Tag Archives: relaxation and pipes

Father Tom – Life in Ordinary Time – Interrupted


Blog by Steve Laug

I have been working on a few Father Tom stories that address some of the inevitable issues of growing older. This is the link to the first one (https://rebornpipes.com/2016/05/19/father-tom-after-the-prayers-have-been-said/). The second one looks at a health issue that I have gone through and survived (and I am sure others of you have as well). I reflect on how the pipe ritual of loading, lighting and tamping seems to bring calm and enable perspective in an otherwise tumultuous experience. The act of slowly smoking the pipe brings quietude that makes room for clarity when processing these and other issues. Thanks for reading. — Steve

When he left the house he had enough time for a leisurely walk to his doctor’s office. He could stop along the way and grab a coffee and sip it as he walked. He could puff on his pipe and as he was pretty much oblivious to the anti-smoking folks he would be uninterrupted in his quiet. He had unconsciously put on his clerical shirt and collar this morning after breakfast but it would serve him well. Nothing was to be avoided more in Vancouver than someone walking down the street looking like a priest. It almost guaranteed that he would be left alone and could smoke his pipe without intrusion.

The path he had chosen took him through the Olympic Village and along the water front of False Creek. He ambled along deep in thought enjoying the slight breeze and the cool of the morning. He was smoking a dark Virginia flake that he had lightly rubbed out and stuffed in his pipe. He had learned that trick somewhere along the way. Once it was smoldering it was a good long smoke and the flavours shifted and changed as the fire burned through the various mixed strands of tobacco in the bowl. He slowly puffed his pipe as was his habit – he did not have to think about it any more it was just normal for him. Some people puffed to the cadence of their pace as they walked but he had learned to separate the two and just slowly savoured the tobacco as he walked.

He was not purposely dragging his heals, he just wanted to take the time to process and think through what may be ahead of him at the appointment with his doctor. The walk was perfect for processing and the pipe provided the smoke screen that gave him space to quietly work through things. Strangely enough his mind had not gone to the “what ifs” but rather he had spent some time reflecting on his life. He had to admit that it had been amazingly uneventful for an aging priest in his mid sixties. He had spent the better part of 35 years as a parish priest in a variety of locations in British Columbia, Canada and a young trainee for the priesthood before that. Even his upbringing to get him to the point of entering the priesthood had been unremarkable. He could easily say that his life had been lived in ordinary time – no real interruptions or troubles other than the occasional bumps in the road relationally or within the parish. But truly he had faithfully and dutifully walked/plodded through the years. Until now his health had also proceeded along quietly and oddly uneventful. He was thankful for that.

Despite the long walk, Father Tom arrived at the doctor’s office early. He sat on the wall in back of the office and finished up the bowl of tobacco he was smoking. He quieted the intrusive white coat shakes that were vibrating through him by letting the pipe do its magic. As he puffed slowly on his pipe he found his anxiety lessening and his heart quieting. When he finished the bowl he went in and greeted the woman at the desk and took his place on the Chesterfield in the office underneath the huge Rodin painting of the dancing women. He closed his eyes and sat quietly, unconsciously fidgeting with his pipe in his pocket. He stirred when he heard the receptionist tell him the doctor would see him now and he could go back.

As he walked down the hallway he stuck his pipe in his mouth – it was an unconscious action on his part and certainly a way of giving himself some comfort. As he walked into the office he had a vague memory that the doctor had said he would be away. The person sitting at his desk was a locum who was filling in for him. When Father Tom came into the office the doctor turned to greet him. Now the problems began…she was obviously uncomfortable. He did not know if it was the collar or the pipe hanging in his mouth or what, but she did not seem able bring herself to tell him about the tests. She fumbled around with the papers on her desk and had a hard time looking him in the eye. Finally, she commented that the results of his blood work were back and there were some concerns. That was it and she left him hanging without continuing. It was awkward to say the least. There was a silence that seemed really long to Father Tom. She sat looking down and he stood in the doorway waiting. He made his way to the chair beside the desk and sat down. Still nothing was forthcoming.

To help her get to the point he started guessing – was it the thyroid test? No. The liver and kidney specific tests? No. The blood chemistry in terms of platelets and white cells? No. Hemoglobin tests? Cholesterol? No. Diabetes? No. He went through each test that he had undergone and to each one her response was no. Finally, he got to the last of the list after all of the above elicited a negative response. He knew before he asked, by process of elimination that the answer would be yes. So he as if was the PSA test – the Prostate Specific Antigen tests which contained markers for Prostate cancer… slowly she nodded yes. No further explanation seemed to be forthcoming so he asked what it meant… she swallowed and said that the numbers had shown a significant increase. What did that mean? No answer… he had enough, he stood and said if she was done he was leaving and would wait until his regular doc came home. She said no… she wanted to schedule a biopsy and an appointment with a urologist for him before he left the office. He sat back down and looked at her… what does that mean? Is there cancer? Again no answer… this was absolutely crazy. He was stymied with what to do next so he just sat there.

She got up and left him sitting there. She did not come back so he walked out to the waiting room and the receptionist. She at least was communicative and handed him his two appointment cards. The first was for the biopsy that she had scheduled for early the next morning and the other for the urologist on Monday afternoon the following week. She assured him that the urologist was very good and a colleague of his regular doctor. She bade him goodbye as the phone rang. He sat on the edge of the Chesterfield and reloaded his pipe. He put the pipe in the pouch of tobacco and pushed it into the bowl. It took longer than usual this time around but he had done it for so long he did not have to think about it. His mind was just whirling.

One of the other patients sitting in the waiting room told him that the office was a no smoking environment. He did not even acknowledge her when she spoke, for he was too numb to care. Once the bowl was right and he tested the draw he rose to his feet and went out the door. He lit his pipe and stood in the entry way puffing on the pipe until he got a good burn going. He started walking home in a thick cloud of smoke. This time he took a straighter path home – up Arbutus to Broadway. Once he was on Broadway he walked until he got to Granville Street. At Granville he stopped a small pub and ordered a pint and sat in the sidewalk café. He had no idea what time it was as his mind was swirling. He finished his pint and relit his pipe. He made his way to 16th Avenue and walked East until he got to Main Street. He was not far from home now but he could not keep up with his own thoughts…he sat on a park bench on 16th in the park between Main and Fraser. The lack of information he had been given rattled him and his normal tendency to assume the worst was not helpful. His head was spinning and he could not quiet his fears. He quietly recited the Serenity Prayer as he sat there. Long ago he had memorized the long version of the prayer as he found that the second half gave him much hope and expressed the desire of his heart. It was that version that he recited there in the park.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

He took a deep breath and slowly let the breath out. He felt a calmness coming back over him that had deserted him since he had received the news. It was a calmness born not of denial but of trust. H repacked his pipe and slowly puffed away while his thoughts became more focused. He knew the “C” word was not final until after the biopsy and the appointment with the urologist but it felt final to him. He would need to set aside the what ifs until that time as they were unproductive now. He knew that whatever happened in the next few days, that his until now ordinary life had certainly been interrupted. All of the ordinary life experiences he had enumerated previously during the walk to the doctor, his quiet uneventful life, suddenly faded into the mist of the potential threat that reared up in front of him now. It seemed strange that only a few hours before he had found comfort in his rituals of the morning. Now that morning seemed ages ago and he had been reeling inside. Somehow the ritual of the pipe and the prayer had brought a new calm over him.

