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.