T’was the week before Christmas and all through the classroom, all the students were chattering, bemoaning their end of semester doom.
So thought Professor Donald MacBride as he made his quiet entrance into his classroom. The fifty-two year old professor came dressed in his usual tweed coat and trousers, the appropriate attire for a teacher in his opinion, though the Santa hat was a new addition for the festive occasion. Professor MacBride had a way of lightening the mood of his tough course with his subtle and dry sense of humor.
The young freshman class stood by or sat in their desks, chatting among themselves in excited tones. It was the first semester of college for the majority of the students, and while the semester was a grueling trial by fire for most of them, the ones who had made it to the end without dropping out were happy to wrap up their studies and head home for a well deserved holiday break.
For the past twenty-three years, Professor MacBride had the arduous task of teaching a motley crew of pre-seminary students English, a subject near and dear to his heart. The professor took his job seriously, as he considered his class the bedrock for all future classes at the university. After all, if a student couldn’t write a simple English paper, what hope did they have against more advanced classes? While the students all dreaded his critiques of their assignments, the professor knew the young scholars would appreciate his tough but fair remarks down the line.
Professor MacBride placed his leather laptop bag on the floor next to his podium and stood in front of the class. He took one long look at the eager students, as he did at the end of every semester. Over the course of the semester, he had the chance to meet and learn about each student through his or her work, which made the end of each course somewhat bittersweet. The professor cleared his throat, signaling class was about to begin, and the students quickly found their seats and turned their attention towards the man that held their final grade in the balance. MacBride took a long look at his class, chuckling to himself as many of the students had tell tale signs of pulling all-nighters to complete their final paper.
“Well, you’ve made it,” said Professor MacBride with a wry smile. “The last class of the semester. I bet some of you never thought this day would come, did you?” The class murmured amongst themselves in agreement, and the professor continued. “It might surprise to some, but it’s been my pleasure to get to know each and every one of you over the past few months. I hope that something I’ve taught in this class sticks with you as you continue on your educational journey.”
The professor reached into his bag and pulled out an old, worn book, and held it in his hands. “There’s not much to teach you today, and you’ve all—hopefully— submitted your papers by now, so I’ll keep things short and read to you an appropriate passage from a favorite mine. Then you can all run off and finish cramming for any finals you have left. Does that sound good, eh?”
The class cheered the prospect of an early dismissal, and MacBride obliged by opening his copy of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Over the next few minutes, the students listened as Professor MacBride gave a lively reading of Father Christmas’s return to Narnia.
Once the Professor finished his reading, he closed the book with a snap and stuffed the novel in his coat pocket. “Alright then, a Merry Christmas to you all. For some, I’ll see you next semester in English II, and for the rest of you, you won’t be able to escape my classes forever. Class dismissed.”
The students stood up from their desks with great enthusiasm and collected their bags. The Professor stood by his podium as a stream of students filed past, wishing MacBride a merry Christmas as they went. A few of the students took their time in leaving, and chatted with the Professor before leaving. Some asked questions about when they could expect to get their paper back, while others asked some preliminary questions about what they should expect for English II.
Before long, the class was empty, save for the lone professor. MacBride grabbed his laptop bag and slowly made his way out of the classroom. While the course work was over for his students, MacBride still had over thirty papers to review, critique, and grade for this class alone. He also had papers to grade from other classes that already ended, and if he didn’t get to work on them, MacBride knew his email inbox would be flooded with an avalanche of emails from an angry mob, demanding their grades for the semester.
Professor MacBride’s office sat at the other side of the campus, but the professor didn’t mind the walk, as it allowed him to enjoy a pipe before reaching the building. MacBride pulled out his trusty bent Aran Peterson 03 and packed it with his favorite tobacco, Gawith & Hoggarth’s Chocolate Flake. MacBride lit his pipe at the building entrance and began his walk, with a steady puff of smoke trailing behind him. Despite it being mid-December, the weather proved quite mild and the perfect pipe smoking weather. MacBride didn’t get far though before he heard his name called behind him.
MacBride turned around and saw one of his students from the previous class jogging up towards him. The professor smiled and waited for the young man to join him.
“Colin, how can I help you?” asked the professor.
The student reached the professor and joined right beside him. “I didn’t get the chance to talk to you after class,” said Colin. “I had to ask Jason a couple of questions for the final in another class. By the time I made it back, you were gone.”
