My Father's Pipe
It is the second World War, the South Pacific, and a Liberty ship is rocking at anchor off Ulithe or Enawetoh or Okinawa. A man who will later become my father is relaxing on deck, smoking. A pipe between his teeth, he hangs over the ship’s rail, thirty feet above the water. All at once he sees something, shouts at somebody. The pipe falls out of his mouth.
Sixty years later, another century, another hemisphere. I have been born (for a long time already). Dad hasn’t smoked in five years. He, Janet, and I are motoring up through October’s russet valleys, through Delaware and Pennsylvania, on our way to the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford. We’re curious to find out if any new Andrew Wyeth paintings are on display. My father, too weak to walk the galleries, sits on a bench in the sun against a white wall. When Janet and I come back, I am struck by his appearance: vital, younger than his eighty years, a little dangerous. He wears a white shirt and his hair is white. A three-day beard covers his face like hoarfrost. The skin is coffee-colored, the big nose bent at the tip, the mouth firm, the line of the lips a little crooked. A long, lean, confident face, but with a cast of sadness. Sunlight, wall, and shirt frame the dark skin in a stark almost theatrical way--the chiaroscuro of a Wyeth portrait. The old man has the look of an Arab pirate, weathered and refined.
He is blessed with abundance of character, but where is the artist to portray him? I think, let him sit here perfectly still the rest of his life, like a Duane Hansen installation. At that moment I realize I want to write about him. Yet I am hesitant. He is not just a character. He is my dad. Difficult (maybe treacherous) cross currents of emotion lie in wait. There is too much life between us. There is the feeling, when I am near him, when I enter his powerful aura, that I am a little boy. How can I write truly about my living father, my dying father? I make a decision. I won’t write about him. I’ll write about his pipe instead, a link between us. I will write about his love of tobacco.
It’s a strange time to be writing about the love of tobacco. I began writing in September, in the very month that my city banned smoking in bars, restaurants and public places. Oh Puritanism of the enlightened middle class! I favor the new law, but I myself am seriously out of step with the times. Several months ago I took up smoking pipe again after an interval of ten years.
I first knew his pipes as things that were really interesting to sniff. For a kid old pipes and tobacco tins have more magic than toys. My mother, when she was ten years old, played for hours with her father’s pipe. I remember breathing in the rich honey cindery smell of dad’s old pipes. I sucked the stems. I stuck my face into empty tins, Prince Albert and Sir Walter Raleigh, and marveled at the aroma, at the blend of tinniness and deep sweet dried leaf. It was nose ecstasy. The pictures of those English noblemen, and later the stories of Sherlock Holmes and Tolkien, made me think of pipe smoking as peculiarly British. Last summer in Cornwall I was happy to see a number of old men smoking pipes, confirming my youthful hunch. The dry fragrance of tobacco smoke seems perfect in that moist climate, less so here in arid Colorado where you rarely see a man with a pipe.
I doubt I ever would have smoked pipes if Dad had not. Here I must say that I always found the expression, “to smoke a pipe” perplexing. I was unsettled even more when I discovered an etymology of the word “tobacco” that traced it back to a Caribbean term meaning “pipe.” I have always thought that what you smoke is tobacco, not the pipe itself (albeit the pipe is made of wood). The phrase “to smoke a pipe” is what experts call a metonymy: the naming of something indirectly by using a related idea or object instead--as if the original were too scandalous or sacred to be mentioned. To talk about your father by pretending to talk about his pipe is a kind of metonymy.
The fact is, I never saw dad smoke his pipes. But I knew he once smoked them: he told me so, and there they were. I have one of them now, sitting in the rack. I smoke it still--a pipe he used in the early 1940’s, before I was born, which was in the year 1946. I never fail to think of my father in the South Seas when I light up this pipe. As I hold the bowl, I imagine how he held it, how he lit the tamped weed bringing it to a glow, and how he drew in the thick urgent smoke. I think of him putting the pipe in his pocket and walking down the deck of the ship. Now, the old briar is dark brown, the top of the bowl black from the years of being scorched by match flames, the edge worn and dented from long use. Yet it is still a great smoking pipe. It is handsome, balanced, and sweet tasting. The round bowl tapers, and after making a ninety degree bend, it turns into a four-sided shank. This diamond shank allows you to put the pipe down on a table so that the bowl, resting at a forty-five degree angle, doesn’t spill its contents. The shank was cracked and I had it repaired with a little collar made of thin bright silver.
