The Thoughts of a Frumpy Professor

............................................ ............................................ A blog devoted to the ramblings of a small town, middle aged college professor as he experiences life and all its strange variances.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Grand Day! (Part 5)

[Please note, if you have not done so, and wish to read earlier parts of this essay, please scroll down to the May 25th entry where the essay begins. Subsequent parts occur in reverse order.]

The sadness that enveloped me and the frustration that gripped at my soul was enormous and I cried for a long, long time. However, after a while, the frustration dissipated and I needed to figure out what my next plan would be.

I had several options but was unsure which to select. One, I could simply forget the whole thing, knock the untouched pipe tobacco out of the bowl of the pipe and carefully sneak the pipe back into my father's den. Two, I could go sneak out a few more matches from the kitchen. Or, three, I could hide the pipe and tobacco and try again when the opportunity presented itself. Option one was quite distasteful to me and I quickly ignored that option. Likewise, however, option two... trying to immediately get matches from the kitchen, was also unlikely. I knew my mother would be spending a great deal of time in the kitchen for the remainder of the day. Because of this, I knew it would be nearly impossible to obtain matches to try the pipe. With the previous two options unworkable, option three seemed the best bet.

Luckily, as I had been building the platform that was to become the tree house, I had found a small cubby hole in one of the nearby trees that I had been using for storage of various asundery items. I had paper bags, nails, a book and a few magazines as well as other things in the cubby hole. I pulled out one of the brown paper bags... lunch bag sized and carefully placed the filled pipe into the bag. Additionally, I took the remainder of the tobacco leaf I had obtained onto a small piece of paper and folded the edges to keep the extra leaf contained. I also put this into the bag, and then proceeded to crumple the top of the bag closed. I placed the bag back into the far reaches of the cubby hole and then left and went back home.

* * * * *

The pipe sitting out in that cubby hole was just about the only thing I could think about that afternoon and evening. I was concerned that my father might notice it was missing. I was worried someone would find the pipe and steal it. I was fearful an animal might find it and chew it to bits. And finally, I was utterly anxious to be able to go back out there and try it out.

As I sat around, waiting for my chance to grab a few matches, I continued to watch my father engage in his own beautiful dance/battle with the pipe. Shortly after dinner, my father, still dressed in his work clothes from the day's teaching, would go out into the backyard and loosen and remove his tie, unbutton his collar, roll up his shirt sleeves and take off both his shoes and his socks. A rope hammock, strung between two large oak trees, was my father's destination. This was my father's favorite spot to read the paper on dry Summer evenings. He climbed in to the hammock and said back comfortably, the newspaper that was tucked under his arm, now resting on the white linen of the shirt, near his stomach. I and most of my siblings (those that were old enough to walk, anyhow), were playing in a rather raucous game of tag, and my mother was still in the house, mostly likely nursing one of my younger siblings.

My father gently unfolded the newspaper, and with his knees bent, propped the paper against him as he lay in the hammock. With unconscious precision, he reached into his shirt pocket and removed his pipe and lighter. Reaching toward his back pocket with his other hand, he removed his leather tobacco pouch and opened it with one hand and proceeded to guide the crumbles of leaf into the bowl of the pipe he held in his other hand. Again, without glancing up from his newspaper, my father filled and tamped the pipe, and brought it up to his mouth, his bushy moustache and beard enveloping the stem as he gripped it between his teeth. Using his lighter, he melded the flame into the leaf in the bowl and took large, rapid puffs from the pipe to get it going well. Finally, with the pipe well lit, he took a large draw from the stem and inhaled it deeply into his lungs. Slowly he exhaled the rich smoke, and I watched it curl slowly from his nostrils. Again, the sense of relaxation and contentment was on my father's face.

A few moments later, my mother, as was her custom, came out of the house carrying a glass filled with a beverage for my father. The drink was beautifully cold, and today it happened to be lemonade. Other times, my mother would bring my father iced tea, or sometimes a tall glass of beer. As she brought the drink to him, he grinned a broad grin, and removed the pipe from his mouth, took the proffered glass from my mother and took a drink of the lemonade, feeling refreshed. He then reached over to my mother and brought her face close to his and gave her a deep, prolonged, furry-faced kiss of thanks. My mother always appreciated my father and he appreciated her. Their love and kindness to each other and to us children, was a wonderful model for us to wittiness as we grew up. I think it helped each of us make wise decisions in the course and development of our own marriages and ensuing families.

Returning the pipe to his mouth and the half empty glass to his side, my father again began to read the newspaper as my mother went back into the house. After only a few moments, my mother came out with a tray with a pitcher of lemonade and glasses for us children and we also had the wonderful, refreshing drink. My mother went and sat in a chair that was near the garden, very near the hammock by my father.

I realized this was likely my best chance, so I put down the lemonade, and informed my parents I needed to go to the bathroom, and proceeded inside and immediately pocketed at least a half of a dozen matches. I then went into the bathroom and quickly flushed the toilet before heading back outside.

