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Damn them! Can't they see I'm smoking my pipe?

By Peter J. Fusco
web posted June 10, 2002

Writing for a living is truly rotten. The pay is lousy (when there is pay), the hours stink, and the rejection is enough to make some people give serious thought to eating the 12 gauge. God help me though, I love it like a parent loves an obstreperous, recalcitrant child. Still, I need peace and quiet while undertaking the task. I need to think. I need to smoke my pipe.

According to the people at Tobacco.org, the Huron Indians believed a woman was sent by the "Great Spirit" to help mankind during a period of famine. As she went about the world, wherever her right hand fell, potatoes grew. Wherever her left hand fell, "there grew corn". Done with her task, she "sat down and rested." Subsequent to her siesta, apparently in the area where her spiritual tush recently resided, tobacco sprung from the ground. I am not sure whether it is a quaint tale or a weird warning. What I do know is that tobacco, regardless its origins, has become more controversial than its cousin, marijuana, a fact I find hilariously ironic.

The anti-everything-but-what-we-like crowd will have us smoking pot, so we can't think straight, but prevent us from smoking tobacco so that maybe some of us can. American Indians didn't call it a "peace pipe" for nothing, you know. And Mr. Holmes was known to solve knotty mysteries after a bowl of his favorite tobacco mixture, thus attesting to its inherent benefit as a quiet, comfortable, contemplative ancillary to the process of deduction.

Consider that those same people hell bent on the purity of their bodies at everyone else's expense, extol the virtues of everything American Indian, conveniently leaving out the smoking of tobacco. Not so much irony as hypocrisy there, but typical nonetheless.

Granted, cigarettes were not an American Indian invention, nor did the natives throw a mass of chemicals into their preferred smoke, but they did know and appreciate the one characteristic of tobacco commonly shared by everyone who indulges the way they did. For some reason beyond the addictive nature of nicotine, tobacco, in its natural state, smoked through a pipe, is a wonderful thing. For those of us who imbibe, the rare and special moments of peace are worth it.

Pipe smoking is a contemplative activity. More than a hobby and less than an obsession, smoking a pipe requires knowledge, practice and an appreciation of tradition. It is an intensely personal act as well.

PipesFor many of us, non-smokers as well, comfortable memories are conjured at the scent of pipe smoke. Some of our grandfathers wore out the cushions of big, heavy chairs while smoking their pipes. They weren't watching TV, or burning holes in the carpet with the hot ashes of forgotten cigarettes, they were thinking, remembering, indulging in peaceful, private recounts of youthful exploits, old friends and older neighborhoods.

A great many ancient laps were equally worn out during sessions with grandchildren when stories from and about native countries were mixed with the comfortable aroma of the old man's pipe. Far greater harm to children can be linked to the absence of such wholesome nurturing than the occasional inhalation grampa's pipe smoke. A quiet, peaceful sitting on a loving grandfather's lap while he indulges in an ancient practice and speaks of his life, his roots, his dreams and his realities breathes more life into a child than any removed by smoke. Far more substance is added to that child's soul than what physical health is taken away during such precious sessions.

The variety of pipes alone speaks to the uniqueness of each smoker. There are about twelve common types with names like "Apple", "Bent", "Churchwarden", "Bulldog", "Billiard", "Canadian", "Freehand", "Poker", "Prince", "Woodstock", "Dublin" and even one called, "Oompaul", after its inventor, a Boer leader (thanks to meerschaumstore.com for the info). But the tradition, history, poetry and beauty does not end there. In fact, that is where it begins, for there are literally thousands of designs, some so intricate they can better be called art than mere smoking utensils.

Al Gore makes much money from tobacco
Al Gore makes much money from tobacco

The American pipe making tradition is as rich as any other country's, perhaps moreso since ours includes smoking some of the finest tobacco in the world grown, harvested and dried by such luminaries as Al Gore (though he is sporadically loathe to admit it). And though Italian and British pipes have their reputations (and their huge price tags), there are homegrown manufacturers creating reasonably priced masterpieces in the truest of American traditions.

One such artisan is J.M. Boswell of Boswell's Pipe And Tobacco Shop in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Here, two generations of the Boswell family create pipes renowned all over the world for their beauty, utility and value.

According to Gail Boswell, J.M.'s wife and partner, her husband turns out "almost 6,000 pipes a year by hand and works 6-7 days a week". They are doing so well, says Mrs. B. that J.M. "has turned away business for four years now, many stores wanting to sell his pipes".

Mrs. Boswell says that five years ago they had nothing but a dream and her husband's skills. "Yes, I could have worked," she says, "but we would have lost family values."

Instead, she stayed home with her kids (both of whom are working in the family business now). "Yes, one income, no health insurance till three years ago (now we can afford it) and we made it. All by ourselves, with no help from family or government! Now we have our Pipe Dream (sic)..."

Gail says the pipe-making art is growing along with, or as a function of the demand. Her husband spends a fair amount of what little time he has left teaching others how to handcraft the ancient smoking tool.

It is indicative of a quiet revolution of sorts that people like the Boswells are not only making a living, but thriving in a business some would like to see driven out of existence.

The Boswell success begs the question: Where is it written we should toss out all tradition, all sense of individual liberty, independent enterprise and achievement simply because a group of misfits who condone the smoking of one plant condemn the smoking of another? As far as I know it isn't written anywhere, except in places where those facets of the human experience are denigrated and denounced by those who would impose their will on others at any cost.

Yet, true to the American nature and spirit, the din of opposition is apparently going unheeded no matter how loud they scream given the increasing number of people who are picking up their pipes (women too) and smoking. For that I am thankful.

Too much attention has been given the politically correct crowd at the expense of people who just want to live the way they please, in peace and quiet, harming no one, smoking their pipes, dreaming dreams and telling stories. Although it is the writer's curse, or blessing, depending on how you look at it, that all sides of all issues must be taken into account, in this case, it would be of grateful benefit if the hate mongering crowd of anti-everythings would just shut up. I mean, damn them! Can't they see I'm smoking my pipe?

Peter Fusco has written for The Utica Daily Press, Recycling Today and Summit Magazine and is putting the finishing touches on a new book.

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