Tag Archives: Robert Boughton

The B(ew)itchin‘ Pipe – A Lost Episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
Photos © the Author

“Every writer is a frustrated actor who recites his lines in the hidden auditorium of his skull.”
― Rodman Edward “Rod” Serling (1924-1975), U.S. TV/film writer, narrator, anti-war and –racism activist, in “Vogue” magazine [April 1957]

Good evening. Imagine, if you will, a rather large college town in the heart of the American Southwest, population estimated at a little more than half a million. This sprawling urban area does not appear on any globe of the Earth, nor do its lights draw the attention of a satellite passing far overhead at night in the vacuum of outer space. Nevertheless, due to the proximity of two of the country’s three top nuclear weapons developers to this liberal college and arts metropolis, it is likely the target of hundreds if not thousands of such warheads from other, potentially hostile nations or terrorists, foreign and domestic.

In today’s episode, we are about to meet a 53-year-old man named Robert Boughton, who as a matter of record resides in this sprawling burg. Mr. Boughton knows the twin peaks that are, atop the one, success and hope, and the other, defeat and futility. At the moment, he is at the very zenith of the heap of that more and more common social malaise that people glibly call the harried man. He is finding his way through one of the more interesting times of his life, in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse. Honest, hard-working and trustworthy, he has had more jobs than he could ever recall to put down on a government security clearance application, from maintenance man to assistant manager in hotels; neighborhood delivery boy to photojournalist for newspapers, and, most recently, both caregiver and pipe restorer – tobacco pipes, he always adds to prospective new customers he doesn’t know as he offers them his card.

During the past seven years, Mr. Boughton has postponed his lifelong pursuit of a literary career to dedicate almost every waking hour as caregiver to a mentally unstable roommate with a slightly shorter list of physical disorders, one of them fatal; a shrewish man a few years over the hill who carries his misfortunes the way some brag about drug abuse or petty thievery, but in his case molded into the very form and execution of his tragic worldview by the madness of living day-to-day knowing he is deteriorating from the core of marrow of his brittle bones to the disappearing sheath around every nerve fiber and the corresponding loss of sight and voluntary movement, and finally to the thin skin of his failing frame.

Mr. Boughton’s roommate has no idea how close he has come to being granted his repeated if insincere request to be put out of his misery; to a drive far out onto a back road of the desert for a very long stay. He has pushed Mr. Boughton to the limits of his self-control – to the end of his wits and the edge of his sanity. But the downward spiral is about to change, as you will soon understand. For not long ago, Mr. Boughton caught sight of a pinhole of light in the abyss; a hobby that helped him survive the slings and arrows that another writer once called outrageous fortune.

And now all of Mr. Boughton’s troubles are about to change for the better from the simple purchase of an estate lot of seven tobacco pipes in time to write off as an expense on last year’s business income taxes. All of them would have been finds for more than the $25 he paid for the lot – but at a glance, the real gem, in the eye of the restorer at any rate, first went unnoticed. See if you can spot it in the following picture from our gallery, which we call “Lot #7: Tobacco Pipes.” Robert1 If you correctly identified the L&H Stern Straight Billiard, on the right in the middle, as the object of Mr. Boughton’s growing obsession, shall we say, then you either have what is commonly referred to as the Sixth Sense or you are an astute collector of fine pipes.

The Park Lane, an invention of the company’s primary founder, is stamped with U.S. Patent № 1908630, issued May 9, 1933. Mr. Boughton has always appreciated the elegant – in expressions of poetry, law, logic and art, to name a few – and as for Patents, he considers this one, being only two pages including the obligatory illustration of parts, to be as brief and comprehensive as they come.Robert2

Robert3 L&H Stern Inc. was officially organized in 1911 by one Ludwig Stern (the L in the initials, which in the early days were fashioned L. & H. S.), with his older brother, Hugo (the H). Ludwig emigrated from Germany as a young man, after his brother, who was five years older.

(And now, if the audience will permit a brief side-bar, a point of interest: Ludwig worked for the largest supplier of tobacco products to the entire state of New York – somehow providing an estimated 90% of cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and other related items to manufacturers and retailers in the area – as early as 1899, the year the behemoth tobacco supplier was spawned. Called the Metropolitan Tobacco Company, a corporation born of a cartel of others in the same business known to everyone who was anyone within the industry as the “Tobacco Trust,” became the object of a drawn-out restraint of trade civil complaint. The original trial and both appeals of said cause were decided, not surprisingly, in favor of the tobacco industry defendants. The small shops, banded together as plaintiffs, now collectively relegated to historical obscurity by a single last name and “et al.,” were forced to close. I submit for your consideration one question: could the wheels of justice have been greased in this case by the main product of the second of the Seven Deadly Sins? This is offered as food for thought – only available at your local diner in the Twilight Zone.) [See Link 2.)

The brothers moved the re-formed business in 1920 to Brooklyn. The new location, in a seven-story building, was – for the then-ubiquitous craft – in a convenient part of town now known by its acronym, D.U.M.B.O. (Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). It remained there until closing in the mid-1960s. [See Link 3.] LHS was already so well respected in the business at the time that the company reorganization and move were news in those bygone days. [See Link 4.]

The LHS Park Lane Billiard included a brown and orange swirled Cumberland bit, handmade from Ebonite and fashioned in this case to look like wood. Mr. Boughton considered the task of restoring this pipe to be distinctly good fortune and a pleasure of restoring, in particular because of a certain aspect of the repair that was new to him. The line was made only in the 1930s. [See Link 5.]

At the present moment, Mr. Boughton is busy at work attempting to restore the WDC Park Lane to its original state. As noble as the endeavor may be, the only problem, with this peculiar specimen, is the invisible transformation the pipe has undergone during years of smoking by a single prior owner who had the good grace to love it. As Mr. William Shakespeare so aptly put it in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,/And therefore is wingèd Cupid painted blind.” Now, meet Mr. Boughton in his favorite activity – restoring tobacco pipes with every ounce of his love.




Robert7 The last shot of the Park Lane prior to restoration, above, makes the most serious problem I encountered apparent. The bit was off by about an eighth of a turn, which may seem negligible to one who has never enjoyed the ruminating quality of a fine pipe, but is in fact a microcosmic chasm along the lines of the Grand Canyon to the general viewer.

The flaw was masked by the seller of these estate pipes, who, with no small amount of duplicity, placed a piece of paper around the metal tenon screw built into the opening of the shank.Robert8

Robert9 The wily culpability of this particular ilk of seller is obvious from the freshness of the paper. Hence the conspicuous starting point for my restoration.

At this point of experience restoring pipes, I consider myself a journeyman in the craft. Although familiar with various ways to tighten Vulcanite, Ebonite, Lucite and other tenon materials, I was unable to locate any useful information on the Internet – the modern day Library of Alexandria, which was dedicated to the Muses, or nine gods and goddesses of the Arts – concerning the re-alignment of metal tenons fixed either to the bit or shank.

Nevertheless, finding myself without a clue how to proceed, I sent an email to Steve Laug, who soon replied with the suggestion that I read his recent online blog on the restoration of an LHS Purex Bulldog. This amused me, as the many notices of comments on the blog in question were forwarded to me, I wondered what all the hoopla was about and had intended to check it out.

However, awaiting Steve’s reply did not hinder me from proceeding with certain steps I knew, such as the fact that the stinger extension of the tenon should come off. Thinking of that, I tried heating the entire aluminum tenon with the flame of a Bic, careful not to touch the shank opening beyond the part of the tenon Ludwig Stern referred to as the flange [see p. 1, Fig. 2, part 10 of the Patent]. Unfortunately, the tenon still would not budge. Even the stinger [illustrated as a whole as part 9, with parts 13, 14 and 15 forming its length and pushing into part 8] seemed to form a single piece. I was aware this would be odd, if not unprecedented, but after four attempts, I swear it would not come off.Robert10 One lesson I did manage to learn from my dad in his countless frustrated endeavors to teach me about mechanics was that if a part of a mechanism or machine would not come free using reasonable pressure, don’t force it. But, always believing that not all of his maxims were absolute, I suspected he meant it as a guideline that was not immutable under controlled conditions I might someday, by some miracle, learn to recognize. Therefore, I found a small wash rag and a pump plier that I feared might be overkill, but it was all I owned that had not been stolen by previous apartment owners. I also possess a wicked sense of adventure at moments like these. Adjusting the rivet to match the job, I then wrapped the small towel around the base of the tenon/stinger by the flange and loosely clamped the end of the plier over the tenon. As I applied pressure, I could feel the two sides of the mouth turn and clamp firmly down on the rag-covered metal. Gripping the bit in one hand, I turned the plier with my other and immediately felt it begin to move. Slowly, it came free and undamaged.Robert11 In the meantime, Steve replied with the suggestion that I read his recent online blog on the restoration of an LHS Purex Bulldog. This amused me, in a good way. As the many notices of comments on the blog in question were forwarded to me, I wondered what all the hoopla was about and had intended to check it out.

Reading through to the first mention of the difficulty encountered by Steve, my heartbeat quickened. Confident I was on the verge of making the discovery that would enlighten me, I continued, on the edge of my seat on the couch in my living room, as though I were reading a real page-turner of a book or watching an Alfred Hitchcock thriller or perhaps “The Twilight Zone.” Indeed, in my mind I envisioned the Canadian master at work in his studio, so vivid were the words and photographs flashing across his computer screen.

Nearing the expected moment of revelation, I was consumed with anticipation – only to come to a single photograph of Steve’s LHS shank that dashed my hopes in a nanosecond, as is the popular if peculiarly à propos phrase these days; for the illustration revealed the exact reverse of my predicament, one that could not be repaired in the same fashion.

Delayed but not daunted, I set out to do that which I knew I should have attempted in the first place: taking the Park Lane to my own friend and mentor, Chuck Richards, I humbly sought his advice.

Before doing that, I continued where I had left off, cleaning the tenon and stinger inside and out, including the corroded threads that screwed into the bit, using a small square piece of cotton cloth soaked with Everclear and bristly cleaners that passed through the airways. To be done with it, I also ran a pipe cleaner with alcohol through the air hole of the bit, and when it came out filthy, recalled Steve’s words in his blog that this sort of pipe often needs considerable cleaning of the shank and bit. Quite a few cleaners later, I had the mess under control for the time. Known to my dad for having “a mind like a steel trap” and to my friends as being on the stubborn – or, as I prefer to think, confident side – I was by whatever label loathe to surrender to any challenge.Robert12

Robert13 When I arrived at the pipe shop and we exchanged pleasantries, I presented my distressed pipe. Chuck, pipe of the day in mouth, put on his eyeglasses and examined the LHS closely. Within a blurring handful of seconds, my older, more experienced mentor made his diagnosis, telling me with his typical certitude to heat the tenon before tightening it into the bit. A man who prefers to let people learn as much as they can on their own, Chuck then offered the rare treat of extra advice: “It will be counter-intuitive.”

Intrigued, I took a seat in the pipe shop and, starting a fresh bowl full of tobacco in a new pipe, mulled over the problem in my mind. In a flash, I thought of a comparison, and unfortunately blurted it to the complete perplexity of all of the cigar smokers present.

“Like turning into the skid on ice!”

Chuck, caught unawares by the outburst and not at first grasping the metaphor, at last smiled and said, “Yes, something like that.”

At home later, the first chance I had, I sat down with my movable feast of standard implements of construction, including quite a few that were improvised, to make my first attempt at the genuine repair of a loose bit.Robert14 Following Chuck’s advice, and keeping the counter-intuitive dog treat in mind, I was set to apply heat to the tenon stinger when the idea struck me to try removing the stinger again. Of course, then it came out with a simple turn of my fingers, apparently loosened by the work I did earlier and the passage of time.

And so I flicked my Bic and held it under the small tenon with even more care not to burn the precious Cumberland bit. (A Cumberland, by the way, is made from a special sort of Ebonite that can be colored with limits, which in turn is a particular variation of Vulcanite. This subject, I understand from research, is a matter of some hot debate.) With the tenon blackened, I quickly tossed a small rag over it and grabbed my pump pliers, clamping them firmly and remembering not to turn the small metal insert opposite from the direction the bit was off but toward it – as one would, if one hoped to avoid losing control of a vehicle and crashing or rolling, turn into the skid on black ice. Thus one particularly memorable experience on a bridge late one night in Colorado Springs, when my training and reflexes saved me, proved useful in this new endeavor. Each of several increasingly difficult rounds of this process brought the bit closer until it was aligned snugly.

Reaming the chamber and sanding it with 150-grit paper before 200 and then 320 was an easy task, as was using super fine 0000 steel wool to remove the rim char and excess dark stain that was popular when the pipe was made somewhere around three-quarters of a century ago. The rim and bowl then only needed a progression of micromesh from 1500-4000.

At this late stage of the restore, I retorted the pipe, again, unfortunately, with the tenon in place. I at least left the stinger aside for that process, which required about five Pyrex tubes of Everclear boiled through the pipe’s innards to clear out decades of crud and juices soaked into the briar from considerable use by someone who loved this pipe.

I stained the briar with Lincoln Brown boot stain, as opposed to Medium Brown which appears lighter, and flamed it before removing the thin layer of char with gentle rubbing using 3600 micromesh.Robert15


Robert17 At last I am at the end of this rather strange, I admit, blog. I buffed the stem with white and red Tripoli and White Diamond, using a soft cotton cloth and a clean wheel between each. Then I used white Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba on the wood, with the same steps between each.Robert18



Mr. Boughton had intended to offer this fine LHS pipe for sale at his online store. But following an odd impulse he could neither resist nor explain, he found himself loading a bowl of one of his best tobacco blends and, before he knew it, striking a match and placing the flame to the firm top layer.

The magical qualities of the pipe immediately became apparent. Where he had been tense to the point of explosive results, he was consumed with a sense that all was right in the world. Continuing to puff the mysterious pipe that had somehow found its way to him, he pondered the possible reasons behind the overwhelming sense of attraction to the diminutive pipe. Nothing he could imagine provided a satisfactory explanation, and Mr. Boughton also found he no longer cared.

Mr. Shakespeare also wrote, on the same subject and in the same play: “And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.” Truer words may never have been written.

For at that very moment, although Mr. Boughton thought he was sitting on his sofa in his suddenly less dreary little apartment in the heart of the American Southwest, he was, in fact, still on the outskirts of the Twilight Zone.

1. “The Twilight Zone,” Introduction, Season 2, with thanks. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052520/quotes

2. Locker et al. v. American Tobacco Co. et al, NY Sup. Ct. (1907), pp. 115-124. https://books.google.com/books?id=34g7AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA117&lpg=PA117&dq=metropolitan+tobacco+company+brooklyn&source=bl&ots=hQ6aVa_tY8&sig=1uaY2AesgKT4mCKepaOyan9gB9I&hl=en&sa=X&ei=MIiQVZGuHYizoQSxsouAAg&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=metropolitan%20tobacco%20company%20brooklyn&f=false

3. L&H Stern background, including D.U.M.B.O.
Featured Fade – L & H Stern – Smoking Pipes & Holders – DUMBO – Fred King

4. Magazine story on L&H Stern 1920 move.

5. LHS Park Lane dating confirmation.
http://www.smokingpipes.com/pipes/estate/united-states/moreinfo.cfm? Product_ID=100458

The Bionic Hilson Meer: We Have the Technology, or How I Destroyed a Mardi Gras and Made It Unique – Robert M. Boughton

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Photos © the Author

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and fearful change.”
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818

Robert 1
The great English author and creator of the science fiction genre, Mary Shelley, had she been a pipe restorer, might have been writing of the feeling of dread I experienced after a single swipe of sandpaper destroyed any chance I had of restoring a beautiful Hilson Mardi Gras meerschaum-coated and kilned billiard to its original glory. All I could do with the monster I created with that foolish attempt to remove a small blemish, once I summoned the nerve, was to go to my friend and mentor, Chuck Richards, and confess my sin with the hideous evidence in hand.

Robert2Oh, I beseech you; do believe me when I confess that before doing so I attempted to cover up my evil act with multiple layers of yellow and orange marker ink and Super Glue, which surgery proved fruitless, as all can see from this hideous disfigurement committed by yours truly. I can now only plead that in my Godforsaken state of pride and arrogance I believed I could re-animate that which I knew was dead. Thus the poor monster appeared before the sparkling eyes of the master, Chuck. To my great combination of horror and expectation, he seemed amused, and so I chose to have the satisfaction of describing the facts as I imagined them before he could state them himself.

So I guess what I have here is a once beautiful pipe that I can keep for myself and enjoy smoking,” I said. “But there’s no hope of fixing it.”

Chuck nodded and allowed his face to reveal the big grin I deserved. When he had reigned in his jolly fun, Chuck explained that the process Hilson (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-h3.html) uses to make this variety of meerschaum pipe is to coat the inner and outer bowl with the magic white porous claylike material made of hydrated magnesium silicate, and then glaze and heat the bowl in a kiln. Once that process is complete, there can be no meddling with the basic elements of the pipe form.

However, following my basic nature of stubborn curiosity, I began to meddle.

Refusing to accept that there was yet no hope for this mangled creature of my own unmaking, I decided there was no good reason not to sand off the rest of the fixed glaze and see what lay beneath. Yet nothing could have prepared me for my utter dismay when I reached a small patch of that which could only be described as wood. And where there is wood, for those who are of such a mind as mine, there is hope, however lunatic the notion may be. I proceeded to strip the bowl down to the bare briar birthday suit. I also reamed, sanded and micro-meshed the bowl and rim.
Robert3Robert4Robert5Robert6 No doubt the Reader can see the many reasons why this hunk of briar, despite its likely latent lineage, might not be conducive to preparation for the average pipe smoker’s, or, dare I say it, even restorer’s viewing without extreme measures. Yet just such extremities did I have in mind to make this once fair Hilson born of a line of solid stock starting in Germany and traveling to Belgium and lately found in Denmark under another owner.

