by Theresa Snyder
Dad and I do our best bonding when we work in the garden or on a project. The garden and the act of gardening is very conducive to setting the scene for good communication and reminiscing.
One afternoon Dad and I were arguing with a particularly large and prickly blackberry vine that had sneaked into the garden. Dad said when he was a young man in Indiana they used to burn the berry bushes at the end of the season to keep them under control and insure healthy starts for the next year. We recalled the ten years our family lived in Eugene, Oregon when we endured the seasonal, all-encompassing, acrid, eye-burning smoke created when grass farmers burned their fields.
Dad and I continued reminiscing as we moved along to check the grapevines. He started talking about smoking grape leaves when he was a kid. He told me his Uncle Cass once took him to a tobacco auction in Kentucky. The huge bundles of dried leaves and the fast-talking auctioneer fascinated the 9-year old boy.
His grandfather thought it would be a good time to teach young James the evils of tobacco. When my dad showed interest, Grandfather gave him a chaw. Sure enough, Dad swallowed when he should not have – but he never chewed tobacco again.
Later, in the small Indiana town where he was raised, peer pressure, a need for adventure and the desire to feel more grown up, led the now 12-year-old to smoke a corncob pipe.
When we kids were younger, we loved going to the pipe shop with Dad. We’d inhale the aroma of all the humidors filled with exotic tobaccos with names like Cavendish and Mixture 79. When other kids were buying their fathers ties, we were buying ours beautiful burl and meerschaum pipes for his birthday and holidays.
Dad taught us all how to handle a gun safely. He and my brothers went hunting but Dad never came back with a deer and no one could figure out the reason.
Years later, my brother Wade told me he followed Dad one time and watched as he found a nice comfortable place under a tree, packed his pipe and lit up. No deer would have come near him. My dad, the great hunter, simply enjoyed getting out with the boys as much as they enjoyed being with him.
As a family, we camped out a lot. Mom figured she had to feed us no matter where we were, so we might as well go somewhere to run off a little energy. On the way to the campsite, Mother always complained when Dad lit up his pipe in the car. She sensed secondhand smoke was harmful even before the rest of the world became aware of it
Once everything was set up at the camping spot, we spent the evening huddled around a fire talking and watching Dad contentedly puff on his pipe. We used to stick our fingers out and Dad would blow rings around them. A few decades later, I saw Lord of the Rings. As I watched Bilbo blow those smoke rings, I easily recalled the smell of the Dad’s pipe smoke in the crisp evening air.
When I moved to Portland, I began working downtown. At the entrance to my office building, I often saw a gentleman smoking his pipe. He even smoked Mixture 79, the same brand as Dad. I sometimes slowed down and inhaled the memories. I understand that smoking kills, yet I will always have fond memories associated with Dad’s pipe.
Dad caught a particularly bad cold in 1972. His doctor told him he wouldn’t have had such a hard time with it had he not been a smoker. He stopped smoking that day – never, ever smoked again. Dad is like that. He can just stop something cold just by making up his mind to do it.
That is something I really admire about my father. He has a will of iron. Of course, that “will of iron” also comes in handy when removing very stubborn blackberry vines.
This is the eighth in a monthly series, “We 3,” which introduces VoiceCatcher readers to Theresa Snyder and her stories – sometimes touching, sometimes hilarious, always authentic – about caring for aging parents. First printed as a monthly column in the Gresham Outlook between 2003 – 2008, they were collected in book-form in 2007 (Mt. Hood Community College Press). The columns have been updated and are reprinted here with permission of the author.
Theresa Snyder has been writing ever since she can remember. In 1996, shortly after she moved her elderly parents in with her, she realized she couldn’t resist writing “out loud.” She found an audience in east county interested in reading about the challenges and rewards of being a baby boomer caregiver. Unlike other authors, she does not possess a degree or a long list of publishing credits. Instead, she likes to think she has earned her title as “author” through life experience and a great deal of reading. Check out her work at Baby Boomer Caregiver.