Holiday Cheer

Greetings, fellow pipers!

As some of you know, I’m not just a pipe blogger, but a storyteller, too. While I originally planned on writing some fiction stories for this blog, I confess I’ve had a difficult time coming up with an original story to tell here. Most of my fiction efforts have been on the novel I’m working on, but a story recently came to my mind, so I typed it up and posted it here as a Christmas present for all of you.

I planned on having this finished by Christmas, but with the holidays comes family obligations, which delayed the completion of this little festive tale. I hope you don’t mind reading a Christmas story a few days after the holiday, and that it brings you some festive cheer before the new year.

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Holiday Cheer

By TheBadgerPiper

“So much for a white Christmas.”

Kyle scowled as he slammed the door to his minivan, glaring with disdain at the snow that still covered most of his front lawn. What had once been a beautiful snowfall a week ago had turned into a sludgy black mess, becoming an eyesore that had well worn out its welcome. Splotches of grass poked up from where the snow melted, leaving the ground soggy and muddy for whoever stepped in it. As Kyle stomped down the sidewalk to his front door, he could hear the excited barking of his dog, Abby, as she waited by the door for Kyle and his family to return.

After fumbling with his keys, Kyle unlocked the front door and was tackled by his hyperactive cocker spaniel. Dogs have a special way of turning even the sourest moods around, and Kyle let a smile slip on his face as he scratched his dog behind her ear. Abby hopped around at Kyle’s feet for a moment before glancing past his legs, searching for the other members of the family before cocking her up at her master.

“It’s just you and me girl for the next few days,” sighed Kyle as he shut the door behind him.

As Kyle hung up his winter coat, he rubbed his hands together and blew into them for warmth, before snatching a hooded sweatshirt off the coat rack and zipped it up. While the temperature in the house was considerably warmer than it was outside, with the heater out, he wouldn’t be warming up anytime soon.

Kyle walked down the hallway towards the kitchen and the back door, with Abby dutifully by his side. After unlocking the latch, Kyle opened the back door and let Abby run free to do her business. As Kyle watched Abby search for her perfect spot, his thoughts drifted back to his wife, Andrea, and his two sons, Max and Alex, who were currently waiting to board a plane to Michigan for Christmas.

Until yesterday afternoon, Kyle was going to be with them as they visited Andrea’s family for the holiday. Unlike some husbands, Kyle actually loved his in-laws, and Mike and Sandy, likewise, treated him as their son. Kyle had been looking forward to spending some time ice fishing with Mike at the creek behind their house. It was their yearly day after Christmas tradition. Andrea, Sandy, and his sons would go to the local mall for some holiday shopping, while Mike and Kyle would trudge down to the creek with poles in hand. They’d cut a hole in the ice, cast their lures in the water, and sit down and light their pipes while sipping hot coffee mixed with whiskey in their thermos for warmth. It didn’t matter if they caught any fish, the time spent together swapping stories was enough for the two of them.

As Kyle and Andrea were busy packing their bags for their flight, the two heard an ominous boom from the basement. Kyle could feel a knot in his stomach as he ran down the stairs, and much to his dismay, discovered that the heater had kicked the bucket. Calls were made, and a repairman arrived not an hour later. While the repairman promised that he could fix the heater, he didn’t have the right parts for the job. The repairman told Kyle and Andrea he’d have them in, but it wouldn’t be until the day after Christmas. As Kyle and Andrea watched the service van pull out of the driveway, the two considered their options.

“We could have Christmas here,” suggested Andrea as she placed her arm around Kyle. “Mom and dad’ll be disappointed, but they’ll understand.”

“No, we spent the money on the tickets,” replied Kyle in a gloomy tone. “You and the boys go ahead and see your parents. I’ll stay here with Abby and make sure everything’s in order.”

Andrea frowned as she turned to Kyle. “But you’ll be here all alone for Christmas. I can’t leave you here by yourself.”

Kyle scoffed as he hugged Andrea. “I spent Christmas alone in my apartment in college a few years. Believe me, there’s enough to do here to keep me busy while you’re gone.”

It took a bit more convincing, but Andrea eventually relented, and called her parents to give them the news. Kyle could hear the disappointment in Mike’s voice as he personally broke the bad news to his father-in-law.

“Looks like I won’t have a fishin’ partner this year,” lamented Mike on the other end of the phone.

“I’m not so sure about that,” replied Kyle as he glanced into the living room, watching his sons Max and Alex as their attention was glued to the video game they were playing. “I think it’s about time Max learned the fine art of fishing in the freezing cold.”

Kyle shut the sliding door after Abby trotted inside from her brief outdoor adventure. After wiping Abby’s paws with a dirty throw towel, Kyle pulled out his cell phone and dialed the local pizza parlor. While there was food in the refrigerator, Kyle wasn’t in the mood for cooking a Christmas meal. He’d have pizza today, and celebrate the holiday with a General Tso’s Chicken and egg roll feast tomorrow.

After placing his pizza order, Kyle wandered around the house while waiting for his dinner to arrive. With his family away, Kyle was at a loss with what to do with his newfound free time. He made his way up the stairs and into his study.

When he and Andrea first bought the house six years ago, they first made the room as Kyle’s office. Three years ago for Father’s Day, Andrea surprised him by redecorating the generic office space into more of a mancave. On one corner of the room sat the boring stuff— Kyle’s desk, his personal computer, and a filing cabinet for bills and paperwork. The rest of the office was more of a private sanctuary rather than a place for busywork. Antique metal ads for vintage motorcycles, pipe tobacco, and beer hung on the walls, as well as a well-worn dartboard. A leather armchair acted as the focal point for the rest of the room, with a turntable on one side, and a pipe ashtray sitting on top of an end table on the other. Next to the turntable sat a bookshelf filled with novels, old college textbooks, and research material for casual reading. Above the end table sat rows of shelves, which featured the prize of Kyle’s study— his pipes and tobacco.

Kyle paused as he stood in front of his pipe shelf, looking over the two-dozen briar pipes sitting in multiple pipe racks. Kyle could remember where he was when he purchased each pipe. Yet one particular pipe captured his attention at the moment, a rusticated black billiard made by Parker Pipes. This particular pipe held a special place in Kyle’s heart, as it was his first.

Back in college, Kyle had been a cigarette smoker, a habit he picked up in high school shared by his friends. When he first met Andrea, she tolerated his habit, though she never held back her desire for him to quit. Try as he might, Kyle could never quite kick his addiction. That was, until that fateful summer day when the two drove up to Michigan to visit Andrea’s parents. Kyle spent most of the day talking with his future in-laws, and telling them about his life. After dinner, Kyle excused himself from the table, and sat outside on the front porch as he pulled out an almost empty carton. As Kyle fished for his lighter, he heard the front door swing open as Mike stepped outside with a beer in hand to join him. Spotting the pack of cigarettes in Kyle’s hand, Mike gave a look of disapproval and shook his head.

“Seems like we have a little problem here,” said Mike. “No future son-in-law of mine is going to be a cigarette smoker.”

Embarrassed, Kyle played it off with a laugh and placed the cigarette back in the pack. “Yeah, I’ve been tryin’ to quit for Andrea, but I can’t seem to kick the things.”