After sanding the tenon to make the stem flush with the shank, I still noticed (and thanks to a preview email to our host, Steve, was confirmed with invaluable constructive criticism) that the stem itself was never properly fitted. I broke out my 1500 micromesh and ever so slowly worked away until the two met and formed a whole. Several attempts later at finishing with the unnatural briar stained brown and buffed with White Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba waxes I even thought I had my Hilson’s Monster restored to life.Robert7Robert8Robert9 Alas, the mishmash of grains still shone through. I have made a few attempts with pipes that had far less reason to conceal the visages of their fearsome, uncomely wood entirely with black stain, all of which met with disaster due to various problems, most of them being the necessity for a baby smooth surface. This time, however, I had overcome that hindrance and set out to try again, with satisfactory results. The only difference was that I mixed equal parts of black and maroon stains, then re-buffed, to this initial end. Robert10Robert11Robert12 True, this was a far cry better than where I started, but not quite what I was looking for. I was deathly afraid of taking the next step in trepidation of doing something I have already done enough to know better: taking one step beyond the edge and ending up ass over teakettle. So call me what you will – a madman, a reckless fool, yes, sling whatever epithets you will at me, but I did what my conscience bade me and gave the bowl a whirl of Red Tripoli with another, light coat of carnauba.Robert13Robert14Robert15
And there it is. The difference is subtle, I know, but present nonetheless. At long last I can revel in the knowledge that I have felt the power to give new life, though the original may have had, shall we say, more complexity. If it is an argument you want from me, you shall be woefully disappointed indeed. I say, trudge off to the Arctic Circle in search of your own gods and monsters, if you believe in them, for they do exist.

For the Canadian Pipe Restorer Who Has Everything – Robert M. Boughton

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Photos © the Author

“The old pipe gives the sweetest smoke.”
— Irish Proverb

“Never to be underestimated is the value of shielding the water and the wind from the bowl of the pipe.”
— The Author

Well, this isn’t a truly old pipe as was likely envisioned by the proverbial author of the Irish quote above, although it is vintage, having survived our world since the days of the yippies, give or take a few years.Certainly it can’t be ranked among the great brands, either, although its name is well-known to pipe smokers with a grain of salt or more of experience.

But it is still a pipe of note, if not, say,as fast and exotic as a Porsche or as timeless and exquisite as a Paganini violin piece, still unique in its own way. And being both weather- and spark-proof to boot, for the enthusiastic smoker determined to light up and head out into natural elements including high wind and rain, this is the tool he wants. It’s also a peach of an apple, which is uncommon for its brand, and the bowl is crafted (if not by hand) of Algerian briar – other than the Bakelite swivel cover. For briar of that origin, the grain is even very nice.

What sets this wonderful specimen of a pipe apart from all others of its ilk, though, is the absence of the brand’s initials where they once were inlaid in the stem, before the original plastic piece fell out (as I have since gathered through research is common with older pipes of this type), and the way the hole was filled.

Robert2 By the way, I owe credit for the substitute inlay idea, as opposed to filling the hole with a replacement from a similar pipe or just using black Super Glue, to another restoration guru and my mentor, Chuck Richards. Thanks, Chuck, for the inspired thought, which indeed gives the pipe a definite Southwestern flair, as shall be shown.
So I ask, therefore, what better gift to present to the man who can have his pick from among all the legendary pipes, the man I have come to consider a friend and guide in pipe restoration – Steve Laug – than this simple but utilitarian Mastercraft Weatherproof-Sparkproof, made in France? I mean, Steve has already restored, and in many instances all but re-made, almost every brand and probably every style there is. Besides, he lives in Canada, where such a pipe could really come in handy.


Robert3I bought two Mastercrafts – the apple described here and its apparent mate, a tall billiard which had its MC inlay intact – among 19 pipes from an estate. I suppose that makes me responsible for the forced separation of what might have been a lifelong companionship between the two pipes, for all I know. Putting aside any such sentimental thoughts and planning on restoring most of the pipes for sale on my new Website but knowing ahead of time that I wanted to give Steve one of the Mastercrafts, I put considerable thought into which one to make the lucky winner, so to speak. I was seriously leaning toward the billiard because of its larger bowl and the fact that it was all there.

Then Chuck made his breakthrough brainstorm when I asked if he knew where, other than eBay, I might find an old Mastercraft stem with which to replace the smaller pipe’s altogether or extract its precious inlay for re-implant in the original. At the time, Chuck had no idea of my intention to give one to Steve; in fact, I’m sure he thought he was helping me sell the pipe online thanks to the unique character it would have.

Of course, my ultimate choice of the right gift for Steve was made for me on the spot. Dooming the poor billiard to an uncertain future, Chuck’s brilliant advice secured for its more weathered (pun intended) but soon to be made-over adorable petite amiea definite safe harbor in this often cruel world.

With a cursory first look at the over-the-hill pipe, it seems to be a relatively easy restoration, except maybe for the missing stem inlay. Robert4 Robert5 Robert6 In fact, most of the process was indeed standard including the basic mineral water bath and removal of the rim burn. Where the situation escalated somewhat was reaming the bowl, which was crusted with decades of cake buildup that made a huge pile, sanding the inside of the bowl to make it baby-smooth again and cleaning the underside of the Bakelite cover that was difficult to reach given the facts that the only way to remove the thing seemed to be to break it off, and the maximum space to get under the lid was highly limited. Robert7 But I used good old-fashioned elbow grease and ingenuity, and with the reamer and some 150-grit shifting to 400-grit sandpaper, I worked out the three-tiered layers of cake until the bowl was almost down to fresh briar again.

Then I used up quite a few bristly stem cleaners soaked in alcohol getting under the cover and many more through the stem and shank before they came out clean. That alone took considerable time and patience. Robert8 I completed the cleaning of the bowl, shank and underside of the cover with a simple soaking with alcohol while the lid was closed.

The next task was to rub out some scratches and dings in the wood with 600 micromesh, which ended up being most difficult on the sides of the bowl where the Bakelite didn’t prevent me from going, and 1000 micromesh on the Bakelite itself.

Now, for Chuck’s suggestion, which was to insert a piece of genuine New Mexico turquoise into the hole in the stem where the original inlay once was fairly poorly set. The better part of valor being discretion, or good judgment, I was willing to take on the task myself but knew to seize a good opportunity to have it done right. That chance presented itself to me when I bought the desired piece of turquoise at a local gem store (http://www.mamasminerals.com/http://www.mamasminerals.com/).

Consulting the store’s gemologist and jeweler, a gentleman and a scholar named Dennis, on how to cut the small piece of turquoise without shattering it and make it a sturdy new part of the stem, I was surprised when he was intrigued enough by my project to offer to do it himself – for $10.

“I’ve done this kind of thing in just about everything, but never a pipe,” Dennis told me.

And so I accepted his offer, and here are the final results after re-staining the rim, buffing the bowl with White Tripoli and carnauba and doing the same to the stem with Red and White Tripoli before handing it over to Dennis to make his much appreciated contribution:Robert9 Robert10 Robert11 Robert12 CONCLUSION
To be brief for a change, it was all worth it. Over the past two and a half years, Steve has given me so much help and friendship, in addition to the immense support I receive from Chuck, that this small token of my appreciation hardly seems adequate. Thanks again for everything, Steve. May your days and nights in Canada be windy and rainy often enough to keep enjoying this pipe.Robert13



To Sonia Golden
To Chuck Richards
To Steve Laug
To Capitan Gregorio Fuentes

For the first two hundred and fifty days the boy was in a small wet space where the climate was almost always right. It made him think of islands in the stream of the Gulf where the air was humid but there was a breeze that made a boy feel free.

Sometimes the woman who kept him in the place let the others outside become too loud when he was sleeping. He considered this behavior beyond inconsiderate but had an uneasy feeling in his stomach every time he wanted to slap her during the good part of his life when he was always safe and most of the time comfortable.

If he squirmed and tried to free his hands which were bound he could tell she was aware but often she did nothing. Then he had to kick twice to get her attention. The boy thought she wanted to keep him there forever. For the first time his mind turned to escape but he had no plan. At the end of the two hundred and fifty days he kicked harder than before and understood he was outside.

“Cabezota!” the woman said with true strength and meaning. That was not a nice thing to say, and the boy knew she was his mother. Although the sound of the word never changed in the years that followed, the conviction behind it gave way as a woman’s complaints will when she is forced to surrender over time.

But in secret he liked the word his mother called him then and often later as he grew as well as he could, which was not much for many years. It gave him a warm sureness of identity and was the only feeling of control he had over his mother.

The minute the boy escaped the prison, people with masks on their faces glared down at him. One of these people held him upside-down by the ankles and gave him the first slap on the rear he ever received for no good reason he could imagine. But knowing that boys did not show their emotions he did not cry even then. All he did was gasp in shock. It seemed as though his life would be like men without women.

For the rest of his life he remembered in his mind and heart that belonged to no one else the looks of stupid amazement on the faces of his parents as they smiled at him. He could never forget their bared teeth like burros chomping on the bit. He wanted to scream but could not.

He was only a newborn and later had no way to explain the images and sounds and feelings that rushed together with a clarity similar to that of a soldier sprinting for his life with the same raw terrified taste of phlegm and bleach in his mouth. But the boy recognized the words that were spoken to him as one by the two when his mother held him in her arms for the first time.

“Gabriel Miguel Jorge de Sabato,” the new parents said to their boy in the thick accent of Spain and made the unfortunate burro faces.

The boy was small because he came early. He was also quiet unlike the others. He tried never to scream the way most people did for the first few years after they learned the bigger world was not the Garden of Eden. That could be good or bad, depending on how the child was raised.

He did not like the name his parents gave to him for as long as he knew and he had gone nine thousand six hundred and fifty days, counting Leap Years, since the first slap and he remembered before then.
The boy was never afraid of his parents. Even as an infant he understood they meant well. But when he was out of the first place and then the oven machine with a glass window he heard the sounds more often. I know for whom the bell tolls, he tried to say to himself, but the thought took the form of a stream of spittle.

His mind again turned to escape. He did his best but in the end he was not at all his usual quiet self. He howled as a lobo and kept at it until he was breathless with the coughing that comes and worn out whenever he heard the words. They were like a hyena caught unaware by a lion. As any real man who liked nothing better than to get out in the middle of life and grab hold of it knew, from even one hunting safari to the green hills of Africa, the sound of a wounded and dying hyena was nothing like laughing.

If they had a clue how much of their babble I understand, he thought, they would engage their brains before their mouths.

The skin of the baby boy was wrinkled and he was old in every other way including the eyes which were the blue of ice in the calderas of a volcano.

His days were long from confinement in the new cell. It was in a clean, well-lighted place and square and open at the top which was too high to get over because of the wooden slats that formed the walls.

Still the boy grew more desperate. Every time he heard the words during the first few years he lost all of the contents of his stomach. Sometimes it was so bad he also made other messes.

I should have taken better aim and spat on their faces, the boy thought. Instead he went still the way a leopard does before it strikes its prey. He lay in his cage, dreaming or pretending to be asleep thinking about what he would do one day.

I will get out of here, he told himself, and crawl across the river and into the trees and never look back. The boy was already aware of his habit of having big thoughts but never acting on them.

He decided while still in the crib, which is the most important time of life, that he would never have anything to do with the name he refused even to think about. One night he felt smothered by a blanket the color of Caribbean coastlines, where the sky reflects from the shallow water over the white sand before the shelves drop off into navy blue depths. With that thought in mind he chose to call himself Mike.

Then without warning he was released from the pen for no reason he could conceive. But he was wise enough not to question the turn of events and soon met other people his size. In spite of the vacant gravy-eyed stares he received in return, he always introduced himself by his chosen name.

Mike loved his grandfather who was his mother’s father even more than his own parents. What a terrible idea, he thought to himself in the early days and later said aloud when it came to him. Sometimes a boy talked to himself when he was alone and that was normal.

But he always dismissed the notion that his thoughts made him bad. This one was true and nothing could be done about it. The grandfather taught the boy everything important in life and that was why he loved him the way he did which was a man-like love.

The grandfather was already very old when Mike was born and lived in a small house made of adobe in Taos. His given first name was Eduardo and he, also, had two middle names.

The old man was podgy and had a full head of white hair for as long as Mike knew him. His skin was a natural dark the color of the earth in Castillo, Spain, which was where he was born early in the previous century. The only part of his appearance that changed was his big wrinkled face that was like an apple left in the sun.

The boy thought that if the old man could somehow be stretched out to full size he would have the classic look of a Spanish nobleman except for the tattoo of a cheap looking young woman on his right arm. Much later the boy learned the woman was his grandmother, who died before he was born.

But the first time he met Mike during the prison days he leaned close so that the boy feared the old man was going to give him one of the bad wet kisses. He knew that if this was done to his belly, which he hated, he would direct more than a scream at him. The infant smelled something on the breath of the old man that was sour and harsh and liked it.

Instead of doing the bad wet thing or worse, saying the words the boy could not bear to hear, his grandfather rubbed the boy’s belly in a way that made both of them laugh and spoke in a whisper so that the parents would not hear. Mike knew right away it was a secret and so he listened even more than he had always done.

“I am your grandfather, Ed,” the old man said, and right away Mike knew that this big person was different than all of the others, “but you can call me grandfather or grandpa or just Ed. I will call you chaval for now because that is what you are until you grow out of it or tell me you do not like it.”

Mike thought about what to call his grandfather for a long time, until he was three months old, and one night at dinner when the old man was with them he made up his mind.

“Grandpapa,” Mike said.

The grandfather and parents all stopped the way animals in a forest will when they sense danger, the old man with his round glass of the dark gold clear liquid with no ice that he poured often from a big bottle in the freezer and the other two with their spoons and forks in their mouths. None of them had ever heard of such a thing and they were without words.

Then the laughter began. His parents did it the way they could not help but the old man the boy loved spilled his drink and slapped his hands on the table and his legs and chest with joy until tears streamed down his face and the coughing started. All of the others carried on at the same time with so much loudness and confusion and talking over each other that the boy could not understand a word of it and he became hot and angry and could not stand it any longer.

“Grandpapa!” Mike said again with firmness to let them know he was not finished.

Again no one could find words. Good, Mike thought, now I have struck them dumb for real and I have their attention.

“What is that thing you put in your mouth before and after dinner?”

The first complete sentence of the infant was not so easy to follow but his meaning was clear.

“Qué milagro!” said the mother, who was a devout Catholic and crossed herself.


When the last light of the winter day was gone and darkness outside the hacienda-was as full as the moon and everything from the dining room was cleared to the kitchen and washed by hand in the sink, all of the adults sighed again in satisfaction. The boy burped. The paella valenciana with duck and snails was the best either of the men ever remembered eating and they told her so. The boy’s mashed vegetables in a jar were as good as he could expect. His mother smiled until the old man spoke again.

“You inherited that gift from your mother, God bless her soul.”

She frowned but turned back to everyone with a forced smile.

“Now is the time for Gabriel’s diapers and bedtime,” she said.

Ed, who was rolling on the floor with the boy, at once got to his knees and picked him up.

“I will do it,” he said.

The parents looked at each other the way that said without words they thought they could stop the old man but it was too late. He was already standing and carrying the boy under one arm that was still big and strong despite his very old age. The mother and father watched with the nervousness parents have when their child goes off on his own to war or college or any dangerous place as the other two moved down the long hallway.

“Just tell me where do you keep the diapers, chaval,” the old man said to the boy in a quiet voice the parents heard anyway. Ed turned his head and held Mike close to his ear. “Ah. In the dresser in your room. Of course.”

After the grandfather changed Mike’s diaper with a sprinkle of the white powder that most of the time annoyed the boy but on this special occasion again made both of them laugh as if at a private joke, Ed bent over to put Mike back in the cage which for once in his life he did not notice.

The boy’s attention was caught by something that fell to the carpet from the inside pocket of the old man’s tattered and comfortable coat. The boy tried to see what it was and started to become angry that he could not move fast enough. Ed understood Mike’s curiosity. He picked up the thing and held it so the boy could see.

“Do you like him?” he said.

He held the pipe that fell and was nothing like the bent one Mike had surprised everyone by asking about after dinner. This pipe was new and shiny but in many other ways the boy could not describe, even to himself,not as much to look at as the one his grandfather had smoked that day and evening.

Ed had a different pipe every time the boy saw him. Still Mike’s eyes had a flash of fire when they fixed on the fine strong pipe.

“Yep,” the boy said with a hard sound to the “p” that made the old man go into another fit of laughter with the clapping of the hands and slapping of the knees and chest. And so of course Mike could not help joining him.

“Then you keep it,” the old man said and smiled, but there was faint sadness the boy did not miss and another look on his face as he handed it with care to the infant. “And always take care of this pipe for it is special and smokes better and longer than any other pipe ever made. It was hand-carved by an Italian who is new to the craft but shows great potential.”

Mike bit his lip even though he still had no teeth and clasped all of his fingers together and trembled with the thrill that came from the strange and unfamiliar way he wanted the pipe, but did not move to take the gift that was held out to him.

“Go on. It won’t bite. Take it. And do not worry about sticking it in your mouth like I do because it is well cleaned and you will catch none of my germs.” This made them both laugh again. “Of course I cannot give you any of my tobacco or your mother and father would kill me or worse yet never speak to me again.”

Mike, who did not understand the joke, still did not take the offered pipe. He could feel the strong emotions that Ed tried to disguise.

“Ah,” the grandfather said. “You sense my attachment to this thing. Well, this is true or I would not give it to you, for nothing that is not of value to the giver is worthy of parting with. Besides, I have not had it long, for the pipe maker, as I said, is a newcomer. ”

None of this reasoning made sense to the boy but he trusted his grandfather’s sincerity and knew the old man would not take no for an answer. Mike held out a hand that shook with the passion of doing something he knew his parents would not like and accepted the pipe. Ed chuckled. The boy was aware it was because he understood these things.

That night and many others afterward Mike fell asleep sucking on the pipe the way most children his age did with their fingers or other small objects that were sold at stores to pacify them.

Mike’s parents were very proud to be descended from the brave and heroic Conquistadores who were the first people to find New Mexico not counting the natives. The parents disapproved of this name their one child told everyone was his but could do nothing to stop him.

