Blog by Dal Stanton
This story started with a snow blizzard in Golden, Colorado, which made me long for the sunny, balmy weather of South Florida and with a serendipitous question to my wife: ‘Do you want to go to Florida?’ Her positive response set in motion a road trip which embarked barely 48 hours later heading to visit family in Port St. Lucy, on Florida’s east coast. The 48-hour countdown included packing my ‘Pipe Restoration Mobile Unit’ and contacting friends and family along the 2K+ mile trek who would ‘offer a room at the inn’ so we would not have to stay in COVID prone motels and hotels. So, joyfully I hung my snow shovel and my wife topped off the myriad of bird feeders under her care with oil rich sesame seed, and we headed to Florida on a road trip yearning for warmer weather!During our couple of weeks in Port St. Lucie, I was able to restore a few pipes shortening the queue a bit. My wife and I also made several trips to Jensen Beach to enjoy the sun and waves. Of course, I also enjoyed several bowls while continuing to perfect my pipe lighting prowess using matches in the balmy beach wind 😊. This time, my Savinelli Goliath is packed with Hearth & Home’s ‘Black House’, a very nice mixture that is described in Pipes & Cigars as “…a good amount of Latakia, bright, fragrant, Orientals, sweet Virginias and a touch of dark-fired Kentucky.” And to simulate the effects of long-term aging, the description concludes, a bit of Perique and unflavored black Cavendish is added. I was thankful for the time!
However, the time went all too fast and before we knew it, we were planning the return trip to Golden – calling friends and family making hopeful ‘reservations’ to drop by for a warm bed and breakfast.
During our road trips, whenever possible, we enjoy going ‘off road’ which means for us leaving the interstates and driving on the ‘old roads’ which are marked predominantly as US Highways which used to be the main roads back in the day. Of course, one must have the time to go off road and not worry about the periodic slowdowns behind tractors and lower speed limits going through the little towns and hamlets which often seem frozen in a past times. Besides taking in the changing scenery and quaint villages, one of our favorite past times is stopping at the plethora of antique stores, second-hand shops and weekend flea markets which occupy the ‘old roads’ with staunch opposition to change. The draw is to the shelves and cases showcasing once new things which have become more valuable with time.
We were able to explore several shops during our road trip and of course, my radar is always wired to discovering pipe treasures. I did see several pipes here and there, but they were priced a bit too much and left no ‘meat on the bone’ for me to restore and sell to benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. Even though I did not find any pipes to bring home to add to the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” Only!’ collection, I did hit pay dirt finding some pipe racks to help display my growing personal collection. I landed 3 nice smaller racks and a double deck 24 pipe rack, which will work very nicely. A few pictures show my picking spoils!One of the highlights of our road trip for me was visiting an honest to goodness tobacconist. As our return trip to Golden came together, we were glad to find ‘room at the inn’ with longtime, dear friends and colleagues from our years working in Ukraine. Clay and Darlene arrived in Odessa, Ukraine, on the Black Sea coast, in 1993 after serving several years in Portugal. They arrived with their 4 boys and our family, with 2 girls and 3 boys, arrived in 1995. Those historic years were both challenging but extremely rewarding as we lived and worked together during the difficult times after the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
After working and living in Ukraine all these years, Clay and Darlene retired this year to Clay’s hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, where he continues to use his doctoral degree teaching locally at Belhaven College and at our alma mater, Reformed Theological Seminary. We stayed two nights with Clay and Darlene which gave us time to eat a lot, go picking at the local Flowood Flea Market, buy books at the Book Rack and my favorite, a visit to The Country Squire – which included only Clay and me (the ladies passed 😊).
I was envious that Clay’s tobacconist was barely a 10-minute drive from his home. When we opened the door to The Country Squire, we were greeted with the warm, welcoming aroma of rich fresh tobacco scents. As one expects (or hopes) a tobacconist to be, joining the olfactory experience was the immediate sense of visual overload as the eye takes in more than the brain can process. The first one to greet us as we walked through the door was a ‘traditional’ pandemic masked carved wooden Indian. A quick initial scan picked up the cigar humidor to the left and to the wall on the right, an ample collection of tobacco tins. Straight ahead, underneath the ‘The Country Squire’ sign hanging from the cross truss were cases and wall displays revealing new pipes of varying pedigrees. My initial response was to exhale slowly with a rising sense that the visit to The Country Squire would be a good one, indeed.I found a brief history of The Country Squire on their website helpful in explaining a sense of the ‘community feel’ this tobacconist shop had become in the Jackson area (See: History LINK):
Mr. and Mrs. Reeves, along with their daughters Kit and Kim, worked to bring the Deep South a pipe and cigar experience like no other. In the 1980s The Country Squire had four locations in and around Jackson, all specializing in premium tobacco products. In 1981 after the death of Jim, Mrs. Reeves faithfully ran the business for another 31 years, eventually consolidating the brand to the original location on Lakeland Drive.
