A turkey roasts in the oven, while cornbread dressing patiently awaits its turn. Roasted winter vegetables are kept hidden under a canopy of tinfoil, while the rolls receive their final proofing before going in. Pumpkin and chess pies cool in the fridge for later. All the while, the familiar voice of Burl Ives belts out A Holly Jolly Christmas on the radio, giving old and young the go-ahead signal to get the decorations down from the attic and start decking the halls and trimming the tree! A freshly cut Norwegian Spruce stands in the corner, its uppermost bough bends under the weight scratches the ceiling.
Hands cover your eyes, “Santa” you give a playful guess as cherry wood tobacco gives away the man who has taken up residence in your heart. You capture the rough, calloused hands in your own and spin around to hug the big bear of a man. You stroke his beard and take the well-loved cob pipe out of his starch white shirt pocket. You take him by the hand to the over-stuffed chair in the living room and put his feet up on the suede ottoman, take his shoes off, and tuck the woolen blanket around his legs.
“There. Comfy?” you kiss his cheek and he gives a pinch to yours.
“Bapples” a broad smile plays across his leathery face as thirty-seven years disappear in that one word as you are transported back to the warmth of his Chesapeake, Virginia living room. You are forever nine years old, as the clocks are missing their hands. Time has no place of importance in that humble ranch house on Cheshire Street.
In a gesture of play, he pretends to grab your nose “got it” he announces as he winks at his darling granddaughter to join in on his fun. The kind old man produces his hand balled up into a fist, with what appears to be your tiny nose poking through two fingers for your inspection. You giggle as you snatch it from his hand and put your nose back where it belongs. He points to his cheek and you plant a big raspberry on it.
“I love you granddaddy” he gives a hearty laugh as you jump off his lap, but not before swiping the pipe he keeps hidden in his shirt pocket.
“What will it be today pops, cherry wood or cherry wood?” as you tap the barrel on the palm of your hand just like you watched him do a thousand times.
“Surprise me” and he closed his eyes.
You take the lid off the glass container that holds his tobacco and packs it into the pipe carefully so as not to spill it all over the mantle. With careful precision, you wipe down the edges with the white cloth he has folded neatly into squares beside the rack of pipes he has collected over the years.
“You can open your eyes now”
“Ta-da!” you wave your hand in front of the pipe to say as if by magic his trusty ole pipe is filled and ready for him to have a good smoke.
You wave your hand once more to produce his Bic.
“Let me. Please?”
“Do you know how?”
“Oh, sure” you boast with confidence “watched you do it.”
You flick the lighter with great ease and to your amazement and his; it catches on the first try. He takes a few short puffs to allow the flame to catch all the tobacco.
“Good girl, but don’t you dare ever smoke. Promise me?”
“Promise” you cross your heart like a little child and smile a big toothy grin.
“Nasty habit, only old men should smoke,” he laughs at himself.
“You will never be old to me granddaddy.”
“My pipe, are you finished filling my pipe?”
“Kitten, Kitten, are you okay?”
You wipe down the edges with the white clean hankie just like he taught you to do. “Yes, I’m good, lost in thought I suppose.”
You hand him his pipe.
“Light it for me?” the beard covered his bottom lip, but the smile was still there all the same. He reached into his shirt pocket and handed her his coveted Bic.
You take the lighter from his calloused hand.
“Know how to light it?” he teases.
“Oh sure, I have watched you do it a thousand times,” you tease back.
You flick the lighter with childlike confidence, and it catches the first time. He takes a few puffs to ensure a good strong catch of the tobacco.
You sit at his feet just as you did when you were nine years old, watching him enjoy his pipe.
He sits up, takes the blanket off, and hands you the corncob pipe and his Bic.
“Here, keep these for me, I’ll see you again real soon.”
“There’s no place like home for the holidays” came across the radio, waking you from your nap. Cherry wood permeates every corner of the room, far-reaching into every nook and cranny; the blanket. You put your hands to your nose and inhale the intoxicating scent.
Love was in that room.
Love will always be in that room!