Cigars...by our friend Hal!
Not everyone learns to appreciate good cigars at the age of nine with the aid of a member of a judiciary as I did.
My favorite uncle was a lower level criminal court judge in my home town in Tennessee. He was seldom seen without a cigar in his mouth. You could smoke or chew just about anywhere in those days, including a courtroom. For that matter, spittoons were as common as ashtrays.
With his known affection for cigars, it was not uncommon for people seeking his favor to drop in for a visit with a gift of a box of first class cigars.
Cuban hand rolled cigars and other topflight cigars from the USA and other countries were known to be brought in several times a month.
However, despite the higher quality of the boxed gifts of cigars regularly appearing in his office, he preferred to smoke Tampa Nuggets.
He was a wise investor and had purchased numerous acres of land in our home county. One thing he had done was to allow the Hav-A-Tampa company or a local distributor to lease space on his property for billboards.
If I understood correctly, part of the lease agreement was several boxes of Tampa Nuggets each month.
Frequently, after school and on Saturday mornings, I'd make a point of going to his office to visit. On many if those visits, those seeking favor would stop by with their boxes of cigars.
As soon as the cigars were laid on his desk and the words, "Thought you might like these, Judge. They come from Cuba (or wherever).", would be heard.
Next would come our part of the ritual. With a sly smile on his face and that notorious twinkle in his eyes, he would turn to me with the gift in his hands and say, "Whatta think about these cigars, Mr. Hal?". For a nine year old, this was heady stuff.
I would take the offered box or bundle from his hands?and reach into the designated "Tobacco Drawer". Out I'd come with a combination cigar box opener and cutter and quickly unwrap, unseal and open the box. Pulling the primary cigar out of the box, I'd lay it aside and close the box. If in a cellophane sleeve, I'd ease it out, sniff it, cut the end off with the "V notch" cutter because my Uncle taught me that cutting a cigar in any other fashion was uncivilized" and fire that bad boy up.
A few puffs and sniffs later, I'd inform my Uncle, and all those in attendance, that it was or wasn't acceptable. Then I'd proceed to kick back in one of his office chairs and enjoy the hell out of it.
Sometime during my enjoyment of the cigar, my Uncle would make a show of awarding me the remaining cigars. He would reach for his already being smoked Tampa Nugget or light a fresh one, and proclaim his appreciation for the favor seeking gift giver for bringing me such a fine bunch of cigars.
The jaw dropping and looks of pure dumbfoundedness of the gift giver and the uninitiated observers was more fun than any circus I ever attended.
I did ask him why he never smoked the good cigars and how to really tell the difference between the good and the bad.
He stated that justice should not, and during his years of service on the bench, could not be bought with money or gifts, big or small. (Remember, when I was nine years old, tobacco laws were not what they are today.)
In the matter of the difference of good cigars and bad, he told me that "a bad cigar stinks to high heaven while a good cigar merely smells bad.".
To this day, when I fire up what my loving and tolerant Aunt referred to as a "dog lot panetella", I send the first puff heavenward to my Uncle.
So says our smokin’ friend Hal...a man after my own heart.
Any Dominican Maduro will do for me!