February 26, 2009
Of all the bad habits I could possibly have, my worst vice happens to be a good premium cigar. OK. I do have more than one vice. But when it comes to cigars, they've been an integral part of my family for several generations.
My great-grandfather, Benjamin 'Roy' Gillette, smoked from the time he was able to light something until his last days in 1997. Grandpa was born in southern Tennessee in 1895. During his childhood, he moved to Detroit and then to Flint, MI, ending up in Mt. Pleasant. After serving in the army for two years, Grandpa married my great-grandmother and, together, they raised five kids while running an upholstery shop and a second hand store. He was a tough but fair Irishman, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather. And boy, did he ever show his fiery Irish temper at times! I just found out recently that his dad (a local doctor who delivered the first triplets in Weidman, MI) was a cigar smoker too.
Grandpa retired in the late 1960s, and moved to Shepherd, MI, where I have lived most of my life. My grandmother said Grandpa smoked cigarettes until around the time he retired. But I never saw him do that. From the time I was a small child in the late 1960s, I can remember him always having a cigar or pipe in his mouth. Grandpa bought his cigars by the box and his pipe tobacco by the large can. Some of his favorites were Dutch Masters and R.G Dun, but his tastes varied over the years. Hav-A-Tampa, Phillies, Muriel and El Producto were other makes that grandpa enjoyed. Nothing expensive, but he liked what he smoked and smoked what he liked, as the saying goes. Grandma and Grandpa both passed away in 1997, just months apart. Grandma was 92, and Grandpa was 102 and still sharp as a tack.
Last spring, I made a great discovery while going through some of Grandpa's belongings. I came across two metal Humo cigar boxes. 'Mazer Cigar Manufacturing Co. Makers' is emblazoned inside each box on the left of a Humo logo, with 'Detroit Michigan' on the right side of the logo. On the inside of the lid, the price states '2 for 15 cents'.
Grandpa kept many of the cigar boxes, not to mention those large boxes of Diamond wooden matches that he had bought over the years to keep odds and ends (from buttons to screws to thread to various types of upholstery tacks) If anyone needed something, he'd say, "Look in the second box from the bottom on the third shelf," or, "Next to the cupboard in the Union Leader tobacco can."
Grandpa wasn't too active in his later years. His aged body was just plain tired. I think anyone that lives to be over a century old deserves to just sit around and relax. An old, worn out rocking chair was where you would normally find him smoking his pipe or cigars. I was privileged to acquire his last pipe several years after he passed away. The bowl, worn on the near side from his pen knife scraping away the ash build-up over the years, doesn't actually say what brand the pipe is. All that's scribed on the bottom of the bowl stem is 'Hand Blasted Italy'.
That pipe and those cigar boxes have many good memories attached to them. Those memories - blueberry picking, fishing, sitting under the huge willow tree in the back yard on a warm summer evening and chatting with him while he was sitting in that old rocker - are precious to me. Grandpa lived an extraordinarily long and very rich life, and he made an impact on us that will continue for many generations to come. My son carries Grandpa's first name in honor of him, and my love for cigars continues that family tradition into the fifth generation.