I was about 7 when I first took up pipe smoking.
I learned this fine art from an older class mate. Mel was only a year older but he had several older brothers who taught him. His oldest brother carved a corncob pipe and used it to smoke corn silk. One day Mel decided it was time for show & tell in school. Except he neither showed it to the teacher nor told her he had it. Mel had “found” the pipe laying about. He accidentally spotted it in the barn hidden near the horse trough under a bundle of rags his brother used to rub the horses after a long day. It was a fine pipe for someone to leave laying about like that.
It was during a Friday noon recess Mel pulled the pipe out of his pants pocket, casually stuck it in his mouth. That small act stopped the rest of us boys in our small tracks. We stared at him as if he suddenly appeared out of nowhere. We all gathered around Mel admiring this wonderful & valuable thing. Mel let us believe he had smoked it & would teach the rest of us boys how to do the same. We all took turns putting it in our mouth, pretending to smoke. We spend the rest of recess taking turns, at the end of which Mel returned it to his pocket, giving the rest of us a conspiratorial wink. By which he meant if any of us told the teacher about the pipe, he would clean our clocks on the long walk home. Never mind his farm was in the opposite direction. And none of us owned a clock.
The next Monday, Mel showed up at school with a wad of corn silk in his pocket and a black eye. But he never admitted to his brother he took the pipe. We all admired Mel for that. If his brother had threatened one of us, we would have given him up in a Minnesota minute. If you have ever seen a standing corn field, corn silk is the hairy looking “silk” at the top of the ripe corncob. Once removed from the cob & dried, grown-ups use this in the place of tobacco. On a farm, money can be hard to come by. Folks didn't have extra spending money for luxuries such as tobacco. They made do with what they had. What they had was plenty of corn.
Mel passed the pipe around once more to be admired. Then he did an estimable thing. He took some corn silk out of his pocket, put it in the pipe and passed it around again! Now we got to puff on a loaded pipe. At the end of recess, with the same conspiratorial wink once more, he returned it to his pocket promising to “find” some matches soon.
About a week later, during noon recess, Mel pulled out the pipe, put some corn silk in the pipe bowel. Then he lit it! As Mel puffed on the pipe he told us he “found” some matches in his brothers pants while he was sleeping, thus also explaining his lose tooth. True to his word, Mel passed the lit pipe around for the boys to try. The thing about corn silk, not only does it taste bad but it also stinks and ruins your taste buds for about a week. That was the only time Mel gave us a try at the corn pipe. He said he lost it a couple of days later. Strangely, Mel's brother was seen puffing on a pipe that looked just like the one we had tried at school. The next spring, Mel and his family moved into town. Altho I saw Mel from time to time, we never smoked a pipe together again.
Its safe to say I never tried corn silk or any type of tobacco after that, for many, many years.
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