Monday, August 27, 2007

Pipes and my Dad

I apologize for the choppy style this is written in. My emotions caused my fingers to type as my brain stretched, and I didn't want to let the moment escape. Please take the time to read all of this. I'm not looking for compliments, I just want you to hear my heart.

Not sure how many of you know it, but I'm a pipe smoker. Been so for about seven years. Pipe smoking is a very old and distinguished art and something not very many people partake of these days. One of the main reasons for its low membership is that it's not a lazy man's activity. It actually takes time and effort to properly smoke a pipe and most people just don't want to be bothered. The second reason pipe smokers see their numbers decline daily is the increased attack on our rights to enjoy the activity. This last point has become increasingly political, so I won't expound on it. All I'll say is that most people can remember the smell of pipe smoke from their childhood, and most remember it pleasantly. It's a shame those pleasant memories won't be around in future generations.

To the dismay of many, Ohio recently passed a smoking ban. It was a follow-up of sorts to legislation passed in it's capital of Columbus, which had passed the same law within its borders one year previous. Many thought the long lived Columbus Pipe Show would be a casualty of those laws, but somehow it has survived. I traveled there this past weekend with Ell and Brad. What an amazing sight to walk down a set of stairs and into a huge hall filled with the many pleasant aromas of tobacco and more pipes than I've ever seen in my life.

We spent about three hours roaming the aisles, smelling different kinds of tobacco, meeting guys from the Christian Pipe Smoker's forum, checking out pipe furniture, and looking at pipes. And pipes there were. Small, medium, and large pipes. There were one-of-a-kind custom pipes. Pipes hand-carved into faces and ships and animals. Ordinary pipes made extra-ordinary by their beautiful grains and colors. Straight pipes, bent pipes, intense free-hand pipes, and everything in between. I didn't take money to buy a pipe, and I would have had a hard time deciding if I had. I did get to buy some good, aged tobacco, and a pipe rack made from solid mahogany salvaged from an old church.

But the best part of the day was when we went to my parent's house. Friends and regular readers of eleven know the somewhat separating divide that has happened this year between my family and me. And you know how much it pains me. Saturday night I had the opportunity to watch my Dad work in his wood shop and begin the shaping of my first hand-carved pipe. It's a moment I'll remember for the rest of my life.

My father was once an amazing cabinetmaker and master carpenter. Two accidents, a lost business, and a wheelchair may have stripped him of his livelihood, but they could never take the talent his Creator had bestowed on him. This is the man who took a pile of rough cut black walnut and turned it into a beautiful kitchen that was the centerpiece of an already amazing log house. This was the man that had a waiting list of people wanting his hands to create magic in their homes. It was the time in his career as a carpenter that he is most proud of. And the time that he misses the most.

All those years he worked with his hands, his only son, me, was his helper. I was the cool kid that got to skip school to go to work in the first grade. The same one that grew up to spend every summer being taught the trade by his father, just as generations of fathers and sons had done. When a careless driver took my father's health and his business, my career as a carpenter and cabinetmaker was gone as well. I never went back to working in that business. My days are now spent in a suit, no longer covered in sawdust.

As I sat across from my wheelchair bound Dad explaining to him how I wanted to carve my own pipe, a twinkle came into his eyes. He despised smoking and had no wish to encourage me, but a chance to work with a beautiful wood was more than he could contain. We headed down the ramp to the makeshift shop he had built in a one car garage. There are very few tools now compared to what he once had, but everything he needs to do his work is there. Every tool has been placed on a short stand so that he can use it from his chair, which allows him to move from one station to another with surprising speed. As I looked around, I realized he had set up a perfect sanctuary for himself.

I handed him the briar with it's characteristically pitted burl. I explained the shape I was thinking about and before I could finish he was into the wood. When I originally bought the large piece of briar, my plan was to carve my very own pipe. But as my Dad worked it in his hands, I realized that nothing I did myself could ever compare to owning, and smoking, a pipe that my father had placed his mark on. I stepped back and watched him work. I hurriedly wiped the tears that escaped my eyes, and answered his questions the best I could. But mostly I just watched in silence. A master at work. An artist tackling yet another piece of rough wood that would eventually be a thing of beauty. My Dad. And my pipe.


Blogger HennHouse said...


I too stand aside in that make-shift workshop and watch him work, but I typically do it watching him teach my son how to work. Today, Dad taught him how to use a hand-held wood plane. Patient. Steady. And my Isaac came home with a jar of wood shavings, perfectly curled, that he had made with his Papa. And he simply wouldn't be quiet about it either. "When can I go back? Papa is so nice. He said I was a good wood worker. Can I miss school?" And on and on and on.

I can't wait to see your pipe.

9:43 PM  
Blogger kimw said...

That was beautiful, Sam. What a special moment with your Dad. Your recollection brought tears to my eyes because it brought back a lot of feelings that I have had spending time with my Dad. Our passion is Astros baseball, and I get the same kind of feeling going to Astros games with my dad, or even hanging out with him watching a game on TV. There's just nothing like time well-spent with Daddy.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

I had a lot of memories with my grandpa working in the wood shop he had set up in the shed behind our house. I would go out there every day and sweep the sawdust off the floor while he made scoopers and wind spinners and turtle stools. I always thought it was the coolest hobby in the world. Grandpa was always encouraging and was one of the most Christ-like men I have ever known.

There really seems to be something about woodworking that brings generations of men together.

Thats obviously the only reason God gave us trees...

12:38 AM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

I nearly cried...and that says a million words.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

amazing friend, truly a moment to savior.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It was amazing to see your father work with that pipe in the shop! He has so much knowledge in woodworking, just to see the pipe take shape with one instrument was astounding considering that you have been staring at that piece of wood for months and not sure where to start. I can think of no one better to put their touches on it first than you Dad! Ohh...and you made me cry you big jerk!

12:14 PM  
Blogger 3rd string's finest said...

I can't wait to see it, Sam. By the way, that pipe show sounded pretty cool, too.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Zoooma said...

As you know I can ramble but not this time... just one word for ya about this, Sam -- wow.

8:05 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home