The mother and father still spoke the language of the old country that the boy pretended he did not know. They also read many books by authors of the Spanish language, which is not the same as Spanish writers the way most of the people in the rugged high desert Land of Entrapment meant it and that was to say Hispanic.

It was from the authors of some of these books that the boy’s mother and father named their son. The last name being a coincidence was to the fledgling Mike God’s biggest joke. He went to great lengths to hide the fact that he borrowed and read many of the same books in the Spanish of his ancestors.

“Qué chorrada!” Mike’s mother said for the first time when he was three and he refused to eat the mashed pea baby food from the jar. She was determined to feed him pasty green mush when he only wanted a few of the good kind that he saw and smelled the bigger people eating. Mike wondered at the woman’s own nonsense. It reminded him of the day he decided to come out of her. She seemed then to try her best to keep him inside and now out.

Women, the boy thought. They make no sense but must be necessary in some way for life to go on.
As early as the time known as primary school Mike began to show the signs of being different. They were in the slight build and big doleful eyes with an obvious but unknown imagination behind them and the standing alone in the middle of the schoolyard or playing field with the body still and arms limp and in the strange way he stared up at the sky or into the distance. Whatever he saw no one else could tell.

All of these were like bad omens and scared the others who were deaf to Mike’s thoughts. The adults including his parents said he was sensitive as if that were a good thing.

Mike grew as well as he was able which still was not much. All that the others could talk about in hushed voices whether he was present or not was that the boy was a runt but dangerous somehow for being weak or, more often, a contrapelo which was not a nice thing to say or even think about anyone.

Robert2 The truth was that Mike was always sad while those about him were at peace, as it seemed to him. The worst time was when the sun set although he knew the sun also rises.

What, he wondered to himself, if one day the sun did not rise? He remained this way even when the other boys his age began to have the changes that lead to manhood.
Robert3There were times when he had that sick gaunt scared look of a small dog that is thrown into deep dirty water and must paddle around in circles looking foolish or sink and drown or pull itself out with all the strength in its front paws and still more, almost dragging itself by its own collar, until it is left shaking with the tail between the shivering legs. That was unlucky.

“Gabriela!” said some of the other seven year old boys in school the first time they taunted him to fight. They knew they would win. All animals smell fear.

But Mike never backed down and he always struggled up onto his feet for more. He seemed to like the beatings. They left his skin, which had softened and smoothed since he was a baby, bruised even through the natural color of milk with a little cocoa. His eyes were almost always puffy and black and blue, which was an unfortunate condition of his life but good for the building of strength and character. To the few other outcasts in his pack Mike was a doe, caught in the crosshairs of a big game hunter’s rifle, that senses something is wrong but has no understanding of the true nature.

Until the boy was almost out of high school he had nightmares. He could never remember them long enough to tell the doctors his parents made him see. Mike was too forgetful to keep a journal of the awful visions as the men in white coats always asked him to do.

He did not know how lucky he was to have parents who gave him everything he needed if not all that he wanted, or the idea of to have and have not. Oftentimes his mother reminded him of all the starving children in India.

Most of his waking hours were filled with despair every time he observed two or more other boys pushing and shoving each other, sometimes with fierceness like lion cubs but always in good nature and followed by nervous laughter and camaraderie that was never of the wrong kind, as though their fun and games were a moveable feast.

Years passed this way. Mike began to grow stronger a little at a time. I should do something to change the way my life is going, he thought, but was always afraid. And so he continued to take the beatings from the others in the schoolyards that were sometimes different but in the important ways the same. One afternoon in high school all of the kids were laughing and joking in their groups.

“Gabriela!” said one boy.

“Chulo!” said another.

But this fight was to be remembered for many reasons. Mike had had enough. Over the years he had learned to get back on his feet faster and then to strike in a clumsy fashion that at first hit only the air and made the other boys laugh even more and make fake scared faces which were known to cause Mike to lose control in a way that was always his undoing.

In time some of his punches began to connect with the dull sound of a piece of meat falling to a slaughterhouse floor. At last one of them lead to the bloodshed of another boy even if a mere dribble from the nose that resulted on that occasion in one of Mike’s most painful yet rewarding losses.

But on the day when the other boys called him their names for the last time, everything changed. Other than the name-calling, everyone present, who seemed to include all of the students and none of the teachers, agreed that it was Mike who in fact threw the first punch. But nobody, in fact, saw anyone but Mike hit anyone else. And there was no mistaking who the winner was, as Mike was the only boy standing while all the regular suspects lay unconscious all about in pools of their own blood. By the time teachers arrived, nobody else had seen anything.

No one in the schoolyard including Mike had ever seen his style of combat that was like the Dirvishers Dance, or the Sacred Ritual of Love, even though Mike danced alone and love had nothing to do with it.
Robert4 Only one year short of being a man according to the law the fighting stopped for Mike. The bigger boys found someone else smaller to terrorize and even invited Mike to join them but he just said no. He had seen enough of the fighting in life and desired only to make a farewell to arms.

The others had not learned this lesson and Mike sometimes watched them with a strange feeling inside as they stalked their new victim. The feeling was not relief for himself or pity for the other boy. He felt nothing, like a shell-shocked soldier returned home from war.

Mike began to grow and for a while his parents had to buy him new clothes almost every week. That was a difficult time for the entire small family but in particular the boy who then realized he had started what he thought would be a happier road to becoming a man. But it was not so.

The infant boy grew for twenty-six years that turned him first into a bitter teenager and, as time sometimes will do, hardened and calmed him into a quiet young man.

His height was six feet and two inches and he had the natural lean strong body that youth gives without working for it. He made good money doing construction labor and was known and respected for his hard work.

The foreman at the first site where Mike worked almost straight out of high school hired him for his size and the fact that he had checked on the application that he had reliable transportation to and from the sites. When the foreman found out Mike meant his feet he told him he would have to get a car if he wanted to continue doing that kind of work because he might be called early or late and without notice.

Mike knew he was cabezota as his mother always said and his mind was a steel trap and so he did not much care for the new condition of his work. But the pleasure and peace he gained from the toil he did were the only reasons he paid for new transportation.

The small pickup he found was used but in good condition and did not drink gasoline the way his grandfather drank scotch and was not cheap. Mike was forced to barter with the salesman, which he hated, and paid a fair price in full with cash as he did for everything he owned. He did not trust banks and could not bring himself to borrow money.

The next thing you know, he thought, you will be a beggar.

Mike did not keep his money under his mattress but in a solid fireproof safe bolted to the floor of his closet. And he kept a sawed-off double barrel shotgun strapped behind the nightstand.

He lived alone in a small furnished studio apartment. There were some photographs of his family, most of them his grandfather or the two of them fishing or working on pipes together, stuck with pins to a piece of particle wood he hung on the wall or in frames on a large work table he added to the room. He was what most of the people in the sprawling college town of Albuquerque would call a loner.

But what the others called him each time he passed them by, the ones who reminded Mike of rattle snakes in nests, was nothing new to Mike. He pretended not to hear the few who held themselves above everyone else whisper that the young man was loco, which was the worst kind of unusual. The word that the young man believed had no power over him also gave him a feeling of pride and he felt good and better than the others were for knowing something about them. This information he kept inside him as his own.

Most of the time when Mike was not working he walked the good and bad parts of the streets alone with his own thoughts. He was not afraid of anyone when walking because he knew what he could do. Maybe the others saw it in his eyes.

The pipe Ed gave the boy when he was too young to understand its true value and craftsmanship was called Cavicchi, which was short for Cavicchi Four C Freehand. It had a tall curved bowl with rough edges along the top and many close lines of grain from top to bottom. The stem was bent with a silver band. The boy kept it in a box with soft lining and took it out and held it every morning when he awoke and again whenever he returned to his home and at night before he went to bed.

He could read “Cavicchi C” on the left side of the part he learned from his grandfather was called the shank and “Fatto a Mano in Italia” on the right and, underneath, a row of four circles with Cs in them. At first the thing was a reminder of the old man but over time it became a good luck charm despite the years of the many beatings and the physical changes that were worse in some ways and the boy tried his best not to think about.

After all, he thought, I survived them, did I not? And despite everything the magic pipe never abandoned me.

But he did not smoke Cavicchi until he was of the legal age and his grandfather gave him his first tin of good tobacco. He coughed, as all young men or boys do when trying tobacco for the first time, and his grandfather laughed with him but taught him the secret of not inhaling the smoke.

One day when Mike was walking on the old Route 66 that ran through the center of Albuquerque he came to the east end of the Nob Hill District and noticed a big glass building with the word arcade on it. He had seen the place many times but never thought to go inside.

As most young people do, which is to say without thought, he entered the ratty old place filled with antiques and vintage memorabilia and asked another young man behind the counter if he had any smoking pipes. Mike surprised himself with the question as he heard it in his own voice.

I have my own favorite tobacconist where I can buy any pipe I could want if I needed one better than Cavicchi, he thought.

The other young man had short hair of the cut known as Ivy League and small round eyeglasses and wore straight-legged pin-striped slacks from the 1950s and a starched dress shirt with buttons on the collar and a bow tie.

“Could this guy be more of a nerd if he tried?” Mike said to himself.

Then he had a pang of guilt he had never before felt and asked himself why that should be. The answer came to him so fast it made him lighter in the head than Five Brothers Smoking Tobacco.

He is just like I am, or was. I don’t even know his name. Who am I to judge him for his unfortunate haircut and silly clothes? My own hair being much longer than his and my loose jeans and tee-shirt make me no better than he is.

Mike wondered how he had learned compassion. The understanding of a different person’s feelings still hit Mike like the heavy rain and near-gale force winds of what the locals called the monsoon season.

“Hmm, I think I might have a couple over here,” the other young man said, and before he turned to lead the way Mike looked for a name tag which identified him as Andrew.Robert5 The two wound their way to the Continental Divide of the ground floor of the huge disordered place and stopped by a locked glass case. Inside it Mike saw two old worn pipes in a six-hole stand of the color of the mashed peas he was forced to eat from a jar when he was a baby. Andrew pointed them out.

“May I take a closer look at the pipes, Andrew?” Mike said and noticed the pleased smile on the other youth’s face at the use of his name. Again Mike had an odd feeling but it was good and so he dismissed it.

Mike glanced at the left side of the shank of the first pipe for a name, even though he did not care for the look of it, and saw it was a Dr. Grabow of no special character or personality. He gave it back to Andrew and inspected the other pipe, first its general appearance and how it fit in his hand which he liked and then for markings on the shank. In three lines of capital letters he read Thinbite and Imported Briar and Italy.

“How much for this one and the stand?” he said, expecting to have to resort to haggling, which he still hated despite his success with the pick-up truck, but after all the stand was an unfortunate color and had a space for a large jar that was not on it and both of these he would have to fix.
“Hmm, let’s see,” Andrew said and it was obvious he made up a price in his head. “Eight dollars for the stand plus five for the pipe, that’s thirteen dollars.”

Mike could not argue with the price and paid for them at the front counter.

“Thank you, Andrew,” he said and left but not before seeing the smile again.

Mike had three miles to walk from the arcade to his apartment and the rain began just after he reached full stride. He ducked under an overhang and removed from his backpack a bright yellow slicker with hood that he put on and zippered to his Adam’s apple. The overcoat and his high-laced combat boots would keep him dry.

Rain helped him to slow down and focus on the race of thoughts that sometimes still bothered him. When Mike was in school the doctors wanted him to take pills they said would do the same thing and his parents agreed so Mike went along with the idea.

But he never took the pills. At first he gave them to other boys he knew and thought they would help until these boys returned to him talking so fast he could not follow and blinking and rubbing their noses all the time and he noticed they never stopped moving or twitching and begging Mike for more.

He made up a story about how the doctors no longer gave him the pills and from then on he crushed them all with his hands and threw them in the trash. Mike thought maybe his parents wanted to poison him and was happy he never took even one.

The rain was also calming as it came down as if in the torrents of spring almost five months after his twenty-sixth birthday. Mike saw none of the usual small children and animals and wondered if they blew away.

During the walk home that seemed short Mike remembered the good times he had with his grandfather during his annual summer vacations to the town of Taos in the far north-central part of the state. His parents did not approve, which was one of the best excuses for the trips as far as Mike was concerned although he needed no other reason than his great love for the old man and the wisdom and lessons he was given in the art of restoring pipes. These memories were the best part of Mike and he kept them with him all of his life in a special place apart from the rest.

The tall muscular young man cut his way through the storm and ducked his head against the attacking rain and when he had no other choice he leaned into the strong wind to keep his footing firm. He did not need to look where he was going. From the cracks in the sidewalks and the uneven spots and even sometimes the faded old War Powers Act stamps on ground-hole covers Mike could find his way almost anywhere in the city.

He spent more time staring at the cement than at the life around him although he was aware of everything. When he was almost home he stopped and looked forward and felt the cold air and hard rain lash his face. He accepted this challenge of the weather and had an idea stronger than the storm.

“I will restore Thinbite to its original glory,” he said and smiled and was aware that he had done this. It was the first true smile he could remember for a long time. “And I will give it to grandfather on his one hundred and fourth birthday as a work I did on my own, even if it does not compare to Cavicchi.”

A car horn honked loud and long and Mike looked up to see that he blocked the way of a car pulling out of the parking lot. Oblivious to the continued blare of the horn and other signs of the driver’s road rage, he continued on his way and walked the last few blocks to his apartment as fast as he could, which took little time thanks to a change in the wind’s direction in his favor that he took as a good omen.

When he opened the door to the room that was his home, Mike left behind the wetness and traded the fresh smell of rain for the strong but good traces of fresh salmon he baked in foil with lemon, onions and spices the night before.

Mike knew only the door and thin windows shuddered and whistled with the buffets of the storm that intensified but the entire studio seemed little better than a skiff that swayed and rattled from the rolling waves of rain and wind in an ocean of confusion outside.

The single Spartan room was smaller than his parents’ garage and he knew his truck would take up almost all of it but he was happy there with the Murphy bed and kitchenette and walk-in closet he could reach into for anything he needed and the bathroom with its toilet, sink, medicine cabinet and shower.

“My castle,” he said, remembering the story of the knight who tilted at windmills and his own first given middle name in honor of the ancient writer who made it all up.“But I need no Sancho Panza to keep me company. Maybe someday I will rescue a dog from the pound and I know what I will name him.”

He removed his dripping coat and shook it out and ran his fingers through his hair to clear the dampness as he stood by his heavy wooden work table by the one window. The table was where he kept the few things that meant the most to him not counting Cavicchi and his tins of good tobaccos. Those he stored in his nightstand.

He ran his hands over the machine at the back of the table with its three fixed buffer wheels. Mike wanted and could afford a newer three-on mandrel lathe and motor but this one was of great sentimental importance and he never got around to searching the Internet for another. The old man gave the machine to Mike when he was twelve, and he had not yet used it outside of his grandfather’s house. That was not good. Tools were made to be used.

After Mike switched the places of his laptop computer and the very old wood buffer to a spot where he could sit on his stool and reach it without trouble he picked up a rag that he dampened with distilled water and wiped it clean of dust and dirt from many years without use. He covered the laptop with some plastic and plugged in the machine that was heavy enough not to need to be bolted to the table and put on his clear goggles before making sure it still worked.

“This is silly,” the young man said as he adjusted his goggles until they were snug over his eyes, “because I have kept it safe and clean except for a little dust and grime and have even replaced the used buffer wheels that were on it when grandfather gave it to me. But the old man taught me well and all of the good lessons are coming back like riding a bicycle.”

Mike flipped the power switch up and right away felt a small chunk of something hit his goggles and so was happy for the old man’s lesson. He felt a rush of blood fill his entire body with a warmth that was so good it almost made a natural thing happen as he heard the smooth even hum of the motor and saw the cloth buffers that were loose and white tighten up at high speed.

The machine was not cheap when it was new and so it could be adjusted down as was better when working with wood. He turned a knob to one thousand seven-hundred and fifty revolutions per minute and listened as the whirring slowed. It was a thing of beauty despite its age and use and Mike remembered the old man’s words when he gave him Cavicchi.

“Nothing that is not of value to the giver is worthy of parting with.”

The young man loved his grandfather more than ever and thought about how to restore Thinbite.

“Should I only clean him up with a nice bath to remove the years of grime that are on him and clear away the scratches the way a plastic surgeon does a nip and tuck? Maybe Thinbite deserves more. What if I could do something more original,closer to a make-over?”

He looked at the rugged Thinbite and considered the possibilities from every angle.
Robert6 Robert7 The part of Mike that did not know what to make of itself knew he already liked Thinbite and the uncommon use of smooth natural briar on the shank and most of the bowl, with the small rusticated area around the bottom, and that he felt that way from the moment he saw the pipe. But the suspicious side that was still in his nature wondered what flaws in the grain of the wood the rustication and heavy but faded stain might hide.

He took a serious step. He knew, from experience watching his grandfather strip old pipes covered with rustication or thick stains of black for dress pipes or green for St. Patrick’s Day or red for Christmas that the wood might be strong but still have unfortunate weaknesses.

The feeling in Mike’s stomach was a mix of fear and hope that there could be serious problems he had to correct. Most of the pipes with these signs that he watched his grandfather strip had bad grains or pits that were filled with putty because they were too deep or numerous to correct any other way. Mike had to know. He was always curious that way.
Robert8 Even when he was learning the basics of pipe craft from the old man, Mike liked to work at a pace that was steady but not rushed because having something to keep him busy at all times not only made him more efficient but he also felt better.

First he began to clean and sanitize Thinbite with bristled pipe cleaners from a bundle on the table and an unopened bottle of Everclear in the freezer that he bought two years earlier for that day. He broke the seal on the bottle and lowered a pipe cleaner a third of its length into the strong one hundred and ninety-proof alcohol.

He held the pipe stem that he removed from the shank and worked the wet cleaner into the hole of the bit. This was not as easy as he thought it would be. The cleaner jammed less than an inch into the stem and no matter how hard he tried he could not force it deeper. But the young man was stubborn and determined.

“I will defeat you, stem,” Mike said to the little piece of Vulcanite that was the regrettable color of the stand he bought along with it.

