...totally “chickened out.” Terrified of confronting such greatness, I put the car in
reverse, backed quietly down the drive, and reaching the pavement, sped away.
What were we thinking... a pair of university twits invading such hallowed ground!
One day, having walked from the campus the short distance to downtown Oxford,
Bro’ and I spied Will in his white suit on the lawn of the county courthouse just fifty
yards away. He often sat on the benches in the shade of the great Magnolia trees
and smoked his pipe, but now he appeared to be off somewhere, so we were
reluctant to rush up and attempt a conversation. Stumped again.
One fine afternoon, fresh out of pipe tobacco, I walked to town to a fine little drug
store (“pharmacy” in the UK) to pick up a pouch. What happened next is seared
into my memory.
I was staring down into the waist-high glass display case, examining the tobacco
offerings. Just to the left of the cheap brands, there was a neatly stacked pyramid
of black and white tobacco tins with strange graphics and a stranger name, Balkan
Sobranie. I was curious as to how it might taste, but was quickly put off by the
$6.00 price, a whopping $48.13 in today's dollars. Just as I was about to ask for a
packet of Cherry Blend, one of the mild aromatics that Bro’ and I typically smoked,
a voice behind me said, “Why don’t you try some of mine?” I turned round and
there he was... Will Faulkner. Dumbstruck, I stammered, “W-w-which one is that,
sir?” He said, “There!” He stepped up to my left and pointed at the tins, “Balkan
Sobranie. I have it ordered for me special.” Well, was I ever flattered! The Will
Faulkner was offering to buy this lowly student a tin of his favorite blend... or so I
thought! I told the clerk I’d have one, please, then noticed that Will’s hands were
not moving! I was stuck... forced by The Cruel Fates into near financial ruin. I
fished out my wallet, found a lone fiver and a one, got some pocket change for
the tax, and paid for what surely must be the rarest gem of the world’s great
tobaccos. Will asked for two tins. I remember nervously thanking the clerk and Mr.
Faulkner very much for his recommendation, and bidding a hasty retreat. Then
there was the brisk walk back to campus to find Bro’. 'Twould be the height of
understatement to say that he was jealous of my encounter with The Man.
We wasted no time, Bro’ and me, opening that glorious tin. Eager to savour its
goodness, we gave it a good sniff... and began to get a tad nervous. Rather
than the sweet smell of our favored aromatics, the odor wafting up from that tin
had a pungent, sharp smell akin to... half-dried cow dung! Not that we were
connoisseurs of half-dried cow dung, mind you, but we were in full agreement that
it smelled like some form of excrement. Surely, we reasoned, we were mistaken
and it must be a wonderful smoke. Why, if it was good enough for Will Faulkner, it
was good enough for us! We quickly filled our pipes and lit up.
Eeeeewwwww! What vileness! Not yet acquainted with the term “room note,” we
nonetheless agreed that it was emitting the stench of burning bovine excrement.
Now, it could be that to real men, the veteran pipe smokers of the 1950s and 60s,
Balkan Sobranie was the Holy Grail of tobaccos, a noble blend of Virginias, Latakia
and Oriental Yenidje. But to two bald-headed 19 year-old Southern boys, it was
After not a few expletives, and with much sadness, we agreed that there was
but one thing to do. We marched my $6.00 prize to the loo and, with great
ceremony, flushed the entire contents down the toilet – vowing never to venture
outside the stable of sweet American drug store aromatics.
Will died two years later, a southern gentleman and prize-winning author for
sure, but the man didn’t know squat about pipe tobacco.
* wink *