a pipe smoker. Who would have guessed that they would connect on the patio and share a smoke?

June 2, 2011

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