So I knew my father had smoked pipes, but strangely, never actually saw him. In my time, in the ‘50’s, he smoked filtered cigarettes, and sometimes long thin cigars, never a pipe. My boyish mind magnified this discrepancy into a peculiar significance, and over time the pipe he gave me became a sort of totem object. It came to stand for the unknownness of my father, the pieces of his life I could not fully grasp. How he was as a boy in Ohio, for example, what he felt in the war, what he did with women--but above all what he was like before I was born, that is, before my coming changed him into a father and made him a different man, the one I know, or pretend to know.
The pipe he gave me is a symbol for the things about him I’ve never quite understood. His uncanniness, for example, by which I mean his self-assuredness, his mercurial intelligence, and the singular, sometimes terrifying, force of his will. And also his physicality, especially the darkness of his skin. How could he be so dark, and me so light? Did decades of smoking tan his skin? Later, after studying literature, I discovered that dad, as a young man, looked like Franz Kafka. Whenever I see pictures of Kafka, I think, there’s dad, and I sense some hidden connection. That too has to do with the the pipe, which symbolizes the mystery of his origins (and by extension mine as well). One day, he tells me that he thinks he was illegitimate, another day that our Berlin forebears were Jewish, and another that they were wealthy Italians after whom the wing of a museum was named. I ask him where he got all that. He is a little vague. He was young and he heard stories from his father and aunts. The pipe he gave me stands for these and other conjectures, all as insubstantial as the smoke that whirls out of it. Yet the pipe itself is here, present and exultant in its materiality of wood, silver, and plastica eterna.
What I know for sure about my father is that he has always been one for projects. He is forever building things, growing things. In this he reminds me of the Demiurge of ancient Gnostic myth, which is to say that he is uncontrollably creative. He is inventive, energetic, single-minded. I see him smoking a cigarette as he rests between tasks. He lights up after digging a fish pond in his backyard. Tobacco is an occasion for reflection, for kicking back to admire a job well done, for planning the next step, the next renovation. Through the last decade, his and Janet’s house has been in a continuous state of transformation. Which is to say, it has been a mess. Dad’s work is a parable of our culture, where the chaotic process of change is valued for its own sake as much as for the improvement it brings. Dad will tear out a wall on a whim. He likes laying brick, adding new rooms, putting in new staircases, redoing the cabinets and the floors. He degarages garages, turning them into rooms or offices. When he runs out of projects, he sits and smokes until some fanciful idea appears like a genie out of the magic lantern of his fertile mind. For example, a working dump truck made of scrap wood and metal and real wheels for his three-year old son. For example, a colossal toy chest on rollers in the shape of a second World War aircraft carrier, the lid serving as the flight deck. For example, a white-washed concrete sarcophagus to give the backyard patio the air of an ancient necropolis. We called it the tombstone.
He acquires five acres of woodland behind the house, bulldozes and burns the trees, and builds a stable for my sister’s horses. He orders truckloads of topsoil for the front yard and spends weeks spreading it around. He goes out and buys a whole working farm (without telling my mother beforehand) and spends weekends, nights, and vacations ploughing, harvesting, feeding pigs, moving barns. He cuts stepped terraces into the steep slope of the backyard, to make it look like the hanging gardens of Babylon. He plants apple and cherry trees, and a native forest shrub, sweet Pawpaw. He plants azaleas, euonymus, crepe myrtle, petunias, begonias, you name it. Then like a Hebrew God, he rests. He lights up, declares what he’s done to be good, and stares into a haze of smoke, to conjure up a plan for his next creation.
For me smoking is more cosmicomical than creational. I like to blow smoke rings. I launch a large lazy ring-nebula, then shoot through it a swift little whorl of smoke. Or I fall to musing on the way a strand of smoke curls out of the bowl, swirls, and disappears in the breeze like a fugitive thought.
Unlike my dad, I am more dreamer than builder. Pipe smoke is the day dreamer’s element. As I attend the pipe my thoughts are drawn away from the nervous business of life into reverie and contemplation. Waves of good feeling slowly envelop me, and soon I am sinking into a kind of vegetable satori. Not long ago, I was delighted to discover another etymology for “tobacco,” one that goes back to the Arabic word “tabaq,” meaning “euphoria-producing herb.” As I pull smoke though dad’s old pipe, I wonder if he too felt this happiness, this langorous state of muddledheadedness, so unlike the effect of a cigarette.