And so he removed the difficult cleaner, which was ruined with soot as far as it had penetrated the old stem, and wet the clean end in the Everclear. With a sneak attack through the tiny hole in the stinger at the other end of the stem he overcame the initial resistance and was able to make it all the way through, but again not without a skirmish. The entire cleaner had the color and consistency of resin and made Mike suspect with unhappiness that someone had smoked something different than tobacco in Thinbite. That was more than he wanted to know of its history.

Mike understood the stem was going to be a long battle but one he would win with time. He took a second cleaner from the bundle and soaked all of it in the Everclear before he returned to the stinger hole and again did not give up until the cleaner stuck out of both ends of the stem, where he left it to soak up more of the badness inside.

He rubbed the rim of the bowl with patience his grandfather taught him, but that he still only had for pipes, for however long the alcohol required to remove most of the scorching so he could see the clean but duller grain of wood again. There were some dings and scratches but they could wait. The rest of the blackness he took away with medium grain sandpaper.

In a kitchen cupboard he found a clean empty plastic pint container from seafood salad he ate with crackers and returned to put Thinbite without its stem at the bottom before pouring enough of the Everclear to cover it. Mike held Thinbite down until the alcohol flowed all the way through the bowl and shank. The piece of wood turned and bobbed for a few seconds before it stilled as though lifeless and floated on its side. The young man felt a stab of guilt as if he had water-boarded a friend.

While he watched the alcohol that immersed the pipe bowl come to a still, Mike was reminded of a day when he was twelve and visiting his grandfather. The two were restoring pipes as usual, the old man doing the majority of the work, as was to be expected. But for the first time the old man gave Mike more responsibility by allowing him to buff five pipes and stems on two lathes including the three-on buffer he was later given.

Each pipe was of a different shape and quality but to the boy they were all special and beautiful. The repairs were made, so when Mike was done with his part the pipes would be ready to be returned to their owners.

The old man was a master at his craft and the most popular pipe fixer in northern New Mexico and into Colorado, but he never carved pipes because he knew what he was born to do. He did not attain his skills and status being stupid or blind, and so he noticed cuts and bruises that covered Mike’s body and were worse than usual.

Certain the parents did not do these things to their child, Ed always suspected bullies but knew better than to push the boy to talk. He had been a chaval once and had a very good memory despite his age.

“This one and I, we are both cabezota,” the old man said to himself when he was alone and thinking of the boy, which was often.

After Ed gave the five unpolished pipes to Mike, he said again, as he had very few times before, “You will always say what you have to say when you are ready, no?”

“Of course,” Mike said. He wondered if his grandpapa might be psychic and appreciated that the old man did not try to force him to talk about it like some people or read his mind still more. That was another reason he loved the man.

The grandfather lay down and closed his eyes on the couch in the living room where the boy worked. This was how he got the little rest he needed, at times during the days and nights when there was nothing else to do. Without seeing he could tell the bigger work load helped the boy focus a little more on the pipe restoring he enjoyed instead of the pain he felt.

Because of the wounds to the boy’s hands, which the man noticed more from the skill and potential for true greatness beyond his own that he observed they already showed, Mike at times had trouble controlling the small pieces of wood as he held them against the buffers. He did not let any get loose so that they flew across the room as he had done sometimes when he was younger and still learning, but he came close more often than he liked.

As he completed each bowl and stem, Mike attached the two and set the finished pipe on a large cloth of thick cotton of the type made for drying cars washed by hand. The cloth was on a small folding wooden stand to his right.

At the exact midpoint of his work, the boy had polished and set aside two pipes that were by the same maker. Both were apple bowls but of different sizes that made Mike think of them as a man and woman. He screwed the third together and saw that the stem was uneven with the shank by about an eighth of an inch.

He smiled because he knew this was not a mistake his grandpapa would make. The old man was playing a trick on him, to see if he would catch the flaw and remember how to correct it.

Mike turned to get up from his seat and tried not to disturb the old man’s sleep that he knew was like a cat’s. His leg brushed against the unsteady wooden stand, which made a soft creaking noise that brought a grin to the old man’s lips because he knew the boy was passing the test but did not hear the splash of a pipe into the dirty water of a mop bucket below.

Ed forced the grin to go away just as the boy looked at him to see if he noticed. Mike stood and walked around the room looking for a stem cleaner and a bottle of distilled water. With both in his hands, he opened the water bottle and inserted the bristled cleaner all the way inside, turning the bottle enough to soak the cleaner.

When the cleaner was soaked he bent it into four even sides and pushed them together to fit into the shank. He inserted the loose stem and placed the pipe in the refrigerator to let the water in the cleaner soak into the shank and make the two pieces an even fit.

The boy returned to the last two pipes and soon was done. His breathing stopped as he saw only three pipes to his right where there should be four, not counting the fifth that was in the refrigerator.

While he was up he returned to the refrigerator to retrieve the pipe. With a toothpick he removed the bent cleaner and replaced the stem, which was a perfect fit.

At least the trick worked, Mike thought. But where can the other pipe be?

He looked everywhere, on the two buffer machines, on the floor, on the little wooden stand again. The boy dropped to his knees as though in prayer but placed both hands on the floor and felt a sickening panic fill him when he still could not see the missing pipe anywhere at that level.

At last Mike noticed the mop bucket and at once knew the awful truth. The boy recalled the basic rule of deduction, which he learned in a literature class and was one of the few useful things he had taken with him from that period of his life he would rather forget.

His lips moved but he did not say the words, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

Mike crawled toward the bucket as though it were a rabid dog, looked into the filthy gray contents and almost retched at the stink of it. But he summoned all of his courage and winced as he put a hand into the foulness and felt around until he found the slimy pipe bowl and pulled its sallow, lifeless form from the depths.

“I have killed her,” the boy said in a whisper, seeing the smaller of the two apples covered with a nasty wet film of dirt on the once beautiful bowl.

“Killed who?” the old man said, pretending to awaken. He startled the boy, who turned so fast that he knocked his head on one of the buffer machines.

“The female Winston Club,” the boy said, biting back an urge to cry, but still a single tear escaped an eye and rolled down his smooth, bruised face.

Ed, who knew how his grandson felt and for the first time understood he was turning into a man, lost the urge to laugh and said, “Would you prefer that it had been the male?”

The youth, who did not know how to reply, stammered the next words.

“I do not know. I mean yes. No.” He paused again to choke down the need to cry, which he knew only babies and girls did. “I only know that it is the worst thing I have ever done and the saddest thing I have ever seen.”

Noticing his grandpapa’s eyes glisten with emotion but not understanding the cause, Mike experienced the most intense shame he had ever known.

“It is true, Mike, this unfortunate thing is very sad, but if it is the worst you have ever done then you are a very lucky young man.”

The boy could not believe his grandpapa had called him by his chosen name and a young man as well after such a huge mistake.

Ed cut Mike off before he could speak and said, “Besides, I don’t think she is dead but only holding her breath until someone gives her a good bath. Females are particular that way. Have you ever given a girl a bath?”

The boy’s eyes widened and he shook his head no.

“I thought not. Here, I will show you how.”

“No,” the boy said and put his hand on the old man’s arm as he reached for the pipe. “This is my mess. I will give her the bath and make her as beautiful as she was.”

Ed tried to conceal the pride he felt for the boy, who saw it in the old man’s eyes and smiled.
Mike was always a quiet boy and when the time came to drive him back to his parents’ home the old man spoke of the boy’s troubles at school the only way he knew.

“You know, Mike, I am a peaceful man and can count the fights I have been in on fewer fingers than I have on one stubby hand,” he said as they bypassed the town of Bernalillo on the freeway. “And most of those the drink made me do it. But sometimes a fight, like war, cannot be avoided. On those rare occasions, a man or boy must be willing to stand and defend his honor or else live with the regret and be walked over for the rest of his life. I know this. I was a foot soldier in the Great War, which started when I was 31 and therefore I was known by most of the others, who were just kids, as Dad or even Granny. It was not so great for all of the men at the bottom who had to do the fighting. But we knew it was a good cause and so we did what we must.”

Mike considered his grandfather’s words with his most serious expression and nodded.

“Besides,” the old man said before closing the subject forever, “now and then it just feels good to give some ignorant S.O.B. a nice solid wallop to the face and watch him go down.”

Then the boy and the old man laughed. Mike remembered the words five years later.

Mike forced his mind back to the present.

“I am not at my grandfather’s, I am here, now, and I must finish Thinbite,” he said.

He knew the soaking of the bowl in alcohol was an extreme measure but decided it was the best course because if the stem was so dirty then the shank and bowl would be guarro, which is not at all nice.But Mike also considered the rustication and the words on the pipe and how to avoid scratching the smooth wooden area with sandpaper.

Patience was not something Mike had much experience practicing. At first he sat at his work table and set in a row everything he thought he might need for his project: the micromesh kit, the super fine steel wool, the alcohol-based boot stains he was taught were best for pipes, bars of red and white Tripoli, carnauba and Halcyon II waxes and even a couple of extra buffer wheels in case he wanted them. These things he bought over the years to be prepared for the special day.All he could do then was to wait for the Everclear to reveal the truth of Thinbite.

Lightning, sudden and jarring as a grenade explosion, awoke Mike and lit the studio with the clarity of day. His last memory was sitting with his back against the pillows on the bed he pulled down from where he stowed it in the wall and eating albacore chunks from a tin. The thought that he had slept away the night gave Mike a sick feeling until he heard the heavy artillery report of thunder less than a mile away and not a second later the darkness was replaced by light.

He knew the front line of the storm had reached him and by instinct reached for his flashlight in the nightstand and looked outside his window to see if lightning had struck his truck. He saw a tree split in half.

Relieved, Mike looked at his watch with its glowing green hands and saw the time was just after three in the morning. With the sure feet of a seasoned sailor on a boat adrift at sea in a night squall Mike walked to the wall in the kitchen alcove where the breaker box was located. He opened the small case and felt all of the switches.

Nothing was tripped so he moved a small emergency generator in the closet to the floor by the work table and plugged in the lathe and a halogen lamp. He turned on the blinding light. From the silent but still icy freezer he took a bottle of strong imported beer he had aged for more than two months and opened it with a hand even though the lid was not made to be twisted.

“Now at last I can sit down and get to work,” he said, and took a good swallow of the thick dark stout liquid.

He took the pipe bowl from the jar with alcohol that had turned the gold of whiskey. Real whiskey made Mike, unlike his grandfather, feel like an amateur and he enjoyed hard drink only now and then. This was not his fault. Some people are born that way.He was happy to watch the one hundred and ninety-proof alcohol evaporate and reveal briar with a white coating on the smooth area and a slight green on the rusticated part. He set it down on a small square of cotton cloth.

Tearing off a piece of the finest steel wool he set to work brushing away the dried residue of alcohol. Holding the pipe inside a thick cotton rag he turned it in his hands to clear away the tiny particles of steel wool that were still on it. He tilted the bowl away from his eyes and blew through the shank, watching the dark gray cloud that cleared the bowl.

Mike’s first look at the raw briar was all he needed to understand the use of rustication and thick staining on Thinbite.In the middle of the front and the top of the right sides of the pipe were signs of gouges that had been smoothed with wood filler. He knew his grandfather on a summer day long past had told him one of his many tricks that was the exact way to deal with this problem but he could not remember what it was no matter how hard he tried. All he knew was that it sounded simple at the time. He was sure the answer would come to him if he put the matter out of his mind.

To stay busy while he did not think about the trick, Mike used an old toothbrush to work on the rusticated bottom and smoothed the rim with a small piece of very fine grit sandpaper. He removed the thin patches of the remaining old stain, careful to leave the name of Thinbite and its place of birth and type of wood untouched.

A glance in the bowl showed a buildup of cake so thick he could almost not work his little finger to the bottom. This called for the reamer, which was at hand. He turned the knob on top until the blades were as close as they would go and slid the sharp end as far as it would fit inside the bowl, halfway down. Then he tightened the blades again and began to turn the tool in a slow and even way around the inside.

During this stage of the work Mike tapped onto a small square of cotton the built up carbon as he loosened it with the reamer. The half-hour needed to work his way to the bottom of the bowl and clear cake and make its interior smoother left a pile of soot an inch high and wide, and Mike was behind the schedule he had set. When he considered the character of the owner of Thinbite who had so abused the noble pipe the young man was angered. But he knew the delay was necessary.

Mike finished smoothing the inside of the bowl with a piece of 400-grit sandpaper wrapped around his pinkie so he could keep the paper where he wanted it. When he felt no resistance he removed the paper and again blew a big cloud of old cake from the bowl.

He dampened a square of cotton with alcohol and turned it in the inside of the bowl. The cotton came out black but when he again ran a finger against the inner bowl it was as smooth as it had ever been, and his finger was clean.

Then, starting with a regular piece of the same paper, Mike made the dings and scratches in the rim of Thinbite disappear before smoothing it with 1000-grit micromesh.

The fills in the wood seemed to make nasty faces at Mike. But instead of giving in to their taunts, the young man thought until his eyes narrowed and the furrow in his brow grew deep.

“I remember!” he said, loud enough to awaken his neighbors, and then lowered his voice. He never liked it when others did this to him. “The trick is using an indelible marker the same color as the grain of the wood to draw over the fills and mask them before the stain and waxes are applied.”

Mike held his breath while he searched his work table for a pack of colored markers and let out the sigh of relief when he found it. He chose the only brown pen there was even though it seemed to be too dark, which when he drew over the fills in the wood that were circles and lines and other shapes he found he was correct.

“Well, then,” he said. “I will just have to improvise with coats of lighter colors until is at least closer to the true color.”

He did this, first with yellow, then orange, and to his surprise the result was good. He gave the finished work the gentlest micromesh he could manage, which was almost not even a flick of the 3200 paper over the marked wood. Robert9 Robert10 The rest is not all that bad, Mike thought as he examined the entire pipe for scratches. He found some but they all went away with gentle sanding.Something nagged at the back of his mind that he had forgotten a detail of his grandfather’s method.

But at that moment, as though from a clear sky over an endless smooth ocean, which Mike had never seen, the idea came to him that he could use different colored stains on the pipe. After a moment of consideration, he decided on the red of Catalonian wine for the lower region of the bowl with its rustication and smooth shank, and the brown of the Ebro River Valley hills for the upper area.He drifted into a reverie.

Mike had never visited either of these places but read about them in some of the books he used to pretend he did not understand. His father most of the last five years when Mike lived with his parents understood the boy’s need for privacy but on one occasion without knocking opened the door to the bathroom and caught Mike, on his knees, dressed only in his underwear and bent over one of the books written in the language of Spain.

“What are you doing with that book you cannot even read?” the father said with a look of anger and horror on his face. The boy flushed red and at first he stammered.

“I like the pictures,” he said and felt dirty as a sudden sweat covered his body from the lie.
“There are no pictures on those pages,” the father said. He seemed confused and embarrassed and at last relieved as he understood. “Oh. Carry on.”

And when he left he smiled, in a way that told the boy he had been discovered, and closed the door. The fact that he could read Spanish was no longer his secret. Mike had never been filled with such complete humiliation.

In his private studio Mike’s thoughts returned to the reality of the pipe in his hands and he smiled, at peace with the past and present.

“This Thinbite of Italy will have some of the best parts of Spain when I am finished with it,” Mike said.

The wood was shiny and free of imperfections except for the filled places. But even they looked better.

He decided to go ahead with the next step of applying the burgundy-red leather stain to the lower part of Thinbite and the rim. He was careful to fill every groove in the rustication and to leave an even line for the brown stain he would use to coat the natural wood of the upper bowl.

With the red dye still wet in places, Mike stuck a folded cleaner in the shank and help up the pipe. He kept it steady as he turned the damp part of the lower pipe over a candle and then the rim with the flame a few inches from the surface. He took pleasure as he saw the puffs of blue flame appear for a moment on the stained wood and knew the alcohol was being removed.

When he was done with this he inspected the stained areas and saw they were blackened but was not alarmed. With a piece of 600-grit micromesh he rubbed away the darkness with care to reveal a red coloring on the flamed areas. The rustication shone and Mike could see the good grain of the shank. The rim and bowl still showed the spots where it was filled.

“I can live with that,” he said and believed his own words.

Placing the glass jar of red stain back in its box with the swab he squeezed as dry as he could with a strip of the cotton cloth, Mike replaced it where it belonged and picked up another box with light brown stain inside. With a finger in the bowl to hold the pipe and a growing excitement he slid its swab through the narrow opening of the bottle until he saw the tip dip halfway into the liquid and pulled it back out.

This time he took even more care not to let the stain drip or pool up on the smooth briar top, cutting the shiny dye onto the untreated part of the wood from the rim downward.He was growing tired again and had to use all of his control not to slip and overlap the dyes. Mike held the pipe in one hand and again turned the fresh-stained area of the bowl over the candle flame to remove the alcohol.

“All I have left to do before the finishing is buff off the char from the flaming of the alcohol,” Mike said.

Outside, the strongest storm anyone who lived in the city had seen in many years still made the door and window shiver. The young man was aware of the knocks and hisses caused by the wind only with the part of his mind that would miss them if they stopped, in the same way he knew when the power returned and he unplugged the bright hot halogen lamp and buffer machine from the generator and back into the wall. His stomach made more noise to him than the downpour but he ignored the minor discomfort with little effort.

He was in a hurry to finish Thinbite. In a remote area of his brain that was his instinct he knew he should slow down. Still he overrode such thoughts and stood, stretching with his arms thrown back behind his head and his back arching. His body shuddered in relief and he groaned and yawned.

“I am sure it is time for the final steps of buffing the bowl and shank and the Vulcanite stem with the waxes,” Mike said as though the words would make it so. But a thought snapped at the back of his mind like a crocodile in pursuit of a hunter’s leg. This doubt came to him through a mental bayou and made him recall the days when he lived at home and his mother would nag him on and on and he would block out her words.

He could still see the fills in the pipe and knew whatever Thinbite was trying to tell him was important and so he made his best effort to hear the words but without success.

“I wish the old man was here,” he said to himself. “No, he is not here and this is to be a surprise for him. The waxes and the buffing wheels will work out the little flaws, I am sure of it. I have seen this many times.”

