Smoke and Paper

Everyone knows about the effect smoke can have on…well, nearly everything.  Smoke damage can be responsible for the loss of furniture, art, clothes and so many other objects.  Cigarette smoke is truly an evil presence.  Before the smoking ban in pubs of NYC, I would come home stinking of the left-over Marlboros.  It was disgusting to me then and it’s retchingly disgusting to me now.

“Lips that touch tobacco shall not touch mine”.

But let’s consider the other side of smoke.  Wood smoke is so important in many recipes.  Who can live without smoked salmon from Norway?  Not me.

And woodsmoke gives an extra something to Irish Whiskey and such fine things as whitefish.  Woodsmoke on someones clothes does not recall a visit to a bar, no, it evokes a certain freshness.  It speaks to the camaraderie of a camp fire, the stories, the tall tales and the thoughtful silence of staring into the flames.

I’m sitting near our fire pit.  It’s the first fire we’ve had this year.  The temperature is in the 40’s.  I’m reading a book titled The Five.  It’s about the untold lives of the victims of Jack the Ripper.  I love history and I love Ripper lore.  There is smoke from the fire circling around me and my wine and my book.  The smoke wafts over my book.  It stings my eyes.  Will the book absorb the smoke?  Will I open the book one evening in the future, re-reading the part of Annie Chapman…and smell the smoke?  Perhaps when we leave this lakeside cottage for an apartment in NYC, will I open the book and begin to remember the May evening when I sat and sipped white wine and read about the tragic lives of five victims?

Smoke induces memories.

For me, most of them are fond and worth keeping in my heart.  I’m recalling campfires from my childhood days of Adirondack camping, hiking in the High Peaks as a teenager, canoe camping with my wife and my late brother, Chris.





I’ll Be There To Catch Your Soul, Cragen

I’ll be there to catch your soul, Cragen.

If only you love me, Claudia.

There is some truth in the short tale I am about to tell.  If you’re from a particular place in New York State, you will know what the true parts are.  If you love wine, you will be able to offer an informed guess on what is real and what is not.  If you appreciate creativity, art, love, tragedy and a life lived to the fullest, the main player(s) will be apparent to you.

This is a fable of a person who can be honestly described as a Renaissance Man.

Once upon a time, on the hills of the Finger Lakes of New York State, there was a moderate sized vineyard.  The wine that was produced was labelled under a well-known brand name, that of the family that owned and operated the acres of grapes.  It was quite successful.  But, after decades, the passing of the older owners led to a decreased profit margin.  Soon, in order to survive, the family had to sell out to Coke Cola, Inc.  They took charge of the winemaking.  The product quality began to lessen, as things like that do when strangers come in to tend the tender grapes.

The oldest son, Walter, grew dissatisfied and began to complain to the giant beverage company.  Nothing came of his many pleas to improve the quality of the wine that was legally being marketed under Walter’s family name.  A lesser man might have taken a buyout and walked out to start over, perhaps in California.  But Walter, who for some reason was known among his intimate circle of friends as Cragen, loved the rolling hills of the Finger Lakes.  So he did what all sons of the soil do, he bought another vineyard and began to produce his own wine…his own way.

There was a problem, though.  He could not legally use his family name of which he was so proud.  So, in the corner of his labels, he printed his name, but left a black rectangular box where his family name would be.  That was legal.

Which brings us to the labels, his labels.  As I said, Walter (Cragen) was a Renaissance Man, he could do many things and do them well.  He was an artist and he used his talent to put his own illustrations on the label.  Some were wood block prints and some were pastels and some were simple illustrations.

After several years, Walter fell in love with a woman he met at a wine-tasting event.  Her name was Claudia.  To celebrate his love for her, he drew a label depicting a man and woman sitting at a table with glasses of wine, some cheese and some crackers.  The quote at the top of this page was drawn in as speech balloons used in comic strips.

Claudia and Cragen lived a full life of travel and culture.  He bought a second home in Florida so he could ride out the harsh winters of upstate New York.  It was near his winter home that tragedy entered the lives of these two people.

Cragen was involved in a car crash.  It wasn’t minor.  It left him a paraplegic.  This once robust man, full of energy, creativity and life, was not bound to a wheelchair.

Did that show Cragen down?  Well, probably a bit, but he went on to gain enough dexterity to continue to paint his labels for his wine.

Claudia passed away a few years after the accident.  Perhaps it was from a broken heart, brought on by seeing your love…your perfect love not whole, but a little broken.  Cragen mourned his loss…and that is where he began to lose interest in the things they had shared.

One afternoon, while Cragen sat in his wheelchair among the rows of grapes and the harvest was nearly over and the leaves of the trees were gold, red and scarlet, Walter saw Claudia standing some distance away.  She was beckoning him as she stood between the plantings.  Cragen grabbed the arms of his chair and stood.  He began to walk toward Claudia as she held out her arms.

Suddenly he felt himself falling…not to the ground but up and through the air.  He was falling up and then down into her waiting arms.

“I told you I would be there to catch your soul, Cragen.”

“You did love me Claudia, you did love me.”