Kyle readied himself for a lecture from the old navy man, but instead, the disapproving frown turned into a smirk on Mike’s face. Mike held out his hand and pulled the young man up to his feet.

“See, if you’re gonna be part of our family, then you have to follow the rules,” said Mike, as he pulled a bent billiard pipe from his vest pocket. “If you’re gonna smoke, then you’re gonna learn how to smoke a pipe.”

Kyle was taken aback by the comment. Smoke a pipe? That’s what old men and sailors smoked as far as Kyle was concerned. Truth be told, Kyle could count on his hand the times he had encountered a pipe smoker in his life.

“Maybe when I’m fifty-five and ready to retire,” joked Kyle, but judging from Mike’s expression, the man wasn’t kidding.

“Fifty-five?” scoffed Mike. “Son, I was younger than you when I bought my first briar. It’s a family tradition goin’ back generations, and even my two boys are pipe men.” Mike opened the front door and motioned for Kyle to follow him. “Come on, throw that pack out and follow me, and that’s an order.”

Though hesitant at first, but wanting to make a good first impression with his future father-in-law, Kyle begrudged the man’s request and tossed the pack out in the garbage before following Mike down into the basement. The two walked through the finished basement before entering into Mike’s workshop.

Mike took a moment to show Kyle his own hideaway. Besides his tools and workbench, the room was decorated in a nautical theme with souvenirs from Mike’s world travels with the navy. Mike’s pipes sat front and center on the shelf on the back wall, surrounded by German beer steins and beer glasses from the UK and Ireland. Even though Kyle couldn’t tell the difference between a billiard and a bulldog, the pipe novice was awestruck by older gentleman’s collection. Mike stood in front of his pipes with his hand stroking his scruffy chin as he studied his pipes, looking for a suitable one to pass on to the young man beside him. In the corner of his eye, he noticed Kyle walk up to the calabash on his rack and gazed at it in wonder.

Mike chuckled as he nudged Kyle away from the calabash. “Not so fast there, son. You’ve gotta learn the ropes before you try becoming Sherlock.”

Glancing again at his collection, Mike plucked a black rusticated billiard from the rack, and with a satisfied nod, he placed it in Kyle’s hands. “Now, this is more like it, a Parker. She’s a trusty pipe, with a good solid draw. It’s yours, so treat it with care.”

Kyle looked over the pipe, carefully turning it over in his hands as he inspected his new gift. While Kyle was lost in his thoughts, Mike placed a firm hand on Kyle’s shoulder as he added, “Of course, if you ever hurt my baby girl, I’ll be prying that back from your dead hands, understand?”

“Yes sir,” replied Kyle with a nervous chuckle. “You won’t have to worry about that.”

“Good, good, I’m glad we have an understanding,” said Mike with a smirk and a wink as he patted Kyle’s shoulder, before turning his attention to an assortment of jars and tins. Mike grabbed a circular tin from his stack and a spare pipe tool. “We’ll start you off with an aromatic. Take a whiff of that. Plenty of vanilla Black Cavendish, with a healthy dose of Virginias and Burley.” Mike popped the tin off for Kyle, and he took a sniff of the tobacco. He took an immediate liking to the fragrant tobacco, as the aroma reminded him of raisins and the fig newton cookies he enjoyed as a child.

“A little word of wisdom,” said Mike jovially as he set the open tin down on the workbench. “The nicer the aroma, the better off you are with the missus. Now then, time for your first lesson on smoking a pipe, how to fill the darn thing.”

Over the next few minutes, Mike explained the whole process of how to fill a pipe to Kyle before letting him do it himself, adding the occasional pointer as Kyle performed the three fill method for the first time. With their pipes packed and beers in hand, Mike and Kyle returned to the front porch. The two struck matches as Mike showed Kyle how to properly light and tamp his pipe. The whole process seemed overly complicated and fidgety to Kyle, but with his patient mentor, the young man was soon puffing away on his new pipe. While Kyle initially had trouble not inhaling the pipe smoke like he would with a cigarette, he soon had a steady rhythm going.

Over the next hour, Kyle and Mike talked about life and their past while puffing their pipes and sipping their beers. To Kyle’s surprise, he discovered he enjoyed smoking a pipe and the fellowship that came with it. Despite their difference in age, Kyle found Mike to be of a kindred spirit. Mike was no longer just the intimidating protector of Andrea, but rather someone he could look up to as a father figure for himself, something he lacked in his own life. By the time the tobacco had burnt to a white ash at the bottom of his bowl, Kyle felt sorry that their pipe time was coming to an end.

“So, how’d you like smoking a pipe?” asked Mike as he tapped the ash out of his bent billiard.

“I have to admit, I enjoyed it,” confessed Kyle as he scraped the ash out of his bowl with his pipe tool. “In fact, I think I’d be willing to switch to a pipe from now on.”

“Tell you what, tomorrow we’ll go to my tobacconist, and we’ll set you up with a few blends to take home,” said Mike, as Andrea and Sandy joined the two on the front porch. “And maybe find a basket pipe to go along with that one.”

“I’d like that,” replied Kyle, as he heard Andrea utter a groan behind him.

“Dad, you’re not corrupting my boyfriend into becoming like you, right?” asked Andrea with an annoyed smirk.

Mike gave a smug smirk as he crossed his arms. “Well, you know what they say, girls always end up marrying someone that reminds them of their father.”

Kyle allowed a brief smile for a moment as his remembered that fateful evening thirteen years ago. He and Andrea married the next year, and the year after, Kyle became a father when Max was born. Since then, Kyle kicked cigarettes completely and fell headlong into the world of pipes. Kyle’s friends teased him about his new hobby, but over time, he had converted a number of them into becoming pipe smokers. Whenever Kyle and Andrea visited her parents, Kyle would inevitably end up on the porch with Mike, bonding over their pipes.

Part of Kyle wanted to grab that Parker off the rack and reminisce over a bowl, but truth be told, his heart wasn’t in it. His heart was currently up in the sky next to Andrea and his sons, so he decided to occupy his time with an old computer game as he waited for his pizza to arrive. While video games couldn’t take the place of his family, at least shooting some zombies could provide some much needed distraction.

“You caught a Pikachu? Wow!” said Kyle as he chatted on his cellphone while pacing in the living room. “Is he pretty tough?”

“Yeah, and he has a super strong electric attack,” answered Alex proudly on the other end. “He zooms up and shocks his enemies.”

“Very cool, but don’t spend all your time playing your video game,” said Kyle as he stepped over Abby as she slept curled in a ball near the fireplace. “You need to get some of that reading done, and spend some time with grandma and grandpa.”

“I know dad, I will,” sighed Alex. Kyle heard Andrea ask for the phone on the other end, and Alex added, “Here’s mom. Love you dad.”

“Love you, too, bud.”

“Hey hon, mom wanted me to tell you that she’s sending me back with some of those Christmas cookies you love.”

Kyle plopped down into his armchair and took a sip of his soda. “Oh good, I was afraid I was going to miss out this year. Tell her I said thanks and give her my love.”

“Will do,” replied Andrea in a cheerful voice. “How are you holding up? Staying warm and out of trouble?”

“Yeah, it’s not so bad in the living room,” said Kyle as he glanced over at the fireplace. The fire was well and burning with the new log he placed inside before making his call. “I’ll probably sleep down here tonight while watching some movies.”

