Put that in your pipe and smoke it: Family’s tobacco history snuffed out

Put that in your pipe and smoke it: Family’s tobacco history snuffed out

, last modified June 03. 2009 11:08AM

The man was sitting on a bench at a rest area in Tennessee.

He was smoking a pipe. He didn’t look like Santa Claus, but the words of Clement C. Moore’s classic Christmas poem quickly popped into my head: “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.’’

I tried to remember the last time I had seen someone smoking a pipe. It’s rare these days, even in Tennessee, one of the country’s top tobacco-producing states.

Maybe pipe smoking has gone out of style because we live in such a fast-paced world. It takes too much time to fill a pipe bowl with tobacco, tamp it down, light it and then relight it because it always flickers out.

Pipe smokers have to knock the ashes out of the bowl and need a place to keep the pipe when it isn’t lit. That doesn’t seem to fit today’s on-the-go lifestyle.

Pipe smokers were fairly common when I was a boy. More people smoked cigarettes or cigars, but quite a few men puffed on a pipe.

Cigarette and cigar smokers still are common, but what happened to the pipe smokers?

I have always considered pipe smokers to be patient people. They don’t seem to mind lighting and relighting the tobacco, knocking out the ashes and occasionally taking the pipe apart to clean the stem.

They could smoke a pipe, hold it in their teeth, carry on a conversation and work with their hands long before the term multitasking was invented.

Pipe smokers seem to be sociable people, never in a hurry, never angry because their pipe has gone out.

I come from a long line of smokers on both sides of the family. Dad says when he reached the age of 15, his father took him to the general store and bought him a corncob pipe because he was on the verge of manhood and old enough to become a smoker.

Dad ditched the corncob pipe and eventually turned to cheap cigars. He bought them in pocket-sized cartons, six cigars for 35 cents. He seemed to enjoy them even if those cheap stogies smelled like a ripe garbage can in 90-degree temperatures.

My paternal grandfather smoked cigars. His father, who died of cancer, preferred cigarettes. My maternal grandfather rolled his own cigarettes. He died of cancer, too.

When I researched my family tree, I discovered that my great-great-grandmother, Genevieve Montri, smoked a corncob pipe. She had copied a fad started by Rachel Jackson, who smoked a pipe when her husband, Andrew, was inaugurated as president.

Genevieve lived until 1918 and died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 85. Guess the pipe smoking didn’t hurt her health.

I don’t know how much smoking has harmed my father. He is just a few months from his 88th birthday and in good health for his age. Of course, he gave up cigars years ago.

He smoked because his father smoked and had introduced him to tobacco. I would be willing to bet that every generation of my family followed a similar pattern.

That changed with my generation. Maybe it was because they started printing statistics of how many smokers died from lung cancer. Maybe it was the surgeon general’s warning. Maybe it was the stinky cigars my father smoked when we were kids. For some reason, none of us became smokers.

So we should live to be 100.

Readers may e-mail Ron Montri at rmontri@monroenews.com.

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