Methusela’s Musings – Gramp’s Pipe Part 1

i dreamed a dream, old man with pipe

The children had  gathered in a semicircle around Gramp’s rocking chair. The fire was burning and crackling, playing shadow puppets on the wall of the humble little cabin by the lake. As usual for this time of night, Gramps sat in his rocking chair which swayed gently to the rhythm of his feet on the floor. One Eye, the ancient cat, lay curled on his lap. His loud purr filled  the air with the timbre  of peace and contentment.

The children knew Gramp’s nightly ritual off by heart. They watched intently, anticipating each step. He would reach for his meerschaum pipe resting in its stand on the little  table by the  rocking chair. Then he would look at it and gently stroke it. Next came the cleaning ritual. Holding the pipe in one hand, Gramps would turn it upside down and knock it  on the palm of the other hand. After a few knocks most of the pipe tobacco would fall out.

But tonight was different. Gramps stopped what he was doing. Moving the little table in front of him,  he reached for a small bag and removed a brass pipe cleaning kit. To the children it looked a little like a Swiss army knife except it only had three funny looking prongs on it.  One looked a bit like a tiny shovel. Another like a nail. And the third a bit like  the end of a trumpet. They were attached to a leather tag. It was worn shiny, soft and smooth with years of handling. The kit fascinated the children  who loved to watch Gramps clean his pipe.

With pipe in one hand and the cleaning kit in the other, he looked in turn at each child, smiled and nodded his  head. Ah, I see you are waiting for me to continue with my cleaning. I will of course, for a pipe must be well looked after. Especially one as special and as old as this. Instead of our usual stories, tonight I’m going to talk to you about my pipe. It’s been with me very nearly my whole life.

Did you know that this pipe is called a meerschaum pipe? That’s a funny name, isn’t it.  It means foam of the sea in German. And it’s called that because the pipe is made from a special clay that is found floating on the Black Sea. It looks like foam. The French call it écume de mer.  That sounds more lyrical because the French language is like that. But I like the German name. You see, this pipe belonged to my father who got it from his father. That would be my grandfather. He was  German.

But why is it called sea foam? That would be because it comes from the sea. Over 50 million years ago tiny little sea creatures fell to the bottom of the ocean floor. Over aeons of time their shells turned into fossils at the bottom of the sea. There they sat getting squashed together by layers and layers of silt. All that wet soil gets pretty heavy. That’s why the little sea shells get so squished. Then one day the squished and squashed clump rises to the top of the sea. A very long time ago a person, I don’t know who, found some of this sea foam and decided to try making a pipe from it. Why a pipe? Perhaps they needed a new one. And do you know what? They found out that the sea foam pipe made the best pipe ever. It makes the smoke taste clean and pure and sweet. And do you know what else? As the pipe ages, it starts to change colour. It starts out white. As it’s used it takes on the colour of the tobacco. Mine of course is very, very old which is why it is this beautiful rich, reddish brown now.

fossilised shell

This is a fossilised shell, he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out what looked like a lump of rock. Here, have a look and a feel of it. That used to be a living, breathing real shell once upon a time. This one of course is a LOT bigger than the ones that this pipe is made from.  Reaching into his pocket again, he pulled out another lump, white this time. This, my precious little ones, is a piece of sea foam. Be gentle with it for it is fragile and as old as my pipe. It is what was left of the foam from which this pipe was made.

Perhaps that is enough for tonight. I can see you are getting tired, he said. The littlest of them all was fast asleep already. Tomorrow I will show you how to clean  and fill this pipe.

Then he sang them his very favourite lullaby.


© Raili Tanska

Steps for Peace

If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have to struggle; we won’t have to pass fruitless resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which consciously or unconsciously the whole world is hungering. Mahatma Gandhi


25 thoughts on “Methusela’s Musings – Gramp’s Pipe Part 1

  1. A beautiful Story, and as a Child I would watch my own Granddad clean his pipe.. So this brought back fond memories for me to that..
    And you are so right.. We have to reach and teach our younger generations our grandchildren the importance of caring and peace..

    Wishing you a wonderful Peaceful Day.. ❤ Sue

    1. Thank you 🙂 Not many seem to smoke pipes anymore. Perhaps people are in too much of a rush. They require time and dedication 🙂

  2. Nice — I like this story of the pipe for the kids. It’s tender and sweet. I hope you don’t mind – I shared your Mahatma Gandhi quote on peace and the video on my social media with credits to you on your post. Thank you for sharing. It warmed my heart.

  3. Jumped over from the Senior Salon
    I went to a party at the apartment of a man in NYC with a collection of these pipes, He didn’t seem to know much about them – at least he did not share it as he showed off his many beautiful pipes. Most of his were pristine white or barely ivory, and none were dark brown. He was never a smoker himself and started collecting only after he inherited a couple of the darker ones – so there was no pipe tobacco smell to recall. I have always loved that smell.

    What I enjoyed most about this gramps story was the way you delivered interesting information out of his mouth and point of view, along with being able to imagine being one of the children gathered around listening. I loved the charming lullaby and cartoon. Thanks. Was that Santa?
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

    1. There was a Santa in the video 🙂 It sounds like the gentleman with the pipe collection has got himself a valuable and unique set. Apparently they need to be handled and cleaned with special care, quite different to the usual briar pipes. Like you, I really like the smell of pipe tobacco 🙂

  4. When I was looking for a blog about meerschaums I was looking for something a little more informative or someone talking about them, not so much a story. Doesn’t matter though, story was great and I look forward to the others.

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