“Good idea,” said Andrea. “We miss you over here. Dad’s doing his best to hide it, but I can tell he’s not his usual self. But I hope you can still find a way to enjoy Christmas without us.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” assured Kyle. “I’ll manage somehow. You all have a good time tomorrow without me and give your brothers a hug from me.”

“I love you,” said Andrea.

“Love you, too,” replied Kyle, before the two ended the call.

Kyle placed his cellphone on the small table next to his armchair and picked up the TV remote. He turned on the flat screen and flipped through the channels, stopping on ESPN for a moment to check up on some scores before moving on. For once, Kyle was thankful that not every channel had Christmas programming, and settled in with a mindless 80’s action film.

After placing the remote on the table, Kyle’s eyes fell on the Savinelli billiard he had brought down from upstairs, along with a tin of Dunhill Nightcap and his pipe ashtray. While he was still glum over missing out with his family, he decided he’d somehow find a way to enjoy himself this lonely Christmas Eve. Kyle filled his pipe and lit it, tamping the ash down before lighting his pipe again and reclined in his chair. Abby awoke from her slumber and turned her head towards Kyle, and he placed a finger on his lips as he held his pipe.

“Don’t tell Andrea,” he said with a wink. “This is our little secret.”

Abby yawned and rested her head on her paws, wagging her tail contently by the cozy fire. Kyle soon grew bored watching his movie and shut the television off, choosing to smoke in the ambiance of the room. In truth, Kyle found it all peaceful, smoking his pipe in the comfort of the living room, lit only by the fireplace and Christmas tree, with the crackle of the fireplace as his soundtrack.

As the hour passed and his pipe grew low, Kyle felt sleep catching up to him. He grabbed his phone and checked the time. The screen said 11:24, and Kyle chuckled to himself. When he was younger, he’d stay up way past midnight for the chance to spot Santa as he delivered his presents under his tree. Now that he was an adult and in the Santa role for his kids, here he was, barely able to keep his eyes open. Kyle smiled to himself at the juxtaposition as he tapped the ash out of his pipe.

Reaching down beside the chair, Kyle pulled up the blanket he brought from upstairs and covered himself up to his neck. As he settled into his chair for his winter nap, he glanced down at Abby one more time while yawning.

“Goodnight girl,” said Kyle before shutting his eyes. A moment later, and Kyle was fast asleep.

Bark!

Abby nudged her cold wet nose into Kyle’s arm, waking him up from his slumber. Kyle yawned as he sat up in his armchair and stretched his neck; hearing little pops and cracks as he did so. After years of sleeping in a large king sized bed, his body reminded him that an armchair is not an adequate replacement for a real bed. Through bleary eyes, Kyle checked the screen on his phone for the time, which displayed 6:37 AM.

“Didn’t you get the memo?” said Kyle as he frowned at Abby. “You sleep in on Christmas morning.”

Bark!

“Fine, fine, I’m coming,” grumbled Kyle as he pushed the bottom of the reclining armchair back into place with his legs.

Abby danced around Kyle’s legs as he shuffled to the back sliding door and let her out. With a joyful bark, Abby dashed out into the yard, running around the perimeter of the fence with a bounce in her step. Kyle yawned again as he leaned against the door, waiting for Abby to finish up before heading upstairs and back into his own bed. While it was colder in his room, at least his neck wouldn’t be as sore.

As Kyle watched Abby run around, his mind went back to his family up in Michigan. He figured the boys were up by now, sitting at the Christmas tree and opening presents as his wife and in-laws watched with coffee in hand. Though Kyle was thankful for the extra sleep he’d have back at home, he missed watching the wonder and excitement on Max and Alex’s faces as they opened gifts.

For Kyle, there wouldn’t be any opening gifts this Christmas morning. He and Andrea decided they’d wait until after she flew back to exchange gifts. He didn’t mind the wait, as it wasn’t like the gifts would be going anywhere. He’d get to them eventually.

As Abby trotted back towards the house, Kyle opened the sliding door and let her back inside. With the frost on the ground, Kyle didn’t have to worry about wiping her paws off, the one benefit of letting her outside so early. After scooping some dog food into Abby’s dish, Kyle shuffled back towards the armchair to grab his cellphone before heading back upstairs.

Just as Kyle reached for his cellphone on the arm stand, his eyes fell upon something he hadn’t noticed before. Positioned behind his pipe ashtray sat a small rectangle box, wrapped perfectly in snowflake wrapping paper with a red and gold ribbon wound around it. Confused, Kyle plucked the box from the stand and studied it further. Had he somehow missed the box when he brought down his ashtray and pipe the previous night? He swore he couldn’t have, as he should’ve seen something as out of the ordinary as a Christmas present. But if it hadn’t been there when he went to sleep, then that would mean—no, that wasn’t possible. Kyle was sure he must’ve missed it the night before.

Sitting back down in his recliner, Kyle pulled out a small card, which was tucked underneath the ribbon that wrapped around the present. The card had an old illustration of Santa Claus on it, smoking a pipe as he warmed his tired feet on an old furnace. Kyle opened the card with a curious look on his face, and read the cursive handwriting inside.

Blessings and Holiday Cheer, to one who feels alone on Christmas this year.

May your heart be merry with a smoky pipe, puffing happily on this cold winter’s night.

From, A Fellow Pipe Man

Kyle puzzled over the card for a minute, reading the words and studying the script again and again. On one hand, he wouldn’t put it past Andrea to surprise him with a hidden gift before she left for the airport. On the other hand, he knew Andrea’s handwriting, and this didn’t match hers at all. While she had excellent penmanship, the script was too perfect and precise to be hers.

Truth be told, Kyle felt weirded out by the strange gift, and part of him wanted to get up, grab a baseball bat, and check all the locks inside the house. Yet Kyle’s curiosity got the better of him, and after removing the ribbon, he slid his finger underneath the tape and ripped open the wrapping paper.

Underneath the wrapping paper was an old navy blue box, with the word “Parker” written in plain white cursive. The box was old, as it still had dust on it left over from someone wiping the box clean. The box looked like it had been hidden away on some shelf, left to age for decades unopened. Now this grabbed Kyle’s attention, and he pulled the upper section of the box open to reveal a blue pipe sock inside, with the indentations of a pipe held within. Kyle tugged the edges of the sock open and pulled out a brand new vintage Parker pipe. The pipe was a classic bulldog, with two circular etched ridges around the smooth brown bowl, and a white stripe on the front of the stem by the shank. Kyle could hardly believe his eyes, and he turned the pipe over and over as he observed his new gift. The pipe was in perfect condition, unblemished and better yet, unsmoked.

“Would you look at that,” said Kyle with a grin on his face. “I wonder how long ago you were carved?”

That question would have to wait, as Kyle decided that he needed to celebrate the occasion by breaking the pipe in with a favorite blend. With all thoughts of going back to sleep behind him, Kyle headed upstairs with ashtray in hand to his study and snatched a tin of Squadron Leader from his shelf. After filling the bowl with the rich English blend, Kyle returned to his armchair, struck a match, and lit his new pipe. Great bellowing clouds of smoke wafted from the bowl of the bulldog pipe, filling the room with the campfire aroma of Latakia. Kyle leaned back in his chair and puffed contently, paying close attention to how his new Parker handled the christening smoke. Thankfully, the draw to the bulldog was smooth and easy, and it passed a pipe cleaner without any problems.