If you had been near by you would have heard him repeat “living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time…trusting…”. You would have seen an elderly priest, pipe in mouth, talking to himself, deep in thought. He sat that way for a long time, nothing moving other than the imperceptible rise and fall of his chest as he puffed on his pipe. The smoke rose around him and engulfed him in his thoughts. Then suddenly it was if he came to life, he came back to the moment, tamped his pipe, stood up and started walking the remaining blocks home. His mind was quieter than it had been all day. Really nothing had changed but him. Somehow the pipe and the prayer together had given him the space to stand apart from his problem and be quiet. He knew Mrs. Conti would have prepared dinner for him and laid it out. It would be ready for his arrival. He knew that his pipes and his books would be on the table next to his chair. He knew that he had a quiet evening ahead of him. He knew he would face the biopsy in the morning. And he knew that he was not alone as he walked through this.

He went up 16th to Fraser and then up Fraser to his block. Once there he crossed Fraser and made his way home. He opened the gate and climbed the stairs. He unlocked the front door and went inside. He put his hat on the hall tree and went into the kitchen to see what was laid out for supper. He fixed a plate and took it to his chair in the parlour. He sat down, put his pipe on the rest and quietly ate his meal. A thought went through his head and he said it out loud – no, even this is still ordinary time – just interrupted.

Father Tom – A Serendipitous Encounter in Frankfurt


Father Tom heard the announcement over the intercom at Heathrow that his plane was now boarding so he hurriedly left the smoking cage and made straight for the gate for his flight to Budapest. He knew that he would change planes in Frankfurt on the way and was hoping to get the chance to pick up some pipe tobacco from the Duty Free on the layover there. He also hoped that Jack Spratt and his wife from the Vancouver/London flight would not be on the same plane.  He was weary of obnoxious passengers. He wanted to have a little quiet down time to read over his notes for the conference in Budapest. His pipe still hung unconsciously in his mouth, though the tobacco was long since burned away and the dottle disposed of in the cage. He absentmindedly touched the pipe at different points in his walk to the gate. People would glare at him as he walked along oblivious to their stares and pointed comments about not smoking. If he had noticed he would likely have had some witty repartee to give back to them.

By the time he boarded the Frankfurt bound plane he had returned the pipe to his jacket pocket without much intention, so he had no further problems. It seemed too fortunate to be true that his troublesome travel companions were not on this plane, as he was used to a bit of hassle on his flights. He settled into his seat on the aisle so that his right leg could straighten out in the aisle once they were underway. His leg always gave him problems when he sat too long so he had learned to accommodate his aches and pains. The takeoff was uneventful and his seatmates were soon sleeping. While he read through his materials for the seminar in Budapest, he reached in his pocket and stuck his pipe in his mouth and unconsciously gnawed on it. The flight attendant made it a point to remind him of the no smoking rules.  He pointed to the bowl showing that it was empty and commented that it was his soother and would keep him quiet on the flight. As an afterthought he said, “You wouldn’t want a cranky old man whinging on this leg of the trip.” With that the flight attendant laughed, shook her head and continued down the aisle.

He settled into his reading and writing, interrupted only by the food and beverage service – some type of dark bread and a strong cheese,served with a thimble sized cup of strong coffee. He missed his mug of fine coffee and grimaced as he sipped the strong, dark, lukewarm brew. He was looking forward to finally landing in Budapest. The conference was scheduled for three days so he had booked several extra days following the conference so that he could do some sightseeing and visit the local tobacconists. He had searched online for and found some pipe shops that looked interesting. As he thought about that he took the pipe from his mouth, held it in his hand and looked out the window. He wondered how soon they would be landing. He was actually looking forward to the layover in Frankfurt – another bowl would be a comfort and maybe he could pick up some stout German lager as well. Within moments of his thoughts the plane began its descent and the announcement came over the speakers that they would be landing soon and should turn of electronic devices… He chuckled and said to himself, “That wish did not take long to be granted.”

The plane landed smoothly and taxied to gate. The passengers quickly maneuvered their way off the plane. About mid-stream among the disembarking crowd was Father Tom. His pipe hung from his mouth as he clutched his briefcase in his hand. He had put his flat cap on and he was a man on a mission. Once off the plane he looked for a smoking area where he could fire up his pipe. Seeing none, he asked at the information desk where he might find one. Somehow in his bumbling German he was able to understand where he was being directed…or at least he thought he understood. So he started on his way toward the spot pointed out to him. When he arrived he realized that something had been lost in the translation as he found himself standing in another queue for Security. He was trapped in a line that could not be exited so he moved forward with the crowd. When he arrived at the desk of the Security Officer he was asked to put his bag, coat and shoes on the belt to be scanned. He did as he was told but forgot to take the pipe from his mouth. The officer pointed at the pipe so he looked down to see his pipe in his mouth and placed it in the tray as well.

When he had passed through the scanner he realized that he was still in the gate area of the airport and had actually moved to the sets of gates where his next plane would depart. He went to the information desk and asked again for the smoking area. The attendant had a blank look on her face so he pointed to his pipe and acted out smoking… she nodded. She understood and pointed him to the area. Ah… finally he had accomplished at least a part of his mission. He expected a cage like the one at Heathrow so you can imagine his surprise when he found the newly renovated smoking lounge in Frankfurt airport. It was beautiful and new. He found a comfortable seat in an unoccupied corner of the room and soon was totally oblivious to anyone else in the room, happy to have achieved his mission. He filled his bowl, lit, tamped and relit the pipe and soon he was quietly enjoying the solitude of his smoke. He became almost invisible in a cloud of sweet Virginia smoke. No one sat near him so he could get lost in his thoughts and enjoy himself thoroughly.

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Suddenly his quiet repast was interrupted by a tap on his shoulder. He came back to the present and was prepared to give a ready retort to anyone asking him to put out his pipe; but before he could speak the chap at the other end of the hand came into focus.  It was an older gentleman wearing much the same dress as he did that came around the chair to stand in front of him. He even sported a pipe in his mouth. He was saying something and Father Tom had to quickly shake away his surprise and listen. The older gent seemed to guess Tom had not heard him, so with a twinkle in his blue eyes he repeated himself.

“Good day sir. May I join you for a bowl while I am waiting? I have been sitting in this room in the opposite corner smoking a bowl by myself when I saw you come in. I thought to myself it would be a fine thing to have a word or two with a fellow pipeman. Do you mind?” said the old gentleman.

Father Tom shook his head in amazement and said, “I apologize for my speechless surprise a moment ago. I am so used to having to defend my right to smoke my pipe that I was shocked to see a pipe in your mouth. I had no idea there was another pipe smoker in the room. Certainly, it would be great to have you join me for a bowl. What are you smoking? What kind of pipe is that you have?”

And with those questions the agenda for the layover was set. The thought of a pint of lager quickly disappeared from his mind as the good father and the old fellow exchanged names and settled into the kind of conversation pipemen the world over enter into with one another with little effort. The older gent’s name was John and he lived in Oxford, England. He was also heading to Budapest for a business meeting regarding some materials his company was exporting to Hungary. They enjoyed a great hour and a half smoking and talking about pipes they owned or had sold, ones that were on the wish list and old tobaccos that they missed. They heard the intercom announcement for their flight and headed for the plane to Budapest. On the way out the door they tapped out the dottle from their pipes into an ashtray on one of the tables. They chatted on their way to their gate and made arrangements to get together after their meetings and check out the local pipe shops. They both had done some homework and had come up with the same two shops that each of them had on his list to visit – the Pipatorium and Gallwitz Tobacconist. It was likely a curious sight to behold for the other travelers, as the two older men, each with an empty pipe in his mouth, chatting up a storm made their way down the aisle. They were like long lost brothers reunited after years of being apart.  They traded seats with another passenger so they could sit together and soon were lost in an ongoing discussion. The flight to Budapest went quickly and soon they had landed. They left the plane, picked up their luggage and parted company for their respective hotels.