“Ah, well I’m glad to see you managed to catch me,” replied the professor in a warm tone. “I quite enjoyed having you in my class this semester, and I’m looking forward to reading your paper.”
Colin Knight was one of the quieter students in MacBride’s class, only speaking up when he was sure he knew the answer. The shaggy blond young man wasn’t one of the star pupils in class, and didn’t write the best papers, but what Colin lacked in polish, he more than made up with enthusiasm and attentiveness. Besides, for the professor, he would rather have a class of Colin’s than know-it-alls. The professor enjoyed watching Colin grow from the clean-shaven, shy freshman, to the scruffy beard-wearing student that stood before him.
“Thanks Professor,” said Colin. “I learned a lot from you this semester. I loved the reading you did in class today. The Narnia series was one of my favorites growing up. You even kind of remind me of Lewis, especially with your pipes.”
“I’ll take that compliment,” chuckled Professor MacBride with a puff. “Though sadly I lack his accent and brilliant mind.”
“Don’t we all,” agreed Colin. “Do you have any plans for Christmas?”
“Grading about eighty papers or so over the next few days, so that will keep me busy,” said the Professor. “Other than that, Christmas dinner with my wife. My daughter and her family will see us for New Years. How about yourself?”
“Oh, nothing exciting really,” answered Colin with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’ll probably get a lot of reading done, rest up for the next semester.”
“Sounds like my kind of break,” replied MacBride wistfully, recalling his own Christmas breaks in college. “Nothing like a good bit of relaxed reading after a semester full of required reading and writing papers.”
“That it will be,” agreed Colin. The young man paused for a moment, looking as though he had a question to ask the professor, and was debating on whether he should say it or not. Thinking better of it, Colin smiled again and said, “Well, Merry Christmas Professor, and I’ll see you next semester.”
“You too, Colin,” said the Professor, before adding, “and safe travels to you.”
Colin waved to the professor and watched MacBride continue his walk back to his office. The young man let out a sigh as he shook his head, placed his hands in his coat pockets, and headed back towards his dorm room to study for his next final.
Upon reaching his office, Professor MacBride stood outside the building as he finished the last of his pipe. It had been years since the professor had the ability to enjoy his pipe inside his office, due to the draconian anti-smoking laws placed by the state. Donald MacBride often daydreamed of teaching in earlier decades, where smoking a pipe at University was not only commonplace, but also a respectable image of scholarly pursuits. Now in recent times, the pipe-smoking professor was seen as an eccentric, even if he often was given compliments about the aroma from his pipe.
After tapping the bowl of his pipe against the rubber heel of his shoe, MacBride pocketed his pipe and entered the administration building that housed his office. The building was a mixture of frantic professors and staff finishing up the last day of classes, and empty rooms of those fortunate enough to head home early. MacBride guessed he would most likely end up being one of the last to leave for the day, and took his time walking to his office.
Walking up to the second floor, the hall seemed emptier than the first, which the professor didn’t mind. The silence meant the professor could get a jump on grading papers without any distractions interrupting his work.
As MacBride walked down the hall, he paused in front of one office door near his. Unlike the other offices on the floor, the nameplate was absent on the front of the door. The room had once belonged to his good friend Owen Conley, Professor of Biblical History, but now the office laid dormant, soon to be occupied by a new professor in the upcoming semester.
Even though MacBride walked past Professor Conley’s office every day for the past semester, due to it being Christmastime, Donald felt the urge to open the door and take a moment’s pause to think about his dear friend. The professor opened the door and stepped inside, and took a deep breath as he stood in the middle of the room.
Only a few months prior, the office had been stuffed to the brim with countless old books, atlases, maps, photos, reference books, and an odd assortment of items, artifacts, and antiques Professor Conley collected over his many years travelling abroad. The items would still be there today had Professor Conley not passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack only a few weeks before the semester began. The old professor was only two years shy of hitting his eighties, so at least the kind, old gentleman enjoyed a long life before leaving this world. A university staff member had found the professor late one night when he didn’t return home for dinner; face down in one of his books, a learner to the very end. MacBride was away on vacation when he heard the news, and he bitterly blamed himself for being gone when it happened.
“Maybe I could’ve been there talking to him when it happened,” MacBride said to his wife after he got off the phone when he heard the news. “I could’ve done something.”
Sheryl, MacBride’s ever patient wife, hugged the distraught professor and replied, “Or you could’ve been the one to find him after he passed. Then you’d still be blaming yourself.”