Though Kyle had planned on grabbing the novel he was currently working through to read while he smoked, the book slipped his mind as he enjoyed the quiet, relaxing solitude his pipe gave him. For the next forty-five minutes, all of his cares and worries were forgotten, chased away by steady wisps of pipe smoke. By the time the last of the tobacco burnt to ash, Kyle felt like a new man, his holiday spirits rekindled by his new briar. Kyle tapped the ash out of his pipe into the ashtray and ran a pipe cleaner through the stem, cleaning his new bulldog for his next smoke.

“I think you’ll do just fine,” said Kyle as he placed the pipe among his other briars in his pipe rack. “Yes, you’ll fit right in.”

“You sound like you’re in better spirits,” said Andrea in a happy tone on the other end of the phone. “Did the heater start working again?”

“No, it’s still as cold as ever,” laughed Kyle as he scratched Abby’s head. “But I had a nice surprise this morning thanks to you.”

“Oh?” inquired Andrea. “And how’s that?”

Kyle grabbed the empty Parker box and fumbled with it in his free hand. “I found the gift you left for me on the living room table. How’d you find an old pipe like that? Did your dad send it to you?”

There was a momentary pause on the other end of the phone, before Andrea answered, “I didn’t leave a present for you there. Just the socks under the tree.”

Kyle arched his eyebrow in confusion, before standing up and walking to the Christmas tree. Sure enough, there was a small, wrapped gift in the shape of a pair of socks sitting at the base of the tree.

“Wait, you didn’t leave a pipe for me by my chair?” asked Kyle with a hint of worry in his voice. “An old one in a dusty box?”

“Heck no,” replied Andrea with a scoff. “I wouldn’t know the first thing on what pipe to get you. I always let you pick that stuff out.”

Kyle tossed the wrapped socks on the couch as he went to each window, checking to make sure each one was latched shut. “And Mike didn’t send a gift in the mail? Are you sure? It was right next to me when I woke up this morning.”

“No, his gift for you is right here with me,” said Andrea in a deadpan voice.

There was silence on Kyle’s end of the phone as he checked every window and door, looking for any way someone could’ve entered the house without him knowing. Yet each window and door was locked tight, without any signs of breaking and entering.

“I don’t understand, how did I receive a pipe without you or the boys placing it here? I’ve checked everywhere twice, and there’s no way someone could’ve entered without me knowing.”

Andrea wasn’t sure how to answer, as the present was as much of a mystery to her as it was to Kyle. “I don’t know. Maybe you bought it for yourself and forgot about it?”

Kyle let out a laugh. “If I did, then my memory’s failing me. All I know is someone left a present for me, and I don’t know who could’ve done it.” Kyle fell back into his chair and ran his hand through his hair. “But whoever did it, they definitely brightened my Christmas, that’s for sure.”

Andrea chuckled and said, “You mean the socks didn’t turn Christmas around for you? That’s a shame.” The two shared a laugh, lightening the mood and erasing the fears of a possible home intruder. Once the laughter died down, Andrea added, “Maybe an angel left it for you? So they could get their wings?”

Kyle smiled as he reached for the Christmas card that came with the pipe. His eyes glanced over the picture of Santa once more, before the answer came to him. Of course, the gift giver had been staring at him the entire time.

“No, not an angel. More like a Saint.”

Merry Christmas, fellow pipers, and a happy 2019 to all of you.

-TheBadgerPiper

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A Pipeful of Graditude

The air is colder now, and there’s a bit of frost on the fallen leaves. Summer has passed, and before we know it, winter will make it’s presence known with heavy blankets of snow (and doubled commute times for work). Friends from Florida will brag about the wonderful weather they have in wintertime, while we gently remind them to watch out for the black widow spider spitting pythons in their back yard.

Tonight, I’m sitting alone in my garage, listening to the gentle hum of my heater as the leaves rustle past outside. I truly love autumn, and everything that comes with it. Yes, I’m one of those folks that drinks pumpkin spiced iced lattes, wears flannel (year round, mind you), and likes scarves (even though they get in the way). I don’t care that I’m a stereotype; I embrace it.

But with autumn comes Thanksgiving, and being grateful for the people and things in your life. So, even though we’re past the holiday, in keeping with that tradition, I’d like to embrace the spirit of Thanksgiving and speak a bit about the things that I’m thankful for and appreciate in my life. Since this is a pipe smoking blog, I’m focusing on everything pipe related in my life. Otherwise, I fear I’d bore you, dear reader. One other note, I’m writing this without listing everything in order of importance (except the first one), so no favoritism here. So without further ado, let’s begin.

 

I can’t start off without first and foremost being grateful for Mrs. BadgerPiper. So often, I read stories of pipe smokers lamenting about how their significant other hates their hobby, and needles them over it. Luckily for me, Mrs. BadgerPiper not only supports me in my hobby, but also encourages it at times. Some evenings, when I’m stressed out from work or life, my wife will stop me and say, “You should go out and unwind with a pipe.” While she doesn’t want me smoking in the house, and occasionally lets me know I stink, overall, I’m grateful my wife understands how pipe smoking is a positive influence in my life. Now if only I can get her to relent on her rule that I can’t own more than fifty pipes…

 

Next on my list is an old stomping ground I used to visit when I was first interested in pipe smoking: the website pipes.org. Billed as the grandfather of all pipe sites, and for a good reason, Pipes.org has been around for a very long time. Starting out as an emailing list in the late 1980’s, Pipes.org has seen the highs and the lows of the pipe industry. While it isn’t exactly the most active of pipe sites these days, I can’t think of a more important website to the history of pipe smoking.

Pipes.org holds a special place in my heart, as it was my first true exposure on how to start smoking a pipe. Over a decade before I ordered my first pipe, I stumbled upon the site while surfing the web on dial up with AOL. At that time, I was very much against smoking, but for some reason, I liked pipes. The site had a few articles that were informative, including a helpful one on how to get started that I’d remember for when I finally took the plunge.

What grabbed my attention at the time, though, was the digest. I spent a few evenings browsing the digest archive, reading many personal thoughts, opinions, and stories from the users of the digest. The stories especially stuck with me, and years later, I read the entire digest from beginning to end over a year. By the time I was done with it, my mind was set, and I decided I wanted to take the pipe up myself.

One story that’s always stuck with me was one user recalling a pipe smoking relative that was a captain in his country’s navy. He was smoking his pipe on deck when a wave knocked him into a wall, rendering him unconscious. When he awoke in the sick bay, he wouldn’t settle down until a sailor retrieved his fallen pipe from the deck. After reading that, I knew there was something special about smoking a pipe.

I could go on and on about the digest, but I’ll save that for a longer article in the future.

 

Going from the past to the present day, I’m thankful for my current pipe forum home, This Pipe Life. Forums have been on the decline since around 2010 or so, due to the rise in social media platforms. No one wants to take the time anymore to register on a web forum and spend a few weeks getting acclimated into an established community. Let’s be honest, no one likes being the new kid, and that’s how it can feel when joining a forum. Every forum has a different feel to them, too. What’s socially acceptable on one is frowned upon at another. Your success in becoming part of the regulars depends on how much time you’re willing to commit there, as well as the personalities of the other users.