If dad’s enjoyment of tobacco is different from mine, I do not doubt that it is deep. The satisfaction it gives him is palpable. I am struck by his eloquence when he speaks of smoking. It is no coincidence that his father won a cash prize writing on why he liked smoking Philly cheroots. Dad has always been unashamed in his praise of smoking--as if it were not foul-smelling, not hurtful to others, not killing him. He tells me he relishes the smell of his fingers after smoking--he revels in what turns most people off. This unabashedness is part of my father’s character. How terrible that he should suffer from a fatal lung disease, pulmonary fibrosis. Yet, he tells me triumphantly, doctors say smoking is not the cause! Still, the disease has kept him away from tobacco for the last five years.
Some of his best sayings are about smoking. When I complain about the filthiness of the habit (the cancers, the soot, the stench of cigarette butts and wet pipe cleaners) he grows serious (or mock serious) and makes a pronouncement from Aristotle. The sum of a man’s bad habits is a constant. If I were to give up smoking, he says, some other vice, probably much worse, maybe even murderous (there was always this thrilling hint) will take its place--because the sum of a man’s bad habits is a constant. Search as I might, though, I’ve never found this saying in Aristotle or anywhere else.
He speaks of smoking with the wisdom of the ancients, with the passion of a romantic. He talks about his first cigarette after not smoking for two and a half years. For most people that first cigarette tastes awful. But for dad, “Oh my god, it was lovely!” The act of smoking, he tells me, is “like eating a piece of pie.” An apt expression. Dad has a sweet tooth, which is doubtless genetic: his German grandfather insisted on eating dessert before dinner. Dad is an oral person in every way, not just smoking. He likes talk and talks well. He eats and drinks with gusto, especially seafood, flounder, raw oysters, crab cakes, the Eastern Shore specialities. But also hot dogs and ice cream, both at the same time, a bite of hot dog, a spoonful of ice cream and so on. Shades of his grandfather. When my sister and I were kids he’d drive us thirty miles to an oyster bar. We’d sit there, the only kids in the place, and watch him swill beer and eat plates of oysters on the half shell. (He never got enough to eat as a boy--he also worried about my poor appetite and small size.) On one of these occasions I was spellbound by the bubbliness and goldenness of a tall glass of beer, and I asked him for a sip. He said, OK, but only if you eat an oyster first. I managed to choke down a raw oyster with crackers and hot sauce. Dad told the bartender to bring a little glass for me, into which he poured an inch of beer. I found it awfully bitter.
Sometimes, when he gets carried away talking about tobacco, words fail him and he comes out with funny noises like an infant. On smoking Camels: “you could feel them, and the top of your head just coming off, chchchchchchchchchchchchch.”
I ask him how he got to smoking. He had a friend who was an orphan, and they walked out to Four Mile Creek to camp. Dad was fourteen, in junior high. Here’s how he tells it. “Dick had a pack of cigarettes. He said, wanna cigarette? I never had one. And so I took one. Well, I don’t know whether I asked him what you do when you inhale--and I inhaled it, and God, it was just wonderful. I mean, never a cough, and then from that point on I’d borrow one from this guy and borrow one from that guy and once in a while I’d slip one out of my Dad’s Lucky Strike pack . . .”
Dad doesn’t ask me about my first cigarette. In fact, he doesn’t often ask me questions. Maybe because he knows me so well, or maybe there are things he doesn’t want to know. Just for the record then: the day before I left home for college, my friend Mike borrowed somebody’s sports car, and we sped around in the warm southern Delaware night with the top down. At a filling station I bought a pack of L&M filter cigarettes, what dad smoked. I broke one out and for the first time in my life breathed tobacco smoke into my lungs. It didn’t hurt at all. For the next eight years I smoked, sometimes two packs a day.
That wasn’t my first experience of tobacco though. When I was in high school dad and mom let me smoke a corn cob pipe at home, not in the house but in the converted garage. Why they allowed this I don’t know, unless my father thought there was nothing wrong with a kid smoking. After all he began when he was fourteen. Because of this, I first learned to smoke without inhaling. And that was good. Later, I gave up cigarettes, and I was able to fall back on pipe smoking. As a kid I loved pipe tobacco. I savored the smell. Smoking made me feel like a man, a great need for me at that time, because I wasn’t.