Donald knew his wife was right, but he couldn’t shake the thought. MacBride helped out in the clean up efforts, packing up his old friend’s things after the funeral. During the cleaning, Conley’s wife Judy gave MacBride a few of her late husband’s things, including Owen’s old pipe rack and pipes he kept on his desk.
“He’d want you to have them,” Judy said, as MacBride held the box of pipes and rack. “The times he spent with you talking while smoking your pipes were some of his most cherished moments.”
They weren’t just Owen’s cherished moments, but MacBride’s as well. Donald could remember the first day he arrived at the university as a young professor with his things. As MacBride was busy setting his books in order, his nose picked up the distinct aroma of Amphora pipe tobacco. Turning around, he spotted the history professor, then roughly around MacBride’s age. The bearded and genial professor puffed his Sasieni billiard and extended his hand.
“You must be the new English professor, welcome,” said Conley as he shook Donald’s hand. The history professor spotted a pipe on MacBride’s desk and his eyes twinkled with a gleam that is shared between two pipe men after stumbling across another likeminded soul. “Ah, my senses were correct. I hoped I’d find another pipe smoker waiting for me once I learned we were getting a new English professor.”
Donald chuckled as he picked up his pipe, “You guessed correctly, though we English professors are sadly a bit predictable on that front. It’s practically a requirement to smoke a pipe by the time you graduate.”
“The same is true about history majors,” agreed Conley as he tamped his pipe. “Can’t trust a history professor that doesn’t own at least one pipe.”
The two shared a laugh and immediately dove into all the important questions one asks when meeting a new friend—favorite pipes and tobacco. Other less imperative questions, such as spouses and children came later as Professor Conley helped MacBride set his office up until it felt like home.
While Professor Conley was quite a few years MacBride’s senior, the two became close over a short period of time, with the history professor acting as a mentor to MacBride through his first year teaching. MacBride remembered one fateful night the two were together at the local tobacco shop—The Fox’s Study, puffing their pipes as MacBride unburdened his frustrations to his trusted friend.
“I don’t understand it,” complained MacBride as he blew out a match and tossed it into the tin bowl ashtray before them. “They’re going to use everything I teach them for the rest of their lives, yet they treat my class as an obstacle rather than the valuable tool that it is. The next time I look up from my lesson plan and see the dull expressions on their face, I’m walking out.” MacBride let out a huff and puffed for a moment before adding, “that would certainly get their attention.”
Conley nodded sagely as he sipped his briar, thinking for a moment before leaning forward in his leather chair. “Yes, that is a challenge. I’ve had my share of disinterested students in my time. Tell me, do you engage them at their level?”
MacBride scoffed and said, “I mean, I ask them questions and try to keep them involved.”
“Yes, good, but do you give them a reason to engage with what you’re teaching?” replied Conley. “Spend some time and get to know them and their interests. Tailor your lessons around the things that get them excited to learn. They’ve been beaten to death by their high school English classes and forced to think a certain way. Give them the chance to think for themselves and use their minds, rather than just parroting what they’ve always been told. They’ll need it if they want to understand Scripture, and while you might not be teaching a Bible or theology class, you can start them on the path to critical thinking.”
MacBride pondered the history professor’s advice quietly for a moment, before slowly nodding in agreement. “I hadn’t thought about it that way. That does give me a few ideas to get their brains working.”
The two spent the rest of the evening brainstorming a new approach for MacBride, and by the time they left for the night MacBride felt the excitement to teach return once more. While it took some retooling and some out of the box thinking, by the next semester, MacBride felt like he had a good grasp on how to be effective as a teacher to his students. Without Conley’s advice, MacBride felt certain he wouldn’t have lasted teaching at the university.
The English professor closed Conley’s old door behind him, and shuffled slowly to his own office. MacBride fell back into his desk chair and opened his assignment inbox to grade papers. The professor stared at the computer screen for a few minutes, lamenting the loss of his good friend.
I’ll never have a friend like Owen in my life again, thought MacBride sadly. But still, I’m better for knowing him, and his memory lives on in my teaching and me.
MacBride bowed his head for a moment and said a prayer of thanks for Owen Conley’s influence in his life. I hope that one day, I can do the same for someone else, he thought, before opening the first assignment in the dock.
