The Tobacco Jar


One of my earliest memories involved tobacco.

It was my job to deliver a small block of tobacco to the old man who lived in one of our back rooms.

I must have been about four years old; he about ninety four.

His room was dark with polished furniture, an old leather armchair and hundreds of lingering memories.

The routine was the same each week.

I would knock on the door, before going in to hand him his tobacco.

A fragrant wooden jar came from the table in the corner

From the cupboard, where he kept his coin tin, a large silver ball

Sitting on a little stool suitably placed I would arrange my skirts

Settle to watch

Each movement slow purposeful

Firstly he would break the seal and, edge by edge, open the package to reveal the moist strands within.

He would collect these to the last thread delivering it to the fragrant jar

Once the lid was pressed home his thumbs began working on the paper.

Slowly and carefully he would break the bond between the foil and its backing paper careful never to tear it

He would work away until the two were separated

He would then reach for the round silver ball

Using the warmth of his hands he would work the foil leaf into the ball, until there was no sign of the joins.

Handing it to me I would turn it again and again in my own small hands

Inspecting the silver globe with due reverence before returning it to its home in the cupboard


He would then roll and twist the paper into a spillikin

The lid of the jar was removed again, the fragrance released to the room,

As he pulled strands from the jar into the palm of his hand

His old weathered hands would work the baccy again and again

Until it formed a plug that perfectly fit the bowl of his pipe

Using the spillikin he would transfer flame from the fire to his pipe

This was my cue to leave

All this with not one word spoken

Just the synergy of two


Let’s be clear I do not advocate the use of tobacco products

I do however advocate the kind of routines

That establish, for children a sense of order and mystery

I also advocate space for a child to be stopped

Silent space

Even now I recall this ceremony with the sense of calm peacefulness

I know it deeply

With goose-bumpy pleasure

In the slow deliberate actions of repetition and order

It sooths

I am aware and saddened that often these values are seen today as humdrum or boring 

We live in Ready-Made-Throw-Away-World

Having so much done for us

I wonder

Are we are missing the opportunity to create this kind of magic

From ordinary everyday moments

The kind of magic and mystery God includes in His creation for us all

As I go about my day I pass the stool in our kitchen

It is here my four year old grandson perches himself when he visits

It’s his spot as we busy-together, in the kitchen

Right next to the pantry an Aladdin’s cave of sight, taste and smell


Photograph © Matt Stanford

I can work at weaving more into that custom

At creating more traditions that are our own

I pray we continue to discover some of the same delight

Words and Pictures © Denise Stanford 2010

~ by Denise Within the Vine on 06/05/2010.

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