Better Days
A Series on Pipes Smoking's Nostalgic Past

By Ernie Whitenack

"Remembrances "

As I attempt to get this old brain into high gear and pull out memories long ago backed-up to some far corner, I get snippets of events that rapidly pop in and out. So, I must step back a bit and relate a couple if things that recently emerged.

When thinking of Grandpa Newt and his matches I remembered that there were two types of kitchen matches, one with white tips and one with blue. Both were "strike anywhere" and I mean anywhere. I've seen matches struck with a thumbnail while being held in the same hand, struck on teeth, the bottom of a shoe, on a jacket zipper and naturally any rough surface handy. Grandpa Newt, and many others, preferred the back of the leg. The knee was lifted to bring the thigh to a horizontal position and the match was dragged over the taut fabric from the base of the buttock to almost the knee. It was a common sight to see a light colored line running down the back of a man's dark trouser leg. However, this practice was put aside when wearing one's best attire.

The day the big truck parked in front of the house next door attracted the attention of several male neighbors. I went with Dad to look at it and remember the sides were painted with a big red stripe and a big blue round thing with writing over it. Being somewhat new at reading I had to ask dad what P-a-b-s-t spelled -- I could read the Blue Ribbon part. The man with the truck lived next door and had gotten his old delivery job back. He and several others ended up in our kitchen with a case of PBR, and a box of cigars to celebrate his return to a steady job and the end of Prohibition. Dad passed up the cigars and got out his seldom smoked and highly prized meerschaum. In thinking about this event now, I realize it must have been early spring of 1934 as the 21st Amendment was finally ratified the previous December.

The highest priority of my dad during those hard years was the wellbeing of his family. While many during the depression years relied on the government to provide food and housing through various welfare programs my dad refused. He would get watch repair work through word of mouth and he had several jobs through what would eventually become the WPA (The Works Progress Administration). The first was street paving. Many streets in those days were paved with brick and dad, after years of sitting on his duff at a watchmaker's bench, was hauling and laying brick. On his knees most of the day and carrying hundreds of pounds of brick.

He and some of his co-workers were transported to and from the job site in the back of a dump truck. Often I watched him haul himself over the back of the truck to the street and wearily walk the few steps to the front porch. He would plop from exhaustion on the top step and sag against the banister post. Mom would bring him a cold drink and he would roll himself a cigarette or light his pipe if he had a tin of Half and Half.
He later got a job sharpening scythes for workers preparing the land for a government sponsored artificial Lake Springfield. This relieved him of the heavy labor and provided the family with a supply of meat. There were an abundance of Rabbits in the underbrush at the work site!

Linoleum was delivered with a long piece of bamboo through the middle of the roll to facilitate carrying. Almost everyone had several bamboo poles stashed away in cellars. It was during Grandpa Newt's last visit that I decided I should have a pipe too. I made one by cutting a piece of bamboo just below a joint and a couple of inches above the joint and fitting it with a stem made from a Forsythia branch. Forsythia branches have a soft membrane in the center that can be easily removed by pushing a wire through the branch. Naturally I told everyone it was a bubble pipe but did swipe some of Dad's Bull Durham and gave it a try. I don't know whether it was the tobacco or the pipe but the result was a very upset stomach and the end of my fascination with pipe smoking for a number of years.

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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