Better Days
A Series on Pipes Smoking's Nostalgic Past

By Ernie Whitenack

"Grandpa Newt"

In his home, where my grandmother always had a good supply of sugar cookies, was a sideboard upon which sat a large wooden bowl that housed a half dozen or so stubby pipes and a couple of cobs. Along side the bowl was a beautiful, Ivy pattern engraved jar where, under the heavy glass stopper, his supply of dark tobacco was kept. I had to stand on my tip-toes to see the arrangement that rested on a linen table runner. I liked the way light was refracted and reflected from the engraved glass causing multi-colored spectral patterns on the wall behind.

Unlike Grandpa Baloney, my grandfather Joseph Newton Whitenack had no talent regarding funny faces. Fact is, I don't know if he had any talents other than that for hard work and a loving heart.

His father owned an irrigation company and a plant for the manufacture of irrigation tiles. As a young man they installed irrigation systems throughout Illinois as well as many trips to the Southwest. It was hard pick-and-shovel work. He enlisted in the Missouri 22 Infantry Regiment in 1881, at the time if the last Indian insurrection, served in Colorado and Arizona and was discharged in 1886.  

He was a rather quiet and unassuming man who was old at my earliest memories of him, having been born in 1859 a fifth generation American of German descent. The family emigrated 1709 to escape religious persecution during the Palatine Movement; although I never heard either the German language or an accent; strange by today's standard.

It seemed a short pipe incessantly had a place in the corner of his mouth. In answer to my question about his funny little pipe he answered that it fit the pocket in the bib of his overalls and kept his nose warm in winter. I don't know what he smoked in it but I never heard any objections.

Despite his age he worked in the summer managing maintenance at a public park in Springfield, IL. He could often be found at the AAA baseball club field. I remember the "park green" paint that covered everything from the outfield fence to the top of the announcer's box and how proud he was of the lush grass field. We would stand in a box behind home plate, Dad and I, while Grandpa Newt, using his stubby pipe as a pointer, explained what was new and improved.

Grandpa Newt visited us in Waltham a couple of times. One day, about 1938, on the front porch I was practicing Yo-Yo tricks – spun the toy upward and the string broke. The now wooden projectile hit the ceiling of the porch at great speed and started its downward flight straight for Grandpa's head. He was sitting in a rocking chair lighting his pipe. He flinched, but almost imperceptibly, as he was hit, finished lighting his pipe and said,
"You need a new string"

We went on the bus to the movies one day, Grandpa Newt and me. As we entered the bus grandpa put his pipe in the pocket of his suit jacket for the mile or so trip. You guessed it – the odor of burning cloth was just perceptible as we left the bus and grandpa started slapping at his pocket. It wasn't a fire yet - just a smolder and was extinguished as we walked along Moody Street to the theater. His one comment was that it was a good thing his matches were in a different pocket. Everyone who smoked carried kitchen matches in a pocket unless one wanted to spend the money for a box of small safety matches. Pocket fires were somewhat common with pipe smoking being a popular pass-time.

The day Dad and Grandpa Newt boarded the train for a trip to Boston and David P. Ehrlich's is vivid in my memory. It was Grandpa's birthday and Dad wanted to surprise him with a couple new pipes. I doubt Grandpa ever bought a pipe or tobacco other than at a drug or grocery store. Upon their return I saw more emotion on Grandpa's face than ever before. He was all smiles and his happiness shown through his eyes. He had two new "good" pipes and a pound of DPE which never left his side that day. However, the thing he talked about most was lunch at Jacob Wirth's. Grandpa Newt left for home two days later and I never saw him again as he died a month later.

Copyright© 2010 Ernest Whitenack

Other Better Days Articles
Grandpa Baloney
Granpa Newt
The Glamour and Lure of Smoking
Smoking the War Away
Germany, Cigs and Ration Cards
The Final Chapter - Part 1

Ernie Whitenack was born in 1928 in Springfield, Illinois and moved to Massachusetts in the mid 1930's. He is a Korean War veteran, worked as a photographic illustrator for 43 years and is now retired.

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