The presence on the work table of the old buffer machine dusted and cleaned was that of a young living thing waiting to be let out to play. Seeing the machine on his work table made Mike recall every visit to his grandfather in Taos during the summers and sometimes shorter trips on special occasions and that was saying something.

He sometimes suspected his ability to summon the details of all the events of his life was unusual but did not know for sure and so he ignored the thought whenever it came to him. The young man’s only certainty was that he watched everything and always listened, except when he chose to tune out his mother which was to be expected.

He peeled the plastic from the end of the big bar of White Tripoli wax and put on his goggles before turning on the machine and re-checking the speed. The three clean buffers whirled in a blur that tightened them up. Still, Mike knew the left buffer was the tightest. For two revolutions of the cloth he applied, with an odd gentleness, a thin, even layer of the chalk-like wax. With the machine still running he set the brick out of the way and picked up the pipe bowl.

With another light touch no one would expect from such a big strong young man, Mike held the fragile pipe bowl to the buffer and turned it with careful, deliberate slowness, waxing only the smooth upper part of the bowl and the shank. As he did this he could see the briar grow shiny as it made contact with the thick clothe buffer. He took special care around the lines of the shank and gave the rim a quick sideways turn before stopping.

Mike held up the bowl to inspect it and was pleased with what he saw before he repeated the process on the middle buffer, which was dry and took away the left over oils and small bits of white wax.

To the third loose buffer Mike applied only the smallest amount of carnauba and gave the smooth parts of Thinbite a final spin, mindful not to miss any groove of the natural wood. Excitement filled him as he imagined a hunter must feel when he has followed the tracks of a large dangerous animal in a jungle in the darkness and at last has the beast, in his sights as the sun begins to come up, proud and true at first light.

With the tip of a finger Mike applied the Halcyon II wax to the rusticated area a little at a time until the entire rough part of the bowl was covered. He set it down on its rim on a rag on the table to dry for five minutes.

When the time was right the young man gave the rusticated bottom a turn on the dry middle buffer to bring out the true shine of the special wax he had used. Before his eyes he saw the shimmer spread and was reminded of light from a sunset playing on a quiet northwestern New Mexico lake as the water lapped and his loose fishing line tightened.

Using a soft old toothbrush he had saved, Mike worked on the rusticated creases to remove leftover wax from the last buffing.

Wishing to see the full results of his efforts only when Thinbite was whole and complete again, Mike wrapped the bowl in his large cotton cloth and turned it in his strong hands so there would be no smears and set the covered bowl on the work table.He turned his attention to the stem.

“Scratches on the Vulcanite that is green with age and teeth marks and other chatter around the bit,” Mike said. “But this is not bad. I have seen carnage that seemed to have been left by wild beasts with bite marks so deep I wondered if the thing that had smoked the pipe was in fact human or perhaps a werewolf with the stem like a piece of bone that he tore at and gnawed with his great salivating and dripping fangs. And grandpapa taught me well the lore of how to mend even these horrible kinds of wounds.”

Then another memory filled Mike’s young heart for a moment. Even in his mind he had not thought of his grandfather as grandpapa since he was twelve when the old man stopped addressing him as chaval, for Mike was no longer a boy and should not be called a kid, which, after all, is another word for a young goat. From then on Mike was referred to as young man or his chosen name, or sometimes the old man just said “Come here.”

Mike smiled again and sighed and finished cleaning and sanitizing the stem. He gave the entire stem an even sanding with 420-grit paper that removed the nasty green color and the scratches and teeth marks up to the bit. There he had to apply more pressure to even out the places where, over the years, someone had chipped away at the lip, but he knew he was lucky he did not need black Super Glue because the rain still came down in sheets and there was nowhere in Albuquerque to buy it anyway.

The strong odor of a burned tire from the stem sanding reminded Mike again of his grandfather’s house. He used micromesh 1000 to smooth the stem before wiping the surface with a rag and bringing it to a high gloss with a Red Tripoli buff followed by rubbing with another cotton rag and buffing once more with White Tripoli. Thinking his project finished gave the young man a sense of pride that made him wonder for an instant if he should feel guilty.

“Screw guilt,” he said, and thought but did not speak the same about his mother for raising him in a way that would make him even question such a simple pleasure in life. “That hang-up is hers to deal with, and besides, it cannot be her fault entirely because from what I heard of my grandmother she was either a saint or a demon.” He reflected some more. “I wish I had met her so I could make an informed decision. Maybe she was only human.”

For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, Mike felt as though he had been knocked in the head by this new-found empathy. He returned to his work right away.

The stem was ready to attach and Mike could feel his excitement growing. Doing his best not to look at the bowl as he uncovered it in the cotton cloth, he took it in one big hand and with the other pushed the delrin tenon into the shank and adjusted the fit.

The time had come to look on Thinbite in his full glory. The stem was good as was the shank it was attached to. The rusticated area was a rich burgundy red and flawless. The rim and right side of the bowl were smooth and shiny with good grain.

An explosion of thunder filled the room.

The fills in the bowl in those places still showed like scabs on a wound, which he was familiar with. The young man was sure his heart would stop beating despite his youth and good health. He stared at the flaws for several minutes as though that might make them go away.

Then an anger he had not felt in many years filled him and it took all of his control not to slam the pipe down on the work table and bash it to bits. Somehow he set Thinbite on the cotton cloth and staggered to his bed, where he collapsed on his back.

“I wish grandfather were here,” he said again, “or I with him in Taos.” He stared at the ceiling until it blurred. “But he is not here and I am not there and this is my mess to fix.”

The young man wanted to give up on his project and go to his tobacconist to buy the old man the best pipe he could find but in the end he remembered the word surrender was one he did not know.

“I will close my eyes and picture the old man in my mind. What would he do if he had Thinbite in his great masterful hands now?”

Mike fell into a state between wakefulness and sleep. He imagined his grandfather in his shop. Thinbite was in the old man’s hands as he turned it once and smiled. As the young man suspected, the old man knew what needed to be done to make Thinbite whole and good again.

Mike watched from above as his grandfather chose the right piece of micromesh from his table and removed the stain from the areas covering the fills and wiped the bowl clean of dust.

The old man reached for something Mike at first could not see because it was buried in the clutter. As the old man’s fingers moved through the many tools he had for every situation, the young man felt his breathing increase to an almost unbearable pace.

Mike and his grandfather saw what he was looking for at the same time.

“Super Glue,” Mike said and exhaled, and his eyes opened. He found he had been holding his breath. “Of course. How could I be so stupid? Thank you, Grandfather, for the help.” He felt the old man’s presence and wondered if he had been heard.

He stood again and walked to his table and sat on the stool. He did not yet have so many of the tools and supplies that build up, from years of work restoring pipes, that he could not find what he sought with a quick look. One day he would possess all of these things, some found in stores but most contrived by ingenuity and all of them horded for the day when nothing else will do. Mike soon found the small double packet of Super Glue he knew was there. He tore off the top and took out one tube and set it nearby.

Mike considered his grandfather’s approach to Thinbite and made the conscious decision to do it his own way. Although the old man did the correct thing under the circumstances by removing only the patches of wax and stain over the affected areas of Thinbite, Mike came to the sudden decision that the difference in colors of the two stains he used was not enough to bother with, and the better choice was to stain the entire pipe in the burgundy color. To remove the brown stain and the waxes coating it from the smooth upper area he preferred the careful use of steel wool. Robert12 The process of reversing his mistake went with surprising ease. He stripped his original attempt to re-stain and wax the smooth part of the pipe with the steel wool and rubbed the light red briar with the 1800-grit micromesh. Then he matched the filled places with a brown marker and covered those spots with the Super Glue. When it dried he chose the 1000-grit micromesh to take away the roughness of the hardened glue. He now remembered this was the trick to be sure the ink from the marker did not run or even show when buffed.

Mike took a deep breath and let it go. The time had come to see if he or the pipe would win.

“You will not defeat me, pipe,” he said.

He was tired and wanted to be done with it, and it was already the old man’s birthday. The young man tried to imagine living one hundred and four years but could not. He could not even think of being as old as his parents.

Taking the same steps above as he had below, the young man stained the upper half of the pipe again, this time with the same burgundy color as the bottom, and lit the candle again and flamed it with careful, even turns. The blue light that danced across the surface of the bowl as the heat from the candle evaporated the alcohol in the stain never failed to make him smile.

Mike had a good feeling about Thinbite again and was happy he did not break it to kindling wood as he wanted to do earlier.

Just then he noticed something was different. The room was silent except for the hum of the refrigerator.

“The storm has stopped,” he said and opened the drapes, which let in streaks of the dawn sun that highlighted the dust floating in the air of his room. “Now this is a good omen if ever I saw one.”
The buffing passed in a blur, with Mike’s hands working on their own the way a great musician does, not thinking about the music but making it.

Mike did not remember shutting off the machine but knew he must have done so when the mandrel slowed to a stop and he found himself rubbing the finished bowl in the cloth.

The young man picked up the stem and for the second time in a day turned it into place in the shank. He did not know how tired he was until he leaned forward on the stool to rest his elbows on the table where he could better see the details of Thinbite in the natural light. His entire body ached with stiffness, but what he saw was worth the pain. Robert13Robert14 “Thinbite, you are whole again,” the young man said and felt a new kind of joy.

But he was tired and needed to rest for an hour or two before the long drive to Taos and the old man.
He lay on his bed and thought he was awake, but he dreamed of a boat on a lake and the fish he would catch.

For the drive to Taos Mike packed a Styrofoam chest with ice in which he buried cans of Coca-Cola. He was a man and therefore stuffed a change of clothes into his knapsack and of course put the box with Cavicchi on top, knowing there would be time for smoking. He shouldered the pack as he would a rifle.

The young man wrapped Thinbite in bubble plastic and taped it closed before shutting the drapes.

Taking also his shotgun under an arm to secure in the locker in the bed of his pickup, he left, locking the door behind him with his key in one hand and Thinbite in the other.

The gas tank was full and he had only two stops to make, at his tobacconist for a felt pipe bag with a drawstring for Thinbite and a plain box to put them in and a good liquor store he knew for a thirty-year-old bottle of the old man’s favorite Scotch he had special ordered.

He was in a hurry to see his grandfather and had no time to waste on feminine formalities such as wrapping paper and bows. Neither, Mike knew, did the old man.

When he was on the northbound Interstate he was free at last and popped a can of Coke to celebrate.

The trip took a few hours the way Mike drove, both his speed and shortcuts. He pulled up to the modest little adobe house sitting on five acres of unspoiled land a half-mile from the official Taos town limit in the late summer heat of early afternoon.

Ed waited outside, as he always did. Mike thought he must have been looking out the window and seen the pickup kicking up dust down the private road or have excellent hearing, or maybe he was psychic, as the boy Mike had often suspected.

The two embraced as men do, with hard claps on the back.

“Heavenly Father, I always forget how big and tall you have become!” the old man said. “Always when I think of you it is as the chaval you have outgrown.”

“Just as I always picture you in your seventies,” Mike said with a smile. “But I swear you don’t look a day older than ninety-four now.”

That made them both laugh.

“Happy one hundred and fourth, grandfather.”

“Ah, that’s enough of that,” Ed said. “I stopped counting years ago.”

Mike loved the old house and the beautiful piece of land almost as much as he did his grandfather and had spent many hours arguing with his parents to let him move there to live with the old man.

“Think of what I could learn there!” he said.

“Exactly,” his mother said in her most sarcastic, wine-addled voice that always made Mike think of Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.

He recalled his grandfather’s occasional comments on the subject of women and drinking.

“If it were up to me there would be a law against the whole thing,” the old man said, and they always laughed. “There is a definite evil that can come to some from the drink, God knows even plenty of men, but women are pre-disposed to evil enough as it is without adding the ammunition of booze.”

The two were still standing in the drive by the house when Mike’s nervousness began to show in the way he moved, his legs jangling and light on his feet, which seemed ready to leave the ground.

“Well, out with it,” the old man said. “Do you just have to pee or have you done something you need to talk about?”

Mike sucked in a deep breath of air and held it a moment. Without letting it out he said, “Why don’t I get my things and we can go inside and sit down and have a drink.”

His grandfather was alarmed.

“Oh, my Lord, you’re in some kind of trouble.”

When they were in the familiar living room, the old man looked again at his grandson and said in an unhappy but resigned voice, “I suppose sitting is in order.”

“Happy birthday again,” Mike said and handed the box to his grandfather, who was close enough to the couch that when he fell into it he was not hurt. “And this is what I meant by a drink.”

From behind his back he pulled the bottle of vintage Scotch, which the shop clerk had wrapped up in clear red plastic despite Mike’s protests. A small fancy card was attached. Ed saw the note and it was clear he was moved beyond words. He fumbled with the bottle and set it down on the coffee table, at last taking the card in hand and clearing his throat before reading it aloud.

“My dear grandfather,” he said, reading, and his voice began to tremble. “You are so much more to me than a grandfather that I can never repay you. You have been a father, a mentor and a friend. Love, Chaval.”

Mike did not care if his grandfather saw the tears that were close to his own eyes but did not wish to shame the old man. He suggested that his grandfather open the box. The young man was relieved to hear his grandfather clear his throat with gruffness and become more himself again.

Ed of course knew a pipe box when he saw one but believed it must be a trick to disguise the real contents. But when he took off the lid and saw the dark blue felt bag his body went still a moment as he considered the possibility that his grandson was returning the Cavicchi as some sort of gesture.

A closer look at the size and shape of the bulge within the bag told him he was mistaken. Stealing a glance at Mike’s expectant young face he took it from the box and pulled the drawn top open. Inside the bag the old man felt the stem and not knowing what to expect removed the pipe.

Although his glasses were on the table he said, “Why, this looks like a Thinbite! I haven’t seen one of these in years. Where did you find a new one?”

The young man let out an audible sigh of relief, certain the moment would never be replaced as the greatest of his life.

“I apologize, grandfather, because it is a Thinbite but it is not new. I found it in a second-hand store in rough shape and restored it for you. I used the skills you taught me to fix it.”

Not since baby Mike first called him grandpapa at the dinner table more than twenty-six years before, or the last quarter of Ed’s life, had he been so speechless.

“Do you like it, grandfather?”

When he realized he was staring at his grandson and seeing the gawky bruised boy he once was, the old man shook his head as though to come to his senses.

“I think it is time for a toast,” he said and tore the plastic wrapping from the Scotch bottle and opened it as fast as he could while Mike went for crystal shot glasses in an antique cabinet nearby.

Ed filled both to the brim as Mike looked on.The young man followed his grandfather’s lead in raising his glass and waited for the toast.

He continued to wait. Just as Mike was going to suggest one himself, the old man spoke up.

“A toast,” he said, “to my grandson,Gabriel Miguel Jorge de Sabato, who has become what he was born to be, and is ready to carry on the tradition started by my father’s father’s father.”

Mike heard his given name and was surprised that it did not bother him. In fact, from his grandfather’s mouth, it even had a special rightness to it. But he still concluded the old man started celebrating early that morning even if he did claim not to count the years any more.

“To me!” Mike said, going along, and they both knocked back their shots. The young man poured two more and lifted the glass. “To my grandfather, the greatest and oldest pipe restorer in the world.”
Again they emptied their glasses, and this time slammed them down. Mike was already beginning to feel the effects of the good Scotch but was prepared for any consequences if the old man stayed happy.

“I have thought of another toast,” Ed said.

“I am not surprised,” Mike said, joking, but his grandfather looked serious.

“As they say in England,‘The King is dead! Long live the King!’”

Mike did not care for the sound of that, but what could he do other than drink the shot? He poured what he intended to be the last, at least for himself, if only to brighten the shifting mood.

“May the reigning King live forever,” he said.

“Ah!” the old man said, and of course they downed the drinks.

A long silence followed, but the young man was comfortable with it.

“I have been thinking much for some time now,” his grandfather said at last.

“Oh, no!” Mike said, and the alcohol swimming in his head made him giggle.

He thought about the first time, when he was fifteen and said something impertinent to the old man, who just glanced at him with his eyes that burrowed and said nothing. But since then Mike treated the reprieve he received as the good fortune it was and never abused the license.

“No, no, seriously,” the patriarch of the family said. “But we do not need to speak of that now. When the time comes, you will find everything in my files, which are very organized, under your name.”
The young man’s head cleared as fast as the storm in Albuquerque had that morning.The conversation was turning a different direction than he planned.

“I think it is time for a bowl of tobacco,” he said and reached for his knapsack to get Cavicchi.
The old man’s face brightened as he saw the old pipe that was new when he bought it just before giving it to Mike all of those years before. They now seemed to have passed in a flash.

“I love that pipe,” the grandfather said with a warm smile that gave the young man hope again.
“I know. That is why you gave it to me.”

Their eyes met and they gazed at each other with the rare understanding that needs no words.
“I have just broken in a Costello CanadianI traded two Savinellis for,” the old man said with victory in his eyes. He picked it up from the table and showed it to Mike.

“Nice,” the young man said and nodded in honest admiration.

“Nice, yes,” the old man said, in his mind adding the word to his list of youthful vernacular with which he tried to stay current.

The way they talk these days can be so strange at times, he thought. That word my grandson used just now, for example, means so much more than nice used to mean, which is a good thing. Ah, times change, and one must change with them.

After one bowl of the strong burley mix the old man offered, Mike was even more light-headed than before.

“I think it is time for a nap,” he said. “We will have all night to continue talking.”

“Yes,” his grandfather said.

“I never told you how much I love my Cavicchi of Italy.”

Ed at once picked up on the lead to their old game.

“I still like the Peterson’s of Ireland, in particular the older models and special editions.”

“And the Ropps of France,” Mike said.

“Right now I am a great fan of the Thinbites of Italy, even though they are managed by an American company called Whitehall. But I fear the new Dunhills of England, which need much practice to restore to their old greatness.”

“The Nordings of Denmark are excellent,” Mike said. “You can always count on the Danes to make a good fighting pipe.”

They stopped and laughed, the old man throwing his hands up in defeat.

“You were the best student I ever had,” the old man said.

Mike ignored the obvious answer, yawned and said, “Well, I need a nap. I’ll take the couch.”