Thankfully, This Pipe Life has some advantages other pipe forums don’t. It’s still a relatively new community, so if you post on there for about a month on a regular basis, you’re pretty much a regular. With the forum being on the newer side, that also means there are less members to keep track of. That doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot of activity, as there are new posts on the forum every day. The advantage of being in a smaller community is that it’s easier to keep track of the current threads. If you can’t post for a few days, you won’t have to spend hours trying to catch up on what you’ve missed.

This Pipe Life also has a great and welcoming community of posters, who are more than willing to share what they know with new members and pipers. The members are very knowledgeable on pipes and tobacco, and chatting with them is honestly one of the highlights of my day. I also have to give a quick shout out to one of the members on the forum, Motie2, the forum librarian. Motie2 has a long list of pipe and tobacco related PDFs that he maintains, sharing articles with anyone that asks. If you haven’t already, grab a pipe and your favorite tobacco, and sign up. No matter your pipe and tobacco preferences, there’s a seat reserved for you in the smoking lounge.

 

Moving on from forums, I’m thankful for their evolution in social media. Yes, social media can be a time sucker, and it’s good to get away from your phone screen and do something productive with your life. However, while pipe smoking has a reputation for being a relic of the past, pipe smokers adapt with the times. Pipe focused communities have found ways to thrive on places like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and myspace. If there’s a way to discuss pipes, pipe tobacco, and share pictures of us enjoying our hobby, we’ll use it.

When I started seriously using social media to talk about pipe smoking, I quickly found myself immersed into the worldwide pipe community. I’ve spent countless hours scrolling through feeds, liking pictures and comments of fellow pipers enjoying our hobby. I’ve chatted with pipe smokers from around the globe, picking up new tins based on the pictures other pipers have posted, and likewise, others have tried blends because I shared an image of a tin. I’ve made many pipe friends through social media that I never would’ve met had I not been on social media.

While social media has its downsides, like with twitter mobs and social media outrage, the pipe community has been a bastion of fellowship and camaraderie. I never would’ve gone to my first pipe club meeting if it hadn’t been for social media. I went to the Chicago Pipe Show because I knew I’d meet fellow pipers I had met on social media. Heck, this blog wouldn’t even exist if I hadn’t been inspired reading other piper’s blogs, which I discovered from— you guessed it, subliminal messages in pipe blogs. And if all goes right, the subliminal messages in this post will make you start your own blog once you’ve finished reading this one.

Nah, it was social media. Admittedly, Youtube’s the one area I haven’t considered dabbling with, but that’s because I’m not set up for it. Considering all the effort I’ve put into customizing this blog, trust me, you wouldn’t want me recording videos. Unless you want all those videos to look like I’m being held captive in an undisclosed location.

 

Next up, I want to give a big thank you and shout out to Phil and The Briar Report, the world’s premier source of pipe smoking news and information. This is a site that all pipe aficionados should have bookmarked in their browser and check daily. The Briar Report collects all pipe and tobacco related news in one convenient location so pipers can keep up to date on their beloved hobby. Not only does The Briar Report give news updates, but also posts links to blog posts, Youtube videos, podcasts, and other noteworthy links by pipe smoking content creators. This gives content creators a megaphone to a wider audience for their posts. Also, The Briar Report alerts readers about upcoming giveaways, and has participated in their own, so definitely give them a look. You might end up winning a contest out of it.

Full disclosure, while I’m not a journalist, I can’t write this ethically without mentioning that The Briar Report does post links to my blog when I make a new entry. This is a huge help for me, as I’m not all that well versed in self-advertisement. Since The Briar Report started posting my updates, I’ve noticed a definite increase in traffic to my blog. Now, I’d still write this blog if only a handful of pipers read it, but I’ll gladly take new readers when I get them. The Briar Report doesn’t have to do this, but he does, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.

 

Like I mentioned earlier, one of the great things about the pipe community is the friendships you make with other pipe smokers. Earlier this year, I happened to make one of those friendships with Dave of the Maple City Pipe Cast. Admittedly, I don’t regularly listen to many pipe podcasts, but when I found the Maple City Pipe Cast, it caught my interest. Unlike most podcasts out there that run for at least an hour, the Maple City Pipe Cast goes for frequent updates with bite sized content. This makes it a great audio companion for washing dishes or walking the dog. Despite being a one-man podcast for most episodes, Dave’s casual, conversational tone gives it the feeling of listening to the thoughts of a good friend over a pipe and coffee.

Dave invited me on for one of his Everyman Pipe Smoker segments, and we spent a good hour getting to know each other. This led to him inviting me on to his Universal Humdrum Podcast, where we talk about the CW Flash TV show. Since I started podcasting with Dave, it’s increased my love and appreciation for the show, and it’s one of the highlights of my week talking about the recent adventures of the scarlet speedster with him. Be sure to give his podcast a listen. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

 

Finally, I couldn’t make a list talking about the things I’m grateful for without talking about you, the reader. When I first started this blog, all I wanted to do was talk about my love of pipes, pipe tobacco, and everything involved with this silly hobby. Reading about other people’s love for pipe smoking was one of the main reasons I decided to take up the pipe in the first place, so I wanted to contribute to the fun. At best, I figured it was a way to improve my writing, and any readers I got out of it was a bonus.

After doing this for a few years, I’ve managed to etch out my own niche in the pipe world. Every time I get an email notification that someone commented on a post, or that I added a new subscriber makes my day. It’s a joy to check my reader statistics and see that I have readers from all around the world. I know I’m terrible with being speedy in replying, but I love chatting with everyone that leaves a comment, or reaches out with an email or message. While I started writing for myself, all of you give me a reason and a purpose for making these entries. If you’ve ever commented on my posts or hit the like button, thank you.

 

It’s an honor writing to all of you, and I hope to keep this going for as long as I’m alive. So I hope you have a wonderful rest of 2018, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy Holidays.

Until next time, happy puffing my friends,

-TheBadgerPiper

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Podcast Update

Greetings fellow pipers!

Just a quick update today to let you know about my most recent podcast appearance. As some of you might know, I recently became a co-host to the Universal Humdrum Podcast, a side project by Dave from the Maple City Pipe Cast. I’ve done a few episodes with Dave, talking about The Flash CW tv show, but today we uploaded my first solo episode. On Episode 13, I talk about various local legends and ghost stories I heard while growing up, as well as two strange occurrences that happened to me this past spring. Admittedly, it’s not pipe related, though pipe smoking is mentioned at one point.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and horror youtube videos while at work, so being able to create my own was a ton of fun. If you have some spare time, I highly recommend you give it a listen (though maybe not in the dark).

https://anchor.fm/universalhumcast

I’m also hard at work on my next blog post, which should come out some time next week. Until then, happy puffing friends!

-TheBadgerPiper

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An Ode to the Pipe Tool

It’s been a few months since I last tackled a pipe related haiku. So I decided to write one in honor to our constant companion– the pipe tool.

 

An Ode to the Pipe Tool

 

Oh blessed pipe tool,

Thy utility unmatched,

The pipe smoker’s friend.

