My father kept his pouch of pipe tobacco on the top of his tall bureau. When I was small I had to stretch to reach it.
With the pouch in my hand I’d open the flap and put my nose into the bag. The scent of that tobacco was one of the best smells in our house. A deep rich, sweet smell unlike the daily odors of dinner cooking, of the toilet when one of the six of us left the bathroom door open, of our dog when she came inside from the rain.
I’d have become a pipe smoker myself, except that when my father stuffed a pinch of that fragrant tobacco into his pipe and lit a match the scent changed completely. It became ordinary, almost like the smoke of cigarettes, a constant smell inside many houses in the 1960’s.
But my father was different. He smoked a pipe. And after dinner when he sat in his big chair in the living room we could often convince him to make smoke rings, a series of wavery circles that flew out of his puckered mouth and disintegrated as they floated toward the ceiling. We’d laugh and clap and ask him to do it again.
When he was in his 60’s my father developed diabetes and his doctor told him he should quit smoking. He replaced his pipe and tobacco with packets of gum, packages that interested my children almost as much as his pouches of pipe tobacco had interested me. But he had a distracted look on his face when he chewed the minty strips, not the relaxed and satisfied manner I remember when he sat and smoked a pipe.
Now I wonder if the company that made that pipe tobacco added extra scent, extra nicotine, extra sweetener to make customers more addicted to their product. But the child I was knew those pouches of tobacco had the best scent in the world. And that scent belonged to only one person—my father.