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An Old Kaywoodie Pipe

October 4, 1999
The restless season is here once again. September has brought us some sweet relief from the torrid heat of summer, and now it is already October. A restless time, I have said, because of such changes in the air. Dry leaves go skittering in the northerly winds and collect overnight in the bed of my pickup, only to go whirling away the next day when I reach highway speeds on my way to work. Cardinals, sparrows, and many birds beyond my knowledge to identify are gathering in their winter homes, already inspecting the still-empty bird feeder for food. There has been a patch of bright yellow flowers growing in my back yard all summer long, somehow in defiance of the lack of rain. They are the only flowers I have seen for miles around, and are thick with bumblebees every day from sunrise to sunset. I have avoided mowing them, suspecting that they are one of the very few food sources available to the bees this summer. Soon these flowers will be turning brown and brittle as well, and I only hope the bumblebees have stored up enough food to last what will probably be a very dry winter. The last harvests are being gathered in, and the first hunters are going out. And my daughter has just turned 7 months old.

My daughter! When last I wrote one of these little meanderings she had not even been conceived, neither in mind nor in body. What strange and wonderful surprises have come with her birth. To care for such a tiny and helpless person, to see her smile in recognition when I first enter her room in the morning...The emotions these things bring on are already well known to anyone who is a parent, and--I think--beyond my power to describe to someone who has never been a parent.

By now you may be wondering, what does any of this have to do with an old Kaywoodie pipe? It is also about this time of the year that I find myself thinking of a man much older than myself who I knew well but had never met. Bruce became my penpal, for lack of a better term, sometime around 1987, and we wrote each other for several years. We had some things in common. We both liked a wide variety of music, and our tastes in such usually coincided. We both grew up on small farms and preferred small towns and country life to living in a city. We both liked science fiction and weird fiction in general, and H.P. Lovecraft in particular. In fact, it was through a letter to the editor of a weird fiction magazine that we met, when Bruce wrote that he would welcome correspondence from other fans of weird fiction to discuss our mutual interest. Three people answered his invitation. The other two both lived outside the United States, and being on a somewhat limited income, he didn't want to spend the extra money on international postage, so I was the only one he answered.

Over the years we came to know each other very well, our long rambling letters going well beyond the discussion of literature into the revealing of our pasts, our childhoods, our failures and our hopes. He told me how his mother had been killed in a farming accident when he was a young adult, how he was so shocked that he couldn't bring himself to go to her funeral, and how he had regretted it ever since. He told me also how a near-fatal bout of mumps when he was a child had rendered him unable ever to have any children of his own. I came to know him very well, as I have said, and if I could write to him now I can imagine the bittersweet rejoicing he would feel at the birth of my own daughter and his own lack of a child.

But I still haven't explained the pipe. Bruce was a heavy cigarette smoker, and I'm sure it contributed to his declining health in his last years. Occasionally, however, he smoked a pipe, an old Kaywoodie that he had picked up years before in a PX while in the army. Recently I was able to purchase such a pipe. It is not his pipe, but with its battered rim and the familiar white cloverleaf logo faded only to the outline of the stamp, it could be very much like the pipe he once smoked. Over the years our letters grew less frequent, until for the last couple of years we were down to only one or two each year, with a card for each other at Christmastime. He had a number of health problems, which he wrote to me of, and two Christmases ago when I sent him a card, I never received one in return. Nor have I heard from him since. He told me more than once that he had never felt the need to worship any kind of higher power, and his belief in an afterlife was shaky at best. Still, he said, if he did go on after death, he hoped he would be able to flit ghostlike around the old farm where he grew up, and revisit some of the places and people he had known, the few people and places that had brought him some happiness. And he hoped he would be able to see his mother again.

It is only an old Kaywoodie pipe. Made from a hunk of low-grade briar, it was not an expensive pipe when it was new, and is worth less now than when it was first put on a shelf sometime decades ago. There is nothing particularly special about it, but when I smoke it, I can't help but remember Bruce, and I hope wherever he is, he knows of the pleasant thoughts his memory brings me, and I hope that he remembers me.