 

You came from afar,

Born in the land of the Czech,

And purchased online.

 

You’re three tools in one,

A tamper, a pick, and spoon,

Each serves their purpose.

 

The tamper is true,

Guiding burnt tobacco down,

Flat into the bowl.

 

Like a shepherd’s staff,

You stomp the wayward ashes,

Protecting my clothes.

 

Unyielding pick,

Guard of the straight and narrow,

Setting errors straight.

 

Plunging in embers,

You stir the ash in the bowl,

Correcting the draw.

 

When the ash is low,

The spoon will heed the call,

To clear the dottle.

 

Once the pipe goes cold,

You scrape the bowl clean of ash,

And foul odor.

 

My humble pipe tool,

Covered in speckled pipe soot,

Your badge of honor.

 

You stay by my side,

As I puff my evening pipe,

Like a sentinel.

 

Without your service,

I’d scorch my fingers no doubt,

And holes in my shirt.

 

Though small in stature,

You prove your worth every smoke,

A friend for pipe men.

 

Until next time, happy puffing!

-TheBadgerPiper

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My Chat with the Maple City Pipe Cast

Recently, I had the honor of being invited by Dave of the Maple City Pipe Cast to record an episode for his Everyman Pipe Smoker series. As a fan of podcasts (and the MCPC), I was more than happy to sit down with Dave over skype and talk about my pipe journey. The Maple City Pipe Cast is a great podcast, with bite sized episodes that are perfect listening material while enjoying your favorite briar and blend.

I’ve been able to chat with Dave over the past few months, and he’s one of the nicest, humblest pipe smokers I know. I’m glad to count him as a friend in the hobby, and I highly recommend you check out not only my episode, but all the others in his archive. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

https://anchor.fm/maple-city-pipe-cast/episodes/Everyman-Pipe-Smoker-Series-Greg-the-Badger-Piper-e269a6

On a side note, you can also find us on Dave’s second podcast, the Universal Humcast, where you can listen to us chat about the CW’s Flash tv show. If super heroes aren’t your thing, then keep your ears peeled. I have some other projects in the works for the cast.

Until next time, happy puffing my friends, and I’ll have a new blog up soon.

-TheBadgerPiper

 

The Rituals of Pipe Smoking

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a creature of habit. I like routines, and hate it when people change them on me. As a creative person, there’s this image artists and writers like to present that they’re free spirits and don’t hold themselves to set routines. However, there’s a good chance that even those hippy type artists have some sort of custom that they do before they get into their groove, whether that’s fixing a cup of tea or wearing a certain pair of socks. Even athletes have their own pregame rituals they enact before they perform their athletic sport of choice. Famously, Michael Jordan always wore a new pair of sneakers before each game, as he believed they helped him play better. I can attest to this as I, too, would wear a new pair of shoes before I started writing, until the credit card bills started piling up.

“Can’t you find something cheaper to get your creative juices going?” asked my wife as she glanced down at the most recent credit card bill with a grimace behind a massive pile of shoe boxes.

So I took up pipe smoking. Turns out it’s slightly cheaper than buying new shoes every day.*

It’s not surprising that pipe smoking and creativity are closely associated. Sure, nicotine is a stimulant to jump-start the brain, but I believe there’s more to it than that. As new pipe smokers learn, there’s a ritual to pipe smoking, and that process can likewise be used to enter a creative head space.

When I use the word ritual, I’m not using it in the sense of performing some sort of magical rite. I don’t put on a black cloak with the various pipe patches I’ve accumulated, place a mask of The Briar Report’s avatar on my face, go down to my cellar while chanting the three pinch method in Latin, and retrieve a Diablo pipe (RIP Diablo) and Cult Red Moon tin from an alter filled with pipe tobacco scented candles and a ram’s head made from pipe cleaners. We pipe smokers are of the eccentric stock, but that might teeter on the edge of madness.

The ritual I’m referring to is more along the lines of a routine or procedure in the non-religious sense. There is a process to smoking a pipe that goes beyond grabbing a random pipe off the rack and rummaging for a tin or jar. It requires thought and takes in account the pipe smoker’s mood for the day. Every pipe smoker most likely has one, whether they know it or not, so I’ll use myself as an example.

When I’m going to go out and write for the night, I put on my smoking clothes (my version of a smoking jacket) and fix myself a cup of iced coffee. Once I have my drink and laptop ready, I head to the pipe corner of my basement and look over my pipe rack with reverence. Normally, I’ll pick between two to four pipes for the night, depending on how much time I have. This isn’t as simple as one might think, as there’s a lot to consider when choosing a pipe. Do I have a limited amount of time to write? Then I’ll focus on pipes with smaller bowls, otherwise I’ll grab at least one pipe with a larger bowl. Do I want to smoke a specific blend like Exhausted Rooster? Then I’ll grab one of the pipes I’ve devoted to that blend, like my Peterson 05. Do I want to smoke a cob toni— wait of course I do! so I’ll grab my Patriot or Twain and add that in.

Next comes picking my tobacco line up for the evening. Usually, the pipes I’ve picked out determine what blends I choose for the evening. My routine as of late has stayed the same for the past few years: start off with a VaBur blend like Old Joe Krantz, Haunted Bookshop, or Bayou Morning. Then I’ll pick a VaPer or Virginia, like Stokkebye 1855 or Orlik Golden Sliced. For the third pipe and others, I pick whatever strikes my fancy for that day. Some days I’ll pick a favorite Lakelands, or Navy blend, or if its cooler out, a nice English.

Regardless of what I choose, I’ll pack my pipes all at once and bring them out to the garage for the evening. There’s something calming about packing a pipe with tobacco. Unlike other forms of smoking, packing takes thought and intent. I don’t mindlessly smoke a pipe, rather, I take the time to think about what I’m about to smoke, and carefully fill the pipe to the right consistency in the bowl. It should be remembered that a pipe should be relished, rather than consumed and thrown away. There’s merit in this, as sometimes while filling a pipe, I’ll realize that I’m not in the mood for a pipe that night, and go do something else. I’m not a slave to my pipes and tobacco, and you shouldn’t be either.

Once outside with my pipes, laptop, and drink, the ritual can begin. All the necessary items are here before me. There’s the pipe tobacco, which is to be smoked. Next is the pipe itself, which holds the tobacco and delivers the smoke to the initiator and participant of the ritual. There’s the pipe tamper or tool, which the pipe smoker uses to stoke, tamp, and nurse the flame so that it stays burning. Finally, we have the match or lighter to light the pipe, because you can’t smoke a pipe without fire.

After setting everything up, I’ll grab my Bible (ESV if you’re curious), and light my candle, followed by my pipe before devotions. As a Christian, I believe it’s important to spend some time reading the Word and not put God in the back seat. I’ll read a few chapters before heading over to Proverbs and read the chapter that matches with the date. Admittedly, sometimes I rush through it, but I try to a lesson or focus on a verse during my reading. Nevertheless, it’s a good way to leave behind the baggage from the day and start afresh with a clear head.

Now, with my devotions finished, and my pipe nice and going, I open my laptop and write for a few minutes before calling it quits and head to bed. On average, it takes about a month and a half to finish one of these blog posts, and that’s not counting the other projects I work on concurrently.

