Photo by Chris Menges
Many of the pipes Jerry Robinson has collected over the years.

Jerry's View: I used to smoke

Why I don't like booze and drugs

With the State sanctioning marijuana and Costco influencing the vote to sell liquor I, am reminded of my own years of living with an alcoholic father and why I became a pipe smoker, albeit with some amphora tobacco and not the mind altering seeds of hashish buds. Of course I did not have much trouble buying tobacco then. It was everywhere.

I can't say for certain my own mind was not altered by the sweet taste of my tobacco or even that of my own dad's Granger rough cut, that lingered in the air, as he worked his crossword puzzle.

My dad smoked a pipe for most of his 86 years and was not into fancy shapes like I was. I never saw him change tobacco brands. He brought home a cigar now and then but never smoked them. Somebody probably gave them to him. Mom never ever complained of smelly pipes and that might have been because we kids were hired to clean them each night and maybe get a nickel each.

I still have about thirty of my old pipes . Many of them quite unique and expensive when I bought them, like a beautiful Meerschaum that cost me 50 bucks in Denmark.

It might be an oral fixation not unlike biting nails or early thumb sucking but I did not start smoking until my early 20's. In fact, I was a pretty naive guy when I got married in 1942. I could not dance a lick, my oral fixation, at the time was saying nice things to people. It is how I met and married my wife. We moved to Seattle to work for Boeing. She worked at a small grocery store in McMicken Heights and would bring home cigarettes for neighbors. We got hooked during the War, smoking the extras we did not hand out.

For more than 35 years she continued smoking and saving those damned coupons to earn points for purchases. Sadly I lost her in 1968 to lung cancer. At that point I felt it was necessary to give up cigarettes, so I did.

I switched to a pipe to satisfy my oral fixation. I know it was a fixation as I seemed to chew through the "bit" of each pipe I owned. And I owned a lot of pipes.

Maybe my own desire to smoke a pipe influenced my second wife Elsbeth, who bought a jeweled corncob pipe. We were doing a touristy thing, having lunch in Hollywood at the famous Brown Derby. She was puffing away on her tiny pipe when movie star Phil Harris waved us over to visit his table.

We sat down next to him. He wanted to know all about the pipe and what kind of tobacco she smoked. She invited him to take a few puffs and before a minute we were surrounded by a score of other curious women who were lunching. It was our 15 minutes of fame, all because a beautiful lady was smoking a pipe.

A number years ago we were seated at a Seattle nightspot. John Wayne came in with friend Paul Friedlander, well known local jeweler and civic activist. Elsbeth was elbow to elbow with the movie star. She asked for Wayne's signature on our menu. He gave our party of four a signed personal wallet card but did not try to smoke her jeweled pipe.

The social concept of "getting high" never appealed to me but I understand why it would to some people. It is available, like booze and temptation is a cruel friend. Maybe the sweet smell of the tobacco was my justification for lighting up each night. I thought it might be less offensive than cigarettes. I had been a moderate to light drinker in my early days, recalling with sadness how my dad would come home, fully loaded. My sisters and I would strip him of his clothes, get his pajamas on and toss his half-empty bottle into the fireplace to watch the big swoosh of flames. It was a nightly performance.

Equally sad was watching four of my eight brothers and sisters succumb to the bottle. It was a good but hard lesson for me.

Years later the boomer generation discovered Turkish bong pipes and marijuana became a household word. My own kids knew more about it than me. I can't say they ever tried it but a few of them smoked cigarettes like me until I quit in 1968. I wasn't setting a good example then but quitting might have been the best thing I could do to help them. It seemed to work. None of them smoke today.

If I learned anything else it is that making it easy to get does not make it right. Seeing the State hand out licenses for selling marijuana and small stores now selling booze brings back painful memories.

I can't say smoking marijuana leads to more dangerous drugs anymore than I can say drinking beer leads to a pint of booze.

I can say, talk to your kids. Please use your "oral fixation" to help your kids make good choices.

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