The rest of the evening was spent having fun with my family, but in the back of my mind, I was eagerly awaiting tomorrow, so that I could once again go out into the woods to try out the pipe.

[Another good stopping point for now. Comments or suggestions are always appreciated. Next.... the conclusion to this long-winded story.]

Monday, June 13, 2005

A Grand Day! (Part 4)

[Please note, if you have not done so, and wish to read earlier parts of this essay, please scroll down to the May 25th entry where the essay begins. Subsequent parts occur in reverse order.]

Fortunately for me, my father had numerous pipes in his collection. In his den, in fact, he had one pipe rack on his desk that was filled with his most frequently used briar pipes, and he had another drawer in a cabinet that had many other, more worn, less frequently used pipes. I figured this would be a good place for me to look and perhaps "borrow" one for a while. Additionally, while my father carried a tobacco pouch with him at all times, he also had several cans (canisters) of his favorite pipe tobaccos on one shelf of his several bookshelves also in his den. It would be fairly simple to open one of the canisters and to remove a small pinch of the golden brown crumbles of leaf.

On a day much like today, cloudy and threatening rain, I did just that. My father was beginning to teach summer school for those students who did not pass one or more of their courses during the regular school year, and so he was away most days. I was just at the start of my summer vacation after third grade (I started school young), and my mother was quite busy with household work (laundry, keeping up the house, etc) and taking care of my younger siblings, so I had a great deal of flexibility and free-time to explore and have fun.

As I stated earlier, the woods way in the back of our property were a true joy for me and I often spent hours and hours out there searching for various forms of wildlife. But today I had a different mission in mind for out in the woods.

While my mother was in the nursery, I quietly snuck in to my father's den, and opened the drawer and withdrew one of the pipes. It was a bit dusty, the walnut finish was quite dull and rubbed off in spots where my father had held it numerous times, and the edges of the opening of the bowl were battered and rounded from hundreds of times my father knocked out the ashes either into the large glass ashtray on his desk, some other ashtray elsewhere, or if outside, on the heel of his shoe or onto the palm of his hand when he finished. The bowl must have become somewhat brittle and weakened from use as well, for on one side of the bowl a small section of the rounded opening was missing, looking as if it had broken away giving the bowl a crooked, askewed countenance. However, to me, the pipe seemed majestic and beautiful and utterly amazing.

I slid this beautiful beast of a pipe into the pocket of my dangerous (jeans for you younger folks) and then quickly went to the bookshelf lined with various pipe tobaccos. Having always been partial to the colors of orange and red, I quickly gravitated to the canister of Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco... in an orange & black canister, and grabbed a small pinch of the leaf and gripped it tightly in my small fist.

As I quietly ventured out of his den, I hollered loudly so my mother would hear "Im going to go to the woods to play!" and I heard a muffled, but positive reply from my mother in the nursery as I went into the kitchen. I reached up on the wall by the stove and withdrew one of the wooden kitchen matches and slid it also into my pocket. I then bounded through the door out into the backyard.

It took me only a few minutes to reach the woods at the far back of the yard. I then took one of the several paths I had made over the years, this one ended deep into the woods at a small tree platform I had been working on most of the Spring. It would over subsequent years become a fairly grand sized and entertaining tree house that I and several buddies of mine built together. But this early summer day it was simply a comfortable platform about 15 feet off the ground. I climbed the wooden boards I nailed to the trunk of the tree and was soon comfortably seated on my platform.

As I looked at the pipe, I grew more excited and nervous with each passing moment. In my eyes, that decrepit, battered beast of a pipe was majestic, beautiful, and utterly impressive. I uncupped my left fist and held the small pinch of tobacco in my palm. With a nervous and shaking hand, I took some of the leaf out with my fingers from my right hand and dropped it into the bowl of the pipe. I was sitting in such a way that I could hold the bowl of the pipe between my feet, my tennis shoes gently holding the bowl in position. I kept adding leaf to the bowl until it seemed full enough. Luckily for me, the pinch of tobacco leaf I had grabbed was rather small, so I was able to put all of the leaf into the bowl.

It was so beautiful looking, I was truly in awe of the pipe and leaf. Slowly and carefully I brought the stem of the pipe to my mouth and gripped the stem with my teeth. It felt rather hard and cumbersome, not with the comfortable, contented look I saw on my father's face as he gripped the pipestem between his teeth. But still, it the feeling, though strange was wonderful to me. The stem itself, slightly beige at the tip from use, had a slightly acrid flavor that I did not recognize at the time but still I enjoyed its texture.

I likely sat there for the better part of a half hour looking at and touching, smelling, and experiencing the look and feel of the pipe. Finally after a bit of my nervousness subsided, I withdrew the wooden kitchen match from my pocket. Having watched my father use a similar kitchen match out-of-doors frequently, I knew I needed to strike the match against the side of a rock. Luckily I had been carrying many different rocks up to the platform of the last few weeks so that was not a problem.

