It’s a blustery autumn morning this Saturday as I sit out in the garage, the wind rattling the garage door in steady intervals. My Neerup bent Acorn is firmly clenched in my teeth with a constant stream of smoke billowing from its bowl. I smile as the smoke curls and fades in front of me, happy that I have these quiet moments to slow down from the hustle and bustle of life to pause, reflect, and think. I consider myself fortunate to have taken up the long tradition of pipe smoking, a hobby currently looked down upon by society. They don’t understand the comfort and pleasure the pipe can bring to a weary soul, and for most of my life, I was one of them.
See for many years I resisted the pull of the call of the pipe. See, growing up, I was raised in a household that looked down upon smoking. This excludes my father, who’s been a cigarette smoker for the majority of his life. Because of this, and with how I was raised, I had a very low opinion of smoking. The church denomination I grew up in considered smoking a sin, and I did not want to endanger my salvation. Plus, watching my father struggle with his addiction, I did not want to end up in the same position as him. As a result, I wanted nothing to do with smoking. I hated the smell of cigarettes and cigars, and figured that was the end of it.
But pipes were a different matter. Despite my dislike of smoking, there was something different about smoking a pipe. I grew up in the 80’s and the 90’s; so encountering pipe smokers in the wild was a rarity. Yet when I would see one, I couldn’t help but watch entranced as they passed by, contently puffing away on their pipe. I’d smile when I’d come across a pipe smoker in a book I was reading, or in an old film I’d watch. I distinctly remember watching The Neverending Story as a kid and seeing the old bookstore keeper smoking his pipe, and telling Bastian all about the strange book that would change his life with a haze of pipe smoke around them. Though it was just a small role, a part of me wanted to be like him, bestowing adventures on others as I puffed my pipe.
Picture from The Neverending Story taken from bookriot.com
While I was a teenager in the late 90’s, one day out of boredom I used some ancient search engine and went scouring for information on pipe smoking. Here I stumbled upon pipes.org and the long running Pipes Digest archives. The Digest ran for a long time, from the late 80’s through occasional updates in the 00’s. I sat with my eyes glued on the computer screen and read tales of others who decided to take up the pipe, new blends that they discovered, and general pipe knowledge. I only read the archives for about a week before deciding that I didn’t want my parents to find out, so I left it alone. Yet those stories stuck with me, and I never forgot the Pipe Digest.
After college, every once and awhile I’d go snooping on pipe forums out of general curiosity. It had been over a decade since I last looked at the digest, and my interest had been piqued once again. I still believed that I could never take up the pipe, and the lurking stayed on a “look but don’t touch” basis. I even went back and read though the entire archive of the pipes digest.
Then I ran into the forum that smacked me upside the head and changed my perspective on pipe smoking forever. While scrolling through one of the forums one morning, my eyes fell upon a link to the Christian Pipe Smokers message board. I arched a disbelieving eyebrow at the blue hyperlink. Christian pipe smokers? What kind of craziness is this? I wondered. Were my eyes deceiving me? I had just woken up after all. But there it was in front of me, clear as day. I dove right in and began searching around with general curiosity. It seemed like a popular forum with hundreds of members who had joined the community. Was there a chance I’d find the answers I was looking for?
I spent a year and a half lurking on the forum, checking it every day and reading the archives. In that time I found that while most members were members of denominations that didn’t forbid smoking, there were others that originally had the same concerns I did, but found there was nothing sinful about smoking a pipe. I heard about great Christian men who were sentinels of the faith that smoked pipes and cigars, and found the hobby a gift from God. I saw the genuine faith and camaraderie among this brotherhood appealing, encouraged that I wasn’t reading about a community of backsliders.
I know my inner struggle must seem silly for someone who doesn’t share the same faith or views that I hold, but my faith is important to me and comes first in my life. I didn’t want to disappoint God, but I also didn’t want to hold legalistic views that would keep me from things that are acceptable in life.
After a year and a half of weighing my options, I came to a few conclusions. First, pipe smoking wasn’t a sin. While I needed to be respectful around others who struggled with smoking, there was nothing evil about it. Second, while pipe smoking isn’t the healthiest hobby, it’s not in the same category as cigarettes. The pipe smoker isn’t subjugated to addiction like the cigarette smoker, and I felt at ease reading that the pipe smokers who regaled their experience with the hobby took breaks without any sort of craving. The pipe smoker engages the pipe because they enjoy it. Finally, the pipe smoker was happy and content with their hobby, relishing the quiet time they had to relax, unwind, and smoke their pipe.
One day in January 2012, while reading the Christian Pipe Smokers forum while putting off some schoolwork at Starbucks, I decided that enough was enough. I wasn’t content to just read about pipe smoking anymore, I wanted to take up pipe smoking. I was turning thirty in less than two years, and time was slipping by me. I didn’t want to be an old man, take up the hobby, and regret not having picked it up years ago. But before I took the plunge, had one more obstacle to face. I wanted to clear the decision with my wife first before I ran out and bought a pipe. There are many men who would say I should just make my own decisions, regardless what my wife thinks, but she’s both my partner and my best friend, and it was important to me that she was on board with it.
That evening I picked my wife up from work and drove our hour-long commute home. I struggled following our usually lively chat about the events of the day, my mind racing about the inevitable question I was about to ask. There would be a break in conversation, and I’d psyche myself up to ask her, only to chicken out a moment later. As we neared the end of our ride, I knew I had to just get it over and ask or I’d always regret it. I took a deep breath, and dumbly stammered through the question that had been on the forefront of my mind the entire ride.
“So, uh, I was, uh, wondering if you’d be okay if I, uh, took up pipe smoking as a hobby?”
There was a short pause, and she replied a moment later.
“Sure, I would be okay with that.”
I couldn’t believe it. I thought my wife would be okay with taking up the pipe, but it was completely different to hear her actually say it. I spent the evening explaining to her what I had learned about pipe smoking, and answering any health concerns she had about it. We decided that I could smoke a pipe, but if there were any health issues that came up, or if I showed any signs of addiction to pipe smoking, then I’d stop and respect her wishes. But besides that, she gave me her blessing to come up with a list of what I needed and purchase a pipe and tobacco.
That night, as I settled into bed after taking a scroll through smokingpipes.com to begin searching for my first pipe, I smiled to myself. At last, after waiting all these years, I was about to become a pipe smoker.