Is there anything that shouts “the Ozarks” so much as a corncob pipe?
I’ve smoked out of well-made, finished corncob pipes, and I’ve also smoked out of homemade, roughly hewn out corncobs. Both are an experience you should try.
Did you know the oldest corncob pipe company in the world is the Missouri Meerschaum Company in Washington, Mo.? Founded in 1868, the company is still putting out 3,500 pipes a day and distributing them around the globe.
I want to share something I found in a 1919 book titled “Mince Pie” by Christopher Morely. It’s a collection of sketches from around the country. Included is a passage addressed to Boonville, Mo., but it is really an ode to the corncob pipe.
It is reproduced here in part. I could write no better tribute:
“What is the subtle magic of a corncob pipe? It is never as sweet or as mellow as a well-seasoned briar, and yet it has a fascination all its own. It is equally dear to those who work hard and those who loaf with intensity.
“When you put your nose to the blackened mouth of the hot cob its odor is quite different from that fragrance of the crusted wooden bowl. There is a faint bitterness in it, a sour, plaintive aroma. It is a pipe that seems to call aloud for the accompaniment of beer and earnest argument on factional political matters.
“It is also the pipe for solitary vigils of hard and concentrated work. It is the pipe that a man keeps in the drawer of his desk for savage hours of extra toil after the stenographer has powdered her nose and gone home.
“A corncob pipe is a humble badge of philosophy, an evidence of tolerance and even humor. It requires patience and good cheer, for it is slow to ‘break in.’ Those who meditate bestial and brutal designs against the weak and innocent do not smoke it. Probably Hindenburg never saw one.
“Missouri’s reputation for incredulity may be due to the corncob habit. One who is accustomed to consider an argument over a burning nest of tobacco, with the smoke fuming upward in a placid haze, will not accept any dogma too immediately.
“There is a singular affinity among those who smoke corncobs. A Missouri meerschaum whose bowl is browned and whose fiber stem is frayed and stringy with biting betrays a meditative and reasonable owner. He will have pondered all aspects of life and be equally ready to denounce any of them, but without bitterness.
“If you see a man on a street corner smoking a cob it will be safe to ask him to watch the baby a minute while you slip around the corner. You would even be safe in asking him to lend you a five. He will be safe, too, because he won’t have it.
“Think, therefore, of the charm of a town where corncob pipes are the chief industry. Think of them stacked up in bright yellow piles in the warehouse. Think of the warm sun and the wholesome sweetness of broad acres that have grown into the pith of the cob. Think of the bright-eyed Missouri maidens who have turned and scooped and varnished and packed them.
“Think of the airy streets and wide pavements of Boonville, and the corner drug stores with their shining soda fountains and grape-juice bottles. Think of sitting out on that bluff on a warm evening, watching the broad shimmer of the river slipping down from the sunset, and smoking a serene pipe while the local flappers walk in the coolness wearing crisp, swaying gingham dresses.
“That’s the kind of town we like to think about.”
By Wes Franklin
(Wes Franklin can be reached at 417-658-8443 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)