By the time 4:00 PM came around, MacBride felt he had done enough paper grading for the moment and stretched in his chair. The professor managed grading a decent chunk of papers for the afternoon, and decided he needed a good pipe or two at home with a good book to unwind before taking another crack at his workload. In years past, MacBride would go along with Professor Conley to their local tobacco shop, The Fox’s Study, and celebrate the end of a successful semester. However, with Conley now gone, the professor had no desire to go back there and continue the tradition without his friend. Besides, MacBride was fortunate enough to be able to smoke a pipe in his home, and the professor wouldn’t have to subject himself with another reminder of his friend’s passing.
As expected upon walking outside, the university seemed like a ghost town, a stark contrast to the frantic bustle earlier in the day with students hurrying to wrap up their finals for the semester. Most of the lights in the dormitory windows were dark, and trickles of packed cars were departing the parking lot for a long drive home. MacBride hoped the students leaving were able to catch up on their sleep before the drive, as nothing put a damper on holiday festivities than hearing that one of the students had been in an unfortunate wreck on their way home.
MacBride made his way into his car and started the short drive home with the local radio playing Christmas songs. The professor tried to take his mind of off things and slip into autopilot for the ride home, singing along to the merry holiday tunes. As the final refrain of “Jingle Bell Rock” faded, a new song began playing on the stereo, a folksy cover of “Auld Lang Syne”. MacBride found himself humming along to the music and joined in the initial verses of the song.
“Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And days of long ago!”
The professor caught himself before finishing the last part of the first verse and stopped as his voice croaked and gave out. MacBride was not one to cry while listening to music, and while this time was no exception, the professor felt a lump in his throat as his car stopped at a red light. The professor pondered what Conley would say to him if he could sit next to him at that moment.
Oh, give it a rest, Donny boy, MacBride imagined his friend saying. Do you think I’d go home feeling sorry for myself if you were gone? The season for mourning is over. Go to The Fox’s Study, get yourself a good blend, and smoke it in memory of all those good times we had. That’s what I’d be doing if I were you.
MacBride sighed and gripped the steering wheel of his car as the traffic light turned green. Even in MacBride’s imagination, Conley always knew the right thing to say during times like these. As much as he didn’t want to be around people tonight, the professor switched his right blinker on and turned towards The Fox’s Study.
The tobacco shop wasn’t too far of a drive from campus, which made it a convenient getaway when the professor needed a place to unwind. Professor Conley had introduced MacBride to the Study shortly after their introduction, and the two gentlemen enjoyed countless hours smoking their pipes while engaged in lively discussion. The professor hadn’t made as many trips to the tobacco shop during the semester, as without Conley by his side, it didn’t feel the same. MacBride mainly smoked his pipe at home or walking on campus instead, only stopping at the shop to purchase more pipe tobacco for his cellar. Still, MacBride felt enjoying a pipe at the Study around Christmas would be a nice way to remember his dear friend.
As MacBride pulled into the Study’s parking lot, he noticed a number of university parking stickers in the back of a few of the vehicles. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise, given how close the shop was to the university. A number of students and faculty enjoyed the luxury of fine tobacco, and one of the young men staffing the Study had been in his English class.
The Fox’s Study was as fine of a tobacco shop as one could ask for when looking to smoke a pipe. The building had been built in the 1920’s, and looked like an old Tutor building had been shipped over from England and planted in the ground. The exterior walls were painted white, with wood crisscrossed in an eye-appealing pattern. A wooden sign hung from the front entrance of a fox dressed in a waistcoat, his nose in a book as smoke curled from the clay pipe clenched in his jaw. As MacBride wandered towards the door with his book in hand, he could hear the sounds of men inside laughing and engaged in lively conversation.
As soon as MacBride stepped into the Study, his nose was hit with the distinct aroma of cigars and the occasional whiff of pipe tobacco. The smoke filled tobacco shop had many different leather seats and couches for patrons to sit and enjoy their tobacco. In the middle of the room, the university football coach sat with some of his staff, all with cigars in hand as they celebrated another excitement filled season. A few other gentlemen of varying age all sat in different areas of the shop, each minding their own business or having a chat with their neighbor over their tobacco of choice.
The Study had an ample selection of briar pipes lining the wall, with a well-stocked selection of pipe tobacco tins and jars of bulk blends for picking. While the shop had a fully stocked humidor of cigars, the shop never waivered in keeping their focus centered on pipes and pipe tobacco. MacBride headed over towards the collection of pipe tobacco and grabbed a pouch of the shop’s premier house English blend, Sherwood Archer. As MacBride took the pouch up to the counter, he greeted his old student Matthew Jarvis, who was working the register. The bearded young man’s eye brightened when he saw MacBride and greeted his old teacher.
