The Tobacco Shop

This weekend Martin and I ran away from home.

We foisted off the kids, hired a farm sitter and checked into a posh hotel in Georgetown where we retired to a Parisian-styled room. With Egyptian cotton sheets. And a limestone bathroom. And a soaking tub.

And no stink bugs.
Or dog hair.
Or crushed potato chip bits.
Or plastic toy soldiers or scattered legos. Happy meal toys, or…

With traffic and honking cabs and trendy restaurants we forgot about farm life. Mucking stalls. Laundry piles. For a day or so.

On Saturday we dawdled over lunch and thumbed through a bookstore before weaving between umbrella-waving tourists along Georgetown’s narrow sidewalks. Past antique window displays, shoe stores, haughty mannequins in summer dresses. And the tobacco shop.

I’d forgotten the tobacco shop.

When I was a kid, my mom worked weekends, leaving Dad and I to putter around the house. My father would mow the lawn and I’d watch cartoons until he’d drag me out to water the tomato plants or tug tufts of onion grass from the front yard. Invariably, we’d wheel our bikes out of the garage and follow the canal down to Georgetown.

It was eight miles along the tow path, a trail smattered with bikers, joggers, dog walkers and men carrying coolers and fishing poles. Even in the summer heat it was an easy bike ride, thanks to the flat path and the shifting sun and shade. The canal smelled dank and stagnant but we got used to it. Sometimes Dad and I talked but mostly we listened to the pebbles crunching under our tires. Midway we’d stop so my father could smoke his pipe and I’d pick mulberries or sit on the grass.

The canal ended abruptly in Georgetown and back then, a mule-powered barge pulled tourists a mile along the water. Usually the barge was tethered at the last lock, the mules dozing and lop eared.

We’d stand in our bike pedals for the hill past the lock and park by the ice cream shop. I’d waffle between rainbow or mint chocolate chip while Dad knocked his pipe clean against the mile post marker. Then we’d hike the hill to the tobacco shop on M Street.

It was dark and cool inside and Dad deliberated over the selection as I had mulled over ice cream flavors. I’d stand by the wooden indian near the door or gaze at the knives and lighters under the counter and the beer steins on the wall.

When Martin and I passed the shop on Saturday, I instantly remembered it all. The dark wood, the indian and the smell of pipe tobacco.

 It looked the same as before — worn hardwoods, tobacco leaves dangling from the rafters, and pipes ensconced in glass displays. The indian still stood at the door.

I waited for that sweet familiar pipe smell but instead there was only heavy cigar smoke. Two men stood in the back, under big brass lights, puffing on their cigars. I stopped at the entrance, waiting for a wave of familiarity. But there was nothing. The store felt the same and different all at once. I glanced once more at the indian, now shorter than I remembered, and headed for the door.

Sometimes it’s better to stay outside. And just look in.