John said, “See you on Wednesday when I am finished and we can spend the evening laying out the plans for our walkabout on Thursday. Who knows we may find a couple other shops to check out as well. I know that Davidoff has a shop here and there is also a Cigar shop shaped like a tube that we can check out near the Vaci Utca. Hope you enjoy your conference.”

Father Tom responded, “Talk to you soon John. I am looking forward to Wednesday evening. We can have some dinner and a bit of Hungarian wine and layout the plan. Good luck on the business meetings.”

They left the plane, nodded to each other as they made their way to meet their rides. As Father Tom waited for his ride he thought to himself, “What a serendipitous turn of events to meet another pipe smoker in Frankfort and to have each booked extra time on their trip to visit some tobacco shops. The trip was going to be a memorable one regardless of the outcome of their individual meetings”. The random events of travel had come together to their mutual favor, for a change from the typical trials both had known.

Steve Laug 03/22/13 Copyright 2013

Father Tom – an odd bird in the cage


It had been a long flight from Vancouver to London, made longer and harder to endure because of the seatmates around him on the plane, Father Tom was tired.  He had been seated across the aisle from a couple who seemed to have brought a picnic basket stuffed with incredible amounts of food on the plane with them. The man was a Jack Spratt type fellow and his wife was the direct opposite. They made a comical picture for the first part of the flight but the novelty soon wore off. The man sat quietly, almost like he was not present and the woman continuously ate from the moment she took her seat in Vancouver until the plane had touched down in London. You can now imagine the size of her food hamper. The eating would not have been unbearable, but the ongoing smells that kept wafting across the aisle, the cacophony of sound of rustling wrappers and crackling papers as one package after another was opened. Added to that was the visual image of her mouth constantly opening to take in yet another goody, before she was finished chewing what was already in it! On top of that, the man behind him insisted on reading the newspaper with it virtually sitting on top of Father Tom’s head. It seemed that each time he would doze off one or the other passengers would crackle, pop or hit him on the head. The snoring of the person on his right, and the envy of his escape…, you can imagine the frustration from the lack of any rest. Yes indeed it had been a long flight without rest or distraction from the chorus of poor travel companions!

It seemed as if he was never happier than when the rubber tires hit the tarmac of the runway and the plane landed. When the seat belt sign went off he stood and put on his Harris Tweed jacket, his flat cap and took his brief case and quickly headed for the door. Once off the plane, he hung the briefcase by a strap on his shoulder and rummaged through his jacket pocket to find his pipe and tobacco pouch. He packed the bowl with a nice thick Virginia flake as he walked down to corridor of the airport. He remembered that there was a smoking cage in Heathrow near the shoeshine stand at one end of the airport. He set his sights for the cage and the tranquility of being engulfed in a cloud of blue smoke. He had long ago learned that the most ardent cigarette smoker moved away from the blue cloud and he would have space alone.

His bag bumped along against his leg as he walked. Once the pipe was packed he stuck it in his mouth and clenched it as he walked. He was oblivious to the stares of people walking by staring at the aging priest with the pipe in his mouth. I am sure several must have said something about the airport being a non-smoking environment but Father Tom would not have heard that at all. His target was in sight and he was a man on a mission. If you had been close to him you might have heard him humming a song to himself as he walked – or at least you might have thought it was a song. I think though, in reality it was a countdown in terms of steps and paces from the gate to the cage – a series of steps that he had counted before and knew by heart.

He edged his way to the cage, walking in front of several people who seemed intent on blocking his way; oblivious to their words and comments about his person and character. He had made it! He pushed open the door to the cage and entered the smoke filled room. Just inside the door he fumbled for his lighter in his pocket and brought it out to light the pipe. He struck the wheel on BIC lighter and a flamed danced over the surface of the tobacco. The first plume of smoke came out of the pipe. He tamped it with his finger, long ago calloused and impervious to the heat of the burning tobacco. He flicked the lighter and lit the tobacco and drew the smoke into his mouth to savour. Only then did he look in front of him at the crowded room.

The place was packed with a relatively young crowd – at least in comparison to him and how he felt at this time in his life. At that moment they were staring at him – an aging priest with a pipe in his mouth and smoke billowing out around his cap and whiskers. I think that they must have found him comical to look at and were wondering what he was thinking of in his moment of relief. Obviously he was totally immersed in lighting his pipe and savoring the comfort of the moment. Only at that instant did he realize that he was the only one smoking a pipe, the only one over 30, the only one with a coat and collar in the whole room. He edged his way over to a side of the room where there was a ledge on which he could set his briefcase and lean in for the smoke. He nodded to the smokers in the room as he settled in for his retreat.

At that moment he cared not to give one thought to those around him. He did not care what they were thinking or even what they were talking to one another about as he puffed contentedly on his pipe. His eyes were closed and he was lost in thought – nothing profound or philosophical, mind you – just the thought of the long awaited pipeful. He sipped it and settled in comfortably to his corner. The smoke continued to billow out of the pipe and the corners of his mouth. At one moment he blew a couple of smoke rings and probably a soft sigh of contentment.

At the apex of his smoke he was rudely awakened to the crowd around him. A young chap was patting his arm and his shoulder, not softly either but almost roughly. He was saying something and Father Tom was brought out of his reverie to find that several sparks of his tobacco were burning holes in his Harris Tweed and not only was he smoking but his jacket was as well. The young chap almost doused him with some water but Father Tom stopped him and squeezed the sparks with his thumb and forefinger and extinguished them. He winked at the chap and thanked him for his kindness and waved off the crowd. To their amazement the pipe never left his mouth through the entire event. He made the comment that this was indeed one of the best smokes he had enjoyed in quite some time and thanks to the watchfulness of the group it had not been hazardous to his health!

With a twinkle in his eye he settled back into his quietude and finished his bowl before heading back out into the hallways of Heathrow to find a pint and some bangers and mash. He had a three hour layover in London before heading on to Budapest, Hungary for the meetings he was attending.

 

Father Tom – Spring Had Arrived


Springtime had officially arrived in Vancouver. The tulips were ready to burst, while the snow drops were up and the cherry trees were budding and beginning to bloom. Even the rhododendrons were full of buds, waiting for a bit more warmth before opening. It was time, thought Father Tom, to clean off the winter mess from the front porch and get it ready for the spring season and the pleasures of summer smoking outside, for a change.  For him this meant firing up a “work pipe” – one that did not require concern if it fell out of his mouth or was knocked out by an exuberant swing of the broom.  He opened the door to his shop, picked a pipe off the rack of work pipes he kept there.  He filled it with tobacco from the pouch in his shirt pocket, lit it with his Bic, tamped it down with his Czech pipe tool, and relit the pipe. Once done with this ritual, he got his broom and bucket and rags to clean off the porch.

He closed the door to the shop and walked back toward the front of the house and the porch while puffing away.  Moving the chairs, table and planters down to the lawn, he prepared the porch for a good sweeping, still puffing on his pipe.  He knocked down the cob webs and leaves that hung on the hooks for the planters. He swept the floor and the walls to get them ready to be scrubbed. He filled his bucket with hot soapy water and scrubbed down the walls of the porch which turned the water in the bucket a muddy black. He then washed them down with clean hot water, removing the soap scum. Again, he filled the bucket with more soapy water and scrubbed the deck of the porch. He washed down the porch railings and the steps down to the ground, pouring the soiled water on the flower beds below the porch, before refilling the bucket each time.  Once done, he contemplatively puffed on his pipe and discovered that he had to relight it, as the task of scrubbing had caused him to forget to puff. He had found that puffing on a pipe made most things go much more smoothly.

