Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Smoke Rings

Last night it dawned on me that I consider the ability to blow smoke rings an essential part of fatherhood.  There is of course financial stability, emotional support, supportive family structure.  If I found out I would soon become a father, I would worry about these things.  And I would also worry about being able to blow smoke rings.

I just would not feel ready to bring a child in to the world before I could blow smoke rings.

Maybe that sounds silly?

When I grew up, my favorite book was the Hobbit, by Tolkien.  This was my favorite book because it was my dad's favorite book.  (I don't know how many times I have watched the Rankin/Bass animated version of the Hobbit, and I don't care how much spectacular CGI Peter Jackson uses, Rankin/Bass' the Hobbit is THE movie version of the Hobbit.  Forever.)  My dad was a huge fan of all of Tolkien's work.  And in addition to gripping fiction and overly-detailed world building, Tolkien was also really good at pipe smoking.

9/10ths of all Tolkien photos in existence
(Seriously.  Do a Google image search for "Tolkien".  Nine out of ten photos, he is smoking a pipe.)

So my dad smoked a pipe, too.

On the back of our old house, my dad had built what we all called the "bonzai porch".  It was screened in, with a built-in water hose.  In the winter we'd cover it in plastic and set out space heaters to keep the plants from dying.  In the summer, my dad would sit on the back porch and smoke an old pipe and blow smoke rings, and my sister and I would play with them.  We'd chase them around as the wind pulled them, or poke our fingers through them, or try to grab them like doughnuts.

And there is something magical about it.  About smoke rings.  The way they float out spinning in to the air, and then pause, hovering, then spread out like a lasso.  It's mesmerizing to watch.

I don't know why that's such an ingrained memory of mine.  When I think of my early childhood with my dad, I think of playing chess and smoke rings.

I sat on my back porch last night, pulled out an old paperback copy of the Hobbit I got at a used bookstore, lit up my pipe, and practiced my smoke rings.  I'm not very good at it yet, but luckily I still have plenty of time to perfect the art.

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