One of my side hobbies is to collect old photos of pipemen (both hard copies and electronic versions) and try to craft a story from them. I love to try and imagine the lives of the men and women in the photo and then write a short story from there. This particular story came to me from a photo I have had on my hard drive for quite a while. One day this past week I sat down and looked at it and the story came to me. You might imagine a totally different story and so might I on a different day. That is the fun of the process for me. As for this version of the story I am sure it will be revised over time but I thought I would share it as it currently stands. Thanks for taking time to read it.
Henry and Paul first met at the local pipe shop in Gastown. Henry had come in to replenish his supply of his favourite tobacco and Paul was behind the counter working as a clerk. They were close to the same age and both had a love for their pipes. Being young they did not have a large collection of pipes. In fact if you had followed them home from the shop and seen where they each lived you would understand that like many young men renting a room in the city and working long hours they did not have much more than a change of clothes, a few books and a pair of boots. These two each had the pipe in their mouth, a pouch of tobacco and a match safe full of dry matches in the pocket of his coat. They both had a nail with a large head that served as a tamper as they smoked.
The day they met it was a rainy Vancouver day – normal for November. Henry was on a lunch break from his office on Cordova Street and had run over to the shop to pick up some tobacco. As he came through the door he was surprised to see that Richard was not working that day – or at least he was not out front. Rather, behind the counter stood a dapper young fellow with a waistcoat and watch fob. His sandy coloured moustache matched his hair perfectly. Henry had always wanted to grow a moustache but just did not have much luck with it. Once the young man had finished with his customer he introduced himself to Henry.
“Good afternoon sir, my name is Paul. I am new in the shop so I have not met many of the regulars yet. By new, I don’t mean I am new to the trade. I have been working in Victoria for several years at the Old Morris Shop and just moved to Vancouver. I stopped by and introduced myself to Richard and he hired me. What can I help you with?”
Henry replied, “Good to meet you Paul. I just came to pick up a couple of tins of my regular tobacco. I am quite taken with Dunhill Nightcap and I am just about out. I will take two tins of that if you have them. I am also interested in trying one of Richard’s blends that is kind of like Nightcap. Do you have any recommendations?”
They both made their way to the tobacco counter to see what Richard had available. Henry looked and smelled a few of the blends but nothing quite caught his fancy. So instead of one of the regular blends Paul decided he would custom blend a batch for Henry. He took down the recipe book and found the blend he was looking for. It would provide a base for the mixture he had in mind. He had a few additions of his own that he would put in the new blend. He took down the jars of tobaccos that he would blend to make the batch for Henry. He mixed the components noted on the card on the blending board, added his contributions and then tossed them together to mix the pieces. All the while Henry was watching the “chef” at work. He was amused at the drama of the production in front of him. Paul was so intent on his work that he almost forgot that Henry was there. He just mixed and checked the recipe and when he was done looked up. He had to laugh at himself.
“Sorry about that old chap. I was so intent on the mix that I totally lost sight of the customer. Have a whiff of this. Do you have your pipe with you? Dumb question, I know but it has happened so often that I always ask. Load a bowl of this and see what you think.”
So Henry did just that, he took his pipe from his coat pocket tamped out the dottle and then loaded a bowl of the “recipe”. He took his time packing the bowl – mind you it did not take too long. The whole thing from the question, to the mixing to the filling a bowl had taken a few minutes. When he had a bowl packed he lit a match and drew on his pipe. The smoke curled around his head as he breathed out. He was quiet for a while as he tasted the new blend.
“Hmmm, this is good stuff. I can taste the Orientals, the Latakia, the Virginia and is that a bit of cigar leaf?” He contentedly puffed on his pipe. This was a good blend.
Paul answered, “Yes I put a dab of cigar leaf in – my addition to the recipe. I always have liked the added taste that it brings to a blend. What do you think? Remember it will only deepen in flavour as it sits in your pouch.”
Henry silently puffed his pipe, drawing the smoke into his mouth, sipping the flavour and letting it curl out around the mouthpiece. This was truly a good smoke.
“Excuse me Paul, what time is it? I need to get back to the office before I am late. Can you pack that up for me and I will settle up. I will continue to smoke it over the weekend and be back in on Monday at noon. I am thinking I will need to get some more of this if it continues to smoke this well.”
With that Paul picked a small tin from under the counter, packed in the 4 ounces of his recipe and sealed the tin. He wrote the mixture components on a card and put it on file with Henry’s name and a date. Next time around it would be just a matter of following the recipe – kind of a My Mixture Gastown style. He handed the newly tinned batch to Henry with the words, “Enjoy the new blend my friend. I am sure I will see you Monday and we will adjust things as necessary.”
Henry went out the door, saying over his shoulder, “Talk soon Paul. I am pretty sure this one will be a keeper. I just have a good feeling about it.”
The door bounced closed and once the chime over it was stilled Paul went back to work, cleaning up the remnants off the blending table and putting them in a jar that Richard kept under the counter. The jar was beginning fill up with a good bunch of tobacco and would soon go into the leavings bags that were sold at a great price to the daring pipemen who came through the door.
by Steve Laug 10/21/13