While the deck was drying he went to work on the hanging baskets in the yard. He readied them for the new flowers he had picked up earlier that morning. He emptied the soil from the baskets into his wheel barrow. Then he sat on his chair and mixed in the new soil with the old. Once he had a good blend mixed he filled the baskets with the soil and transplanted the flowers to his hanging baskets. He sat back and took a pull on his pipe and looked them over. They looked promising and would certainly fill out as the summer came on. He looked around at his little patch of Eden – his flower garden. Things were really growing quickly, soon he would need to add more soil and clean out some of the weeds and volunteers. He had planted largely perennials so that came up each year and only needed to be filled in and thinned out a bit. He enjoyed the serenity that came to him in his garden.

By the time the baskets were finished the porch was dry. He brought the baskets up to the porch and hung them on their hooks. He carried up his planter boxes and put them on the railings. Things were looking a lot brighter and more alive. It was time to set up his porch. He went to the basement and got out the straw mat that acted like a rug on the floor of the porch. He carried out the wicker set – a love seat, two high back arm chairs and a table to hold his pipes, tobacco, books and drinks. Once he had it set up he turned on a little music and sat back on love seat with his feet on the table to enjoy his favourite time of the year. He tapped out the remaining dottle in his pipe and reloaded it with some good Virginia – McClelland’s 5100 that had 10 years of age.   He savoured the scent of the tobacco as he loaded his pipe. He had done this for so long that he scarcely needed to look as he filled the bowl. He just sat and enjoyed the warm air, the smell of fresh soil and the flowers that that had begun to give off their fragrance. He put the jar of tobacco on the table in front of him and picked up his Bic lighter and tamper. He puffed on the pipe as he drew the flame into the bowl. The first light and the puff of blue smoke that rolled from the bowl told him it was a good light. He tamped it and relit it another time. Once he saw that it was burning well, then he leaned back to relax.

One of his favourite things to do as he quietly smoked his pipe was to quietly observe what was happening in his neighbourhood. He was sitting up above the street enough that he could watch unobtrusively as life went on around him. In his peripheral vision picked up a squirrel on the fence post busily washing it face and chattering away. In the birdbath on his left two sparrows took turns splashing in the fresh water he had put out. A female robin was in the cherry tree over the bath just waiting until, in her impatience, she chased the sparrows out the bath. In the oak tree overshadowing the porch a pair of crows were cawing and making a ruckus. It was a perfect morning. He was glad that he had started early and now could enjoy the time on the porch. On the sidewalk just outside his gate two little guys went rolling by on their bicycles with training wheels, laughing and racing each other. Behind them came a third boy, who by the looks of him was their brother, careening toward them on his scooter. He knocked the younger of the two boys off his bike. There was an expected uproar with loud crying and yelling. Within seconds their mom appeared from just beyond the hedge on the neighbour’s property. She came and picked up the fallen lad and brushed off the dirt, looked at the battle scars and wiped them off with her hankie. After a quick scolding of the older brother for his carelessness the foursome were off down the street as if nothing had happened.

Silence encircled the porch world once again. Out on the street, across the parking lot, the metro buses came and went, as trucks and cars hurried back and forth. The pleasant smell of jasmine incense wafted in on the breeze from the altars in front of shops owned by Vietnamese Buddhist shopkeepers. Two houses down a group of elderly Chinese women chattered back and forth. His world was truly a global village. He had read that in his neighbourhood alone there lived immigrants from 60 different countries. It was a good place to live and see the world without leaving his porch.

Laying his pipe down, he went inside to get a cup of tea to enjoy with his pipe. He fired up the tea kettle and filled a tea bag with some bulk Earl Grey tea. He put a wee bit of milk in his mug, put the tea bag in and poured the hot water over it to steep. When it was the way he liked it he returned to his seat on the porch. He picked up one of his books off the table and contentedly puffed his pipe while reading, with a pause to sip the Earl Grey.  He could not imagine a better way to enjoy his day off than this sublime repose.

When you want to find Father Tom early or late on a Spring or Summer day, check his porch first. Follow the smells of the tobacco smoke and listen to the music filtering over the garden and you will find him on his porch of tranquility.

Father Tom – The Comforting Smell of Smoke – PART 2


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:

Dear Tom

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!

Warmest Regards

William 😉

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.

03/22/11

Father Tom – The Comforting Smell of Smoke – PART 1


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.

03/21/11

Father Tom – Christmas – A Gift with a Story Attached


Father Tom heard the front door open and felt a slight draft creep in under the parlour door. He called out to whoever had come in, “Whoever you are, welcome to my home. I am in the parlour relaxing with a pipe.”

The foot falls became louder as they came closer to the parlour door. He recognized the familiar tread. The parlour door creaked open on its hinges and his housekeeper Mrs. Conti came into the room. She was dusted with a fine snow on her already white hair but somehow managed to still look warm and cheerful in spite of the cold air outside.

“Good evening Father. Have you had anything to eat this Christmas evening? There are plenty of leftovers in the fridge from yesterday you could have helped yourself. Oh, by the way it was a fine service you gave earlier this evening. Now I am off to the kitchen to see what I can put together for your supper.”

“Thank you Mrs. Conti. No, I have not eaten. I have just been sitting here preoccupied with my thoughts and my pipe. Mrs. C. I am curious to know if you might have seen someone drop off the box that was in the entry way when I came home this evening.”

“I’ve no idea Father; it was not here when I left for a visit with my children this morning. Why don’t you open it and see what it is. Probably a Christmas present one of the congregation left for you. I’ll leave you to your thoughts Father, while I fix your supper.”

And with that she went to the kitchen and Father Tom was left with no more information than he’d had before about the package. When he had come home earlier that evening he had found a mystery box sitting on the floor inside his door. The mystery was not how it got there but why it was there and who had sent it to him. He could not remember having ordered anything from his favourite tobacconist or from the booksellers. There was not a return address on the box, just his name and address on the label and it had a local post mark. He had taken it into the parlour and left it on the side table next to his chair. It sat there now and all he had done since coming home was to sit and look at it wondering what it might be. (Now that might seem odd to you, if you are one of those who tear into things as soon as you see them, but Father Tom was not that way. He liked to try to figure it out before he opened it. He loved solving those little mysteries as there was so little else he ever solved in one short moment.)

“I guess I won’t make any progress on discovering what is in the box and who it came from without opening it! Humph maybe then I can solve this riddle.”

Without any further hesitation, he took off the wrapping paper from the outside of the box – just a plain brown wrap with tape at each of the folded triangles that held it tightly to the box. He carefully opened the paper – his brothers had always been bothered by his slow methodical way of opening packages and given him grief over it for years. But this habit remained with him unchanged after 60+ years of seasoned practice. Once he had removed the brown wrapper from the box he folded it neatly and laid it aside. The box itself was nondescript, just a brown cardboard box the size of a shoe box. There were no labels or printing on it that might have given him a hint about what was inside. It had been taped closed. He sat for a long time staring at the box just wondering about the hands that had packed it and what it held inside. It was not very heavy as far as packages went; nothing like those that held his books when they came by post. Nor did it have the shape or feel of a box of his favourite tobacco blends from the tobacconist.

He took his pipe knife out of the pipe cabinet next to his chair. With a deliberate motion he sliced the tape that held the box closed. He opened the flaps on the box and peered inside. He did not shake the box or jiggle it to try and guess its contents, he merely opened the flaps. When he did, the smell of good tobacco escaped from its open top. Maybe he had ordered something and forgotten. Whatever it was, it smelled good, comforting and somewhere in the back of his mind a memory niggled that told him he had smelled this before. He stuck his hand into the box and began to remove the tissue paper that filled it and obscured what was hidden inside. He folded the tissue paper and he added it to the neat pile of wrappings. At the bottom of the box nestled among the last pieces of crumpled tissue was an old pipe – an Oom Paul. It was beautiful and had the patina of a well smoked old-timer. There was something about this particular pipe that spoke to him. He took the pipe in his hands and laid the box aside. He turned it over in his hands trying to remember where he had seen the pipe before.