Kidding aside, I spend about an hour or two writing, though it can feel like minutes. Time has this uncanny ability to speed by when you’re focused and doing what you enjoy. Would I have more time to write if I didn’t have this ritual? I suppose, but it’s worth it to relax at the end of the day, musing over my keyboard surrounded by a cloud of pipe smoke. If I’m lucky, then I’ll be deep inside my story world, typing and puffing, then tamping every few minutes or so, before continuing on. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but as someone with ADD, my pipe actually helps me as when I fidget with tamping my pipe, I’m less likely to wander away from my work and get distracted with something else.

This goes on for a half hour to forty-five minutes, a mixture of smoking, then tamping, and typing, before at last the tobacco has turned to ash. After dumping the ash, a pipe cleaner goes into the pipe, and I grab my next pipe to start the process all over again. This is why I fill my pipes all at once, so that there’s little time between pipes to disrupt my flow. Once all my pipes are empty, I finish what I’m working on, then pack up and reluctantly head back in, wishing I could stay out for one more pipe.

I’ve had this ritual going long enough that it’s stuck with me. If I’m smoking a pipe, my mind wants to work on something creative, or to grab a book and read. That doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy a pipe on it’s own, or that I can’t read or write without a pipe; but if I’m in my garage with a pipe, I’m reaching for something to work on. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do you have any rituals or routines for when you plan on smoking a pipe? Is pipe smoking part of another ritual of yours? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, happy puffing!

-TheBadgerPiper

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*Not based on true events.

 

Adventures at the Chicago Pipe Show 2018

On Saturday and Sunday, May 5th and 6th, I had the opportunity to take part in the Chicago Pipe Show at the Pheasant Run Mega Center in St. Charles, IL. According to the CCPC website, The Chicagoland International Pipe and Tobacciana Show (or Chicago Pipe Show) began in 1996, after combining different local pipe shows into one big event, and has a staple in the pipe community ever since. For pipe smokers, makers, and tobacco blenders, the Chicago Pipe Show is the biggest event of the year, drawing people from around the globe to the congested Chicago suburbs.

Ever since my days lurking on pipe forums, I’d read all about different pipe smokers going to the event and speaking about their time with glowing praise. As an outsider living vicariously through people’s posts, I could only imagine what it must be like to go to one of the Chicago Pipe Shows. Here you were surrounded by like-minded folk who appreciated pipe smoking, swapping pipes and tobacco while bonding over pipe smoking.

Needless to say, I wanted to go to one of the pipe shows. While I dearly enjoy chatting about pipes with my online friends, online interactions can’t replace the experience of visiting the show first hand. I wasn’t satisfied just reading about the shows through other people, I wanted to go there in person. I swore that one-year, I’d drive down and experience it myself.

Yet the Pipe Show would come and go, and inevitably something would get in the way of fulfilling that promise. In 2016, I was laid off from my job, and couldn’t afford going to the show. In 2017, my wife and I had a trip planned for that week to visit family out of state. As much as I love my pipe hobby, family must always come first, no question about it. While watching pictures of the pipe show scroll across my Instagram feed that weekend, I promised that next year would be my year.

So this year, I made sure to black out those days on my schedule for the pipe show. Come hell or high water, I was going and that was that. Mrs. BadgerPiper even set that weekend aside for me, and made sure I was free to go. Let me tell you, folks, I’m thankful my wife supports my hobby, and I don’t take it for granted.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the Pipe Show, while the main show takes place on Saturday and Sunday, the show kicks off on Thursday with a pipe-making seminar, and Friday has a pipe swap. While I would’ve liked to check those events out, I had work, and couldn’t justify asking off just for my hobby. Instead, I was happy with just making it for the main show.

IMG_2696

On Saturday morning, I made the hour long drive through construction down to St. Charles for the first day of the main show. After a quick bite for lunch at Portillos, Chicago’s favorite hot dog chain, I parked my car and headed towards the event hall. It was a sunny day in the lower 80’s, so there were people huddled in groups outside the hall, smoking their pipes and chatting away. I don’t know about you, but seeing other people smoking their pipes in public always puts me in a good mood, and I knew I was with my people.

Since I came a few hours into the show, there wasn’t a line at the ticket table. You might feel differently, but after spending most of my college life in a cafeteria line, I’m fine with arriving a bit late just to avoid lines. Tickets were $15 per person, and covered both days of the event. While I had planned on only going to the show on Saturday, since the ticket covered both days, I ended up coming on Sunday as well and get the most out of my purchase.

I’ve been to collectable shows before for comics, toys, and video games, so I had an idea of what to expect when I walked into the dealer hall. Let me tell you, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I walked inside. The entire hall was packed full of vendor tables, with few empty gaps. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was overwhelmed by the sheer sight of it all, and needed a moment to process it all. Thankfully, right at the entrance was a glass case filled with antique Peterson pipes, and I took a few minutes to collect my thoughts while admiring the beautiful collection of Irish pipes to drool over. Once I had my head on straight again, I headed over to the right corner of the hall and proceeded to check out the dealer tables.

One thing I should mention before I go on, almost all the pipes I’ve purchased have come from online shops like smokingpipes.com. Before the pipe show, the only thing I had to go on for buying a pipe were pictures. The only exception to this was when I visited Peterson’s of Dublin, but even that can’t compare to the Chicago Pipe Show. With Peterson’s, there was just one large pipe case to thumb through. The Chicago Pipe Show on the other hand, dwarfed a strip mall’s worth of Peterson’s.

Row upon row of tables filled with new and estate pipes were before me, each manned by friendly folks eager to sell their wares. There had to be at least a hundred tables with pipes and tobacco on them. Each table, too, had their own unique selection of pipes. One table would have a hundred estate pipes to thumb through, while the next had a handful of masterfully crafted artisan pipes. If your heart was set on a specific type of pipe, you’d find it.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I spent the first hour just walking by each table, just seeing what was there to choose from. I didn’t even think about pulling my wallet out for my first pass around the tables. I knew from experience that if I plucked money down on a pipe right away, I’d find another one somewhere else that I would’ve wished I bought instead.

The only exception I made was when I found the Missouri Meerschaum table. Going into the show, I had a few pipes in mind that I wanted to look for, and one of those pipes was a Charles Towne cob. The Charles Towne cob is one of Missouri Meerschaum’s newest lines of cobs, and Smokingpipes.com has been sold out of it since the first week it’s been available. It’s a bent billiard cob with a hard stem, unlike the usual plastic stems on most cobs. Though cobs aren’t known for their refined style, the Charles Towne stands out as one of Missouri Meerschaum’s finest pipes in their line up.

Though I knew what I was going to buy at the table, I still spent some time looking at the different corncob pipes for sale. As I mentioned before, I had seen these cobs available on websites, but nothing can replace looking at a pipe first hand and seeing how the different shapes compare from each other. For example, the Freehand and General cobs were not the monstrous pipes I envisioned them from their images online. Now that I’ve seen them in person, I’ll definitely pick one up in the future.

There were plenty of people perusing the Missouri Meerschaum table, and the Charles Towne cobs were going fast. I wasn’t sure how many were left, so I grabbed the first one I could and plucked down the money for it. With the purchase of every cob, Missouri Meerschaum included a goodie bag containing a company drink sleeve and a mini keychain cob. I’m a sucker for freebies, and this was a nice bonus for buying a cob. I ended up buying a second cob the next day (The Marcus), and gave the goodie bag to my friend who couldn’t make the show.

