My father kept his pipe in a tall wooden cabinet with beveled glass doors. The cabinet resembled a Victorian display case except that instead of stuffed animals it held treasured books and objects. Inside were the complete works of Joseph Conrad; two Meissen tankards; the catalogue from the Museum of Modern Art’s 1957 Picasso exhibition; a pre-Columbian ceramic bowl with a disturbing face on it; a book (I don’t remember the title) that contained May Ray’s “Rayographs” including one of a spinning top; a magnifying glass and a small nail; a third porcelain tankard (there was a pattern here) of a skull that looked so real, including yellowed teeth and empty eye sockets, that I convinced my best friend that it was the skull of my deceased Uncle George and that my family drank wine from it once a year at Passover.
There was also a Modern Library edition of the complete writings of Thucydides. Inside was a clipping torn from a newspaper or magazine. It was a passage from Show Me The Way
by Leslie Waller. It read: The word seemed to swell inside her, grow huge and overwhelming as it fought to the surface. It pressed against her tongue, driving ahead with a terrible force. It was almost, nearly ready, growing, looming up and welling larger, almost ready, almost uttered, almost told and almost spoken, growing till it filled her with a reckless, fierce and savage sudden…. “Ah” she said.
As a teenager, in the late afternoon when no one else was around, I would open the doors to the cabinet and inhale the sweet musky smell of tobacco that wafted out from the pipe. It was the smell of looming adulthood, the smell of art, sex and words.
This is what my father gave me.