Carter Hall pipe tobacco sits in a metal tin. It's like a paint can; the lid has to be pried off. The manufacturer included a little attached tab for that purpose.
I open it every now and then. Inside, a treasure of North Carolina soil and sunshine rests in a foil pouch.
The foil pouch was bought within the last two years. The can itself was new when "Just Say No" was the catchphrase of the day, and the moonwalk was all the craze. Better days?
Or just older days?
This metal can was found on a trip Back Home. When it found me, I was a time-traveller. Once opened, the faintest hint of tobacco was riding barely beneath the surface of consciousness and memory.
I brought it back with me. I purchased new tobacco to keep in it, but not to smoke. I sometimes simply open the can and inhale.
He was a stevedore, but that was just a job. He was more, and he was less. He was an alcoholic, but he was more, and he was less.
He was born before the Great Depression. When Uncle Sam demanded his help in the Philippines, he didn't shy away. He didn't volunteer, but he didn't run when he was called to do his job.
He spent his days in the jungle, hiding from the Japanese and laying railroad track. When I asked him what he did in the War, his rheumy blue eyes looked past me, through me, into me. He saw people forty-years dead, he heard whispers in the dark from half a globe away.
"I was an engineer," he said, half-coughing in his rusty voice. That gray tobacco smoke billowed as he sought distraction from the nosy boy surrounded by the ghosts of yesterday.
He explained that the railroad was important. He had to build it, he had to guard it, but then he had to destroy it. Thoughts of army movies played in my mind where recruits are made to dig a hole, then fill it in, then dig it again as some sort of punishment. I asked him if it was like that.
"It was like that, but with people dying."
I didn't ask him again.
After he passed away, I inherited his home. As I was cleaning up and packing things for donation, I stumbled across a shoebox.
He always wore ankle boots, brown leather, with a zipper. A creature of habit, every two years like clockwork he went to the same place near where he worked on the docks. There, he bought two pair of boots after riding the elevator to the third floor of the old-school department store.
That store is a bar now. Trendy loft apartments fill the third floor.
Inside that shoebox, I found a small cardboard box, the kind that would have held earrings or maybe a necklace. Underneath that box, a few black and white photographs of jungle canopy and destroyed buildings. Written in his award-winning hand writing (I found the Penmanship Award from his elementary school days) was a note that read, "This is what war does."
I took the small box in hand, and I pulled off the top. My heart skipped a beat.
Five silver teeth gleamed in the dim lamp light.
He was a fireman. He was a soldier. He was a smoker, a drinker, a hard man with a calloused softness. He was generous and unkind, he was gentle and he was not.
He was my grandfather, the best one I ever had.
He was less, and he was more.
The best I ever had
The best fun thing I ever had was going to a concert at Madison Square Garden. The person who was preforming was Elton John. This was my first time going to a concert ever. I was nervous before I went because I didn’t know if I was going to hold my ears through the entire performance. When I got there though, I had a fun time. The people who were in the audience were singing and having a great time. The songs he sang were some of my favorites. All of my family was excited to sing and see the concert. When I got home, I wanted to ask my parents to book another concert in the future because I liked it.
The Road Trip
My one the outdid all the others was my road trip this past summer. My family and I went on a 2 week road trip out west. We started in New Jersey and went throught all the states straight out to Idaho and back. Along the way we stopped at many cool places. Our main reason for this trip was the 5 days we did in Yellowstone but we also visited so many other places including The Grand Teton Mountains, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, The Badlands, and many more. We went out in our camper so that we didn't have to stay in hotels every night. I loved being able to see so many cool things along the way. This vacation had to be the one the outdid the rest because I love being in nature and getting so see and learn many new cool things.
Paradise by the Lights of Tipitina’s
Meatloaf at Tipitina's in New Orleans. Back when he was still into the theatrical mode. What a concert! Best I've ever seen (and, as a child of the 60's, I've seen many!). His sultry female accompaniment was theater at its best. His pianist played like he had sold his soul to the devil. His guitarist was amazing. I could go on and on with the superlatives, but then there was that mountain of a man who was wringing wet by the end of 2 hours.
I caught him in another concert a few years before he died and he had aged, sadly. It was some stupid Busch Gardens venue in Tampa and seemed very sterile. But it was good to get one last glimpse of the man who beat out the Who, 2 Beatles (George and Ringo), Tom Petty, T Rex, ELO, Janis Joplin, and on and on (TNTC), in my mind.