With the Missouri Meerschaum table out of the way, I continued walking around the tables for another 45 minutes or so. By the time I finished my first pass through the dealer hall, it probably took me around an hour and a half with only one cob purchased. There were too many tables and pipes to choose from, and I had a pain in my neck from glancing down the entire time. Having gone through the tables once, though, I could now focus on the tables that first caught my eye and narrow down my choices.

During my second pass, I came across Jim, the owner of Lazarus Pipes from Instagram, who was manning a station with his father. Jim had a table full of estate pipes for sale, all of which he purchased and restored. We recognized each other from Instagram, and had a long conversation about pipes and the show. I’m just a pipe smoker, so I appreciated learning about the process of searching for and restoring estate pipes. I ended up purchasing a GBD Bent Bulldog from Jim, as my way of showing thanks for him and his father taking their time to chat with me. If you’re interested in picking up an estate pipe, look up Lazarus Pipes on Instagram and give his feed a look over.

Now came the tough part, narrowing down my selection for a pricier pipe. While travelling to the show, I had a few brands in mind that I wanted to track down. My pipe rack has plenty of Petersons and Stanwells, so I wanted to try a different pipe maker for my last pipe. There’s been a few brands I’ve had my eye on for years, but have yet to join my collection: Barling, Dunhill, Parker, Sasieni, and Chacom among others. I also heard great things about BriarWorks, which has a line of affordable briars around $100.

During my deliberations, there were two pipes I kept coming back to, a charming new Chacom billiard with a stunning smoky grey stem, and a lengthy Sasieni Canadian estate pipe. Back and forth I went between the two tables, picking up each pipe and giving each a good look over. On one hand, I prefer picking up a new pipe over an estate if I can, if only so I can claim the pipe as my own and not worry about any possible ghosting from the previous smoker. Then again, an estate pipe has history behind it, and depending on the brand and year, they’re better than what is currently on the market. I would’ve been happy with either pipe, but the budget limited my choice to just one. Decisions, decisions…

I ended up buying the estate Sasieni. I reasoned that I could probably find the Chacom later online if I looked hard enough. Currently, I’ve been focusing on collecting pipes in the Canadian family (Canadians, Liverpools, Lumbermans, etc), so I wanted an additional Canadian on my rack. What really stuck out to me about the Sasieni was the length of the stem. Though this is a Canadian pipe, it veers into Churchwarden territory. I’m not joking when I say that this pipe is massive, but it’s thankfully light as a feather. I had seen pipes in this style on ebay, but never had the opportunity to bid on one. Now that I had my chance, I wasn’t going to let it get away from me. A few minutes later, the pipe was in my bag.

With my pipe purchases complete, the next order of business was pipe tobacco. Luckily for me, Cornell & Diehl had a table at the show with a large selection of tins. Since I’m not sure when I can make another online order, I focused on two favorites that needed restocking: Black Frigate and Haunted Bookshop. For my last tin, it was a tough toss up between Sea Dog and Stovepipe Hat. I ended up going with Sea Dog, since PappyJoe on the thispipelife forums gave it a high recommendation. I made a note on my phone to add Stovepipe on my next order, though, as it sounds like a blend that would be right up my alley.

If I learned anything from the Chicago Pipe Show, it’s that no matter your budget, you’ll find a pipe in your price range. I’m not kidding when I say that most estate tables had plenty of pipes around $50 and under. Even if you can only afford to spend $20, there’s a briar with your name on it. That’s not even taking into consideration the tables for Missouri Meerschaum or Old Dominion, which had all kinds of corncob pipes (and clays in the case of Old Dominion). A new pipe smoker could easily spend $20 on a new cob and a tin of tobacco to try. So even if you don’t have a lot saved up in the bank account, you wont be disappointed with your options. I would suggest leaving the credit card at home, or there might be some explaining to do when the monthly bill comes in.

The other lesson I learned from the pipe show is the overall camaraderie among pipe smokers. Pipe smokers are a nerdy bunch, and once we’re together, we’ll chat with whoever will listen. Everywhere I looked in the dealer hall, people were grouped together, talking amongst themselves about the hobby. While looking at one table of unmarked briars, a fellow shopper walked up to me and gave his full recommendation of the pipes. While at another table, hosted by Paul’s Pipes in Flint, Michigan, the woman behind the counter gave me a friendly greeting and explained the process of how their pipes were carved. While I didn’t end up buying one of their pipes at that time, I’ll keep an eye on their products in the future, just from the pleasant interaction I had at the table.

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No other place at the Chicago Pipe Show exemplified the brotherhood between pipe smokers more than inside the smoking tent. Since smoking isn’t allowed indoors at the Pheasant Run Mega Center, the show staff have a tent set up outside for the show goers to smoke their pipes without causing any complaints. Here, pipers can sit around tables or in groups and discuss the finer things of the hobby.

After completing my shopping, I filled my new GBD Bulldog with 965, and ventured into the tent once my pipe was lit. I wandered into the tent and was greeted by a smoky haze. Many a pipe smoker sat around tables or in comfy chairs, smoking while engaged in lively conversations. Everyone was having a good time, laughing and swapping stories or talking about pipes and tobacco.

I wandered the tent for a bit, looking for anyone I recognized from Instagram, but alas, I did not, other than a few famous faces from the pipe world. I confess, social gatherings are not my strong suit, and I chose to stand back and observe. The last thing I wanted to do was walk up to a table, spin a chair around, and sit down with a “Yo, how’s it hangin’?” Once I finished my pipe, I got back into my car and headed home for the evening.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there, as I got in contact with PiperDave from the thispipelife forums. He was at the show, and wanted to know if I’d be at the show on Sunday. I hadn’t planned on it, but I’m always up for meeting fellow pipe smokers, so I changed my plans.

The next day, I met up with PiperDave and his brother, and we spent the next hour or so wandering the Mega Center, chatting about the pipe show. By mid-Sunday, most of the tables had packed up, or were in the process of closing down, but there were still a few tables open for purchasing. Still, we had a good time talking and discussing pipes and life. Dave was kind enough to give me two McClelland advertising posters, which is an honor now that they’ve left the pipe business. I still have to find a place to hang them up in the garage, but they will get displayed.

I said it earlier, but I’ll say it again— as thankful as I am for pipe forums, nothing beats talking pipes and tobacco face-to-face with another person. For many of us, we’re the only pipe smokers we know, so it’s important to take these opportunities when we can get them. The Chicago Pipe Show, and shows like it, gives pipers from around the country the chance to meet up and build friendships with fellow pipe smokers. By doing so, we strengthen our community and keep our hobby strong.

It’s been a few weeks since the pipe show, but I’m already planning on attending the 2019 show (2019… where has the decade gone?). If you live around the Chicago area and haven’t gone to one of the shows, I can’t recommend it enough. Even if you don’t, check around online and see if there’s a different pipe show close to you. Even after visiting different local pipe shops and pipe clubs, nothing compares to the experience of a pipe show. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Until next time, happy puffing,

-TheBadgerPiper

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