“Professor, good to see ya,” said Matthew as he rang up the pouch of tobacco. “Haven’t seen you around lately.”
“Good to see you, too, Matthew,” said MacBride pulled out his wallet. “The semester has kept me pretty busy, but my wife’s busy working the church Christmas play for tomorrow, so I thought I could get away and enjoy a pipe.” The professor glanced back at the coach and his companions and added, “it’s a bit busier here this afternoon than I expected, with it so close to Christmas.”
“Tell me about it,” replied Matthew. “It’s been like this all day. I’ve had a lot of people coming in for some last minute shopping gifts, and Terry has me busy restocking the shelves to make sure we don’t run low on anything.” As Matthew took the professor’s $10 bill, he added, “I’m glad you’re here actually. I had a student from the university stop in to buy his first pipe. I tried to give him some tips on how to pack and smoke it, but with how busy it’s been I didn’t get the chance to show him like I usually do. If you get the chance, do you mind keeping an eye on him if he needs help?”
The professor smiled politely and nodded, “Ah, another one joins the fold, eh? Well, I can see what I can do and give some pointers if he needs it.” Truthfully, MacBride preferred to stick his nose in his book, but the professor felt honor bound to help out any young man that decided to take up a pipe.
“Thanks professor,” said Matthew as he handed the pouch and receipt back to MacBride. “I think he’s sitting over by your usual spot.”
MacBride and Matthew wished each other a Merry Christmas, and the professor made his way through the shop towards his favorite sitting spot. MacBride and Conley had made it a habit of sitting at the two leather chairs in the back, facing a fireplace that unfortunately was rarely used. The two professors had joked to each other that the chairs had permanently formed to their bodies, given how often the two sat in the same spots. As MacBride reached the two chairs, he stopped in his tracks upon recognizing the young man sitting in Conley’s old chair.
Colin Knight sat with his back turned to MacBride; unaware his professor was observing him at that very moment. The young man had the usual items found in a pipe smoking starter kit laid out on the coffee table in front of the chairs, with a Czech tool, a box of matches, a pouch of tobacco, and a basket billiard briar pipe. Colin didn’t even notice the professor coming up behind him, as he was so absorbed in the process of filling his pipe. The young man was looking at his phone, reading a step-by-step guide on how to smoke a pipe, but the process hadn’t been going well, indicated by the bits of pipe tobacco scattered around his briar. Still Colin appeared undaunted by the frustration, and tried stuffing the tobacco into his pipe once more for another attempt.
MacBride couldn’t help but grin as he watched Colin fumble around with his billiard. The professor recalled the day he learned how to smoke a pipe and the excitement he felt in learning the art of the briar. MacBride was a bit younger than Colin then, but not by much. As a senior in High School, MacBride went to a local pipe shop with his father one fateful Saturday afternoon. Earlier in the day, MacBride’s father declared that his son was now a man, and needed a pipe to look the part. His father let MacBride choose his first pipe from the shop’s rack, one within reason of course, as well as his first pipe tobacco. Afterwards, his father spent some time showing MacBride how to properly fill and light his pipe, and how to smoke it without coughing up a lung. That afternoon, father and son smoked their pipes together, leaving a memory that would last a lifetime for both.
Few would understand the specialness of one’s first time smoking a pipe, and MacBride wanted to make sure Colin would always remember this moment fondly. After all, MacBride believed pipe smoking should be learned from someone else, rather than being in the unfortunate situation of attempting it alone.
The professor pulled out his Savinelli 320 KS and held it in his hand as he stepped silently next to Colin. The young man noticed someone standing beside him, and glanced up at MacBride with a look of surprise.
“Colin, my good man, what a surprise,” said MacBride with a friendly smile. “I didn’t expect to find you here. I would’ve expected you to be on your way home for break.”
“Professor, hi, I—uh,” said Colin as his thoughts trailed off, clearly still taken aback by his professor’s appearance. “I decided to give myself an early Christmas present and buy a pipe.”
“Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place,” replied MacBride as he sat down in the chair next to Colin. “I’ve been coming here since I started teaching at the university. I’ve spent many an evening with my pipe here.” The professor placed his pipe and tobacco pouch on the table and leaned on the arm of his chair. “Tell me, what drew you to picking up a pipe?”