He held the pipe to the light beside his chair so he could better examine it. The stamping on the shank identified the pipe as a BBB Own Make. It was a beautiful piece of briar with birdseye on the front and back of the bowl and grain running parallel on both sides of the bowl and shank. There was a silver ferrule and a military mount silver end cap on the stem with hallmarks that identified it as having been made in 1919 in Birmingham. As he rotated it to the right, he saw initials HJH engraved in the silver of the ferrule. Who did he know that had those initials? He struggled to put a name and a face with them. Nothing! He raised the pipe to his nose and inhaled deeply. Perhaps he could identify the tobacco from the smell and trigger the memory of the man and the place. There was a deep, rich, earthy smell to the pipe. The cake looked to be just the right thickness and it gave off the aroma of Virginia or possibly a Balkan blend. There was none of the cloying smell of aromatics or the flowery smell of Lakelands. He held it closer to the light to look inside the bowl to examine the condition of the cake. What a surprise! The pipe had been packed and was ready to smoke. He touched the tobacco with his forefinger and found that it was springy to his touch and not too dry. No wonder the box and the pipe smelled the way they did. How strange to open an unmarked box and find a pipe packed and ready to smoke. This riddle certainly was not to be easily solved.

He reached for a pipe cleaner and ran it through the stem. It came out clean. He removed the stem and ran it through the shank. It too was clean. The vulcanite stem was freshly polished and shone with a warm, ebony glow. The silver had been polished and had lustre as well. He sat back again and puzzled over this odd package. He held the mystery monogrammed pipe for a bit longer – HJH. It was well smoked and broken in but very clean. It was as if the pipe’s previous owner had just prepared the pipe for him. No matter how hard he tried to put the puzzle together it continued to elude him. He had no idea what it all meant – that was for sure. The clues were there in his hands, clearly before him but the solution seemed to be just beyond his reach at the edges of his memory. He could not shake the feeling that he had held this pipe before and that the person who sent it was someone he knew well. He sat quietly for a few moments looking at the old pipe and letting it float through his memory. He was brought back to the present when he could hear Mrs. Conti moving in the adjoining kitchen. The unmistakeable smell of a meal being prepared for him was beginning to drift into the room. Time had seemed to stand still for him, and he had no idea how long he had been sitting there letting different thoughts drift through his mind, in an attempt to identify the gift giver among his pipe smoking acquaintances. He associated names and faces as he did this. He could almost smell their tobacco and hear their voices as he went through them in his mind.

He reached for his matches and tamper as he came to a decision; maybe he would remember if he could taste the tobacco and smell the smoke in the room around him. He struck the match on the striker and put flame to the tobacco. He saw it coil and writhe as the flames touched it. He smelled the initial smokiness before he even tasted the tobacco. Yes, it was a Virginia with Orientals blended to perfection – its sweet grassiness and the tartness at the back of his throat was exactly what he loved about a good Balkan smoke. He knew he had tasted this tobacco before. It was one he had indeed smoked and enjoyed. In the back of his mind he knew it was one of his favourites that was no longer available. As he touched a second match to the tobacco to give it the final light he pulled the smoke into his mouth and quickly shook out the match and laid it aside. He settled back to a mysteriously wonderful smoke. The smoke curled from his mouth and around the button of the pipe. It swirled in a twist around his head and wreathed him in a wonderful smelling cloud. He disappeared into the smoke for awhile letting it carry him through his past.

As the smoke moved through his mouth and out his nostrils memories flooded his mind. He knew exactly who had sent the pipe to him. The old pipe spoke to him from the smouldering tobacco. He remembered a sidewalk pub, a table where he sat sipping espressos and smoking his pipe with a friend. They were laughing and talking. On the table sat an old tin of tobacco that had been opened. They had both filled their pipes from it and were enjoying the aged tasted. He recognized the lid with its four green squares on the top – Dobie Four Square Mixture. The face of the man across the table came into focus. The pipe he now held was the same one the man in his memory had been holding. The tobacco he was smoking was the same tobacco as that aged tin. The initials HJH now made sense to him and so did the package.

Just a few weeks earlier an old friend of his had died. Father Tom had been asked to officiate at the funeral. It had been hard on him as he realized that he was truly gone. The burial made it seem so final. He had wept as he said the funeral liturgy for him and then laid his remains to rest in the cemetery next to the old church. He had known him as Jim Hughes. He had never thought much about any additional names that his friend may have had. He missed him though and thought about his absence every day. After the burial, Father Tom had gone home and spent the evening thinking about Jim. He had taken out his own pipe – the one that he had often smoked when they had been together, and packed it with one of his own favourites – Escudo. He had smoked a bowl to the memory of his friend. He had breathed a quiet “Rest in Peace, dear friend” as he sipped the aged coins of Virginia and Perique.

Now, this Christmas evening, he held that very pipe in his hands. He knew that this old Oom Paul had been Jim’s pipe. That pipe that held so many memories and could have told many stories about their friendship was now his. How had the pipe come to be sitting in his entry way this Christmas day? How had it come to his house in this box already packed and ready to smoke? Why tonight of all nights was it here? How had Jim managed to see to the delivery of this fine gift? Those and many more questions raced through his mind.

Suddenly it all made sense to him. He could imagine how Jim had filled the pipe with this chosen tobacco, tamped and ready to smoke to be shared with him. In his mind he saw Jim gently pack it in the box among the tissue paper. Jim had chosen to pass on this gift to his old friend and set about making sure it got delivered just in time for Father Tom’s Christmas evening smoke. He sure missed his old friend. Jim must be laughing at the trouble he had had identifying the source of the gift. He must have been amused at the struggle to grapple with it and then the sudden light that came on as he lit the pipe and smoked it. He must have been thoroughly enjoying Father Tom’s befuddlement and subsequent enlightenment.

“This one is for you Jim, Merry Christmas! You must be sitting and enjoying the discomfort you caused me in trying to figure out this gift my friend. Enjoy my thanks and savour the aroma of this fine old baccy!”

He enjoyed the bowl and the memories that it set loose as he smoked it. He sensed the presence of his old friend in this special Christmas gift. What a delight to have been remembered by the one whose presence he missed so dearly. In the background he could smell the aromas of a great supper that was just about ready. He knew that very soon Mrs. Conti would call him to the table for the Christmas evening meal and a glass of flavourful Shiraz. But until that moment he would sit and smoke with his friend and savour the memories that would always be attached to this old pipe.

12/12/10

Father Tom – A curl of Smoke


The door closed behind him with a chuff of air as he hurried into the old house from the cold winter weather outside. He stamped his feet and tapped them against each other to knock off the snow. An involuntary shiver shook his body as he took off his coat and adjusted to the warmth of the house. He hung the top coat and scarf on the hall tree next to the door and flicked his cap to the top of the rack with a flourish. He kicked off his shoes and slipped into the warm wool slippers he kept beside the door ready to receive his cold feet when he came home. It was always good to be home. As he moved toward the parlor he thumbed through the mail on the hallway table and left it sitting unopened as nothing cried out for immediate attention.

Another long week had ended for Father Tom. It was Sunday evening and finally he had some time to relax and regroup before another week rushed to greet him with its speed and fury. He made his way into the parlor and bent to turn on the light by his chair. He went to the fireplace and knelt on the hearth rug, took a match from the match safe by the fireplace and struck it to kindle the fire. As the match brought flame to the kindling and newspaper crumpled under the lay of logs in the fireplace the flame began to take hold and the kindling began to burn with its characteristic crackle and pop. He rubbed his hands together in the rush of heat that radiated from the fire and let its warmth move over and through him before he stood and walked toward his recliner in its place next to the fireplace. He noticed that Mrs. Conti, in her usual efficient manner, had laid out a simple supper on the sideboard next to his chair. A cold Montreal smoked meat sandwich on marbled rye with a small bag of potato chips would wait while he unwound from the busyness of his day. He poured himself a nice glass of port to sip while he had a pipe before dinner.

