Later Than You Think
My parents stayed with us a couple of years ago. Living alone in a large house full of narrow stairs and tricky corners had become too dangerous for them—and much too worrisome for the remainder of the family. It took some convincing, but they finally agreed to leave St. Louis for a new life in Montgomery, Alabama. It didn’t take long before they settled comfortably into new habits in our home. For my father, that included regularly enjoying cigars on the patio.
That particular late-spring day was mild and full of sunshine. It was, in many ways, also typical of all the days that preceded it. In the early afternoon, Dad, still attired in his pajamas and robe, announced, “I’m headed outside. Grab a couple cigars and join me.” So I did. I recall thinking, as I walked to my humidor, that I had more important items on my agenda than an extended smoke break. I was just about to start supper, and there were bills waiting on my desk, but that afternoon I found it easy to push those items to the back burner for a while.
On the patio, I cut two Churchill-size Perdomo Champagnes and passed one to my father along with my lighter. He toasted the foot of the cigar, and in one smooth movement, he applied the flame to the cigar and quickly had an even burn started. I did the same, and we settled in for a long, relaxing smoke. I normally let Dad start the conversation, as I was always intrigued to learn what was on his mind. We regularly discussed politics, but the most popular subject was his beloved St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. Analyzing a key play or two could easily occupy an entire cigar. This time he was quiet, so we sat in silence, watching the backyard wildlife, while listening to the whisper of a soft breeze and the faint ticking of the overhead fan.
Finally, Dad said that he was disappointed there were no clouds in the sky to watch. I agreed. Then more silence followed as we slowly smoked our cigars while enjoying the peaceful afternoon together. Thinking back, there was nothing remarkable or unique about that particular day. We were unusually reserved and introspective for a change, yet even that did not seem out of place that afternoon. We relaxed and enjoyed each other’s silent company. And an hour and a half slipped away in the blink of an eye.
Finally, I put my cigar in the ashtray and stated that I had to get supper started. As I got up to depart, Dad grabbed my arm and said, “Hey, great conversation. I really enjoyed it.” I started to laugh, thinking our time together hardly qualified as a conversation, as we hadn’t exchanged more than 10 words. Instead, I stopped myself and agreed with him. In many ways, it was a great conversation. Not because we’d said a lot—we hadn’t—but because we had taken the time to be together for a while, delighting in a relaxing and calm respite in the middle of a hectic week.
In retrospect, I wish now that I had said something profound in that moment, but nothing appropriate came to mind. So instead, I took my leave and went inside to start supper. Little did I know at the time, those cigars would be the last we would smoke together. The next morning, my wife and I departed for the Nashville Film Festival, anticipating a fun week watching new movies and fascinating documentaries. Those plans ended abruptly when we exited the first film to find a text message from the assisted-living help informing us that my father had fallen and was in a hospital emergency room. We raced home, but there was nothing we, or the doctors, could do. Dad never left the hospital, passing away a couple of days later.
I still sit on the patio and smoke cigars, but smoking by myself is, of course, not quite the same. Those solitary and frequently nostalgic moments, however, have given me ample time to reflect on the past and my sessions with Dad. And I’ve come to appreciate that enjoying a cigar with friends, or in my case my father, is not really about what is said or not said or what particular cigar is smoked. It’s all about the quality of the time together. And there is something about cigars that often forces us to take a more contemplative approach—one that significantly improves the quality of those moments together. I also realize that we need to fully embrace and relish those special cigar moments with friends and family. You will never know when the next cigar with someone special is the last, because no matter what you believe the future holds, it’s later than you think.
In retrospect, I wish now that I had said something profound in that moment, but nothing appropriate came to mind. So instead, I took my leave and went inside to start supper. Little did I know at the time, those cigars would be the last we would smoke together.