“Good,” Ed said. “I will sit back in the recliner and sleep like a cat, which I must have been in another life or am preparing to be in the next.”

Mike thought about all the times he had stayed at his grandfather’s and never seen him use the big bed in the one room that was always closed. When he was a boy Mike camped out in the living room in his sleeping bag to be close to the old man.

“Why do you never sleep in the bed?” he said.

Never before had he seen a look of dread on the old man’s face and was astonished to learn that his grandfather could be afraid of anything. The idea would have been the same as learning there was no Santa Claus if the young man had ever believed in such things.

His grandfather was nervous and tried to grin to hide the fact when he said, “I used to sleep there but have not done so now for thirty years, since your grandmother, God rest her soul, passed in that bed.”

A sadness and loss was so deep that Mike saw it in the old man’s wrinkled face and for the first time observed how frail his grandfather seemed. He felt it inside himself like a punch to the kidney. He would have put an arm over his grandfather’s shoulder but knew that would make the man more uncomfortable.

“Come with me,” the young man said. He had never used the imperative form of speech with the old man. His grandfather stood and allowed himself to be led into the bedroom. The door had to be opened with a slight shove and the hinges squeaked. Mike pulled back the covers on the bed and left the room.

From where Mike lay on the couch he heard the old man pace for many minutes followed by the sound of bedsprings as his grandfather sat. Two shoes dropping one at a time to the floor.

“Thank you, Mike, for helping me,” he said in a quiet, worn out voice from the bedroom. “I see I was afraid of something I did not understand. I am ready now.”

“No problem, grandfather,” Mike said in reply, mumbling, already almost passed out.

Ed paused and said, “Good night, chaval.”

“G’night, grandpapa.”

When an hour had passed, Mike awoke with a start. The sun was still high in the sky although his watch read four-thirty. He did not dream during the short but deep sleep. Nothing was out of the ordinary except for the unusual silence. The air inside and out was still, and even the birds did not sing.

Mike walked to the bedroom door, which was ajar, to check on the old man. He was sure his grandfather was not still sleeping even if his eyes were closed.But he opened the door with care to avoid the long creak that he found was unavoidable and saw the old man with the heavy Navajo bedspread over him so that only his head and shoulders and arms showed.

His eyes were open, but they were fixed on the ceiling in a way the young man had never before seen. Mike gazed at his grandfather’s pale face for a few seconds and burst out in uncontrollable tears he had not spilled since he was a baby.

All he could say, over and over, was “No.”

When the sobs subsided he moved to the old man’s side and reached out to touch Ed’s face. He knew the man he loved more than anything else in life was not the body before him but still recoiled at the feel of cooling skin.

Mike forced his hand back to close the eyes and with his fingers straighten the white hair so that when he was ready to call the people who would take his grandfather’s physical remains away forever they would see him as he wished to be seen.

The deep breath he took as he stood again was choked with the last raspy sob the young man thought he would ever make.

Mike remembered the old man telling him little more than an hour earlier that the young man would know the time to look in the files. And so he went without further thought to the work room.

He opened many cabinets in order searching through the alphabet for his name. At last he came to three folders that could hold the mysterious secret his grandfather chose to keep to himself until he was gone.

One had old copies of every report card and note to the boy’s parents about his progress, as they called it, sent by the schools he attended. And he had a copy of Mike’s record of live birth certified the year he was born.

Another held numerous detailed notes in the old man’s writing describing Mike’s learning of pipe restoration over the years.This folder, with his grandfather’s diary of his rising excitement at Mike’s rapid grasp of every important element of the restoration process, showed a side of the old man he never knew.

Because of what it told the young man about Ed’s obvious pride in his grandson and the special relationship between the two as teacher and apprentice, Mike spent the most time reading every word Ed wrote about him.

His immediate conclusion was that this was the folder he was meant to discover.

Then the young man saw the third folder overflowing with official papers. They appeared to be the old man’s most vital documents. There were his marriage license and certificate, the deed to the old adobe house and the title to Ed’s truck. The house and truck were free and clear for many years in the old man’s name, which he learned was Eduardo Abelardo Baldomero de Castillo.

“What a magnificent name,” Mike said, knowing it meant guardian of prosperity and noble strength and bold and famous of Castillo.”

But in the back of this file were legal documents including a last will and testament that named Gabriel Miguel Jorge de Sabato, “also known as Mike de Sabato,” as the sole heir.

Sole heir.

The words took time to sink in. The young man knew from skimming the will that Ed left everything he owned to his beloved and only grandchild. Those words in particular meant more to the young man than he could express at the time. The entire idea met with resistance when matched against Mike’s grief, which still burned with the slow steady progress of a fine pipe tobacco.

Mike thought about his grandfather’s clear plans for him and what they meant. He never had to consider what he would do with his life beyond construction labor. Maybe he was born to restore old and abused pipes as his grandfather’s notes claimed.

He remembered every word his grandfather spoke to him during their last brief visit and wondered at the old man’s apparent premonition of death. The odd toast of the king is dead, long live the king.

The comment that the young man would find what he needed when the time came. The sad reference to his wife, who died in the same bed to which Mike led him. The old man’s whispered admission to Mike that he had been afraid of the unknown but now was ready. And more than anything else, the final “Goodnight, chaval,” which he had not called Mike since he was twelve.

Mike wanted to blame himself for his grandfather’s death.

“Why did I make him go to the room and sleep in that bed?” Mike said. “Maybe he would still be here with me if I had let him sleep in the big chair as he wanted.”

But taking all of the facts as a whole, Mike could not dispel the idea that the old man had known he would die that day, on his one hundred and fourth birthday, in his home with his grandson there to see him off. He even seemed to plan the event as a death in the afternoon.

At least, Mike thought, he died as one of the undefeated, which was the only thing that counts. The old man lived his life, did what he was born to be,ate what he liked and smoked the best pipes and drank only good whiskey right up to the very end.

After an hour passed, the young man still could not bear the thought of the old man’s body being taken from his home and place of business for the past seventy-five years. But he made the call he knew was inevitable.

Within ten minutes after he called the police, it seemed to Mike as though more cars than the Taos Police Department had were there to investigate, not counting the paramedics and a reporter from the local newspaper.

“Did you see the write-up in today’s paper?” the sergeant who appeared to be in charge said.

“No,” Mike said, confused.

He had no idea what a write-up was and hoped the old man was not caught driving while intoxicated. New Mexico had one of the country’s highest rates for that crime so the courts were cracking down on offenders.

Then he remembered why everyone was there and realized his grandfather had a bigger problem. He would have laughed at himself if he had not still wanted to cry.

“Yeah,” the sergeant said and tucked his shirt in over his gut, “I guess living a hundred and four years is one way to get your picture on the front page in these parts.”

Mike decided he did not care much for the man. He took a slow, deep breath and let it out to control his impulse to see if he could disarm the sergeant. He thought the probability that he could do so was high.

But at that moment he heard a zipping sound from the bedroom and turned so he would not see the bag carried out.

“Do you know if he was intestate?” the sergeant said.

“Intestate?” the young man said. He knew what the word meant but did not see any reason for the sergeant to ask.

“Yeah, intestate, meaning he had no will. Because if that’s the case the state takes everything.”

Mike’s lips turned into a grin, but his eyes said something else. The sergeant took a step backward.

“My name is Gabriel Miguel Jorge de Sabato, and my grandfather, Mr. de Castillo to you, was not intestate. He left everything to me.”

“Really,” the sergeant said. His eyelids shut halfway. “Well, then, I’d appreciate it if you’d stay in town until further notice.”

The young man gave the sergeant the most servile and compliant nod he could muster. He was having fun.

“Oh, don’t worry about that, sergeant. I’ll be here for you any time you need me. By the way, I’m moving here, and who knows? If I’m lucky I might be around for another seventy-eight years.”
Gabriel knew he did not like the sergeant and thought it would be nice to become a permanent thorn in his fat side.

But he understood the time had come to grow up and do what he was born to do. Living in Taos would give him a new chance at life. He thought he might even meet some of the bellamujeres who were everywhere and one would like him.



“How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him”
— Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1954

The inspiration to write a tribute to Ernest Hemingway, in the style of his Nobel Prize winning novella The Old Man and the Sea, came to me a little more than five months ago. I found a neglected little Thinbite pot from Italy that had the potential to be beautiful again in a local second hand store and finished restoring it in time to donate the pipe to my club’s raffle on International Pipe Smoking Day 2014. I was both pleased and surprised when the pipe was chosen by the first winner, my friend Lindsay, before others of more distinction. Lindsay said he liked the look and feel of the Thinbite.

Because of the extreme difficulties I experienced in the restoration process, I had to make three separate attempts before I got the job done right. My mind working as it does, which is to say in often random sparks of odd connections, I remembered the classic tale of the old fisherman who takes epic measures to catch a huge marlin, only to find that his greater battles are with the sharks that eat away at the captured fish until there is nothing left of it but the skeleton by the time the fisherman returns to his village in his battered skiff.

Hemingway’s brilliant and descriptive prose is the work of a masterful writer who was able to condense complex characters and storylines into lean prose using what is often called, by fans and detractors alike, simple structure and language. But his stories, in particular his masterpiece on which this story blog is modeled, are anything but simple to write. In his letter accompanying the manuscript to his editor, Hemingway wrote that “it is the best I can write ever for all of my life I think.”

Thinking at first that my story blog would follow Hemingway’s own closer in format, I soon realized that I did not wish to borrow more than the most basic storyline: that of a struggle that often seems hopeless. I wanted somehow to make it my own. To that end, while the details of my attempt at a re-telling vary considerably, the details of the restored pipe that constitute the blog aspect of my work remain essentially accurate. But I never expected to become as involved as I did in the creation of a work of my own that followed the tale of The Old Man and the Sea but did not parody or make fun of it. I soon came to the understanding, however, that to pull off a credible tribute to Papa’s greatest work would require far more of my own heart and soul. I am also somewhat of a perfectionist and did my best to employ many of the same language uses of the late author.

That being said, I must emphasize that the characters and events of my version are not, for the most part, based on my own life. In fact I found myself more and more amazed as the “people” in this version took on shapes of their own choosing, as it were, diverging from my personal youthful experiences. While most of the story is fictional, including the young man’s formative life events as a child and later, as well as his relationships with his parents and grandfather, some elements of my own personality are revealed in the narrative, as is true with any work of fiction.

Last but not least, I beseech the readers of this work to understand, as I have already tried to make clear, that I know I am no Hemingway and do not intend this to be a strict re-telling of the original story with its eternal themes and characterizations. I only hope that you appreciate and enjoy the use of considerable humor mixed with drama in my rendition.

As a reward to the first person who made it this far in reading my humble offering and can name in the comments field all of the titles of other Hemingway books incorporated into this text – excluding my gracious host, Steve, whom I know is a bit of an expert on the subject – I offer a pipe of my own full restoration (to be chosen, of course, by me). If anyone can calculate the exact birthday of the young man, Mike, using the information provided in the story, I will be very impressed, and an honorable mention will be acknowledged. (Steve, you are welcome to attempt this challenge.)

I thank you for your indulgence in reading this tribute, which ran longer than expected, to Hemingway and the lesser known Thinbite pipe.

Robert M. Boughton
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, July 31, 2014
Photos copyright © the Author

The Old Ropp Billiard That Only Wanted a Joyeux Noël – Robert Boughton

I received this article from Robert on Christmas day. I appreciate Robert’s willingness to write for the blog and to post about what he is learning as he works on pipes that he is refurbishing. He has an inimitable style of writing that is a pleasure to read. Thanks again Robert. With no further ado here is the article.

About a well-used, unassuming Ropp billiard that I bought from the talented pipe maker and restorer, Victor Rimkus, for $5, and the immediate odd wariness that something serious must be wrong with my perception of beauty in the grimy, almost blackened specimen of French craftsmanship and the conflicting fear of taking advantage of Victor’s generosity.

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton

“…Above all
Were re-established now those watchful thoughts
Which, seeing little worthy or sublime
In what the Historian’s pen so much delights
To blazon–power and energy detached
From moral purpose–early tutored me
To look with feelings of fraternal love
Upon the unassuming things that hold
A silent station in this beauteous world.”

William Wordsworth, “The Prelude,” Book 13 (1850)

Wordsworth had a righteous beef with that haughty society of humans, known as the upper class,which thrives in the rarefied heights of self-idolatry and therefore revels in the delusion of Divine Right over the so-called common man. The notion of only those fortunate enough to possess large amounts of money and property being capable of appreciating the little things in life, on the absurdity of the premise alone, rankled the 18th to 19th century English poet, who not only admired the many qualities of the “common man” but advocated incorporating the more relaxed, informal speech and other idiosyncrasies of the commoner throughout his life as a writer – most of which encompassed a time when epic poems were still more in vogue than Wordsworth’s new lyrical, Romantic style.

Pipes, their crafting from raw materials, the countless possible final results of forming and finishing, the often elusive pursuit of the history behind a given sample(whether of high class or more common origin) and, at my particular phase of development in the whole grand learning process, the choices that are made when restoring one of these wondrous innovations of relaxation and contemplation, are all aspects of the trade, art and, above all, pleasure of the sometimes overwhelming experience. Put another way, regardless of the fact that the poet himself never made this connection in so many words, Wordsworth’s view that there is no more such a thing as a common man than there is common sense reflects my passion for all things related to pipes, which of course includes the myriad types and blends of tobaccos used in their smoking.

In such a state of mind did I find myself at the monthly meeting of my pipe club some time past, glancing through Victor’s large selection of $5 pipes in varied conditions, from unblemished and ready to smoke to one or two with nearly burned out bowls. Now and then I gave one with nice curves more than a once over, even caressing a few, but all of these I spurned based on whatever uncertain reasoning guided me. I only had eyes for something new, special; something not yet tried, but only imagined. What poet can accurately describe the fickle laws of attraction? Suddenly, on that enchanted evening, as if across a crowded room, I saw her – a stranger, yet somehow familiar, when I got beyond the initial wild, unkempt look. I picked up the dark, full-bodied billiard and right away noted the total blackening of the bowl rim and a few dings here and there, as well as the lack of luster. The briar and stem were rough to the touch. But none of these signs of extreme use deterred me. On the contrary, they were exciting. They showed experience, character. Someone had loved that pipe, and for a long time.

And so I pushed my Dollar Store 3X glasses backward from the tip of my nose to take a closer look, for birth marks, as it were… and was not surprised that the shank was stained with substances not part of the pipe-making craft and the words there mostly obscured, but indeed jolted enough by what I read on the stem to let out a little grunt of dismay:

rob1Why, Ropp was on my actual mental list of new experiences I wanted to have! Still not convinced it could be a real Ropp, but considering the possibility which in my near-fevered engrossment then presented the viable alternative that someone had switched the stem, I peered again at the shank, still unable to make out the murky engraving there. So I moved away from the darkness of the back bar at the Moose Lodge where we have our monthly meeting and closer to Victor, who was sitting and talking with other members. Standing there, I thought I could at least read “opp” on the shank. During a pause in the conversation, I handed Victor the pipe and asked if it was in fact a Ropp, to which he shrugged and asked, “What does it say it is?” Much like Chuck, Victor can be blunt that way. I was nonplussed. Fortunately for me, Victor broke the silence by getting out his own eyeglasses and giving the pipe a quick closer exam before pronouncing it a real Ropp after all. That was good enough for me, and I handed him $5. Considering the loopy grin of satisfaction on my face, Victor must have thought I was a little touched.

Victor Rimkus. Photo © the Author

Victor Rimkus. Photo © the Author

Cleaning the Pipe
As I noted already, the pipe was dirty. How dirty was it? There was so much dirt, finger oil and other unwanted growth that the bowl and shank were almost blackened, and the main nomenclature all but illegible. See for yourselves:




An alcohol cleansing was in order, so I dug out some cotton and Isopropyl I happened to have in my mobile pipe shop box in the motel room where my roommate and I were staying between apartments. Although I never over-pack clothes and personal hygiene products, I am like a woman when it comes to my pipes and accessories: they go everywhere with me. More or less saturating the cotton, I let the excess drip back into the bottle before applying it quickly but evenly around the outside of the bowl, rim and shank. I was gratified and horrified to see the accretion of filth disappear from the wood and ruin the first piece of cotton in no time. Already I could observe the fine grain I knew was down there, but another swab was needed to finish the process, this time applying a little pressure, in particular around the rim which was pretty well charred. To complete the rim, I switched to a bristly pipe cleaner dipped in the alcohol and gently moved it around the top of the bowl, watching as I did so the buildup of black burns transfer to the cleaner and rotating the thin bristles as needed until they, too, were a nasty dark brown. Again, a second bristle cleaner was needed, but when I was done the rim was like new.

In these photos we can see not only the improvement as far as the uncovering of the grain is concerned but also the flaws – the pits that are obvious in places.

“Eug. Ropp,” underlined, is clearly visible, marking this seemingly unassuming billiard an actual Eugene Ropp Signature pipe. As Eugene Ropp was the second master pipe-maker in the French dynasty, and lived from 1859-1937, I date this billiard to the 1930s.

Eug. Ropp signature, underlined

Eug. Ropp signature, underlined

Made in France, R10

Made in France, R10

The Restoration
By now, it should go without saying that I consulted my friend and mentor, Chuck Richards, before beginning the restoration of this pipe. Rather, I should say I did so in a round-about fashion. After all, I merely needed to hand him the pipe and tell him I was about to begin work to get his advice! Chuck is very generous and loquacious that way, and I am grateful, for I soak it all up and would be nowhere now without his invaluable input. For example, I would not have known to clean the pipe with alcohol without Chuck’s input. He also saw, as had I, the pits in the wood, but suggested an ingenious solution to the problem: using brown and black markers to fill in the holes before applying small amounts of Super Glue, then gently buffing away the rough parts. I must say, that seemed a perfect solution as well as one I would enjoy describing in this blog.

