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:
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!
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.