He unbuttoned his vest and arched his back in a stretch to take out the kinks. He reached to the clerical collar that was at his throat and unfastened it and laid it on the mantle then he took a seat by the fire. It was good to be finished for the week. His week began on Monday and ended on Sunday evening so for him another week was finished. His Monday was a day off and he had not even taken time to plan anything more than a trip to the local pipe shop to pick up some needed pipe cleaners and a few more tins of tobacco for his cellar.

He talked to himself as was his custom as he settled into the fine old leather recliner. He sipped his port and said, “Ahhhh. I couldn’t ask for anything more than this! A good smoked meat sandwich, a glass of port – what a great supper Mrs. Conti has laid out for me. And now a blazing fire in the fire place and a comfortable chair to relax in with my pipe before I eat what she has prepared! Life is good!” The smooth rich port seeped into his cold bones and combined with the warmth of the fire he was soon comfortable and at ease. His week had closed and now he could afford to spend some time alone with his thoughts while he enjoyed his pipes and tobaccos. Though he enjoyed people and dealing with all of their joys and sorrows he needed this time to recharge and nothing provided that better for him than time alone in the company of his pipes.

He reached to the side of his chair into the small smoking cabinet that held his favourite pipes and tobacco. It was a dark, carved piece of furniture that he had been drawn to when he saw it because of its functional provisions for his hobby. It had a small cupboard that held six of his pipes in an upright rack and still had room for several tins of tobacco. On the top was a beautiful (at least to him it was beautiful) ashtray. Next to that was a small holder for his matches – equipped with a striker and room for a tamper and pipe cleaners. It fit comfortably next to his chair at just the right height so that he could reach it while sitting. He looked over the six pipes in the rack and selected a small bent Dunhill Shell Briar Dublin to smoke. It was a favourite of his – not because it was a Dunhill, but because it fit his hand perfectly and had never failed to deliver a great smoke. The Shell finish was very tactile because of the deep ring blast that encircled the bowl. As he held it he enjoyed the feeling of the pipe in his hand. From the stack of tins in the cupboard he picked up an open tin of Escudo. He used a coin from his vest pocket to carefully lift the lid from the tin. It was dime that he kept in that pocket for just this purpose. Held between his thumb and forefinger it was the perfect tool to lever the lid off of a tin of one of his choice aged tobaccos. He used it every time because he was meticulous about closing his tins to keep as much air out as possible. He did not like overly dry tobacco and hated to lose some of the taste by rehydrating it.

He pinched together a few of the coins of the tobacco between his fingers and placed them in the palm of his hand where he rolled them into a ball. He carefully stuffed the ball into his pipe. He enjoyed the taste of the Escudo prepared this way. Some of his friends always rubbed out the coins of Escudo but he found the flavor more pungent and full using his chosen method. No matter how care he took with the tobacco as he stuffed it into his pipe a few shreds of tobacco inevitably found their way onto his lap and finally into the space between the cushion and the arm of the chair. He raised the loaded pipe to his nose and sniffed the aroma of the great Virginia/Perique blend and savoured the tang in his nostrils. “Mmmm…what a great smell… it promises a fine smoke.” He had always enjoyed this part of the ritual of pipe smoking. For him it was a necessary part of his enjoyment of the pipe. That initial sniff began the magic of his smoke.

He struck a match on the striker on the top of his cabinet and moved it over the top of the bowl, pulling the flame to the tobacco as he gently sucked on the stem. The first light ignited the tobacco and it began to twist as it sprung to the top of the bowl. The charring light caught on and the nice smell of sweet Virginia rose above the bowl. It smoldered for a bit and then went out. Father Tom tamped it down with a small pewter pipe nail he took from the cabinet top and then struck a second match and watched as the tobacco caught fire and a thin curl of blue smoke thickened and rose from the bowl and then seeped from the edges of his lips and around the button of the mouth piece. He settled back to enjoy the full flavoured smoke of the aged Escudo. On the edge of his mind it niggled at him to check on how much Escudo he had left in his cellar but the thought quickly disappeared in the magic of the smoke. He was moving into that comfortable zone that pipe smokers seek in those alone moments of contemplative smoking. Nothing was better than that quiet place.

He pulled on the smoke with his mouth and let the smoke roll through his mouth and out his nose the taste of sweet Virginias mixed with the spicy pungency of Perique on the back edges of his tongue, in his throat and in his nostrils. The flavours of the blend tickled his senses with its usual urgency. The combined ability of a good pipe and tobacco to melt away the edges of a long hard week was a continuing source of enjoyment and amazement to him. He never quite understood how it all worked but he loved that effect as he smoked. It seemed that his cares and struggles just melted away as he was given perspective on his life in the act of smoking his pipe. As the smoke curled around his head he closed his eyes and settled back into the old leather chair. He pulled the handle on the side of the chair and the foot rest came up under his feet. He let out a quiet sigh as he drifted into the zone of the smokey air around his head. The blue smoke wreathed his head and he sat quietly, reflectively in the smooth flavor of the smoke. All thoughts of the smoked meat sandwich on the sideboard disappeared in to the taste of his pipe. He was lost in the space of the moment and all other thoughts has slipped from his mind.

Father Tom must have sat that way in an almost mystical state for the better part of an hour. The only noise in the house was the sound of the grandfather clock in the entry way to the house. As it struck 8:00pm he was roused from his state. The pipe had gone out and the room note of the fine Escudo hung in the air around him. He tapped the ash out into his potted fern next to the chair. The old fern seemed to love the ash almost as much as he loved the tobacco. He reached for a pipe cleaner and ran it through is pipe from button to bowl. He then folded it and swabbed out the bowl itself and tapped out the last of the ash. He placed his pipe in the rack inside the cabinet and put the tin of Escudo back in the stack of tins. He laid the tamper on top of the cabinet and picked up the burned matches and the folded pipe cleaner from his ash tray. He dropped the foot rest on the old recliner and pushed himself out of the chair. He threw the matches and cleaner into the fire and then went across the room to the sideboard and picked up the plate of his supper and carried it back to the chair. He sat down and set it on his lap and sipped his port. Then he took a bite of the sandwich and savoured the smokey taste of the meat. This evening had turned out to be exactly what he needed. A sip or port, a smoke of good tobacco, a great sandwich and the crackling fire to give him warmth. He turned and looked at the stack of books on the mantle and eyed the title that would be his companion with his evening pipe. Life was good and Father Tom enjoyed the moments of this evening with all the pleasure it had as if there would be no more.

12/04/10

Father Tom – Breaking the rules together


It was good to be outside again. The cold winter winds and rain had kept him uncomfortably chilled and housebound. Father Tom had not left home other than to go out on his visits and parish work for more days than he cared to remember. Today he had woken up early and saw the clear sky outside and checked the temperature. It appeared that the Pineapple Express had arrived with a shift in the wind and it was actually warm enough to walk outside. He decided it was a day for a walk along the sea wall. He packed his satchel with a good book, a couple of tins of tobacco, his favourite pipe along with a tamper and Zippo lighter. He left a note on the kitchen table for his housekeeper letting her know he was taking the day off and did not need breakfast or lunch. He put on his top coat and his cap and locked the door behind him. He walked to the bus stop and caught the number 19 bus to Stanley Park. The bus was pretty empty as it was still early for the second run of commuters. He sat back and looked out the window as the bus ride toward the Park began.