However… upon completion of the alcohol cleaning, I saw that the old stain on the wood was still too dark for my taste and would, therefore, require removal. I suspected that in the process the pits would be eliminated. Thus began the stage of restoration that for me, before this pipe, was always the first: sanding. Besides, I have always found that part of the job necessary for the pipes I have restored due to the severe build-up of coloration from over-staining or even varnishing in the first place or previous restores upon restores. Whatever the causes, I find the sanding a relaxing, contemplative process that also gives special meaning to the term full restoration. I used an 80-grit paper, careful to avoid obliterating the nomenclature with one fell swipe.





This time I remembered my old habit of following the sanding with a gentle buff using grade 0000 steel wool and, with a very damp soft cloth, clearing away and leftover shavings. Then I commenced a regimen of micro-meshing, starting with a vigorous circular buff with 2400 grain, which improved the looks nicely, then what turned out to be a final round using 8000. Together they left a beautiful pre-finish sheen.



Other than the stem – which, although the photos of its two unrestored sides make it look in foul shape, really presented no great difficulty sanding, waxing and buffing back into pre-chomping condition – all that was left was the carnauba waxing. I ended up giving it two coats, and this was the end result:





I know, I know: I admit I overdid the sanding just a wee bit, if I may couch the offense in such nice terms by ways of saving face. Chuck was first and no doubt not last to point out this gaff of mine, for which I am sure I will lose countless nights of sleep. Nevertheless, I was and remain rather proud, despite the sin of that reaction in certain circles, of my efforts to take that which was not even recognizable as an antique Ropp signature pipe and, rather than restoring it, as a purist might have done, to its more-or-less original condition, instead cleaning off the approximately 80 years of crud and giving it a somewhat newer, fresher appearance without detracting from the classic 1930s French lines and curves that remain unmistakable. Of course, I am as always grateful to Chuck and others who continue to guide me through this magnificent course I have only just begun, even when the constructive criticism is not of the glowing type. Chuck being the natural born leader and teacher he is did not leave his comments at that, by the way. He explained the simple use of the wheel that could have been employed to remove the old coloring. Another day, another lesson learned.

Anything any of you can add as far as information about this antique Eug. Ropp Signature R10 Billiard would be appreciated. I am somewhat talented at searching the Internet but have no books on the subjects, and so far my efforts have disappointed me, except for the basic determination of its approximate age. So I look forward to hearing from you!

I will close with photos of two other Ropps I own, one that I acquired in good condition on eBay and might make part of a future blog on pipes of that variety, and the other a second I have had for a few years and just learned is derived from Ropps.

Deluxe Cherrywood

Deluxe Cherrywood

Grande Morez #15 Second

Grande Morez #15 Second

Happy holidays!

Concerning a Vintage Portland London Made – Robert M. Boughton

It is a pleasure to have another article by Robert Boughton. In this article he demonstrates his skills in the restoration of a Portland Pot shaped pipe. Thanks Robert for your additions to the blog.

The particulars of said pipe being that it is an elegant, very small straight pot (5’’ length with a 1.5” x 1.25” bowl), and is believed by the author to be a BB&S, or Barling, seconded to Topsall Portland
Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Irish author James Joyce, in a memorable example of poetic license, called his collection of short stories assembled in Dubliners his “little epiphanies.” Rare stones are known as gems. Wise men have written that the smoking pipe is “the poor man’s friend”and“the fountain of contemplation, the source of pleasure, the companion of the wise,” and that it “draws wisdom from the lips of the philosopher, and shuts up the mouth of the foolish.” To me, the moment I first saw on eBay this fine specimen of pipe-making, its simple and classic lines and curves shining through the obvious considerable use by its previous owner(s),“sudden as the spark from smitten steel” I was effected the same as the hammer striking metal in a forge. I had to have this pipe, and for a penny less than $20 it became mine. Knowing nothing at the time of purchase of its possible history, my only desire was to restore the beautiful little pot to its original splendor.

As I sit here on the only piece of comfortable furniture so far moved into my new apartment in a much better and safer part of town than I described in my previous blog, with the morning view of a golf course outside my window, I am smoking in my little Portland pot – now restored to the above-sought condition – a gentle bowl of Stokeby’s 4th Generation 1855 ready-rubbed mixture with its natural Virginia sweetness, and feeling so happy I made the small investment of money and time. Although I am comfortable taking credit for the full restoration of the pipe, this being my first such complete endeavor in the art and craft of such work, I must again give thanks for the collaborative contributions of several friends, in this case Chuck Richards, Hunter Brooks and Leigh Brady, whose parts in the task will be described in time.


Again, when I bought this pipe, I did so without any initial research. By the time it arrived in the mail four days later, however, I had found references online that seem to identify it as a BB&S (Barling’s) second made for a company known as Topsall Portland. Other sources include eBay and the Brothers of Briar. I am satisfied with the pipe regardless of its origins, though, and any better information would be appreciated.

Chuck Richards.  Photo © by the Author

Chuck Richards. Photo © by the Author

Hunter Brooks.  Photo © by the Author

Hunter Brooks. Photo © by the Author

Leigh Brady.  Photo courtesy of L. Brady

Leigh Brady. Photo courtesy of L. Brady

Restoring the Portland

First, there’s the sanding that I expected to reveal a small crack in the top of the shank near the stem, which in fact was my original excuse for the full restoration of the pipe as opposed to the initial refinish I had completed to remove the bad discoloration of the bowl and stem…but after sanding down the entire bowl and shank, the “crack,” I was actually disappointed to discover, was only a mirage created by the old finish.


Then, after the initial setback of discovering there was no need to fill a crack and use a metal band to seal the shank, I micro-meshed the wood:




Following the micro-mesh, I used a light brown leather stain recommended by Chuck, which I found at Hoffmantown Shoe and Boot Repair, after which Hunter at Stag Tobacconist(owing to my lack of supplies and equipment) buffed the bowl with Red Tripoli Wax and the stem with White Tripoli.
I bought a very cheap wheel buffer to apply Halcyon II Wax, which gave the pipe a decent but still somewhat wanting finish.

Chicago Electric Mini Grinder/Buffer

Chicago Electric Mini Grinder/Buffer

Finally, I tackled the hardest, and therefore most satisfying, task of micro-meshing the stem where it connected to the shank, which appeared to have been replaced at some point during the pipe’s long life. By my estimate, this Portland London Made pot was crafted no later than the 1960s. Perhaps this accounts in large part to my dread of fitting the stem to the shank, a job that even I could feel was necessary to call the overall work a full restoration but which I approached with considerable trepidation for fear of overdoing this step – and in so doing botching the entire effort! But, at Chuck’s insistence, I applied gentle, patient micro-meshing and at last achieved the desired effect. Again I am indebted to Chuck’s guidance, without which my own inclination to put the helpless stem to the wheel almost surely have obliterated all of my hard work!

The next Friday night, at our weekly pipe club meeting, I presented the pipe for scrutiny by my fellow members. I was gratified by Chuck’s initial pronouncement, which was a simple “Nice!” but even more so for his almost immediate observation that I had attached the stem upside-down – and his final contribution of a quick carnauba Wax spin on the shop’s high-speed buffer wheel as well as a small amount of beeswax to tighten the loose stem, rendering the following finished product:


It is with a sense of humility and responsibility for the admitted first attempt at such a work that I present this finished product to the pipe smoking world at large for its final judgment and, I hope, suggestions for how to approach future restorations.

My final word of appreciation is owed to Leigh, a fine British friend and fellow lifelong member of the Stag Pipe Club, for his contribution concerning this pipe’s possible history being linked to the Great Portland Street of London, which he wrote in an email is known for its tobacconists as well as being “very close geographically to the famous Baker Street which was the choice of abode for the great Sherlock Holmes.”

Jichimu Wood Pipes – Robert Boughton


Jichimu Wood Pipes –  Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton

“I think there should be collaboration, but under my thumb.”

—Elia Kazan, 1909-2003, Movie and Stage Director


All jokes aside, however waggish, every successful endeavor in life, from beginning to end, involves collaboration.  I emphasize the word successful since, of course, Man has free will as a prerogative and always, therefore, the choice to go it alone – to be able to say at the final moment, as Frank Sinatra rejoiced in song, “I did it my way.”  As a writer, for example, I may be competent, but even Ernest Hemingway had Maxwell Perkins as his brilliant editor for most of his literary career, and Elia Kazan (quoted above) directed such movie titans as Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Gregory Peck and on multiple occasions Karl Malden, all of whom had something to do with their two-time Academy Award-winning master’s ultimate success.  The word collaborate, from the Latin co for together combined with laborare, meaning, as one might guess, to labor or work, also has a negative connotation.  The four-year French Vichy Regime’s coöperation with the Nazis during World War II, in which certain French military and civilian leaders surrendered to Germany in exchange for a deluded pretense of self-government without such details as a new constitution, comes to mind.  Yet the same negative collaboration of these traitorous Frenchmen led to the positive sort, including the infamous underground Resistance Movement, and in turn became instrumental in the Allied invasion of Normandy and the ultimate liberation of France.

If perhaps on less historic and adventurous levels, most of us, throughout our lives, seek the help and experience of friends and even the kindness of strangers, so the concept of collaboration came easily to me.  I long ago learned to ask questions when I did not know the answers.  Again, I emphasize the phrase for the most part: my dear dad, who is still with us, is a genius and by consequence a fount of enlightenment on at least a passable level in almost every study of human knowledge (except literature, which when brought up created an odd defensiveness in the man).  While he was happy to explain to me in detail diverse topics — including what makes the sky blue, the technical elements of Old Master paintings, the rudiments of handwriting analysis, the basic design and operation of a combustion engine and the concept of imaginary numbers — for definitions or spellings of words or synonyms and antonyms, my father in his own inner crucible reached critical mass when I was about 13 and started referring me without hesitation to his huge, old, worn editions of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary  and Roget’s Thesaurus until I learned to seek them out myself.   Of course, I did not much care for my dad’s well-meaning if snarky habit of advising me to engage my brain before my mouth, but I am grateful nevertheless for the gift of research he taught me.  Now I prefer my own complete Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford American Thesaurus or a great online alternative for the latter.

To be honest, though, for most of my life I have been the one doing the majority of seeking of knowledge from other people, whether asking outright or trying to get the desired information in a more oblique manner, or as a writer employing my powers of observation to study the characteristics, voices and other nuances that raconteurs everywhere simmer together in their stories.  And so I had an uncommon, almost uncomfortable, tingle of pride when the refinishings and restorations of the two jichimu churchwarden bowls that are the topic of this blog were complete and I asked Chuck Richards (my fellow local pipe club member and the master restorer responsible for the main work on one of the pair}, with all sincerity, what I could have done better to prepare and wax by hand my project – and his reply was, “Absolutely nothing.”   Then, just this past month, Chuck gave me a real loop at our club meeting when he began to speak about a 19th century Colossus Pipe Factory (CPF) Best Make, real gold-banded, amber-stemmed, turned bowl lion’s head Meerschaum he had acquired in trade and mentioned that he had a challenge.  After he unveiled the damaged but gorgeous golden Meer and passed it around the room for all of us to adore, and suggested that the details of its maker were a mystery to him, Chuck smiled and revealed that the challenge was for me to take the invaluable CPF home and see what I could dig up online about its origins.  To say the least, I was dumbstruck by Chuck’s trust in me.  To be more specific, I was honored beyond words that he wished to collaborate again on a different project than that which I will soon begin to address.  Maybe I’ll get back to the CPF another time.  By the way, I didn’t find much online that Chuck didn’t already know.  The exercise was only a test he knew I would enjoy.


Robert M. Boughton,
Photograph © Robert M. Boughton


Chuck Richards.
Photographs © Robert M. Boughton

Jichimu Wood, and a Note on One Pretender

Jichimu, or 中國雞翼木頭 (the literal translation of chicken wing wood), is a beautiful, unique, porous wood named for its tight, feathery quality resembling the wings of some chickens or pheasants that can change in color depending on the lighting or different angles of view.  Thus it has come to be known in common language as chicken wing or phoenix tail wood.   The estimation of this hardwood as one of China’s three most valued materials for antique furniture and other craft work is unequivocal.

jichimu3There are, in fact, two kinds of jichimu: old and new.  The old variety, being denser and purplish-brown, when cut straight allows for the magnificent patterns described above.  The new growth has purplish-black, straight, unclear grains (some purple, others black).  The wood is coarse, straight and rigid and therefore apt to split.  It is of the old jichimu that our refinishing and restoration projects are concerned.  The use of jichimu in royal furniture appears to date to the Ming Dynasty (1368-16jichimu444) and to have ended in the mid-Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and although old jichimu still existed, it reportedly was replaced in woodworking in general by the new variety and other woods at the same time.  This explains why my chancing upon not only one but two virtual twin old jichimu churchwardens –they themselves being rare specimens of this type of pipe making – was, to say the least, fortuitous.


Jichimu pipe.
Photograph courtesy of and © Steve Laug.

While the most common use for jichimu isfurniture, in particular antique, just a few other items made with the favored and rare wood include chopsticks, bows for classical stringed instruments such as violins and cellos, iPhone cases – and, of course, smoking pipes.


African Wenge Pipe.Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

Now for a special warning about certain smoking pipes that are being advertised on Websites such as eBay as Chinese Chicken Wing Wood, of the genus Ormosia henryiAt least in most cases, these pipes (which appear authentic in almost every way) are in fact made of Wenge wood, a similar-looking but lesser-quality for pipes African genus (Millettia laurentii).  While still made from a very exotic wood, Wenge pipes lack the richer coloration and attributes more suitable for durable smoking pipes.  I found out the hard way: I bought one on eBay from a dealer in the People’s Republic of China with an excellent reputation, but I cannot bring myself to gripe at the total cost of $14.62 including free shipping. When the pipe arrived early, I noticed the Wenge marking on the right side of the pipe and thought it must be the maker or location.  Imagine my surprise when I Googled the name and came up with the truth.  Still, the Wenge smokes well and is one odder pipe for my collection, as well as a great conversation piece.

How Two Old Wood Jichimu Churchwardens Found Me

A funny thing happened during a trip to my local head shop a few years back, where I was, alas, well known.  No, I was not a patron of the establishment for, shall I say, its illicit wares.   In fact, although I am reluctant to admit the truth in so public and permanent fashion, I must, in order to clarify the reason I believe these two all but twin jichimu bowls found me rather than the other way around, make this digression.  You see, I found myself these years ago in this fine example of everything a well-rounded head shop should be, however rebuked its sort as a whole, after I had for the most part begun buying all of my pipe necessities at my local tobacconist.  But that night, I was in desperate need of pipe cleaners, which I knew the head shop just around the corner from where I lived carried, and my regular source had been closed for almost two hours.  What was I to do?

Of course, without a qualm I rushed to my car, risking a boondoggle because of the nefarious nature of my neighborhood (known in Albuquerque as the War Zone thanks to its high rate of violent crime).  I made my zigzag dash through long blocks of murky streets, slowing for multiple speed bumps and making a Byzantine course around all of the road barriers – these obstacles being in place to aid police in the apprehension of armed robbers and other dangerous felons – and in this fashion accomplished my mission through the free fire zone that would have taken a mere three block walk straight down my street and a brief jog across Route 66 had I been willing to risk a more than possible firefight with unknown strangers and perhaps even having to shoot the drug-addled ne’er-do-wells in this wild southwest Stand Your Ground state.  At any rate, I arrived intact at the head shop and was greeted as a friendly by the night crew despite my several-month absence.  As I told them what I needed, however, out of the corner of my eye I noticed in the glass case that the shop’s former meager stock of tobacco pipes had increased, and for the better.

Suffice it to say I was compelled to have a look, and the result was love at first sight, or at least lust, for the huge, thick, lustrous bowl and that which I could see of the apparent wavy lines of grain alone.  The stem itself appeared to be of shiny black Lucite and crafted with intricacy that included a wider, beveled round base section that then tapered and curved upward into the bit.  But the bowl – well, the bowl on its own merits had an intoxicating, alluring effect on me.  As a whole, the pipe I beheld was one of the most curious looking churchwardens upon which I had ever laid eyes.  The extraordinary pipe, with its ample bowl (1-3/4” x 2” outer and 1-1/4” x 1-3/8” inner), five-pronged head and shiny dark reddish although perhaps overdone coating seemed almost a fantastic contrast to the typical, more Elven-style churches in fashion.  Upon caressing and inspecting the pipe, which I was amazed to find could accommodate my index finger almost to the second joint with wiggle-room, in part by instinct I concluded $30 was a no-brainer.  At the time, the idea that the type of wood from which the pipe was carved would ever prove to be anything but briar never even occurred to me.

I must admit at this point that I was surprised not only when the stem broke but by how little time I had to enjoy my new churchwarden, which turned out to be quite a good smoker, before the sudden and catastrophic damage occurred without even any warning.  One minute I was sitting at my computer and smoking the church; the next, the stem snapped, and by chance I caught the bowl between my legs on its way to the hard tile floor.  Although every instinct in me opposed the idea, I had some Super Glue on hand and considered re-connecting the stem until I discovered not two but three pieces were involved, two large and one very small and jagged – and that they were cheap plastic.

Thinking without much hope that the head shop might have a spare stem on hand, and not knowing at the time that I could order a good one online, I returned whence I purchased the original.  Not to my surprise, the shop did not have a replacement for the stem except, to my astonishment, in the form of another, near twin version of the original product intact.  With some trepidation (after all, $30 is nothing to throw away, and I still was in the dark about the rareness of the wood from which each pipe was carved), I surrendered to the clerk’s laid-back upsell, despite my nagging suspicion that even in a head shop there existed a drawer, cupboard or box somewhere in the back area that contained a plethora of exchanged, discarded or otherwise abandoned samples.  Still, deep within the left side of my brain as I bought the whole pipe again – this one of which had but the slightest darker grains along the front and back of the bowl – was the idea that I might at some point locate suitable stems for both and sell or trade one of the two atypical churchwardens to an appreciative aficionado.  As an afterthought, I even went so far as to scrutinize the new stem for cracks or other imperfections.  In short, because of my original trip to the local head shop for some tobacco pipe cleaners and subsequent additional purchase of one still-unidentified jichimu churchwarden, the stem of which soon broke calling for another visit to the shop hoping only to find a stem, I ended up with two old wood jichimu churches.  Sure, I believe in coincidences, but this was too much.

