Once again the children were gathered around Gramp’s rocking chair in a semicircle. The cheery, warming fire was burning in the hearth. The children liked to watch the play of shadows on the walls of the cabin. They saw all manner of beasts and fanciful images cavorting on the screen in front of them. Gramps sat in his rocking chair with his ancient cat, One Eye, curled up in his lap.
Last time Gramps had told them a story of his meerschaum pipe. In his pocket he had concealed a lump of the sea foam from which the pipes are made. He had let them hold the remnant of the very piece from which his pipe had been originally made. And he had shown them the pipe cleaning kit he used.
He had promised to show them how to clean and fill the pipe next time. The chidren waited with bated breath. They knew tonight was the night for on the little table next to his chair was the pipe cleaning kit, the fossil and the piece of sea foam. And another little pouch with something in it.
Well now, Gramps said. Do you remember what we talked about last time? The children nodded their heads eagerly. Tonight, I’m going to talk to you more about pipes and smoking. But first I must caution you. Smoking is not good for you. So if you are sensible you will never start. Because once you do, it is very hard to stop. I should know. I smoked for many, many years. Eventually I did stop. Do you know why?
The children were listening round-eyed. They all knew smoking was bad for you. Everyone of them had been warned to stay away from it or else! That’s what made this whole pipe storying so interesting! And here Gramps was talking to them about it. It made them feel deliciously naughty. And left them feeling just a little uneasy. What was Gramps up to?
I stopped, he continued, because my lungs were all black and gooey inside from all the tobacco. Now I know you know I can’t see inside my lungs. But they told me. How? I couldn’t breathe properly, that’s how. I sounded like a wheezy old steam engine. And then the coughing started. That’s how I knew it was all black and gooey inside. Because I was coughing it up! And there was blood too. That scared me. A lot. So I stopped.
It wasn’t easy mind you. Tobacco is very addictive. That means it makes you want more and more of it all the time. So when I stopped, my body and my brain were screaming out for tobacco. It near drove me mad. I knew I couldn’t go back to smoking though. It was important for me to find something else to do that helped me to keep the craving under control. That’s when I remembered this, he said, pointing to the pipe.
I remember my own Gramps smoking it. And talking to me about its history, just like we’ve done. He showed me how to clean and fill it too.
You might be wondering what this all has to do with me giving up smoking. Well, let me tell you how it helped me. I have always loved the smell of pipe tobacco. It brings back so many good memories of my childhood. So I thought if I can’t smoke it, at least I can smell the pipe tobacco. But I quickly found that wasn’t enough.
You see there is a whole ritual that goes with smoking. Rituals are important in life. They anchor you to something that is special – like memories, or celebrations. Special events when families get together – like Christmas, birthdays, weddings, funerals. And even our story times. All these things are important in our lives, wouldn’t you say?
The children nodded their heads wondering what any of this had to do with tobacco, pipes and smoking.
Gramps continued. Christmas rituals are to do with presents, and Santa Claus, and Christmas dinner. Birthdays are fun, with cakes, and candles and parties. And presents of course. Weddings are all lovey dovey stuff, dressing up and flowers and dancing and rings. Funerals are sad when we say goodbyes, but we also remember and share stories, hug and cry together. And all these events have special foods or meals that are an important part of the whole thing. These are all little rituals particular to each occasion.
Smoking has a lot of rituals too. Perhaps some of them are different for different people. Let me tell you about mine. I think it’s important to understand this which is why I am telling you about it. Not everyone would agree it’s a good thing to do. However, I think it’s important. One of our rituals in these story times is telling each other about the happy, sad and in between things. Where does my pipe and smoking fit into all of this? I like to think that I am sharing my thoughts, feelings and mistakes as a way of teaching you not to make the same mistakes I have made. But it’s more than that. I’m sharing some of my very dearest rituals and memories with you too.
Some of my smoking rituals were about keeping my hands busy. Rather than fidgetting, or sitting on them, or picking my nose, I kept them busy with rolling my own cigarettes. That, and holding the cigarette when smoking, certainly kept them out of mischief. It also gave me something to put in my mouth. I didn’t chew gum, and I couldn’t go around eating chocolates all day long. Or suck a dummy. That would have looked so silly! So I smoked. I also rather liked the smell. And of course there was the feeling I got from smoking. It was kind of soothing. I guess you could say cigarettes were like an adult dummy for me.
The children giggled at the thought of Gramps sucking a dummy like a big baby.
Suddenly, when I was no longer smoking, my hands and my mouth were empty. There was nothing to smell or soothe me. And that is where the pipe comes in.
You see, pipe tobacco smells wonderful even when it isn’t being smoked. And holding the pipe between my lips keeps my mouth busy. Cleaning and loading the pipe gives my hands lots of work to do. There is a comfort in these rituals that has replaced my cigarette addiction. More than that, however, there is a comfort and a remembering of happy childhood days in repeating the rituals I watched my Gramps go through every evening. It takes me back and puts a smile in my heart.
Some might say it’s silly of me to clean and load a pipe I never smoke. But those someones do not know how important and meaningful those rituals are to me. You see these little pipe cleaning tools ? They are used to clean the inside of the pipe stem and the bowl. My pipe is old and fragile so I need to do it gently, slowly and with care. I do a thorough clean once a week just like my Gramps taught me. You don’t really need to know more than that.
There is a special way of loading the tobacco into the pipe too for a truly satisfying smoke. But anyone who smokes a pipe will tell you that the cleaning and loading is far more time consuming – and satisfying – than the smoking!
Gramps taught me that to load a pipe you must do it in this order – first the finger of a child, then a woman, then a man. You see, the tobacco is put into the bowl in layers. You fill the bowl lightly. Then use the pressure of child’s finger to tamp it gently down. Repeat the process and tamp it down with a dainty lady’s finger. And lastly, with the strong pressure of a man’s thumb.
In this way the tobacco is lightest at the bottom where you suck the air in. There is less resistance. It allows the tobacco to burn. And as it works its way through the layers it collects the aromas and flavours through the denser layers.
Of course I never light the tobacco so you could say going to all that trouble is just silly. But the ritual soothes and comforts me. And reminds me every day of the special relationship and love I shared with my Gramps. And do you know what else? Since I started this ritual with my pipe, I have never, ever wanted to have another smoke. Sometimes rituals are important for a whole lot of reasons.
Then he sang them a lullaby. Gramps knew a lot of lullabies from different countries all over the world.
(This is not one of them – but I could not resist sharing it with you!)
© Raili Tanska