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Flannel Shirts and Pipe Smoking

November 3, 1996
I would wear flannel all year if I could, but let's face it, the temperature range that we get here in southern Texas doesn't really allow it. So when November comes around and we get the first cool front of the year, it's time to put away the t-shirts and take out the flannels. They're a little dusty from hanging in the closet since last February, but they'll air out soon enough.

The cool rains of September bring us a little taste of what's to come. Just a friendly warning that it's time to check the furnace, make sure it still heats after several months of no use. Time to gather firewood while it's cool enough to make the work pleasant but before it's cold enough to have to use it.

Then October tricks us with a few weeks of Indian Summer. Nothing like the torrid heat of July or August, but a reminder of where we are and how bad our weather can be when it's really hot. The days slowly get shorter and then seem abruptly truncated with the switch back to standard time. The cutely macabre lawn decorations show up for Halloween, and then suddenly it's November.

Long ago it was regarded as the time when the earth died, but the earth doesn't go easily. Foliage falls from the trees reluctantly, hanging on until the last breath. The barely perciptible breezes of the summer are replaced by howling northers that tear down from the Arctic and seem no more weakened from their passage across the continent. We rarely get snow here, but we don't really need it. So accustomed are we to hot weather that a freezing temperature in the morning is enough to make us think that winter is here.

But today the weather is mild. Clear skies and bright sunshine keep the atmosphere from being gloomy and chilled. When the evening falls darkness wells up suddenly and I stand near the door, looking into the twilight. I carefully light up a pipe and step out onto the porch.

Dressed only in blue jeans and a flannel shirt, I feel the coolness immediately. As the sun slips down the post oak and blackjack trees cast long shadows against the sides of the house. My hound dog climbs the steps and pushes his nose against my leg, asking for nothing more than some attention and a scratch between the ears.

As the soft wind chills the back of my neck I get a feeling of wistfulness. November is the time for wistfulness. A time to think back on the year and what it might have been. A time to think ahead and what the next year might be. I shiver slightly and the warm pipe feels comforting in my hand. An unpretentious, unadorned piece of briar wood, created in Ireland, it traveled all the way across an ocean and halfway across the country to rest in my hand. I exhale softly into it and smoke wafts up from the bowl to be whipped around my head by the chilly night breeze. The dog looks up quizzically, unaccustomed to seeing smoke whirl around me. The first stars are pinned to the sky and glimmer as if winking a promise that all will be well.

Cool weather came early to us this year. Some folks who are older and wiser than I claim that all the signs point to a hard winter. For the last few years Christmas has been so warm we wore short sleeves and opened all the windows. Maybe this year, we'll get lucky, and it will be a good cold Christmas, the way Christmas should be. Cold enough to light up the fireplace and stand with one elbow on the mantle, pipe in hand and blowing smoke up the chimney as nieces and nephews tear open their presents, laughing as they see their uncle blowing smoke rings.

Maybe it will be cold enough to wear flannel.