Monday, February 6, 2012

My Father's Gift

(My father, Jay Brandt, on the Playboy Jazz Cruise in 2009)

Like a lot of children, I loved to be told stories when I was growing up. Honestly, stories, both fictional and true, still play a large part in my life, as I am an English major and aspiring poet. 

Unlike most children, however, my father never regaled me with stories about fairies and princesses and castles. I grew up hearing about Krishna and Ganesha, Parvati and Durga.

When he didn't feel like recalling a classic Hindu or Buddhist story, he would tell me one of his own. In his younger years, my father traveled through India and Iran, Russia and France, Afghanistan and Tibet. He tells me that he left the USA with a backpack and $2,000. Mind you, this was in the early 70s. One my favorite stories involves that fact that, while traveling through Afghanistan, he saw "a line of trucks and jeeps, miles long". Apparently, he had no idea what was going on until many years later, when he realized that that was the Russians invading the country.

(My father riding a donkey with children in Iran)

To this day, my habit of living vicariously through my father has not changed. 

This summer, my father, stepmother (affectionately known as 'Smom'), and my two younger siblings traveled to Myrtle Beach on a family vacation.

When they told me where they were planning on going, I nearly started drooling. "Myrtle Beach as in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina?" I said over the phone to my father.

Don't mistake my intentions. I have no interest in beaches or lengthy periods of exposure to the sun and shirtless people who really should be wearing shirts. My drool-reflex was inspired by something else residing in Myrtle Beach, specifically something residing less than two miles from the condo in which my family would be staying: Low Country Pipe & Cigar, the physical location of

(Image courtesy of Smokingpipes) 

Needless to say, I attempted to rearrange my schedule, to no avail. College does not let you reschedule your classes so easily as one might like. 

So, while my family was enjoying the sunshine of the beach and I would have been whiling away the hours eyeballing extremely expensive pipes, I was forced to learn about basic Political Theory and the writings of Daniel Dennett, which, for the most part, I enjoyed.

A couple of days into their vacation, I received a phone call from my father. "Do you have the Mark Twain pipes from Peterson?"

He's there, I thought to myself, he is standing in my Mecca.

I hesitated to tell him that I did already have that series, as I didn't want to sound selfish or ungrateful. I also hate lying, however, so I told him that I did.

"Okay, hold on," he said.

"Hello, Ethan?" I heard over the other end. I didn't recognize the voice. "This is __________ at Smokingpipes." I have a blank there because I cannot remember the man's name (sorry, sir).

We talked for a couple of minutes, talking about a few pipes that I did and did not have. Eventually, he wished me well and handed me back to my father. 

I heard nothing more about the subject until Thanksgiving, when I drove to Union, Kentucky to visit my dad.   I had not, however, forgotten about his visit.

I asked him what Low Country was like, both because I was curious and as a not-so-subtle way of inquiring about the pipe.

"It wasn't what I expected," he said. "It was just a tiny place."

"Tiny?" I asked, surprised. Mind you, I hadn't seen the place in person, but I had seen the pictures many, many times. Quickly, I whipped out my computer and found a particular image. "Was this the place you went?"

(Image of Low Country Pipes & Tobacco, courtesy of Smokingpipes)

I showed him the image you see above.

"Yeah, that's the place," he said.

I couldn't believe my ears. To me, that is the image of heaven: pipes, tobacco, leather chairs, wooden decor, and warm lighting. Had I been able to go to Myrtle Beach, I would have spent all of my days in this place of holy Pipedom. 

It reinforced to me how unusual our hobby is. We find beauty and enjoyment in areas where most people would just see a piece of wood, just see a room with boxes and tins. We appreciate the under-appreciated. 

After I explained, exasperated, how much beauty I found in that place that referred to as diminutive, he told me to follow him upstairs, dug a box out of his closet, and handed it to me.

I recognized the generic pipe-box that Smokingpipes uses instantly. It seemed a lot fuller, a lot larger, than I was used to. 

Opening it, I first pulled out a T-shirt with the Smokingpipes logo on the front and the Low Country building on the back.

"The gentleman working there threw that in for free when I told him about you," my father explained. This was an extremely generous act on the part of the Low Country staff, one which I truly appreciate.

Beneath the shirt rested a generic Smokingpipes pipe sock. The pipe I pulled out was perfect.

(Savinelli Clark's Choice, photo copyright of Ethan Brandt, 2012)

I have owned my fair share of Savinellis, but this is by far my favorite. It is not only my favorite because it is the perfect length between standard and churchwarden, it is not only my favorite because the blast is beautiful; it is my favorite because it was from my father.

(Copyright of Ethan Brandt, 2012)

He went to my holy-land and brought home a piece of it that he found to be significant, in which he saw beauty. He took the time to think about my obsession and think about how he could add something to it in a meaningful way.

I have not yet smoked the pipe, as I have been waiting to photograph it first, but I have held it and looked at it many times. Every time I hold it, I think of my father and the stories that he has told me, stories that occurred before I was alive on travels far away. This is my physical connection to one of my father's stories. Admittedly, it is not a trip to a small village in India, but it is a story with which I feel a deep connection, both to the event and to my father.


  1. Ethan,

    Sorry to hear that you missed a chance to visit the shop! Your dad probably thinks the place is tiny because he didn't get the grand tour of our three story building, which includes a floor dedicated to pipe photography and estate restoration. We've also got a shipping warehouse about a football field away filled with tobacco and accessories, and another building for our customer service and art departments. The next time you're around give us a heads up and we'll be sure to show you the place. You've been an awesome customer with us over the years and you deserve the red carpet treatment when you stop by.

    Ted Swearingen
    General Manager |

    1. Mr. Swearingen,

      I figured something was amiss with his description, and I told him about the size of your warehouse and the multi-floor set-up that you've got going on. His description of it as "tiny" was quite humorous, however, and made for a great discussion with him.

      I hope to be able to make it down there some time soon. You all have been great to deal with and your selection is remarkable.

      Thank you for the response and keep up the great work!