The Beginning of a Journey
Growing up in a family of smokers was pretty standard in the 1960s and 1970s. My grandmother, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and many cousins were smokers. Even my dad smoked until I was four years old. But the enjoyable part for me was the incredible aroma of cigars and pipes that were slowly, steadily smoked by two uncles and both great-grandfathers.
As I’ve written before, my great-grandfather Benjamin Roy Gillett had a pipe or cigar lit constantly from rising in the morning until bedtime late at night. He was retired by the time I was born and had few hobbies, especially as his health started to decline in his later years. Grandpa lived a long one hundred and two years, and smoked his pipe or cigars almost up until his death in 1997. That memory stayed with me for years, and even though I tried the requisite Swishers and Black & Milds, aside from smoking Backwoods when I was deer hunting, I just never took to the taste of a cigar.
I was a heavy cigarette smoker for going on ten years when I decided I’d had enough in 1986 and quit. Cold turkey. It was tough, no question, and I then developed a serious hatred for the smell of a cigarette. I could smell it on people ten feet away, and it turned my stomach.
I discovered shortly after quitting that my appetite (which was never lacking) increased because food actually tasted good again. What a difference! I vowed never again would I touch another cigarette, and I still haven’t to this day. I did purchase a “good” cigar from the local cigar store on new years eve in 1999, along with a bottle of champagne to ring in the new millennium – if we were still here. Turns out the world didn’t end and I lit that cigar, hoping it would be everything the salesman said it was. It wasn’t, and I reluctantly put it out.
In October of 2004, I was asked to join a band, and it turned out that the lead guitarist smoked cigars. Not cheap gas station cigars, but real, quality, hand-made cigars. The smell brought back memories of grandpa and his cigars, and would occasionally pop into my head again and again over the next few weeks.
On my way to a work conference up north later that month, I decided it was time to see what he meant by “this is a great cigar!” I stopped at that local cigar shop and told the salesman that I wanted to try a handful of cigars, from a cheap one to an expensive one and at reasonable prices in-between. I left there on my way to the conference with nine different cigars, and over the next three days tried them all. Some I liked, some I didn’t, but I was hooked. Not physically like with cigarettes, but with the memories of my grandfathers, my uncles, and the delicious aroma of a premium, hand-rolled cigar.
The journey since has been one of a few disappointments to be sure, but far more enjoyable experiences. Not just with cigars, but with the people who make up this tremendous community as well. I run in several circles of good people (musicians, model car builders, old car nuts, motorcycle riders), and I’ve found the cigar folk to be some of the most generous and generally likeable people I’ve ever met. They’re typically more relaxed, and just enjoy being with others of like mind for good conversation.
I have not only been introduced to the history, the growing, processing and enjoyment of premium cigars, but I have also been introduced to all sorts of different foods and beverages, such as roasting and grinding my own coffee beans. There are some things in life that are just ok, and you can get by with them. But premium cigars are in a class all their own, and so are the people of the cigar community.
What was the beginning of your cigar journey like?