The dream of an uninterrupted evening at home came to an abrupt end with a knock on the front door of the manse. Father Tom laid his book down and took a pull on his pipe. He rose from the chair, grumbling to himself as he made his way from the parlour to the front hallway. He moved aside the curtain and peered out the window next to the door so that he could see who it was that was disturbing his quiet evening with his pipe and book. He did not know why it happened, but it seemed like every time he planned an evening like this it somehow never happened as planned. Every single time, he would settle into his routine – pick a pipe, load it with a favourite tobacco, put his feet up and settle in for quiet evening smoke in front of the fireplace – somebody or something would intrude upon his plan. As he looked out the window there was a man’s face was squashed up against the glass staring back at him – sticking out his tongue and bugging out his eyes. Tom jumped back in surprise before it dawned on him who it was. A loud laugh burst out on both sides of the door simultaneously.
He barely had unlatched the door before it was pushed open by his guest. The big man, who lunged in the door, wrapped him in a bear hug that lifted his feet off the ground. Tom let out an “oomph” as he was crushed against the fellow’s chest. Once his feet landed back on the ground he tried to catch his breath. The man greeted him with a boisterous, “Hey Tom, you old reprobate, how are you doing? Did I interrupt your evening pipe? I sure hope so, what kind of friend would I be if I did not mess with your schedules.”
Tom laughed and responded, “I am doing better than I deserve, Ed. How long has it been? Man I cannot remember the last time your “largeness” filled my hallway. You did indeed interrupt me and it kind of ticked me off that somebody would have the nerve to intrude upon my solitude. But now that I know who it is I have to say it is good to see you. Come on in and sit with me next to the fire. You can pack a pipe with me and enjoy a good smoke. I think I have some aged bourbon in the sideboard so we can smoke, sip and make a good evening of it.”
That was all the encouragement that Ed needed. He shed his coat and dropped it on the chair in the front hallway. He flipped his hat on top of it. Out came his pipe from his jacket pocket and he followed Tom into the parlour. After he had settled into the chair on the other side of the table from Tom, he picked up a tin of tobacco from the table and filled his pipe. He picked up Tom’s lighter and fired it up. All of this happened in a matter of seconds and was done in silence. Ed sucked on the pipe to get the tobacco burning well and returned to Tom’s earlier question.
“Hmmm, I think if I remember correctly Tom, the last time I was here was about 2 years ago. I have covered a lot of ground since then. The diocese sent me to Costa Rica for quite awhile. They have a few congregations there and a seminary. I was the rector of a small Anglican congregation and taught in the seminary until a week ago. I received a letter last Monday from Vancouver calling me home! I have no idea what they have in store for me next but I am here to find out. Besides, I could not pass up the opportunity of a visit with you.” He puffed his pipe for a few minutes, enjoying the aged tobacco that Tom had left on the table.
His eyes were closed as he contentedly puffed and said, “You still love that aged tobac eh Tom? You have a lot of it stored away somewhere? I always wondered when you would run out but it seems you have a good stock of it. I always love that about my visits here. I know I will have some good conversation and some good tobacco. Tell me, what have you been up to?”
Tom drew on his pipe and exhaled a wreath of smoke. He spoke around the bit in his mouth. “I am writing a book Ed. I am using all my spare time to draft the stories that will go into the book. I am trying to combine tales of my ministry over the years with my love of all things pipe. It will be reminiscences combined with my favourite pastime – the pipe. I have written twelve stories so far and have the same number sketched out for writing. Each story covers an aspect of my life blended with a good dose of my pipe smoking ramblings. I have no illusion that it will ever be a best seller, but at least it will be something I can leave behind for those who care.”
When had finished talking he stood and went to the sideboard to pour a couple of tumblers of bourbon. He wanted a moment to compose himself before going back to continue the conversation with Ed. He did not add water or ice, just the straight elixir for them to savour and enjoy. He carried the tumblers back to the chairs and handed one to Ed. He eased into his chair and took a sip of the potion. It went well with the Virginia he was smoking. He closed his eyes and the thought ran through his mind – “Can’t get much better than this; sitting with an old friend, a tumbler of bourbon and a good pipe in front of the fire on a rainy evening.”
He did not realize that he had spoken these thoughts audibly until Ed responded with “Yep you are right about that!”
“I am curious to hear more about your writing Tom. I really like the idea. You have always been a wordsmith so I look forward to reading what you have written. In fact, I would not mind reading them while I am in town – you know I am here for the rest of the week and it would interrupt the tedium of the meetings with the bishop. I have already booked a hotel in town near the offices so I can make the meetings easily, but I have most of the evenings free. It would give me lots of time to read through the stories and get a feel for what you are doing with them. What do you think? I would really love to have a look at them.”
Tom replied, “Well… are you sure? They’re not finished yet and I don’t know if they are any good at all. Hmmm… I guess I don’t see why not. I’ll get them now; otherwise I will probably forget to give them to you before you leave.”
Tom went to his study and stopped by his desk. He tamped his pipe and relit it with a lighter on his desk. He paused for a little bit to think about what he was doing. It was the first time anyone would read these stories and he had the cold feet of any writer who is putting his words into the hands of another reader. He put aside all the “what if’s” and picked up a copy of the manuscript of what he had written so far. He took a deep draw on his pipe before leaving the study and decided that he had no real reticence in having Ed read them. He was a good friend and had always been a competent editor. With that resolve he carried his book back out to the parlour and handed it to Ed.
“Here you go. Have a look at them and let me know what you think. I want you to be honest. If they are not any good just tell me, you don’t have to worry too much about hurting my feelings. Better you than someone else who I don’t know. Mark any edits or things you think need to be changed right on the manuscript for me. The only thing I ask is that you don’t use a red pen as the memories of school grading are still too painful.” The last words were said with a wink.
Ed reached out and took the book in his hands. He thumbed through the pages and gave the titles of the pieces a cursory glance. He was quiet as he read the preface and some of the first story. He slowly puffed his pipe and let out an occasional hmmm. He then set the manuscript down on his lap and turned in earnest to his pipe. He picked up the tamper and gently tamped the pipe. He then puffed a bit, picked up the book again and returned to his quiet.
The evening continued like that for a long time in front of the fireplace there in Tom’s parlour. Ed and Tom sat sipping their bourbon, puffing their pipes and enjoying the mutual pleasure that a pipe brings. The quietude they enjoyed was the kind that only happens when two friends are comfortable with each other and with silence.
As the bourbon was sipped away and the pipes went out Tom walked Ed to the front hallway. He put on his hat and coat. He looked Tom in the eye and nodded his head. They knew they would share another evening soon.
I think, fellow pipers, that if we could have entered for a moment into the mind of either man, we would have heard each say, “Now this was a perfect evening; it couldn’t get any better at all.”