Colin smiled sheepishly and glanced back at his brown briar, “Well, I’ve always been a fan of Lewis and Tolkien, so that first got me interested. But if I’m being honest, it was smelling your pipe whenever I passed by you on campus. I’d been thinking about it since September, and decided I wanted to give it a go myself.”
“You’ll have to forgive me for being a bad influence then,” joked MacBride. “But I’m happy to see you take an interest in it.” The professor eyed Colin’s pipe and added, “Mind if I have a look at it?”
Colin’s eyes brightened as he quickly picked up his pipe and handed it to the professor. “Sure!” MacBride picked up the billiard and gave it a look over, spotting the Rossi name stamped at the bottom of the pipe. “It doesn’t compare to your pipes, but I thought it was a nice one.”
“It seems like it,” agreed MacBride as he turned the pipe over in his hands. “One thing you’ll come to learn as you continue your journey is that it’s not how beautiful a pipe looks, but how well it smokes. From the looks of it, this one will suit you just fine.”
The young man seemed pleased and relieved at MacBride’s words and took back his pipe from his professor. MacBride leaned over and looked at the pouch of tobacco Colin purchased for his initial smoke. Thankfully, Colin had skipped some of the goopy aromatics that the shop sold, and instead purchased Sir Gawain’s Oath, a light English blend with a touch of Vanilla Cavendish that MacBride felt was suitable for a new piper.
“Now then, let the lesson begin,” said MacBride as he opened his pouch. “After all, what use is a pipe and tobacco if you can’t smoke it, eh? By the time we’re finished, you’ll be a pro at it.”
MacBride slipped into professor mode and walked Colin through how to pack his pipe, demonstrating with his own as Colin followed along and filled his. The young man eagerly copied MacBride’s instructions, with the professor giving his approval. Once the pipes were filled, MacBride then demonstrated to his pipe pupil how to light his pipe, as well as the proper way to puff his briar. The two completed the false light and tamped the burnt tobacco down, before moving to the true light. Colin copied the professor’s slow circular match movements over the bowl as he gave long puffs to pull the flame down. It didn’t take long before Colin reclined in his armchair, puffing along with MacBride proudly with his pipe.
MacBride smiled as he watched Colin contently smoking his pipe like a natural and said, “Well, young man, you’re a pipe smoker now. Is it everything you imagined?”
“It is, and more,” agreed Colin. “It feels right, like I was meant to be one.”
“The pipe has a way of calling people to it,” replied MacBride as he stared into the empty fireplace. “Stick with it lad, and you’ll experience a lifetime of enjoyment from it.”
Colin chuckled at the comment and added, “I can already hear the comments my friends will tell me once they get back from break. They’ll probably make fun of me for it, but I don’t care.”
“Will your parents say anything about it when you go home?” inquired MacBride. Colin let out a long sigh and sank more into his armchair, with a look of melancholy on his face. MacBride noticed the change in Colin and shifted in his chair, leaning on the arm. “Not well I take it?”
“No, it’s not that,” said Colin as he tamped his pipe. “I’m not exactly on good terms with them at the moment. We got into a fight over the summer when they found out I wanted to go here for school, rather than the local state University. My dad said it was a waste of money, and that he wouldn’t support me if I enrolled here. But I knew where I was called, and wouldn’t let them talk me out of it.” Colin puffed his pipe and held it in front of him, watching the smoke curl from the brown briar bowl. “I haven’t spoken to him since. I’ve called my mom here and there just to know I’m alright, but that’s it.”
MacBride frowned and nodded in understanding. “That must’ve been a difficult choice.”
“I’m at peace about it,” replied Colin with a shrug of his shoulders. “But because of it all, I decided to stay here for Christmas break. Sure, it’ll be empty in the dorms, but I can work my janitorial shift to keep me busy, and I have my books as well as this pipe now.” The young man gave MacBride a slight smile and said, “I’ll survive.”
MacBride let his pipe hang from his jaw as he scratched the beard hair on his chin. The professor always had the support of his parents in his academic pursuits, and couldn’t imagine having to go through college without their guidance and love. MacBride’s mind went back to all those classes he taught Colin, and how the young man went above and beyond the others in his class, even when he struggled with the assignments. Even in the face of all these difficulties, Colin remained positive and determined in following his path. Even in smoking a pipe, the young man pursued the briar and would’ve kept at it, even if the professor hadn’t been there. But perhaps, reasoned the professor, he was meant to be here this night at The Fox’s Study to help the young man, not just to show him how to smoke a pipe, but something more?
