This Is Christmas

Just before Christmas, I stopped into the tobacco shop for some last minute supplies. Since my son is no longer a minor, I’ve enjoyed sitting and having a cigar with him occasionally. Thank God, he seems to have inherited his mother’s lack of nicotine receptors, so he doesn’t crave the tobacco. He can have a smoke once in a great while, and that’s it. Since he turned eighteen, the three of us have sat down to some small cigars on a handful of occasions, and it’s been a great time. I usually like to keep some Nat Sherman Natural Original cigarettes on hand, as my Dad will take one on some Sunday afternoons. It doesn’t even happen every week, but on the rare occasion, I like to have them around. He won’t buy his own cigarettes, because if he does, he winds up smoking a whole pack.

So, there I was at the tobacco shop, I picked up a tin of some Davidoff Mini Churchills (one of our favorite cigars), a pack of Nat Sherman Natural Originals, and two ounces of my golden Virginia pipe tobacco. “If you have two ounces there,” I noted the mostly empty jar.

“Oh, I have more under the counter,” assured the clerk.

I had not checked out yet, but milled around the shop for a bit, looking at beautiful pipes and other paraphernalia. An older man came in with a woman around my age while I browsed. They walked up to the counter and started looking at the pipe tobacco selection.

“What do you want, Dad?” she asked in a loud voice. There was impatience in her voice. She was not being unkind, but she did sound like she was wearing thin.

He picked out a few tobaccos, and the same clerk was bagging them and labeling the bags. On a lark, I went back to the clerk and said, “would you please get this gentleman two ounces of that golden Virginia that I buy, and put it on my ticket?”

“You bet,” he smiled, and bagged up the additional tobacco. I suppose they didn’t notice my interjection, because the woman confronted the clerk and told him that they hadn’t asked for that.

He continued what he was doing, nodded his head towards me, and said, “this is from him.”

They both turned and looked at me. I nodded my head back at them. The daughter made eye contact with me and said, “thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I smiled, “Merry Christmas.”

Then, the old man shuffled over to me, “thank you, sir,” he said, extending his hand for a handshake.

I reaffirmed my reply, and took his hand. He clamped onto my hand, in the ‘I’m going to talk to you now’ shake, pulled in close, closer than I’m usually comfortable with a stranger in my personal space, locked eye contact with me, and began to speak, “so, you in the service?” he asked.

“No, sir,” I said, “I managed to avoid that somehow.”

His old eyes, going blue with slowly developing cataracts sparkled as he smiled, “well, you rascal!” And then, he continued, “I served for over twenty years. I was in Vietnam.”

I often forget how old our Vietnam vets are getting at this point. “Thank you for your service, sir.”

Still pumping my hand he said, “thank you, sir, for the tobacco.”

“It’s the least I can do. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas.”

Once he finally let me have my hand back, the daughter said to me, “thank you so much. You really didn’t have to do that.”

“I know I didn’t,” I said, “I hope he enjoys that. Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you,” she said again, visibly more at ease than when they entered the shop.

With that, I left. I honestly can’t tell you exactly why I decided to buy him my pipe tobacco. And no, I know full well that I didn’t need to buy tobacco for that guy, but it was totally worth the eight bucks of tobacco for that interchange alone. And, I do hope that he’s enjoyed it! The stuff that he was asking for was all English blend of one stripe or another. The golden Virginia isn’t nearly as sweet in flavor, but most pipe smokers can appreciate the difference. I suspect that dude has been smoking a pipe since before I was born.

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