The old lady sat in her rocking chair smoking a cob pipe as she watched her neighbors on their way to get their mail and trade in their cream and eggs for staple groceries at the country store. All of this was running past her mind, as she was puffing and rocking from her front porch. Her mind taking in each person going by, and, in between puffs of smoke, her questions poured from the mind that has to be fed concerning the business of others. She puffed on the corn cob pipe, and as the smoke curled up her sharp, pointed nose, she spent her day getting her news. She also enjoyed the retelling of it. Her pipe seemed invigorated by the thin lips in the translations of her gossip. The pipe seemed to be the motor running the mouth.
I was a small child, watching her and thinking how much she looked like the wicked old witch with a brewing pot, stirring up more of her witch’s mischief.
I have seen many women in the Ozark hills smoking cob pipes, but never one that loved her corn cob pipe and to gossip as well as Ethel May (name changed).
I’ve seen many corn cob pipes and learned there is an art to smoking one. They have been in existence for well over 200 years. It was as common a thing for women to smoke as men. Pipe smoking may have been a European custom. The pioneers of the Ozarks were descended from European people. Mine being Scott, Irish, and English.
Our state of Missouri and the Missouri Ozarks are famous for the corn cob pipe. It is being manufactured today in a factory located at Washington, Missouri, a Missouri River town about 50 miles west of St. Louis.
The corn cob pipe was perfected by Henry Tibbe. Henry was a Dutch immigrant. He was skilled in woodturning. He and his son Anton began making pipes in their little shop in Washington, MO in 1872.
Back in 1882, our famous author Mark Twain was traveling down the Missouri River on a riverboat when he lost his pipe. He was knocking out the ashes on the railing. His pipe went sailing into the river. Lem Gray, who ran the boat, handed Mark Twain one of his corn cob pipes to use. Twain became one of our popular fans of his native state’s pipe.
Other famous men who have smoked a cob pipe were Brig. General John J. Pershing. He is the man from Missouri and the only six star general. President Gerald Ford and Gen. Douglas MacArthur were fond of the corn cob pipe.
We don’t see many pipe smokers today, nor the famous tobacco stores with the nice smelling tobacco. They are still popular in some countries. I visited friends in Canada a few years ago and stopped by a fancy tobacco shop with our friend that is a pipe smoker.
Corn cob pipes are not as popular today as in the latter part of the 1900s, but today the famous Missouri Meerschaum company at Washington, Missouri is still selling pipes around the world.
My experience with the corn cob pipe wasn’t as colorful as some, but very real. I loved the sweet fragrant smell of tobacco. One day I tried smoking a pipe. I sat down to enjoy the nice smell, but I had to get up after a few puffs to find I couldn’t stand up. I crawled to my bathroom to vomit. I was so sick, I never wanted to try another corn cob pipe. I’ve never liked cigars or any other kind of tobacco since the day I tried the corn cob pipe.
The old timers in the Ozarks raised tobacco. I’ve seen the big tobacco barns in Weston, Missouri where the tobacco dried. The barns were usually close to the Missouri River where it was shipped by the steam boats in the 1800’s. Those going north and west. Tobacco, like cotton, was in great demand.
Time changes demand, and man changes with time. But the warmth of a good fire, and the image of a father smoking his pipe makes a peaceful scene to finish off one’s day. No television blaring: just peace!