The healing properties of tobacco : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

The healing properties of tobacco

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When my brother and I were small, our family spent summers at a cottage on Cayuga Lake in Ithaca, N.Y., where we grew up. The lake was always glacially cold, but we’d stay in the water until we had turned blue enough for our parents to demand we regain normal body temperature in the sun, so we skipped a lot of stones on the water while waiting to turn flesh-colored again.

One summer my father and uncle decided to repaint the cottage. They were up on ladders, scraping paint and smoking their corncob “working” pipes, shirtless in the summer heat. My brother and I wanted to climb those ladders too, but we were no more allowed on them than we were to help drink the beer in the giant cooler of ice they kept nearby.
As they were working under the roofline, my uncle suddenly uttered a word neither my brother nor I were familiar with. “What did he say?” I asked. We had heard our share of cursing but this was new. “Not sure,” my brother answered. “Sounded like ‘duck.’”

“What’s wrong?” asked my dad.

“Wasp nest hidden in here,” said my uncle. “#&%*#! I just jostled it.”

“Blow some smoke on it so they calm down.”

My uncle puffed furiously on his pipe and blew an impressive cloud of smoke on the nest. Never in the history of man versus wasp has a nest proven itself more indignantly opposed to tobacco. They enveloped my uncle, who immediately bounced down the ladder, his chin hitting every rung on the way down, his pipe long gone, until he landed and started slapping at all the wasps. My dad descended almost as quickly; he grabbed the ice chest and with a heave emptied its contents onto my uncle. That discouraged the wasps for a second but also propelled a beer bottle directly into my uncle’s forehead. As my dad revived him, the wasps came back for both of them, and the sheer volume of swearing they generated actually made the air crackle with ozone.

My brother and I ran up to help and the wasps welcomed us in their customary manner. “The lake!” shouted my uncle, and he picked me up and ran like a maniac. My dad scooped up my brother and was right behind us as we leaped from the end of the dock into the water. They towed my brother and me far out into the lake and turned to watch the cloud of wasps hovering at the end of the dock. It seemed to dance impatiently, daring us to come back. My dad realized his pipe was still in his mouth and he spit it out so his teeth could chatter unrestricted. “It’s #&^*$ cold!” he said.

“You can swim back,” said my uncle. “Them wasps will warm you up.”

“Think I’ll wait,” said my dad.

When the wasps finally dispersed and we dragged ourselves from the water, we were covered with red welts. “Well, this hurts,” said my uncle. “What now?”

“I read that tobacco helps,” said my dad. “Where’s that big can of Half and Half?”
We soaked the whole can of tobacco in lake water, mixed in some mud for adhesion and spread the mixture on our stings until we looked like primordial swamp monsters emerging from a peat bog. My mom got home from the store about then and laughed until she fell helpless on the ground. My uncle and my dad decided to spend the rest of the day finishing the beer.

My brother and I learned a lot about wasps and profanity that day, and it has served us well ever since. We also learned about the healing properties of tobacco: We learned it doesn’t help wasp stings at all.

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Category: Editor's Desk, Spring 2014

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