The Squire developed into quite a community over the years. It was common for a customer’s tobacco order to be weighed up by a Reeves grandchild. Regulars in the shop included Mississippi personalities Jerry Clower and Willie Morris, and countless state politicians, professional athletes, authors, and the occasional actor. Legendary black Labrador, Piper, kept watch over the shop while the likes of pastors, mill workers, physicians, teachers, attorneys, and professors swapped stories over their favorite pipe or cigar.
I discovered more of the history of the beginnings of The Country Squire from a 50th year anniversary newsletter that Clay later sent that described the initial personal adversity experienced by Jim and Gwen Reaves and the risk he faced in starting a ‘sophisticated’ tobacconist in the South:
After losing his job as an appliance salesman in 1970, Jim Reeves, along with his wife Gwen, decided to open a premium tobacco shop – the first of its kind in Mississippi. The Deep South, lacking the wealth and industry of other parts of the country, had yet to develop the sophisticated pipe and cigar purveyors that dotted the Mid-West and New England. Unsure if a tobacconist of this type would be successful in Jackson, the Reeves selected “The Country Squire” for the shop’s name so it could transition to other products if business went south. Fortunately, hand-blended pipe tobaccos and premium cigars were a hit, and The Squire was a huge success. Over five decades, the shop has become a Mississippi and Southern institution, drawing regular customers from the ranks of politicians, writers and poets, professional athletes, local media celebrities, and the occasional scoundrel and ne’er-do-well.
After taking in the initial impressions of the shop’s landscape, Clay led me to stools in front of another display counter that appeared to be a workplace with a manual slide scale used in weighing the tobaccos and by it, a metal mixing bowl. We sat down in full view of the abundant selection of jars of tobacco blends, seemingly standing at attention, lined along the single depth shelves facing us. I saw one other person sitting off to the back of the shop in an alcove with ample leather chairs. He was nursing a cigar and focused on a laptop on the coffee table in front of him and papers to the side. I discovered later that this was merely a lull in the steady buzz of folks coming and going on that Saturday morning picking up cigars from the walk-in humidor, tobaccos, tins, and other accessories.
After mounting the stool and beginning to decipher the names of the tobacco jars arranged on the shelves, the present owner and purveyor of The Country Squire appeared from a back room with some papers in hand and his ‘Bing pipe’ in service. Clay introduced me to Jon David Cole who immediately sat down behind the work counter and engaged us in conversation.
I am not sure when Jon David acquired The Country Squire, but Clay told me that he had worked in the shop for Mrs. Reaves after Jim’s passing. My first question to ‘Jon David’ was if he went by ‘Jon David’ or simply ‘Jon’. In solid Southern tradition, he expounded that his parents dubbed him with the double name. As the introductions developed, Clay described my exploits as The Pipe Steward, having lived for many years in Ukraine with him and in Bulgaria and restoring pipes benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria with their adoptions by new stewards. After explaining that I was on a road trip returning to Colorado, Jon David told me to be sure to put a pin on the US map on the wall behind us and to sign the guest book.
After introductions were completed, we got down to business. Clay and I both brought out the pipes we chose to join us for this, my maiden run to The Country Squire. Clay was first to request a sampling from the waiting jars. Jon David brought down the ‘Peach Melba’ and gave both of us a sampling of the bouquet. While Clay packed his bowl with the Peach Melba, my stock question to Jon David was which of his house blends was the most popular? Without pause, ‘Cherokee’ was his response as he pulled the jar from the shelf and popped off the airtight glass lid and offered me a whiff of the subtle blend of Virginias and Cavendish. In a few minutes, the anchor of my rotation, which was my first restoration, a 3/4 bent blasted London Made Dr. Plum named, ‘Chicho Pavel’ (Uncle Paul in Bulgarian from my mistaken notion then that he was an Oom Paul 😊), was packed with Cherokee and the aroma matched the taste. The reflection and conversation that followed was sweet as Clay and I enjoyed Jon David’s hospitality and tobacco.
