Happy Holidays : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Happy Holidays

editors-desk header photoMy childhood holiday memories are filled with ghost stories. The family usually gathered at my grandfather’s farmhouse, with the aunts and uncles in the kitchen and Grandpa and the 10 Tobys (all of Grandpa’s dogs were named Toby) in the family room with all the young cousins. Grandpa would tell his horrifying stories as shadows from the fireplace slithered on the walls and we children cowered on the carpet in abject terror. We loved it.

One Thanksgiving we learned about Side-Hill Gulchers: horrible camel-sized carnivores with teeth like scimitars, the legs on one side of their bodies shorter than on the other so they could run efficiently around the sides of mountains. They weren’t good at running up or down hills, but if they caught you they would bite off one of your feet so you would be doomed to never running uphill again too.

One Christmas we learned all about Appalachian Slavering Porcupods: over-salivating creatures that balled themselves up and rolled downhill like spiky sloshing water balloons in pursuit of errant children, shooting poison-dripping quills in all directions and latching onto victims to devour them in an agony of spit and acupuncture.

Grandpa always smoked a pipe when he told stories. He used it to get his timing right, to provide a natural pause to build suspense as he relit or tamped. One stormy Christmas evening we were all sitting around the fire between stories as Grandpa refilled his pipe from the big tin of Granger that always sat on the mantle. “What’s that other tin?” asked my brother. “You never use that one.” It was a large tin of Carter Hall layered with dust.

“That’s not tobacco,” said Grandpa. “Never, ever touch that, if you value your lives.”

“What’s in it?”

Grandpa took down the tin and weighed it in his hand. “What’s in here,” he said, “are the ashes of a Ouija board that was used to talk with the spirits of the dead.” We all huddled closer.

“My parents first used this Ouija board to try to talk with my dead brother,” said Grandpa. “But the night they tried, all kinds of other spirits arrived. Ghosts tore off all the cupboard doors. They scared all the hair completely off our cat, who had to wear a sweater until it grew back. All the paint in the living room peeled, and all the water pipes burst from being flash frozen. My mother couldn’t speak at all for weeks afterward, and my father was so scared he took the Ouija board outside and burned it.

“But everyone knows you can’t throw away the ashes of a Ouija board or the spirits will haunt you forever. No, you have to contain the ashes and never handle them or look at them again. You all know my sister Agnes, right?”

“The lady with white hair who lives at the asylum?”

“That’s right. Her hair turned white and she went insane one Christmas evening just like this, when she was 11 years old and looked inside this very tin. I shouldn’t even be handling it now. Just holding it is enough to make evil spirits come after me. I could be possessed at any minute. So never touch this object, children,” he said, “or you too could go insane from fear.” He puffed on his pipe for a moment. Then he shook a little all over and his eyes went blank. Suddenly he seemed to snap awake. He laughed a deep and diabolical laugh, and he tossed the tin through the air directly to me.

Thus began my childhood issues with bladder control.

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Category: Editor's Desk, Feature Article, Winter 2012

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