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Emily Landsman and Lisa Reutzel

Landsman_Reutzel_RE

Emily Landsman
Created using Lisa Reutzel’s poem (below) as inspiration

Two Mothers
By Lisa Reutzel

She sits upon a thrown of twigs and intricate webs,
spun like the finest Chinese silk,
surveying the world below, a warm breeze ruffling her feathers,
scented of lilac, jasmine, and the smoke of a distant fire.
Two pill bug eyes stare, unblinking,
a stone statue that has glimpsed Medusa’s snakes.
She watches a gray cat slink across the street,
ashen whiskers twitching in the heat,
watches the raven soar overhead,
her black eyes darting like a diligent sentinel.

Everyday, I pass beneath the nest and she watches me too,
as carefully as the stealthy cat and the sleek raven.
She is the lion guarding its pride,
the soldier trembling in a ditch.
I smell fear, prickling the feathers on her neck,
and wonder if she knows this is an ancient dance we dance together,
Instinct,
hers and mine.

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Emily Landsman_Reutzel_INSP

Emily Landsman
Inspiration piece provided to Lisa Powers-Reutzel

My Grandfather’s Pipes
By Lisa Reutzel

My paternal grandfather, after whom I was named, had a circular mahogany pipe rack he kept on the mantel above the fireplace in the den.  It had a dozen slots, and each pipe had its own place, its own story.  There was the old briar pipe, its bowl the rough consistency of unfinished asphalt, the maize corncob pipe, the elegantly curved calabash that reminded me of Sherlock Holmes, the meerschaum pipe, with its carved Indian head.  When I was younger, I loved to curl on my grandfather’s lap in front of the fireplace and listen to him talk, his white beard tickling my cheek.  I could sit for hours and listen to him tell stories about the Depression and the War, but my favorite stories were the ones about the pipes.

The briar was my grandfather’s first pipe, a gift from his father when he was twenty-one. The corncob pipe, my grandfather claimed, had once belonged to Mark Twain. The calabash he’d found on a beach in Sicily after the Allied invasion in 1943.  Then there was the meerschaum, which he’d won in a game of poker from a genuine Cherokee Indian named Joseph.  Joseph was a descendent of Chief Dragging Canoe, and he told my grandfather that the meerschaum pipe had once belonged to a settler in Virginia that his great-grandfather had scalped during the Second Cherokee War.  He’d kept the pipe, passing it down through the generations, as a reminder of his people’s valiant, though ultimately unsuccessful, efforts to maintain their freedom.

By the time I came along, my grandfather no longer smoked the pipes.  The emphysema had already settled in his lungs and at my grandmother’s insistence, he’d long since given up the habit.  But my grandfather still took care of those pipes like they were family.  He dusted them almost everyday, and even though there was no longer any dottle to worry about, once a week, he would run a pipe cleaner through the stem and shank just to ensure that no moisture had accumulated there.  He’d cleaned the ashcakes from the bowls, but the faint smell of old tobacco still lingered, and I loved to hold the pipes up to my nose and inhale their sweet, vaguely fruit-like odors.

The house where I grew up was only two blocks away from my grandparents’ house, so I could visit whenever I wanted.  I’d often go there after school to watch my grandfather work the wood in the garage.  My grandfather was an excellent carpenter, and even though he was retired, he still liked to build things.  He made a bookcase for my Aunt Betty and a magazine rack for my mother and a beautiful oak rocking chair for my Cousin Molly when she had her first baby.  But Fridays were reserved for tending to the pipes, and my grandfather would tell me the stories again as he cleaned each one.

When I was twelve, my grandmother died of lung cancer, even though she’d never smoked a day in her life.  With my grandmother gone, my grandfather faded like an old Polaroid picture.  Since we lived close, it fell to my mother to go over to the house everyday and make sure he remembered to take his medication, and finally, at her insistence, my grandfather was sent to live in a nursing home.  The nursing home was too far for me to walk, but my father took me to visit on Saturday afternoons.  The three of us would sit in the common room and play checkers or watch TV.  My grandfather asked about the pipes often.  He wasn’t allowed to keep them in the nursing home, even if he didn’t smoke them, a rule that made no sense to me.  My father had brought the pipes to our house, and now they sat in the corner of the China cabinet in our dining room, obscured by my mother’s plates.  Every week, I would take them out of their rack and clean them, just like my grandfather had shown me.

