The Old Coot misses the whiff of pipe tobacco

It is an era long gone, and for good reason, yet I miss it. Hadn’t thought about it for years but the other day I spotted a picture of Sylvester Stallone in an old news photo lighting a pipe. Oh my, how politically incorrect! A pipe? Not in this day and age!  Not a common sight. It hit me how much I miss being in a world with pipe smokers, letting that sweet, mellow aroma tickle my senses. And, hearing the tap, tap, tap as an indulger empties the ashes and unburned stubs of tobacco to rest the bowl until the next time it’s called into service.

Just seeing a pipe smoker with a briar protruding from the side of his mouth, a contented man, at peace with the world, would make my day. It was a male vice for the most part, yet women did puff on them as well. Not very many and rarely in public, though I recall a picture of Katharine Hepburn puffing on a briar back in the 1950’s. 

I was 15 when I bought my first pipe. It was on a display at a neighborhood mom and pop store, attached to two tins of Raleigh Tobacco with a rubber band. A holiday special, for only a dollar! I thought I’d give it to my father for Christmas; he’d recently given up cigarette smoking, along with five minutes of coughing every morning. I thought it would help him stay with the program. My mother said it would only get him started again, so I kept the pipe for myself. And, with a couple of like-minded knuckle-headed friends, walked around town puffing away, thinking how adult we must look. A pipe was a nerdy thing to smoke, long before nerdy became a word, so we switched to cigarettes. Winston’s, the ones with the catchy advertising jingle, “Winston’s taste good like a cigarette should!”

Not the worst mistake I ever made, but right up there near the top. I took up the pipe again in my twenties, to get off the cancer sticks, as we called them, well before the Surgeon General got around to alerting the public to the dangers of cigarette smoking. The pipe did the job: I quit cigarettes, at least for a while, and eventually forever, but I still remember how nice it felt to have a pipe protruding from the side of my mouth and to be enclosed in an aromatic cloud. I wasn’t alone; a lot of famous people were pipe smokers – Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Darwin, Gerald Ford, Walter Cronkite, FDR, Einstein, Stalin, and Mark Twain to name a few.

Now, no one smokes them in public, not that I ever see. I miss it. But even more, I miss the sweet aroma of pipe tobacco. Almost as much as the scent of burning leaves on a crisp fall afternoon. When I turn 80, which isn’t that far off, especially now that the years slip past me at the speed of light, I’m going to buy a pipe and go in my back yard and put a match to it and to a small pile of leaves. If the authorities come charging in to stop me, they’ll have to pry, both the leaf rake and the briar pipe from my cold dead hands. Want to join me? Be at my house on Nov. 15, 2022; we’ll light up the world together. Ha ha!

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