I still enjoy the symbolic value of smoking, but, nowadays, that has nothing to do with feeling grown up. If anything, it makes me feel less grown up, a nice feeling at my age. More important for me, now, is the idea that the pipe represents the last refuge of organic fire. The last refuge in a culture that has cut itself off from elemental things. The pipe smoker is guardian of a tiny hearth. Pyromania makes me a devotee of the pipe. Like Hephaestus or the priest of Agni, I am a celebrant of fire.
For pipe smokers, fire is skin close, blazing before the nose in the flame of a match, stinging the finger that tamps the smoldering weed. To smoke a pipe is to be forever at play with fire. That same fire about which there are so many myths of how we got it. That same fire that is one of the four elemental substances of the Ancients. Fire everchanging, and the changer. The burning pipe is the last relic of those fires of youth known to my generation, of real campfires in the wild, of fireplaces that burn wood, of the smoking leaf piles in autumn. Things that have disappeared in our crowded, cautious world. The pipe is the vestige and symbol of these fires.
I think of the pipe as a little crematory for turning leaf into ash. Sooner or later, we too burn out. Sooner or later we all succumb to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, our bodies left behind as cold ash or dust. Dad tells me he wants to be cremated. It was not always so. Married to the second of his three wives he became Baptist for a while and it was then that he told me he wanted to be embalmed and buried. No more. He who so loved to smoke will become smoke himself (but not with any undue haste).
The day before I fly out to visit him, I sit on my deck and puff on the pipe he gave me. I ponder these things, the last things. I ponder the smoke of burning bodies I saw in India. The smell of flaming cadavers on the funeral ghats of the Ganges. I am with Mona the boatman rowing up the river. We pass near the fires. Like it or not, I inhale some of the smoke of pious Hindus. It’s not unlike pipe smoke. I think uneasily of my mother who wants to be cremated, not buried with her father and mother in the family plot in Cincinnati as she had always planned. Now she wants her ashes cast upon Lake Chickamauga, near where she has lived the last thirty years.
In these latter days mortality has made serious overtures to my father. He has been in and out of the hospital. Once, they told Janet he would not make it. But he did. His latest project is to stay alive.
He goes about it with the same determination as with other projects. He writes down measurements, not of walls and doorways, but of blood counts and medicinal intake. He sends me pages of graphs and charts. No less than three fatal maladies have taken hold of him. The lung disease that has kept him from smoking the last five years. Neuropathy, the slow dying of the nerves in his body--sad for a man who always showed so much nerve. Worst of all, the myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder in which the bone marrow no longer makes enough white blood cells to fight off infection. Dad says proudly: Carl Sagan died of it, you know, and he was a lot younger than me. Researchers have found a link between myelodysplastic syndrome and exposure to organic solvents. Dad worked with them as a grad student, and later on when he was a chemist and manager for the Dupont Company.
He tells me he believes that the three diseases will kill each other off and that he will live to ninety-two. Why ninety-two? I had a dream, he says, that I would die at ninety two. If it so happens that I die, he says, I want you to pour my ashes into pepper shakers. Put a little patch on the outside of each shaker. What am I supposed to do with the shakers? Give them to your friends. Why the patch, I ask? To cover the ashes of my behind.
He tells me: when I know the end is near, I’m going to smoke again.
I am the fourth generation of pipe smokers in the paternal line of my ancestors. Only through a story did I discover that my great grandfather was also a pipe smoker. Dad’s most poignant early memories are of this man, who died when dad was six. Great grandfather Thiem grew up in Prussia. When a young man, he was recognized as a talented carver and sculptor. In his twenties, he emigrated to the States. Settling near Cincinnati, he prospered as a craftsman and designer, achieving renown for his statues and artisan work. Dad and his grandfather were close. Talking to dad on my last visit, I found out that one of the pipes I had played with as a child belonged to my great grandfather. Dad had inherited it and smoked it. Our family passes pipes down through the generations like other families do bibles and heirlooms. The pipe has a round white bowl and curved shank made of Meerschaum and tapers into a translucent stem the color of gold amber. Meerschaum, meaning foam of the sea, is a mineral, with a whiteness reminiscent of the clay pipes smoked by Dutch burghers in old paintings. It is encased in a light, wooden, silvery-satin-covered box that copies the shape of the pipe. The mirror halves of the box open on a fine hinge.
