Posted on July 19, 2023

Pipe-Fitting - Gebo's

C.S. Lewis famously said that “A pipe gives a wise man time to think and a fool something to stick in his mouth”. As with most things, Lewis was probably right. 

I won’t commit to being either a wise man or a fool, but I did smoke a pipe - very briefly - in graduate school. It led to a couple interesting moments. 

First, I had to teach myself to smoke.

In the apartment I shared with another guy from the history department, I sat in my bedroom one afternoon, loaded the pipe with the cherry tobacco I’d bought (it made me think of my father’s pipe from when I was a little boy), tamped it down into the bowl with the neat little gizmo the guy at the tobacco store sold me, and lit up. 

Like starting a good campfire, you have to get the oxygen to draw just right. You have to suck in or blow out to control the flame and make sure it actually makes contact with the tobacco. 

It took a few tries.

Finally, everything worked just right and the wonderful aroma of cherry tobacco filled my bedroom. Ahh.

But… it also filled the entire apartment and my nonsmoking roommate had a few choice things to say about the smoke and the smell. 

I didn’t smoke much after that. At least not indoors. 

Several months later I went home to visit my parents for a weekend. It was early Spring 1991. I’d just been offered a job to work for a congressman in Washington, DC. I was still weighing the decision to pack up all my belongings and leave every familiar face and thing behind. To leave one career path (teaching and academia) and set out on another in public service. 

My parents decidedly did not want me to move. 

“Jim, you’ll get up there and miss us and you know we won’t be able to come see you very often,” my Dad had said on the phone when I first got the offer. He skipped right over more rational arguments and went straight for the homesick card. 

He was good. 

That particular weekend at home Dad and I had already had a few cross words about my decision. He didn’t say much to me after Saturday morning. Mother stuck with neutral topics. 

After church and the Sunday lunch my mother prepared, it was still pretty quiet around the house. Frustrated, I found my pipe and tobacco pouch and headed for the front porch. 

I plopped myself down on the old church bench that took up space on my parents’ porch for years and lit up.

I sat there and stewed. 

I was 27. It was the perfect time in my life to be going off on an adventure. It also was the realization of a dream I’d been carrying for over ten years. “Mr. Hamilton goes to Washington.” 

I didn’t need my father’s blessing to go, but there was nothing I wanted more. 

My brother had already signed off on my going. Wouldn’t I regret it if I didn’t at least try? “No regrets, Jim,” he said. “Go.”

I don’t know if Dad opposed the move because he would miss me, because he knew it’s a mighty big world for folks from small hometowns, or maybe because he’d never taken the opportunity to have an adventure for himself. Whatever it was, he was keeping his reason to himself. 

I’d been smoking only about five minutes when Dad came out and joined me on the bench. He carried his old pipe in his hand.  

I offered him my tobacco pouch and he shoveled his pipe through it to fill the bowl. I showed him how to use the pipe lighter. He was puffing away in seconds. 

We sat in silence. 

Finally, “Jim, I guess you’re old enough to make your own decisions. Go ahead and go,” he said with a sniff. 

 It was as close to a blessing as I was likely to get. 

Did we smoke peace pipes? Of course not, but it was a moment when peace came down on both of us and our relationship was restored. 

“Thank you, Dad,” I said. “I’ll come home as often as I can. 

This was a palpable moment when a chapter of my life closed and the world began to open in front of me. It freed me to choose a different path. 

And it has made all the difference.


By: James Hamilton

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