Of Dear Friends and Pipes

Of Dear Friends and Pipes

Fair warning: Pundit is coming in lukewarm: There arises a day, methinks, when it’s time in Pipelandia to thin the herd. I always look to February for the thinning stint to begin. Don’t recall why February, but it just seems another gloomy wintry month is as good a time as any.

Of course, this is a moment for additions too, doncha know! It’s not possible to conduct one operation without the other. Especially in dark February, which even attracted the Bard of Stratford-upon Avon: Why, what’s the matter that you have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm, and cloudiness?—from “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Emptying is not an easy task. Take, for example, the dilemma of a senior member of Pipelandia. Ahem, yours truly, who has imbibed in our lovely hobby for 40-plus years. Over that span, one becomes attached to those beautiful instruments of briar and leaf. Artifacts of art, perhaps?

Yes, I realize we are talking four decades in Pundit’s Pipeworld, but it has been a fun and learning experience, bringing relief to stressful moments, and joy of new celebrations in life and job and conquered horizons.

Quite naturally, time has loaded spare rooms with pipes and the cellar with luscious aging tobacco blends.

Taking a recent accounting was rather startling. Pipes on top of pipes resting in racks across desks and stashed in old shoe boxes. Gee, it has been a long, enlightening trek. As well as confusing at times. Such as, “What was I thinking when I picked up this pipe and that tobacco plug?”

That particular strong plug of Virginia just about put Pundit out on the floor!

So in Pundit fashion, I began the February process of thinning. But “ay there’s the rub,” says Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

I came across some old and dear friends. How does one turn one’s back on those deep-rooted companions, who shared good times and bad with Pundit? Impossible, but necessary.

It’s akin to putting a veteran soldier out to pasture.

“Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”  A legendary speech by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in his farewell to the U.S. Congress in 1951. And as we know, the general loved his Missouri Meerschaums (cobs). You can read an excellent history of the cob and the general at SmokingPipes.com.

Yes,  I hear it now about the dilemma of thinning. “Oh, choices can be hard in life.” Erm, yes, true.

But we are speaking about old heartthrobs, old loves (talking pipes here, so don’t go making assumptions).

The thinning out has always been difficult. Some are in much need of repair and others are still fit for action after deep cleaning.

No Dunhills, Petersons, Cavicchis, Ser Jacopos, or Ashtons (William Ashton Taylor era), Savinellis are represented in the thinning group. That collection of pipes is precious and holds a special rank in the herd.

You just can’t bid adieu to an Ashton pipe presented to you by the late, great Bill Ashton Taylor, renowned British pipe crafter. His pipes in the Pundit collection are sacrosanct, if not divinely righteous.

That leaves, of course, some old lovelies in tucked-away boxes.

You get the notion: It is difficult to say goodbye to longstanding allies in life’s many turns.

Some in the herd date to earlier days when pipes were not as expensive as today. But economies of time and scale appear to even out over the decades. What seemed rather pricey, say in the 1960s-1980s, would be mega bargains today.

I am not fond of this phrase, but it’s all relative.

So, the reduction has begun, of course, to make room for more. I know, I am shrinking the assemblage just so I can add more to the crowd. Yeah, that makes sense.

Once a pipe collector always a pipe collector, the Pundit says.

However, the late Bill Unger (see Kevin Godbee’s Jan. 1, 2013, obituary) said it far better: If you have one pipe, you’re a pipe smoker. If you have two pipes, you’re a collector.

Out go some old timers, and in arrive the newcomers.

And now time for a pipe smoker from the past:

One of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck, novelist, former journalist, and longtime pipe smoker gets the mention this month. And, by the way, there is a first-rate story about the Nobel Prize-winning Steinbeck by Zachary Podl in the Sept. 15, 2023, SmokingPipes.com “Pipe Line.”

Steinbeck was born Feb. 27, 1902, in Salinas, Calif., and died Dec. 20, 1968, in New York City. Many of his novels centered on his experiences growing up in Salinas where he worked as a manual laborer in many jobs.

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness― John Steinbeck, “Travels with Charley: In Search of America”

And this from one of his quite different works: Men really do need sea-monsters in their personal oceans― John Steinbeck, “The Log from the Sea of Cortez”

But before we go, there is one more pipe smoker of the past who needs to be mentioned here.

Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist, and friend of Mr. MC2 (Albert Einstein, of course, another physicist pipe smoker) was a cigarette and pipe smoker. He is quite often seen in photos with his pipe. And from what I can find, he smoked Walnut in his pipe.

Now, if you are wondering why Oppenheimer, well there is a pretty simple answer: The movie, “Oppenheimer,” is about to haul in a load of Academy Awards when the Oscars are handed out in March.

And the great scientist who brought us the atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project, died 56 years ago this February.

A couple of quotes: Genius sees the answer before the question.

Science is not everything, but science is very beautiful.

One last huzzah from Pundit: A friend over time is dear. But a pipe is dear every time.

Old members of the pipe herd (bottom left) and latest addition, Peterson St. Patrick's Day St. Patrick’s Day pipe at right. The Pete is adorned with an Irish green cap on the Peterson 305 Calabash, one of the famous Dublin pipe manufacturer’s most popular shapes. (Photo: Fred Brown)
Old members of the pipe herd (bottom left) and latest addition, Peterson St. Patrick’s Day. Another St. Patrick’s Day pipe at right. The Pete is adorned with an Irish green cap on the Peterson 305 Calabash, one of the famous Dublin pipe manufacturer’s most popular shapes. (Photo: Fred Brown)

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