The bus arrived at the first stop inside Stanley Park and he got off. He walked along the side walk by the Yacht Club to get to the sea wall. It looked like it was going to be one of those rare days in Vancouver, the sun was shining, it was crisp and cold and there was no one walking along the path. “Perfect”, he thought as he began the walk along the sea wall taking in the cool air and looking for the right bench to on which to sit and relax in the sun. He grabbed one of the memorial benches along the walk and sat down to pack a pipe. He knew that it was no longer permitted to smoke in the parks of the city and certainly not here on the sea wall but it was a quiet day and no one was out and about so he thought he would smoke anyway. The waves were lightly breaking just beyond the edge of the sea wall. He could see the scattered debris of the storm of the last few days on the beach below. The cruise ships and cargo ships were anchored in the harbour against the beautiful backdrop of mountains and bridges made the setting calming to the soul.

He put his satchel on the seat next to him and took out the tin of Elizabethan Mixture, an older version of the blend by Murrays, and packed it in his pipe. Over the years he seemed to almost do this without thinking to get a good pack. It was just the right load to give a good draw. He took out his lighter and rolled the wheel and got the flame going and drew it to the tobacco. The bloom sprang up at the touch of the flame and caught fire. He drew gently on the bowl pulling the flame into it. He tamped the tobacco and struck a second light to the bowl and watched as a billow of smoke rose from the bowl. Ah this had the makings of a great day! Sunshine and no wind, perfect for an outdoor pipe. It was a shame that the city had made this a guilty pleasure, but at this rate, the way he was feeling it would be worth the fine or warning. He put his satchel on the ground beside him and settled in for a good smoke.

As Father Tom sat smoking his pipe there was a rustling in the brush behind his bench. The rustling grew louder and sounded as if someone was walking through the brush toward him. He turned to the side so that he could see what was going on in the bush and waited, watching while he enjoyed his pipe. He wanted to see what was disturbing his solace – at least he knew it was not one of the constables who would ticket him for smoking! They did not traverse the woods of the park. After a few moments an odd figure walked out of the bush. I say odd not because of any prejudice regarding his state, but because of his appearance. He was a fairly tall individual – at least 6 feet. His clothes had that lived in look to them. His pants were covered with debris and dirt with several other pairs of pants peeking out below the cuff.  His belt was a piece of rope that was knotted in a half hitch and his upper body was covered by several layers of clothing as well. The top one looked like a slicker that was a bit camouflaged; the cuffs of a flannel shirt in greys and reds stuck out with what looked like the ragged cuffs of a union suit peeking out at the wrists. He wore a pair of fingerless gloves to keep his hands warm. His head was covered in hair – a long scraggly beard and moustache covered the lower half of it and long, unruly hair topped it off. His face bore the weathered creases that came from having lived outside for a long time.

To Father Tom’s surprise the fellow had an old pipe tucked in the corner of his mouth and there was a wisp of smoke curling up around his face. The pipe looked like it was a regular feature, a part of his face. He grinned at the good Father, gave a chuckle and said, “Looks like there are at least two of us here who have the good sense to break that obnoxious new Parks Board ruling against smoking in public spaces. Mind if I share your bench and join you for a bowl?”

Without waiting for a reply he sat down next to Tom and took a deep draw on his pipe and it came back to life. The smoke rose from the bowl. He had a contented look on his face as he puffed, leaning back and looking around him at the world – it seemed all was as it should have been. He was quiet for a long time and Father Tom wondered if he should interrupt the quiet to introduce himself to this fellow piper. He decided not to break the silence and to just sit and wait, quietly puffing on his own pipe. The sun shone on them both, the birds on the water made the only noise of the day. Things could not have been in better harmony.

Finally the nameless smoker, interrupted the silence and said, “M’ name’s Bill”. He said nothing more and returned to his smoke.

Father Tom responded in like manner, “Name is Tom.”

They shared the comfortable silence for awhile and both puffed contentedly on their pipes. The billows of smoke encircled the bench on which they sat and you could not have found two more contented looking pipers in all of Vancouver. It was a beautiful day and they were enjoying a view that was hard to beat, a smoke that was delightful and the company of a like minded brother of the briar. As they both came to the end of their bowls the feeling of contentment and restfulness lingered.

“What are you smoking Bill?” Tom asked.

“Whatever I can get a hold of is what I smoke,” replied Bill. “I’m not particular at all. Whatever I pack and light, I taste and enjoy! Doesn’t pay for a man of my means to be too picky about his choice of tobacco.”

“Guess that is true enough Bill. But me, I am partial to Virginia tobaccos and those that have a dab of Perique in them. I don’t smoke many English blends and almost never smoke Burley ones. Today I have a couple of tins of aged Virginia here with me. I have some Dunhill Elizabethan Mixture and some stoved Virginia Flake – Dark Star. I was going to load a bowl of the Dark Star would you want to give some of it a try?”

With that he took a tin of 1997 McClelland’s Dark Star out of his satchel and opened it. He took a few of the broken flakes between his thumb and forefinger, placed it in his palm and rubbed it out. He rolled it into a ball, springy and light, and loaded his pipe. He noticed while he did this that Bill was watching intently. When he had finished loading his pipe he passed the tin to Bill. He quietly watched as Bill copied what he had seen him do. Tom lit his pipe and pulled the smoke into his mouth. “Dark Star is sure a good smoke”, he thought as he contentedly smoked a bowl.

He watched as Bill set the tin down on the bench between them and tamped the tobacco with his forefinger. He took an old Bic lighter from his pocket and set fire to the tobacco. He puffed on it a few times, tamped it again with his finger and gave it a second light. He sat back, closed his eyes and savoured the tobacco. He gave a contented nod of his head as he exhaled the smoke. There was a palpable silence around the bench as the two men sipped the smoke of the aged Virginia.

“I like it!” exclaimed Bill. “Man this is really good stuff. I can see why you enjoy smoking it.”

“Wait until it burns down a bit deeper into the bowl. It is an amazing smoke. The dimensions of flavour are truly remarkable,” Tom said. Then with an after thought he added, “Maybe that doesn’t matter to you as much as it does to me but…hey what can I say, I love this tobacco.”

Bill turned toward him with a bit of a twinkle in his eye and said, “Don’t be mistaken, it matters to me as well. I just don’t get to smoke this kind of stuff that often!” With that comment he closed his eyes and sat back to enter into the smoke with a silent revelry.

The two men sat quietly, each in their own world. Each one left alone to their own thoughts as they sipped on the smoke. If you had walked by at that moment you would have seen two older gents contentedly sitting in a haze of smoke with a slight smile on their faces and the sun shining down upon them. They looked, in their contentment, as if nothing could have been better in their world.

As the tobacco burned down to the bottom of the bowl and left it mottled ash remnant behind in each of their pipes, the men turned toward each other. Tom looked down at the nearly full tin of Dark Star on the bench silently mulled over how he was going to give it to Bill. As Bill tapped out the ash in his pipe against the heel of his boot he murmured, “thank you Tom. That was a memorable smoke for me. Can’t remember when I have last had a smoke like that in good company to boot!” He rose to leave and stuck his empty pipe in his mouth. He looked back at the woods and said, “Take care Tom. Maybe I’ll meet you here again one day.”

Before he could walk away Tom rose as well. He bent and picked up the tin of Dark Star and handed it to Bill. He said, “Here Bill, take this with you. It is nearly full and there is a lot of good smoking to be had in that tin. I hate to see you wondering when you will get to taste that again. Enjoy it. You have given me a great day!”

After shaking hands, the two men parted company. Bill went back into the woods behind the pathway and Tom started heading back to the city. The ocean was on his left as he walked and weighed the day’s events in his head. It had been a great day and he had thoroughly enjoyed the company and the scenery. Now it was time to get back to his work. It was starting to get cold so he stopped and reloaded his pipe with some Elizabethan Mixture and lit it for the walk back to the bus stop. At least his hands would be warm and he could enjoy the pipe as he walked.