As the conversation turned to how I got involved in restoring pipes, the obvious reference to rebornpipes and to my good friend and mentor, Steve Laug’s predominant influence on my introduction to pipe restoration, Jon David’s eyes lit up. He described Steve’s helpful involvement and interactions in the context of a regular podcast produced by Jon David. Another bit of information that expanded my understanding of The Country Squire’s contribution to the pipe world. Jon David described the ‘Country Squire Radio’ programing being a lot like the ‘PipesMagazine Radio Show’ hosted by Brian Levine – a program on which I’ve had the honor of being interviewed (See: LINK to PipesMagazine interview). Later, I subscribed to the Country Squire Radio channel through the Podcasts app on my iPhone. The Country Squire Radio has website (LINK) where other ways to subscribe are listed.
Jon David was interrupted from our conversation several times as he responded to the needs of other patrons which became a steady stream through the front door. One such patron found an unoccupied stool at the ‘work display counter’ and joined our conversation. His name was Andrew with a huge Greek family name that was definitely Greek! Clay had seen Andrew in the Country Squire on earlier visits, and we discovered that he was a Greek Orthodox priest in a nearby church in Jackson. We all laughed when he discovered that Clay and I were both Presbyterian ‘priests’ with some far-flung stories of Ukraine and Bulgaria which included travels down to Bulgaria’s southern neighbor, Greece. He told stories of neighborhood robberies and one intriguing break-in in his parish church. It was great talking with Andrew and getting to know him. It was the simplest and most enjoyable ‘jawing’ while we puffed on our pipes and offered up our aromatic slice of The Country Squire ambiance.
After Clay ordered up 2 ounces of the Peach Melba blend, I matched his with my own order of 2 ounces of Cherokee to join me on the road trip back to Golden. Jon David mixed and weighed the 2-ounce orders on the work counter in front of us. I was so mesmerized by the process that the opportunity of taking a picture was missed but I found a picture on the website showing Jon David at work.
The conversation turned to other tobaccos and Country Squire’s notoriety in providing interesting ‘Lord of the Rings’ blends, ‘Old Toby’ being among the most popular – the blend favored by hobbits of the Shire. The jar holding ‘Old Toby’ almost magically appeared before me and Jon David popped off the glass lid and tipped it offering me the ‘siren-ness’ scent of another blend tugging me in! Ah, the business sense of offering free sampling and Jon David’s knowing smile! A few minutes later I joined the hobbits of Middle Earth with a bowl of ‘Old Toby’ adding its ‘sweet kitchen spice’ seasoning to the already ripe atmosphere. The other Lord of the Rings tobacco that caught my attention was called ‘Rivendell’ and is described on the printed Country Squire menu Jon David gave me as, ‘Nuts and Cocoa. Woodsy and rich with an excellent room note.’ I was not able to test the Rivendell blend, or another called, ‘Bag End’, but I might just have to mail order some down the road. In the end, I ordered up 2 ounces of ‘Old Toby’ and decided to try Clay’s choice, ‘Peach Melba’. All in all, a great haul!
As Clay and I were packing up and settling accounts, Jon David reminded me to put a pin on Golden, Colorado, on his guest wall map and to sign the guest book. I gladly did this and took the opportunity to look around the shop and take a few pictures. The ‘Pipe Wall’ display appeared to be the same that Jim Reaves stood before over half a century earlier.
Jon David apologized for the depleted selection of new pipes in the displays and hanging on the wall mounts. The effects of ‘life in the pandemic’ and more recent changes with him being out of the shop for a time helping his wife with a new born – reasons that more than excuse the fewer pipes than usual.
I leaned in to look at the ‘smoking lounge’ replete with leather chairs and personal lockers to store one’s cache of cigars and pipe tobacco to enjoy when visiting The Country Squire.
I shared with Jon David my desire to do a write up of my visit to The Country Squire. He was appreciative of this. My visit made me a bit envious of Clay with such a class-act tobacconist only a few minutes from his home! My search for the same in the Denver area has not yet rendered a place offering the convenience and ambiance one hopes for in a tobacconist shop. We said our goodbyes to Jon David, thanking him for the opportunity to enjoy The Country Squire, a place I’m sure to visit again when I pass through Jackson, Mississippi. Thanks for joining me!