I hope by now you can foresee the next part.  After a few satisfying smokes of the new pipe – in fact, just enough to break in the bowl – the prior misadventure was revisited.  Through neither any fault of my own nor evident structural flaw, did the stem just break again in mid-smoke, and what was more, showed eerie signs of interference by way of the three pieces I located just as in the previous incidence.  I am sure anyone reading this will either think me outright mad or be able to imagine why my thoughts turned to the notion, however uncanny, that perhaps I was not meant to smoke these pipes for preternatural reason(s) unknown.  At times simple anger is the best natural response, however, and with that in mind I tossed both of the then useless bowls and the bottom half of one of the 9mm stems into the glass jar of the only stand I had at the time, a little nine-piper I found at a garage sale about 23 years ago.  There the two ever-alluring disembodied heads, as it were, would stare out at me from time to time with their come-hither looks.

Early Collaborative Restorations


La Grande Bruyère Before. Photo © Robert M. Boughton.


La Grande Bruyère After. Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

Around that time, although I’m not at all sure of the date, I began dabbling in refinishing pipes.  I started with a La Grande Bruyère mini made in Czechoslovakia that I bought – again at a garage sale – sometime in the late 1980s and never smoked until one night when I took it out and examined it with a magnifying glass to make out the brand and decided to clean and try it.  To my surprise, it was a wonderful smoke.  So I carefully stripped all of the tacky red varnish and uncovered a beautiful dark grain.  I continued sanding until the tiny pipe was baby smooth, then took it to Chuck and asked how much wax would cost.  He just said “Give it here,” which I did and proceeded to the pipe shop’s sitting area.  Five minutes later he motioned me over.  I was shocked but very pleased to see that Chuck had waxed it by hand, and the transformation was spectacular.

I had several old Italian no-names from my early days of pipe smoking (I started in 1989) that had serious blackening along the rims of the bowls, some moderate to nasty dings and most of all coatings which offended me so much that my perhaps most basic nature made me wonder what lay beneath.   You see, I’m curious that way.  I winged it again, but in the mean time I bought a small jar of Halcyon II Wax to finish them.  Although I later learned that type of wax is best for rusticated pipes, it ended up working just fine on my three natural finish experimentations.  I ended up giving all three no-names to cigar-smoking friends who were interested in pipes, and by doing so won them over, at least in part.  They really only needed a nudge.  I kept the La Bruyère for myself.

The Jichimu Restores

At last, I arrive at the tale of the restorations of the jichimu churchwarden bowls, one wholly by Chuck after my refinishing of it and one by me except for a final quick machine buffing as I do not yet own the proper equipment.  Because of the broken stems, these two restorations were the first I had encountered on my own that were borne of true necessity, other than what I have heard of the backgrounds and solved problems with the many beautiful restores I have had the pleasure and good fortune of buying from Chuck, although, as the next photo shows, the coatings were real horrors.  I suspect some sort of polyurethane glaze was used in the originals, thereby inhibiting these beautiful pipes’ ability to breathe, a crime I deem unforgiveable due both to the rareness of the old jichimu wood I liberated with my loving if strenuous sanding and that wood’s natural  porousness.


Jichimu pre-restore. Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

This was the bowl I handed over the counter to Chuck at our favorite tobacconist, hoping (and therefore having even a little doubt, which of course proved silly) he could identify its dark reddish, feathery wood.  The master restorer took the large bowl from me and, with the briefest squint behind his eyeglasses, through which I noticed a sparkle of slight amusement mixed with a subtle but unmistakable distaste, said:

“It’s Chinese Chicken Wing Wood.”

I remember the slight sting of what I perceived to be a note of contempt in his pronouncement, however well contained and no doubt unintended, as I paused before asking, “Is that good or bad?”

“It’s neither good nor bad,” Chuck said in his baritone voice and shrugged in this enigmatic way he has.  “It just is.”

Now, I swear to the truth of this next part upon all that is holy to me, which by the way is considerable: I will never forget flashing back to the iconic ‘70s TV series “Kung Fu,” with David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine and Keye Luke as Master Po, and Chuck was Master Po snatching the pebble from my outstretched palm – again!  Being unable to maintain the absurd private response to an innocent comment in no way intended to insult me, I recovered myself and grinned.  I later learned (by doing the unimaginable – asking Chuck)that his primary concerns about smoking a Chinese Chicken Wood Wing pipe were the possibilities of toxicity and what he considered to be likely high maintenance to keep the pipes undamaged because of their soft, porous nature.  I was unable to find any negative toxicity information for the jichimu wood genus (other than the serious dangers involving any kind of wood dust inhalation), and as for maintenance, I treat the restored jichimu I kept for myself with the same respect I afford any of my other fine pipes, such as my Meerschaums and Peterson’s: in this case, by storing it in a pipe box.

At any rate, Chuck examined the bowl I wanted to keep for my own use and, of course, with his quick, keen eye noted the crack in the top of the shank’s stem opening.  Knowing far less then than I do now of pipe restoration (which remains little), I suggested covering it with a metal band of some sort.  I recall being so proud of that idea!  Chuck, being diplomatic, said that indeed would be part of the solution, but the real problem was finding the right type and color of wood from which to shave enough particles to mix in some sort of Super Glue concoction.  Again I made a suggestion, this time redwood, a small piece of which I happened to have on hand at my home.   Chuck thought about the idea for a second before telling me to bring the wood to the shop for him to check out, but there was no hurry because he would have to do the restoration after the holiday store sale madness and pressing personal projects were behind him.

Meanwhile, I prepped the bowl with considerable sanding and buffing by hand, work I later realized at best made Chuck’s task a tad easier in that he would only have to spend a minute or so doing the job properly on his electric wheel.  The hand sanding and buffing I chalked up to valuable experience (as well as being relaxing and pleasant activities), and should be tried first by all refinishing or restoration beginners, just as anyone new to but serious about photography should start with an older standard SLR film camera to learn the true elements of the art form, including developing the film and printing photos in a dark room, before moving to digital and mastering the dubious practice of Photoshopping on a PC.


Ashley at meeting. Photo© Robert M. Boughton.

Seldom since I was a child had a holiday season seemed to take as long to pass as this last one.  In fact, I had a certain pleasant and childish giddiness and anticipation about Chuck’s restoration of my cherished Chinese churchwarden.  I kept myself distracted with my own restoration of the second jichimu bowl, of which I had already determined to make a gift to a young lady who attends our weekly pipe club meetings as often as work allows (she has, I believe, three jobs).  Ashley has two distinctions in our club, one being that she is the only female member and the other that she smokes churchwardens exclusively.  Who better to give a pipe which, although I knew it would be a lovely specimen by the time I was finished with it, nevertheless amounted to a twin of one I owned? Since Ashley is married to another pipe smoker and club member, Stephen, the gift was platonic in its intent, but still I was careful to broach the subject with him one night when I found him by himself by asking if he thought his wife would appreciate not only the idea of the gift but, of more importance to me, the unusual wood.  In fact, I put it bluntly, would the jichimu be something Ashley enjoyed smoking?  I admit I was relieved when Stephen assured me she would love it, and I asked him not to tell her anything about my plan.  Stephen was more than willing to go along.  I even completed a “first draft” of the restore during this time.


Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

Meanwhile, back to Chuck’s restoration work, after the holiday crush at the shop:  he’d had time to mull over the ideas that took time to come together in his head for this project that, for personal reasons we have never discussed but have become apparent to me in the intervening months, somehow meant more to him than the average restoration.  Somehow none of the rarest, most damaged pipes presenting Chuck with the kinds of severe tests of his masterful skills that he had needed to employ in the past and will continue to utilize in the future seemed more important to him than the simple job I had asked him to perform with my well-sanded and unblemished (other than the small crack in the shank) jichimu bowl I had entrusted to his care.  After all, I had only expected him to fix the crack, wax and buff the bowl on his electric wheel, add a nice-looking metal band of some sort and top it all off with a good stem, preferably of a reddish colorized Lucite variety if he could find one.  And of course I expected to pay for it, although he made it clear in the beginning he would cut me a deal.

The key difference between what I wanted from Chuck and how he approaches any job, I soon came to understand, was in Chuck’s great expectations.  While I expected Chuck to have a fast and easy job of making my bowl look as beautiful as I thought it could be and at the same time able to smoke with the addition of a stem, his ideals are far higher than that.  When at last he began to fill me in on his plans for the pipe – such as the fact that he had found a better match of wood for shavings to fill the crack in the shank than the redwood I had left for him a couple of months earlier, and that they were from an empty cigar box he found in the back of the shop – I discerned in his eyes an excitement I had never seen there before.  That, believe it or not, was my first clue as to how seriously Chuck had taken this “job.”   He explained in detail the process by which he would fill the crack and then attach and seal the band and would add only that he had found “the perfect” stem of which he was certain I would approve.  Of course, since the bowl was a churchwarden and that was the type of stem I had requested, I assumed that was what it would be.  But Chuck, being in charge, had far grander designs in mind.  I have to wonder who was the true child at Christmastime.

So, to cut to the chase as it were, I was sitting at home late one afternoon checking my emails when I found one from Chuck that read, as I recall, “Well, are you ready to come get your pipe or not?”  I must have re-read that brief message several times, shaking with excitement, before picking up my phone to call the shop and make sure he was there.  He was, and his laugh could not disguise his own excitement.  So, telling him I would be right there, I fumbled a few jars of tobacco together and was out the door in a flash.

When I arrived maybe 15 minutes later, Chuck was literally glowing, his face beaming with anticipation and a certainty that I would be satisfied.  Still, I have a feeling that deep inside him was a fear of possible disappointment on my part that had to be utterly alien to him.  Here is what he unveiled to me:


Chuck Richards Jichimu Restore. Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

Need I say I was, for lack of any more suitable a word, stunned by the work of art Chuck had created from my once shellacked and smothered but promising jichimu bowl?  As I recall, in fact, I went a little fuzzy in the head and had to concentrate on not swooning, a very rare reaction for me.  At first I was even speechless, for whatever I had expected from Chuck based on the simplistic guidelines I had suggested, he had, it was obvious, ignored in favor of his own better instincts.  As a result, instead of giving me a new and improved version of the original churchwarden, Chuck had embraced the ultimate spirit of the term restoration, bestowing upon the lone bowl a new life that combined both elegance and even a better sense of Chinese style than any churchwarden ever could have accomplished.

“Well, do you like it?” Chuck said after I stood there gaping a tad too long, and I snapped out of my reverie to look at him, my face flushed with gratitude.

“Are you kidding?” I replied.  “I love it!  It’s better than anything I imagined!”

So of course the time had come for the vulgar but necessary formalities of payment arrangements, but Chuck was already prepared with an itemized bill.  Scribbled on a small paper napkin which he slid forward across the counter were three lines of chicken scratch I had to squint at and read everything for context to realize formed the names of his three favorite tinned tobaccos.  At that point I was sure he was having fun with me, and said so, but he was serious.  In exchange for the hours of loving labor Chuck had invested in this project, not to mentions parts, all it was going to cost me was maybe $55.

And so I returned to my project and set about re-doing the preparatory process of stripping down the bowl I had already sanded, buffed and even hand-waxed.  Somehow, taking a much closer gander at the bowl after deciding I wanted to make a special gift of it to someone who possesses an acute appreciation for fine churchwardens, my earlier perception that the only addition the bowl still needed was a decent stem went out the window.  All I can think now is that I must have been blinded in my rush to the finish line.This, I suspect, is a common urge among restorers.There were still dark, even scratchy, areas on the front and back of the bowl where the grain, I was certain, could show with still more brilliance.  Although I had been told by someone in my pipe community that the direction of sanding did not matter, I recalled something I had seen on TV’s original NCIS.  The episode had a scene where some suspect was working on his yacht, sanding the beautiful wooden deck, and Gibbs (who had his own never-ending boat project) acknowledged that the man was doing it the right way – “always with the grain.”  Plus I remembered the same advice from my father, who is also an expert at carpentry.

Then, suddenly, after stripping the new-old coating from the bowl with coarse paper, I switched to a finer grade and began on the front of the bowl with sure, steady strokes following the grain where it turned upward a little.  After a short time, I cleared off all the fine dust, and gazing at the beautiful, much more even and feathery lines I had set free, felt that warm, glowing reward only someone who works with his hands on anything with potential to be better and succeeds at his task will ever understand.  As if in a trance, I kept at it until my arm ached, and when I was finished with the front let my enthusiasm carry me onward to the backside, which responded with equal elegance.  Admiring the reborn pipe bowl, I was satisfied at last that it was in all truth ready for buffing.  This practice has its detractors, but I like to use fine steel wool for the final gentle buff, being extra careful, of course, to remove the entire resulting metallic residue with a dry cloth.  With that done, I was ready to apply my wax sparingly with a finger until the entire outer bowl was covered.  Giving it time to dry, I wiped it smooth and clean with a soft cotton T-shirt that was too old and small for me to wear and ended up repeating the wax step once more.

After cleaning and sterilizing the bowl and shank with alcohol, I knew that was the best I could do– again, I pined for an electric buffing wheel – and had only the long black Lucite stem Chuck had given me on which to sand down the tenon to fit the shank of the bowl.  That was all I needed to do, he said, suggesting the job would be easy.  Indeed, with an electric wheel it would be, but with the tools I had at my disposal – such implements of potential destruction as sandpaper and a wood file – I harbored, to use a nicety, misgivings.  After all, I know my limitations and am almost always first to admit them, which I will now prove.   Trying to sand down the tenon by hand got me nowhere, so I switched to the wood file.  Now, there are mistakes, and then there are total write-offs.  Within just a few seconds’ time I found myself staring in horror at the resulting apparent near mayhem I had perpetrated upon the unfortunate, innocent opening end of the tenon.  Even after sanding the mangled, tapering pooch-job I had made of it, I still was left with only a smooth (if such it could ever be called again) version of the atrocity that reminded me of every time I ever tried to use one of those electric head grooming sheers on myself – you know, the kind with which barbers go to school to learn to operate on complete strangers with enough skill that they won’t be sued for the results but that are offered in stores in cheaper versions guaranteed to be so easy to do it yourself, only you can’t sue yourself for the one gaping bald gash that always results sooner or later and leaves no option but to shave off all the rest to make the disaster even.

Luckily, I had two things going for me: 1) I knew when to quit for the night and pray that Chuck would be at the store the next day for more of that collaboration, and 2) Chuck had given me a stem with a tenon so long I could afford one screw-up, even after I had already clipped off about a half-inch of the excess.  I knew Chuck was going to tell me I had to get rid of the evidence of my muddled first attempt at stem fitting the same way and at least had the courage to show him the scope of my “bad” in the fullness of its butchery, hoping only that he wouldn’t make too much fun of me as he said the words himself.  Part of me now likes to think Chuck was wise enough to anticipate just such a mishap,, and that’s why he gave me a stem that once had such an enormous tenon in the first place.  The next day, with the shameful proof of my ineptitude tucked deep within my coat pocket, I ventured into the tobacco shop and spotted Chuck at the far end of the long counter that ran to the back on the right side.  He glanced up from what he was doing at the sound of the door chime, saw who it was and continued working.  He knew my routine, which I followed then with nervous mind a jangle, walking to the sitting area and setting down my heavy tote bag filled with a variety of excellent pipes and tobaccos from which I could sit a while and choose at leisure.  Taking my time to claim my favorite comfortable cushioned chair – the only one with a full view of the store because it panders to my life-long discomfort of having my back to a room – I was all-too-soon settled in and made my way with the vile stem in hand to Chuck.

Of course when I displayed to him the mess I had made, Chuck was as gracious as ever, which is not to say lacking in some bemused gruffness, but I was put at ease with a wonderful combination of relief and kinship when he did his best, I have no doubt, not to break into outward laughter.  He could read my face despite its poker table nature and allowed only a genuine grin of appropriate amusement to show on his.  The grin said at once, without a word yet spoken, “Been there…done that,” even if not with the same aptitude.

I sit here at my laptop as I near the conclusion of the tumultuous account of the tale of two jichimus, smoking a soothing bowl of Rattray’s Brown Clunee in my own Chinese Phoenix Wood.  (I like the mythological sound of that better.)  The second bowl needing only the stem and a final quick wheel buff by Chuck, I managed a passable job on the church stem – at least enough to make it fit the shank snugly – and polished the Lucite to a fine luster.


Robert Boughton jichimu restore. Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

When the time came to present the pipe to Ashley at our weekly meeting, which she attended knowing something was up but having no idea what it was, I recommended upon giving it to her  that she might consider finding a replacement stem, or at least arranging to have it curved.  But she filled the bowl in delight and lit it up for the first time, and the look of satisfaction and pleasure on her face were all I needed to put the project to bed.  She insists to this day that the jichimu is one of the coolest, smoothest smoking pipes she owns.


The end of any serious undertaking tends to be followed by a period of time that can be described as both exhilarating to a degree but more of a let-down over-all, and the only cure for this edgy malaise is a new game plan to replace the last.  The conclusion of the jichimu restoration project, not the least of which is marked for me by this writing,leaves not an actual dearth in my life except for the heartfelt kind, for I found in my meager contributions to it a new calling of which I had only imagined I might one day have a genuine calling and now know the suspicion, or dream, is more than that.  As I suggested earlier in this account, I have long known the pleasure of using my hands in woodwork, in particular the simple tactile nature of wood itself, and of taking apart such things as old furniture and stripping off the old paint and varnish to be improved – after attentive, deliberate, meticulous preparation – with fresh new replacements.  Now, on the verge of acquiring an electric buffing wheel because the time has clearly come to stop passing off that final touch, I know I have a future in pipe restoration if not their actual making.

In my near future, therefore, I see several tasks I have been procrastinating, most of them remaining literary in nature but the third having a distinctly different approach to woodworking than pipe restoration: a very old padded rocking chair that has remained unused outside, over time collecting dirt and losing more and more of its stuffing, its fine brass screws, nuts, washers and bolts tarnishing, its lack of attention and use leaving it, as it were, almost lonely – if indeed a natural born writer with a flair for woodwork could personify an old rocker.

But I expect I will have to start my own blog to tell the tale of that restoration.