Dad’s story of his grandfather and the pipe is like a wisp of smoke from a distant time. It brings back the very taste and aroma of our ancestral past. That wisp of story gave me a direct link to my great grandfather, a man who was born in Berlin in 1859.
The story goes like this. His grandfather, after a day of carving, would sit down to rest and light up his pipe. The five year old boy would climb onto his grandpa’s lap, a great pleasure--they were real pals. On one of these occasions the boy’s grandpa struck a match to light up his pipe. The boy blew the match out. His grandpa struck a second match and the little boy did the same. And a third time. The fourth time the old man struck the boy. Dad: “he hit me only lightly but it broke my heart.” The boy fled in tears. But after an hour he came cautiously back to his grandpa, not sure whether the old man still loved him. The grandpa still loved him and took him up on his lap again and the boy felt relief and greater joy than ever. That story is how I learned we are four generations of pipe smokers.
The grandfather gave the boy a nickname, Cap or Cappie. The name stuck for a long time. The inspiration was the songline “I’m Captain Thiem of the Horse Marine.” Dad: “I never made it to Captain in the Army, only to First Lieutenant. Grandpa would be mad at me if he knew it.”
Dad tells me that in the war he enlisted in the army, and was trained as a welder. Three times his application to Officer Candidate School was rejected. Rejected because his elbow was crooked. In the first grade he’d fallen off a teeter totter at school and the elbow broke. The doctor made a mistake in setting the elbow and it became seriously deformed. It looked as if somebody had implanted a four inch cube where the elbow should have been. Dad never tried to hide the elbow and when I was a kid, I was intrigued by it and liked to rub it. But an officer was not supposed to have a crooked elbow.
Dad may have lived up to his name had it not been for the bum elbow, which delayed his entry into officer training. The last time he tried to get in, he was interviewed by a woman officer, herself a Captain. He pleaded with her. He did not, of course, tell her he wanted to be an officer because everybody called him Cap. Instead, he told her how little he wanted to be a welder. He said to her: “I received high scores on all the officer tests, the elbow works all right. Would you just give me a chance?” Three weeks later he got orders to report to Officer Candidate School. And that’s how he ended up ship’s security officer in the Army Transportation Corps in the South Seas. First Lieutenant Thiem. That’s how he got to Okinawa, Manila, Ulithe, Enawetoh, where in the evenings he would lean over the ship’s rail and like his father and grandfather before him, smoke a pipe.
I remember Dad’s Dad, my Grandpa, smoking a pipe. This fascinated me because I knew dad had once smoked a pipe. I remember being surprised when my grandfather stopped smoking. It was after he came down with Parkinson’s.
What cord of life holds the generations together? The stories that pass down? The thread of evanescent memories? The strand of nucleic acids in the DNA? Four generations of pipe smokers. And four generations of big noses. I come out of a line of big noses, my father, my mother, and their fathers. My sons too. Minor Cyranos all, or Cyranas. Those noses were made for the enjoyment and discernment of the strong sumptuous reek of pipe tobacco.
I gave up cigarettes in the early seventies and took up pipe again in the late seventies. That was when I was reading Tolkien. I would sit in front of a woodfire smoking pipeweed and read the stories of the hobbits and Gandalph, smokers of pipeweed. Then in the late eighties I betrayed my heritage. I gave up the pipe. The fifth generation would not have it. It did not like me smoking. The fifth generation is Benji, my younger son. In grade school (with the help of teachers) he embraced the anti-smoking fervor of the middle class. He would come into my study and recite the iniquities of tobacco. To set a fine moral example (and get him off my back), I decided to quit. I didn’t smoke pipe for around ten years.
But it is this same fifth generation that made me fall into the delicious old habit again. What’s bred in the bone will out in the flesh. Benji, now in his twenties, comes back from LA for the holidays. He goes to a bonfire party in the mountains. I ask, what did you do at the bonfire? Oh, we smoked pipes. Pipes, I say? Pipes? I gulp a little when I say it. You mean you smoked pot? No, Dad, tobacco. Whose pipe I ask? Oh, the little Sherlock Holmes pipe, the one Nat brought back from Italy and gave me, just to irritate me, you know, when I was a kid on the rampage against tobacco. Oh, I say. Benji does not seem at all ashamed of his lapse. Quietly, I admire my younger son’s matter-of-factness. Five generations of pipe smokers. Last spring, when it got warm enough to sit on the deck, I again succumbed to the pleasures and euphorias of pipeweed. In the summer Benji and I smoked together in the backyard.