When I went away to college, I had to leave my grandfather, and the pipes, behind.  I still visited him during the summers, but each year, when I returned home, he seemed to have faded a bit more.  We would still sit in the common room and play games and watch TV, but now my grandfather often forgot the rules to checkers, or fell asleep in the middle of Bonanza, his favorite show.  After a couple of years, he no longer remembered my name, but the pipes, and the stories that went along with them, my grandfather never forgot.

I was in med school when I got the call from my mother that my grandfather had passed away.  There was some debate over whether I should return home for the funeral, since midterms were only a week away.  My mother thought I should stay and concentrate on my studies, but my father understood how much my grandfather meant to me.  I could hear them arguing about it over the crackly wire, as though I weren’t even there on the other end of the line.  “Mother,” I finally said.  “I’m coming home.”

The funeral was just the sort of sending-off that my grandfather would have hated.  The service was held in my parent’s church, and I’m pretty sure it was the first time my grandfather had been to church in more than fifty years.  Ida Hogan, the preacher’s wife, played “Amazing Grace” on the pipe organ and Cousin Lila sang “Rock of Ages” and the pulpit was decorated with white lilacs, even though my grandfather was allergic to most every type of flower.

I’d postponed my midterms so that I could stay and help my father go through my grandparent’s house, which had stood empty all those years that my grandfather had been in the nursing home.  My grandfather had a will, but he hadn’t left instructions for anything other than the house, so it didn’t take long for the bickering to begin.  My mother wanted the grandfather clock in the dining room and my uncle wanted the blue T-Bird in the garage and my Aunt Betty wanted grandmother’s China.  The cousins fought over grandmother’s pearl necklace and grandpa’s gold cufflinks.  I didn’t say a word as we sat in the lawyer’s office, and finally, my mother turned and asked me if there wasn’t anything I wanted.  “The pipe rack,” I said, quietly.

No one else had given the pipes much consideration.  I was the only one who had sat on my grandfather’s knee and listened to him tell their stories over and over again.  If anyone had thought they’d be very valuable, I might have had a fight on my hands, but not even my mother figured they’d be worth much.  She suggested I take them to a pawnshop to see what I could get for them.  “Maybe,” she said, “if you’re lucky, it’ll be enough to cover your textbooks for a semester or two.”  My father knew I wouldn’t sell the pipes.  “Just don’t take up smoking,” he warned.  “You don’t want to end up like your grandfather.”  My grandfather had lived to be ninety-one.

A few days later, I drove out to the cemetery to visit my grandfather’s grave.  I didn’t bring a bouquet of flowers, or one of the miniature American flags that graced many of the veteran’s graves.  Instead, I brought the circular pipe rack, tucked beneath my arm, the pipes shiny and clean.  I sat in the new shoots of grass growing in the fresh earth and took out one of the pipes, the meerschaum with the Indian head, because it had always been my favorite.  My grandfather said it wasn’t a good idea to play favorites with pipes or children, but I think he’d always been partial to the meerschaum as well.

I retrieved the little tin of tobacco I’d found in the humidor from my pocket and took a pinch, pressed it into the bowl, took another pinch, pressed it down again.  I lit a match and then held the stick for a minute, waiting for the sulfur to dissipate from the tip, then moved the match in a circle above the tobacco as I puffed on the mouthpiece, drawing in the flame.  I tamped down the initial char and then relit the tobacco, repeating the process several times.  I’d had to look up the method, since I’d never seen my grandfather smoke.  I inhaled deeply, the taste just how I’d always imagined it, fruity and spicy, like my grandmother’s apple pie.  The cool morning air filled with the scents of my childhood as I smoked my first pipe with my grandfather.

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2 comments

  1. Nice work, Lisa. Very evocative.


  2. Wonderful story, really heartwarming. Too bad my grandpa was already dead when I was a kid, so I had to discover pipe smoking by myself… 😉

    Just one little detail in your story made it feel “fictous” for me and most pipe smokers: to “inhale deeply” is not a good idea when smoking a pipe, even more so for a novice – it usually leads to a very unrelaxed facial expression, heavy coughing, and no romantic feelings at all… 😉
    Just puffing along and rolling the smoke in your mouth gives much more pleasure…



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