IPSD: International Pipe Smoking Day is every year on February 20th. While I celebrated late that evening, I am a week late in writing this post. I wanted to indulge earlier in the day, but life got in the way. There were responsibilities which needed my attention.
Pipes and pipe tobaccos are a hobby that I acquired my first year of being in the Army. That was, shockingly, fifteen years ago now. Some buddies in my unit at Ft. Bragg, NC wanted to go to the cigar bar every once in a while for drinks and smokes. At that point in my life I had only ever smoked a few cigars in my life and nothing else, not even a single cigarette. I knew that I did not mind cigars, but I also did not particularly care for them as a pleasure either. The largest dislike was the ashtray taste in my mouth the next morning. So, while wandering the local mall in Fayetteville, I stumbled into a store called The Tinder Box. It’s a franchised chain found across the country filled with tobacco goods and knick-knacks like carved chess boards and inlaid wooden boxes.
That was when my buddy and I decided that we each needed to buy a pipe and see if that would bridge the gap for our group of friends at Happy Hour. It did; maybe a little too well. I quickly found enjoyment in discovering the different shapes, textures and materials of tobacco pipes as well as the seemingly thousands of types of tobacco. It stayed a fairly small hobby in my life for about the next five years as my time in service came to a close. Both of my deployments to Iraq had a trusty pipe or two along for the ride. It is something I enjoyed sparingly and at odd times of inspiration. Many times it could be a month or two before the light bulb blinked on and my brain said, “Oh yeah! I should smoke a pipe today.”
Now, today, fifteen years later, That bulb flickers on a little more often, but still sparingly compared to the other people I have met in the community. About six or seven years ago I realized that I had gone the entire summer, which is much longer in Mississippi, without visiting my box of pipe tobaccos. I ended up throwing out a handful of really dry and stale tobaccos then, for good measure, cleaned out the few pipes I had. To scratch the itch, I went to a local strip mall tobacco shop next to the Winn-Dixie grocery store and purchased a small amount of some cheaper tobacco. That was a passable answer for my immediate dilemma, but it did not satisfy the need or urge.
Now, in 2018, I have been about four years in pipe hobby high gear. I have purchased a handful of new and different styles of pipes. I currently have no fewer than twelve different types of tobacco open, but properly stored in jars with labels. I have also started a tobacco cellar in a sealed storage container with a humidity pack inside to maintain the stash for years to come. When good sales happen, I grab a couple of brands I enjoy and throw them in there. Some tobaccos are actually made to be aged as long as ten to fifteen years for an optimal flavor. My enjoyment of wines and whiskeys made it very easy to understand that concept and the need for proper storage solutions. I even purchased a good humidor and stocked it with good cigars for the times I get the weird urge or if friends are over. I have still never smoked a cigarette, though.
One of the most unexpected parts of this endeavor is the pipe smoking community. Many people may read that sentence and chuckle or think it’s weird. Well, it is, but it is just as weird as any other group of enthusiasts I have come across in my time wandering this planet. Here in New Orleans I have discovered a small Pipe Club that has been extremely welcoming group of people who are present simply for the shared enjoyment of all of the aspects I listed above. The very first meeting I attended was a group of around twenty people of all types with every type of pipe imaginable to fit every personality. There were at least as many different tobaccos on the tables, all open for anyone present to try. One blend was a tobacco that is absolutely sold out in the United States, yet it was being passed around and smoked like anyone could buy it tomorrow. Even the whiskey people are not that open to sharing their stash
Now, there is a 47-year-old tobacco store in Jackson, MS called The Country Squire. It is fairly well-known in the community across the country. I have always known about it from growing up in the area, but I never knew of its true popularity. I have since been there quite a few times in the past five years. In a twist, the New Orleans Pipe Club had just recently scheduled a trip to Jackson for that very reason. It made me laugh at how small this world is. Unfortunately, I was already engaged on the day of the trip, or I would have gladly attended the group fun. It is probably better for my wallet, though, because almost every third time I enter that little building in Jackson, I end up with a new pipe or a handful of their wonderful tobaccos to smoke or store away.
So, fifteen years on, the pipe has become something fairly integrated into my life, but not an everyday need or desire. My friends do not look at me quite as funny when I have one lit, but I still get some jibes and barbs when the right situations arise. That is one of the hallmarks of the greatest of friends: they will gladly accept you for being you, but they will assuredly make fun of you for being you at the same time. I will take it. I have gained so many moments of welcome contemplation and learning while carefully packing the bowls with the tobaccos or while quietly puffing away during a brainstorming session. It is simply a hobby I have acquired and fostered through the years. I would not give up that life education for anything.