02/01/11

Father Tom – An unexpected encounter


Early Tuesday morning Father Tom put on his clerical collar and his Harris Tweed jacket before walking to the parlour to pick up a pipe and tools for the day. He put a little bent Dublin in his pocket and a pouch of tobacco, tamper, pipe cleaner and his lighter in the other. He had to be at the hospital at 6am because one of his parishioners was due for surgery that morning. It had become his custom to be there with them before surgery and before the anaesthesia so he could encourage and comfort them. He lived fairly close to the hospital so he walked there.

Upon arrival he took the elevator to the 4th floor and found Mrs. Nathanson’s room. He knocked gently on the door, called out softly that he was there and heard her invite him in. They talked for a brief time and she shared her fears and expectations with him. He finished his prayer just as the orderly came through the door to take her to surgery. He squeezed her hand and said, “See in a little while.” He walked with the cart all the way to the door of the surgical suite and bid her farewell.

Tom walked back to the surgical waiting room and checked with the nurse to find out when the surgery was to be over. He gave her his cell phone number and asked that they call him when the surgery was over and Mrs. Nathanson was back in her room. Since she had no relatives in the city and her son was in Europe and would not arrive in Vancouver until the next day, Father Tom was the contact. He took the elevator down to the cafeteria and ordered a coffee and a quick breakfast. He picked up a newspaper and took it to the table with his breakfast. He scanned the pages quickly and then laid aside the paper as nothing caught his eye. Once breakfast was done he carried his tray to the cart and headed to the main entrance.

Before going outside he packed his pipe with a bit of tobacco he brought with him and lit it before heading outdoors. He put on his cap and began the walk from the hospital to Cambie Street – just a few blocks away. It was far enough for a good pipe. He wanted to catch the train up to his favourite pipe shop and pick up 100 grams of his favourite shop blend and some pipe cleaners. He would have just enough time before the surgery was over to get the tobacco and get back to the hospital.

He arrived at the train terminal after a 10 minute walk and put his pipe in his pocket, bought the ticket and went down to the platform to catch the train. Within a few minutes he was on his way for a short ride to the 41st Ave. station where a short walk would take him to his favourite pipe shop – RJ Clarkes.

He walked up the stairs, crossed the street and entered the pipe shop. The owner was in the back at the counter and nodded his greetings as he helped another customer. Father Tom, made his way to the jars of house blends and picked out his favourite. He knew it was a McClellands 5100 blend but he bought it from this shop regularly to have an excuse for visiting. He took time to inhale the aromas of several other jars of tobacco – he knew that the day would soon come when the jars would be moved behind the counter and covered to meet the increasingly harsh Vancouver laws regulating the sale of tobacco. He would miss the readily available buffet of smells and textures of the various blends so he always took time to savour the smells.

The other customer left and the shop owner said to Father Tom, “How are you today Father? What can I get for you?

“I am doing well, just stopping by before I go back to the hospital. I’ll take 100 grams of this blend and then two bundles of pipe cleaners. I could also use a bit of lighter fluid for my Old Boy. Thanks Richard.”

Richard poured the contents of the jar onto the old scale on the work table and measured out 100 grams. He took a bag and labelled it with the house name and then lifted the scoop off the scale and slid the contents into the bag. He had done it so often that not a thread of tobacco missed the bag. He sealed the bag and carried it to the cash register and put two bundles of pipe cleaners and a can of lighter fluid on the counter with it. He quickly tallied the total with the dreaded tax and quoted it to Tom. Tom took out his clip and handed Richard the cash and thanked him. He took the tobacco and other purchases and slipped them into his coat pocket – the opposite one he had his pipe in!

“Thanks Richard; I will be back another day for a chat. I have a parishioner at the hospital that should just about be done with her surgery so I need to be heading back. Take care of yourself.” And with that and a farewell from Richard he headed toward the door. He paused outside the door and relit his pipe then made his way back to the train and on to the hospital.

When he got to the hospital his pipe went into his coat pocket again. It would be fine until he walked home later. He took the elevator to the surgical waiting room and found that as he walked through the door his cell phone rang. He looked at the receptionist and they both laughed.

“Mrs. Nathanson is on her way up to her room. They will need about a ½ hour to get her settled in. The surgery went very well. The doctors are very pleased. You can head up there if you would like.”

“Thanks”, said Father Tom. He then went back to the elevators and took it to the fourth floor. Once he got there he remembered that there was an outdoor patio that he could wait on and enjoy a bit of sunshine. He found it and settled into a comfortable chair near the wall overlooking the downtown. He looked around and saw ash trays on the tables so he took out his pipe and relit it. He sat back and looked around the deck. Off to his left he noticed another pipe smoker sitting at a table. He tipped his pipe to the other man and continued to contentedly sit with his pipe. He was lost in thought momentarily and failed to hear the footsteps behind him. He gave a start as the voice behind him said, “I see you found my hiding place. Great place for a pipe eh?”

The man then sat down across from him at the table and Tom noticed then that he was wearing scrubs. They introduced themselves to each other and contentedly sat smoking their pipes.

“I look forward to my post surgery smoke here on the fourth floor patio. I am hoping the hospital continues to forget that it is here and doesn’t make it a non-smoking patio as well. I am not sure where I would go then. It is great to be able to sit here away from the door and other people and decompress after a surgery. What brings you here Father?” said the surgeon.

“Hmmm. It is a great place. I did not know it was here and would not have guessed but for the ashtrays. I have a parishioner here who underwent surgery this morning. She is due back to her room very soon so I thought I would step out for some fresh air while waiting for her. When I found I could have a pipe while I waited it was a bonus.”

With that exchange of words Father Tom’s pipe was finished. He looked through the door and could see that Mrs. Nathanson had not come back to her room yet. So he took the bag of tobacco from his pocket and after running a pipe cleaner through his pipe, packed a bowl of the new tobacco. He laid the bag on the table between the doctor and him. He took out his lighter and fired it up, tamped and relit and settled back for a bowl.

The doctor reached across the table and took the bag and opened it and put it to his nose. “That smells great. What is it? Smells like Virginia and looks like it as well.”

Tom answered, “McClelland’s Red cake, 5100. It is my go to smoke. Help yourself to a bowl if you want to.”

The doctor tapped out his dottle in the ashtray and ran a cleaner through as well. He loaded a bowl of the 5100 and lit it. He sipped contentedly at the smoke and it was obvious he was enjoying it. He commented, “Where did you pick this up? It is just the right moisture level for me. I really like it. I generally have been smoking some stuff I pick up downtown that is a Virginia Burley blend and it is no where near as good as this.”

“Ah… RJ Clarke’s on Cambie and 41st. They carry it all the time and you can find it under the name on the label. Great smoke.”

With little more conversation they settled into the quiet comradery of the pipe. The cadence they shared almost matched. The wreath of smoke around them both showed the contented state of the two pipers. After a short time Tom saw the gurney with Mrs. Nathanson being wheeled into her room. He relaxed knowing that he would finish the bowl before his visit.

The surgeon stood and put his pipe in his pocket and thanked Tom for the tobacco. He said, “I hope to meet you again here on the roof! Have a good visit with Mrs. Nathanson. Her surgery went exceptionally well and she should recover with no complications at all. I have to head back to work now as I have appointments to see to at the office. Take care.” And with that he left the patio.

Tom was speechless for a moment as he realized that he had been sitting with the surgeon who had done his parishioners’ surgery. He had to laugh as he thought about the fact that the surgeon was a pipe smoker. Who would have guessed that they would connect on the patio and share a smoke?

June 2, 2011