The weather had started to grow a bit cooler and I could feel a gentle mist starting. I thought to myself that I had better hurry, for it was going to rain heavily, very soon. Growing nervous again, I held the match up against the rock and slid it against the rough surface as I had seen my father do countless times. As I slid the match, I expected it to fire to life quickly, but nothing happened. Perhaps I needed to do it more strongly? So using more force, I slid the match against the rock again. This time the head of the match snapped off the matchstick and feel between the planks of the platform to the ground below.

I cried.

[Another good stopping point for now. Comments or suggestions are always appreciated.]


Friday, June 10, 2005

A Grand Day! (Part 3)

[Please note, if you have not done so, and wish to read part one of this essay, please scroll down to the May 25th entry where the essay begins. Part 2 is the June 7th entry]

The observation I made of my father when he smoked his pipe made me quite curious. Up and until that point, my father's pipe smoking had always simply been a part of who he was... I never thought much about it, other than finding the aromas reassuring that all was well with the world. I had never given any thought as to why my father indulged in the pipe hobby... again it just seemed a part of him. But to notice the visible sense of relaxation/contentment in my father's face.... the gentle drooping of his moustache, the relaxation in his mouth and chin that quieted the bristling nature of his beard. Additionally, I could see in his eyes and eyelids, even behind his owlish glasses, a perceptable change, a greater sense of serentity, his brows became unfurrowed, his forehead relaxed.

Never having noticed this, obviously never having paid attention in my previous eight years, I found it very curious and interesting. I continued to watch him every time he pulled out one of his massive pipes and began the ritual of filling the bowl with crumbles and ignighting flame and leaf. Each time, the same indicators of calmness and relaxation washed over him and I found it amazing.

After a few weeks of observation, curiosity got the better of me and I began to contemplate trying out one of his pipes myself to see more preciesely what was occuring with my father during indulgence in the beautiful briar.

The challenge was.... how?!?

[Another good stopping point for now. Comments or suggestions are always appreciated.]


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A Grand Day! (Part 2)

[Please note, if you have not done so, and wish to read part one of this essay, please scroll down to the May 25th entry where the essay begins.]

As I continued to talk with my father about my school day, I also continued to more acutely watch my father's actions as well. After he had filled the bowl of the pipe with the crumbles of leaf, he (again not diverting his gaze from me or our conversation) used tactile sensation to gently tamp the leaf a bit more firmly into the bowl. He brought the curved black stem of the pipe up to his mouth and gripped it between his heavy and very white teeth. The grip was a gentle and loving one, and I noticed how the heavy hairs of his moustache and beard encircled the stem of the pipe, his moustache cascading over and around the top.

Striking a match, my father brought the flame up to the bowl and began to draw the flame into the leaf, melding the two together and causing thick, rich, grey plumes of smoke to be emmitted. Only after the bowl was well-lighted, and after he responded to another one of my statements with a question of his own, did my father slowly draw on the stem of the pipe, and inhaled one of the great plumes of rich, vanilla tinctured smoke deep into his lungs. As he slowly exhaled, I watched in amazement as I could notice very perceptable changes in my father's facial features. His furrowed eyebrows seemed to grow less intense, the bristling of his moustache and beard quieted and seemingly relaxed, and even his eyes seemed to grow softer and more contented. His grin became broader and more gentle.

I found watching this process very interesting as a youngster of eight. I kept trying to figure out what had happened. My father is and always was a kind, attentive man, but there was a perceptable change I could see in his whole demeanor in just the span of perhaps 10-15 seconds, where he became EVEN more himself, and less affected by the work he had been engaged in. His face grew even more kindly and more the father I was used to interacting with.

It was surprising and interesting to see these changes, but what was the cause? To me, this was many years prior to my becoming a scientist well-versed in the scientific method, but even at that young age, I believe I enjoyed and appreciated order and began to look at the situation as systematically and logically as an eight year old could. After bypassing a few other possibilities, I concluded that his pipe must be the likely source.

As you would expect, my father was a venerate pipe smoker for decades before I was even a twinkle in he and my mother's eyes. It was always a friendly companion of his, emmitting a variety of pleasant aromas with vanilla-tinctured, whiskey-tinctured, cranberry tinctured, and apple-tincured being his favorites. While I was always aware of the site and odor of my father and his pipes, I had never really examined he and his pipe smoking behavior in any depth. It simply seemed to be a hobby or avocation he enjoyed. The reason for his enjoyment was not particular understandable to me, but neither did I think abou the issue all that much.

Seeing that change in his expression was interesting, and noteworthy, however. When my father inhaled the tobacco smoke, he became MORE his happy, contented self, in ways I could easily, visually discern. To me, linking his pipe smoking to his demeanor was the first clue I had about why he enjoyed his pipe. To understand more, I decided to watch him more closely and carefully.

That is what I did for the next couple of weeks.

[Another good stopping point for now. Comments or suggestions are always appreciated.]