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.
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
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