One of my favorite things is pipe tobacco.
I have vivid memories of my great Grandaddy rolling cigarettes on his knee; wrapping the paper into tight cylinders as I sat on the hardwood living room floor of his Georgia farmhouse. I remember the screen door being propped open, letting the air from the fields slowly make its way into the room. I remember the porch swing creaking and the katydids chirping in lazy summer afternoon.
And Grandaddy would smoke his freshly rolled cigarette.
I remember Mr. Joe. He was an old man who lived across the street from my family when we were still living near the coast of South Carolina. He was in his sixties or seventies-- I never knew his age. When you're little you think old is old and young is young. All I knew is that he was old. And he had soft, downy white hair and a fluffy white mustache and that he smelled like old pipe tobacco. It was an oddly homey and comforting smell. I used to throw my tiny arms around his midsection and breath in deeply, inhaling the heady, rich aroma. He bought me and my sister teddy bears one Christmas- mine brown, hers white. I loved that little bear. He kept a pipe in his pocket and would light it on our front porch. Mom never let him smoke inside, but the smell traveled. Mr. Joe was a painter. He let me my mother take some of his odd jobs to help us out. I remember playing around the huge oil drums in the local airfield as my mother painted them a brilliant blue.
He died a couple years back. My dad and I stopped by to see his old house on our way through town the summer that we heard the news. My heart ached to see the shabby mill house, paint curling off the wooden boards from too many days in the hot sun, no one there to touch up the crackles with fresh white paint.
I remember holidays spent around a table, bellies full of dinner and hearts full of laughter. Dessert dishes scattered with half-eaten pies staining the china. Men gathered on one end of the table in the small dining room where a huge, ancient upright piano stood in the corner, silently observing as it had for generations. Music drifted down the hall, children waiting for gifts squealed around the Christmas tree, and women laughed as they washed dishes in the kitchen. The men would smoke their pipes, smoke lazily wafting into the cool night air through the open, screen-less window.
I remember two weeks ago. My husband sitting in the corner of our tiny apartment facing the giant window, white Christmas lights twinkling as they framed the glass, our little boy sleeping behind the closed door of our bedroom, the world outside our cozy home quiet in the brisk night air. He was surrounded by books and notes scribbled on bits of paper, typing away on his computer keyboard, thoughts almost visibly forming as he wrote and remembered. Standing in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner I could see the smoke curling slowly, like a dancer undulating, like an invisible painter making slow, curling strokes through the thick air. I could smell it: sweet, heavy, woody.
I smiled at the memories brought by pipe tobacco and the man who sat in the corner and the boy who slept in the room next door.
And my husband smoked his pipe.