“Tell me lad, what is it that you want to do with your life,” asked Professor MacBride pointedly. “Even if you don’t know what exactly it is?”
“Well, that’s a good question,” answered Colin as he struck a match to relight his pipe. Once the young man got his pipe going again, he continued, “I’m a Biblical Languages major, and I want to work in translating the Bible into other languages. I want everyone to have the capability to read the Word in their own language, and maybe clean up existing translations. I became a Christian in my junior year of high school after reading the Bible for myself on a lark. I’d like to give that opportunity to others who don’t have a Bible available to them.”
MacBride nodded in approval, “A worthy goal, and one I think you’ll reach one day. I can see it in you just by talking to you.” The professor went quiet for a moment as he thought some more, and chuckled to himself before adding, “You’ll want a good foundation in English to reach that goal, and I’ll aid you in those endeavors.”
“You would, Professor?” asked Colin in a surprised tone.
“I would, and please, call me Don,” answered MacBride with a smile. “We’re both men and outside the classroom. Besides, after sharing a pipe together, we’re brothers of the briar, and brothers in Christ.” The professor straightened himself in his chair and pointed his pipe stem at the young man. “And another thing, you won’t be spending Christmas alone in the dormitory. I’d like to invite you over to my home and celebrate with my wife and I.”
Colin seemed taken aback by MacBride’s words, and fumbled an appropriate response. “Professor, I do—, sorry, Don, I would love to join you, but I don’t want to intrude on your—.”
The professor waved his arm nonchalantly as he puffed his pipe. “Nonsense, my wife would love the extra company. Christmas Day hasn’t been the same for her since our sons moved out and started their own family traditions. And it’ll give me a chance to enjoy an after Christmas dinner pipe with you in the study.” The professor leaned closer and said in a quieter tone, “and an excuse to get out of doing the dishes.”
The young man shifted awkwardly in his seat, fumbling with his pipe as he thought over the professor’s offer. After mulling it over for a minute, Colin had his answer.
“If it’s no trouble, then I’d be happy to join you,” replied Colin. The young man grinned and added, “but only if you’ll show me your pipe collection while I’m there.”
Professor MacBride let out the first good laugh he had since Professor Conley’s passing and replied, “That’s the spirit, lad. Before you know it, you’ll be the pipe guru on campus.”
Before either man knew it, Christmas day had arrived. Holding true to his word, Colin arrived at the MacBride’s home in the early afternoon. The professor introduced his pupil to his wife Sheryl, and the two spent a good part before dinner chatting as the three worked together to put on Christmas dinner. As MacBride expected, Sheryl took a liking to Colin, and appreciated having someone over to make Christmas feel like a family event again. As an extrovert and a natural conversationalist, Sheryl made Colin feel right at home and all thoughts of missing Christmas with his parents slipped far from his mind.
For a man surviving on university cafeteria food, Christmas dinner tasted like a slice of heaven for Colin. The Christmas steaks, mashed potatoes, candied yams topped with marshmallows, freshly steamed broccoli, and black-eyed peas were a welcome change from Colin’s expected Christmas dinner of shrimp ramen in a cup. Sheryl even packed leftovers for the young man to take back with him, a true smorgasbord of delights for any college student scraping to get by. The dinner topped off with a slice of cherry cheesecake, home baked early that morning. Colin was certain he gained his freshman fifteen from that meal alone, but oh, was it worth it.
After dinner, Sheryl dismissed her husband and Colin to the study as she fixed up the kitchen, though with a warning to Donald that he should expect his share of the dishes waiting for him once the festivities were over. Professor MacBride poured Colin a cup of coffee, and an Irish coffee for himself, and lead the young man upstairs to the top floor, where the professor kept his study.
To Colin, the professor’s study was everything the young man could’ve wanted if he ever had a study of his own. Multiple bookshelves lined the walls on every side, each one crammed to the brim with books and novels. An old antique desk, complete with ink quill set, sat in the back of the study with a window behind it, so the professor could look out into his backyard if he needed a change of scenery. The desk and shelves had various souvenirs and trinkets from MacBride’s travels, such as a beer stein from Germany, a bodhrán and tin whistle from Ireland, a toy soldier set of Highlanders from Scotland, a metal replica of Notre Dame of how it looked before it’s tragic fire, a Venetian party mask from Italy, a deerstalker and calabash pipe from England, and a Russian nesting doll set.