If the pipe Dad gave me signifies the mystery of his being, it also stands for the bond between us. It represents the continuity of generations of father and son. He smoked this pipe and I have smoked it, on and off, for twenty -eight years.
When I was in high school, we didn’t get along. I wouldn’t do what he asked. The usual story. At times we couldn’t stand each other. We would hardly talk. Yet there were moments of peace. Once a week, for instance, we watched together the TV serial “The Fugitive.” We followed the program with a devotion that was nearly religious. The show was about a doctor falsely accused of murdering his wife. He escapes from jail and hides his identity, and yet he invariably gives himself away when he heals the sick and injured people that he meets in the course of his wanderings. Dad and I loved the dilemma of this. We watched the program and were brought together, emotionally. I knew in my heart of hearts that I was the fugitive, unjustly accused and persecuted, and Dad knew in his heart he was the fugitive, unjustly accused, persecuted.
The other time of truce was when we smoked together out in the garage, the one Dad had turned into a room heated by a potbelly stove. We weren’t allowed to smoke in the house. Mother didn’t permit it and in this she was ahead of her time. It was just dad and me. Judy my younger sister, in spite of family tradition and genes and so forth, never smoked a pipe. Like mother, she didn’t like tobacco.
So I would puff on my corn cob pipe. Dad would draw on his cigarette like he was making love to it. There we would sit and smoke, not knowing we were ruining each other’s lungs. We would sit in front of the stove in winter, now and then adding wood, our feet on the bumpers, smoking, not talking. Content with smoking. At peace. Is it like the sense of peace that the local Nanticoke Indians knew when they smoked pipes in their camps along the river where I grew up?
On my latest visit to dad I fly into Philly in the wake of Hurricane Isabelle, and then catch the shuttle down to Delaware. During the stay, I record on tape Dad’s conversation and soliloquies about his childhood, the war, and what he remembers of my youth. In spite of his weakness, Dad is in top form. Later in the day we decide, once again, to visit the Brandywine Museum and check out the Wyeths. This time though dad does not even make it into the gallery. He sits in the car waiting for Janet and me. Afterwards, we have dinner at the Chadds Ford Inn. Dad and I eat fish and seafood and drink wine. We get back to the house after dark. I say I’m going out on the deck to smoke a pipe. Dad comes out with me. To my surprise he pulls out a long thin cigar. He lights up, draws the smoke in, says, “God, that tastes good.” “You know,” he says, “this is the first time I’ve smoked in five years.”
We sit out on the deck--not the deck of a Liberty ship, though that comes to mind. The night sky of northern Delaware swirls between the leaves of the tall trees. We smoke and talk and joke. He reminisces a little. He describes his latest garden project. He talks about science and says he has been boning up on gravity (why this sudden interest?), has been taking notes with a view to writing something. He says, “You know, when it came to gravity, Einstein had his head up his ass.” My father is unable to talk about gravity for two minutes without lapsing into levity.
The night is warm and moist. Dad lets the ash of his Garcilosa y Vega cigar grow long and knocks it off on the glass top of the garden table. He talks about quantum theory, and the wild chinquapin bushes he’d like to plant, and how he gives his doctors boxes of candy at each visit so they will keep him alive. If I die, he tells them, there’ll be no more candy. I smoke my pipe and listen.
I smoke my pipe and take in the night. The briar becomes a rose, and humid air slinks around the boles of trees and pours down the terraces. A fish breaks out of the pond, turns into a Night Heron and flaps away. The fruits of the sweet Pawpaw glow like lanterns. Smoke floats out of a flower. The great swamp maples surge in the night breeze and I hear them chant of Isabelle.
Dad draws on his cigar and talks about last things, about what still needs to be done in the yard before he goes. Everywhere he lives he moves earth, imposes on the lay of the land. He had a farm in southern Delaware. I smoke my pipe and inhale the sweetness of the past.
It is the second World War, the South Pacific, and a Liberty ship rocks at anchor off Ulithe or Enawetoh or Okinawa. A man is relaxing on deck, smoking. A pipe between his teeth, he hangs over the ship’s rail, thirty feet above the water. All at once he sees something, shouts at somebody. The pipe falls out of his mouth. He sweeps his hand down, towards the water. He catches the pipe.
It is the one he later gave me, brought back from war. He had replaced the stem four times. Where the shank has split a little, I have put a silver collar.