All Great Men Smoke Pipes



“Bonjour,” I say nonchalantly, trying to sound like — of course — obviously I speak French. The woman behind the intimidating glass screen smiles at me.

“What brings you to Canada?” she asks in English. My eyelids lower to the pristine floor. My boots make a funny squeaky sound because I’ve shifted my weight to the other leg. I’m found out. I’m just an English-speaking tourist. But what was I expecting? I’m in the “visitor” line. She stamps my passport.

“You know, all great men smoke pipes,” Robert jokes as he tilts the bowl of his pipe towards the lighter. The pipe tobacco ignites resulting in tiny crackling sounds. It’s pretty, like music. Clear jars of numerous pipe tobaccos are displayed like candy right under the twenty something pipes this man has hand-carved and alongside hundreds of bullets this man also made.

The quaint room is generously decorated with framed photographs of Einstein and Sherlock Holmes. I haven’t seen these photographs before. The men puff on smoking pipes, amply picked for the “pipe room.”

“Look at this.” I’m handed a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. The magazine is empty of course; I mean what father would hand his son’s girlfriend a loaded gun! It’s weighty. I need to use two hands so my wrists don’t look like they’re about to snap, but even with the additional help my wrists manage to resemble helpless little branches.

Jon sticks a pipe into my mouth and snaps a quick shot. I can’t tell if he thinks I look super-cool or like a little girl playing with big boy toys. Either way, I glare over at his camera and pretend I’m Sigourney Weaver in Alien.

This is all the acting I will do while I’m on vacation.

Robert folds the sleeves on his red and back flannel pleated shirt and tosses another log into the fire. He says ”Aboot” at one point and then “Eh?” at another. I inconspicuously smirk at the Canadian accent, trying to be as furtive as possible. I wouldn’t want Robert to think I’m laughing at him. Loving his accent, I hope he says these words again.

We sit smoking pipes by the fire as snow falls outside the window: several great men — Einstein and Sherlock Holmes absolutely included – and I.

After a week in Canada, I did it all. I ate a beaver tail and poutine. I fired a semiautomatic. I drank blueberry tea with Jon’s very appealing and nurturing mother. I even loaded their dishwasher.

Not bad for the first time meeting the parents. Not bad at all.

Alice can be reached at

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