What captured Colin’s attention most of all, of course, was the corner next to the professor’s desk where he kept his pipes and tobacco. Pipe racks lined an entire bookshelf, with many pipes of various sizes, shapes, and materials proudly displayed for all to see. The bookshelf next to it contained many tins and jars of pipe tobacco ripe for opening and filling of one’s pipe. Two old armchairs sat next to the shelves, with a stand in the middle with a large ashtray and two pipe rests, perfect for two men to sit down and smoke their pipes as they talked. Colin stared at it all with wide eyes, like a kid in a candy store, and took his time looking at them all.
“I’m fortunate my wife doesn’t come up here often,” remarked MacBride as he plucked a rusticated Peterson bulldog from his rack. “If I know she’s coming up for a visit, I cover the pipes up with a sheet.” The professor added in a low tone, “it limits the chance for awkward conversations, but you’ll understand that one day if you get married.”
“If I end up with a fraction of this size, I’ll be a happy man,” replied Colin as he admired a bent meerschaum pipe carved into the shape of a lion’s head.
“You’d be surprised at how quickly they amass over time,” warned MacBride with a chuckle and a wink. “They’ll multiply in your collection like rabbits before you know it.”
The two moved over to the bookshelf with pipe tobacco, and the professor passed the jar of Bob’s Chocolate Flake to Colin. The young man produced a corncob pipe that he bought from The Fox’s Study, and the two filled their pipes with the Lakeland blend. Soon, their pipes were alight, and MacBride began taking pipes off his rack and explaining how he came across each one. Attentive as ever, Colin listened eagerly to the professor like the whole chat was a class lecture, asking questions when they came to him.
As their pipes neared the end of their bowls, Professor MacBride walked over towards his desk and opened one of the top drawers. To Colin’s surprise, MacBride produced a small, wrapped rectangular box and handed it to the young man.
“Now this one has a special story behind it,” said MacBride as he sat back in his chair. “It belonged to an old friend of mine, Professor Owen Conley. He passed away a few weeks before you started classes, but I’m sure he would’ve taken a liking to you. He always did with students that showed initiative.”
Colin had a dumbfounded look on his face as he eyed the wrapped present in his hands. “I don’t know what to say. I didn’t think I’d be getting a gift today. I don’t have anything for you.”
“Think nothing of it,” replied MacBride with a hand wave. “As you can see, I’m certainly not lacking in pipes, and that B you earned on your final paper was good enough for me.” The professor paused before adding, “Though we’ll work on you getting an A on your final paper in my class next semester.”
After being reassured by MacBride’s words, Colin slid his finger over the scotch tape and unwrapped the box. Colin lifted the top of the box off, revealing a closed velvet black bag and a note at the bottom of the box which read To help you on long nights translating – Don.
Colin opened the black bag and pulled out a straight apple Parker pipe. The pipe had a smooth brown finish, and the rim of the pipe still had traces of scorch marks from when Conley last used it.
“Don’t worry, I sanitized it so it’s ready for smoking,” said MacBride has he emptied his bulldog into the ashtray. “I have plenty of his pipes, so don’t feel like you’re taking my only one.”
Colin moved the pipe around in his hands over and over, admiring the simple details of the pipe. The young man looked up at his professor with a sincere and appreciative look.
“I can’t thank you enough professor,” said Colin as he clutched the pipe close. “Last week, I thought for sure I’d be spending a lonely Christmas in my room, thinking about everything I was missing out on back at home. But because of the kindness you and your wife showed me today, I lack for nothing and gained all I could’ve hoped for.”
“Truthfully, I should be the one thanking you,” replied MacBride, looking up at the picture on his wall of himself standing next to Conley outside Oxford College from a trip gone by. “I thought I’d be spending this Christmas morning the loss of my friend. But thanks to you, I’ve found a reason to celebrate this year.”
The two chatted long into the night, enjoying a pipe of kindness for times gone by, and many times to come. Over the next semester, Colin spent many nights at The Fox’s Study with Professor MacBride. Over the following weeks, other students and a professor or two joined them, each wanting to try pipe smoking for themselves. The small group soon grew into their own pipe club, one which Professor MacBride still leads happily to this day. And it was all thanks to a Christmas that neither Professor Donald MacBride nor Colin Knight would forget for as long as they lived.
While this Christmas might be an odd one for each of us, I hope that each and every one of you find joy and good cheer this year. I appreciate the brotherhood and friendship each of you bring me, and give me a reason to keep writing about this hobby of ours. May you go into 2021 with good health, happiness, and pleasant pipe smoking.