The Cigarette Case

I hold a slim cigarette case in my hands. It’s thin, barely 3/8 inch thick, designed to hold 10 cigarettes. Both of my parents have now passed on, and the house they lived in is being cleansed of their memories. This is one of them.

The case belonged to my mom’s dad, Robert L. Walker. My namesake. He was tall, thin, severe, and loving. He was raised in the south and always insisted that we address him as sir, a formality that he brought with him to sunny California.

The case is uniquely my grandfathers, spare, elegant, and useful. I can see my mom reaching for it as a momento of her father after his death. Did she just pick it up from the table by his deathbed as something to comfort her in his sudden absence? I like to think of it happening like that. I know that years after his death I found a faded, dried out, yellow rose, that I had stashed away after his funeral.

My hands are constantly reaching for the case. The textured black leather surface is pleasing to the touch, and I can see my grandfather slipping it out of his pocket, snapping it open, and casually extracting a cigarette.

Chuck on his bike

Appearance was important to him. Proper behavior, and conduct, were expected from me and my siblings. I have always wondered how my father was first received at the house. It’s hard to imagine my grandfather easily accepting this young man, a couple of years older than his daughter, arriving on a motorcycle in blue jeans and leather jacket. One of life mysteries that is now too late to delve into.

I run my fingers around the edge of the case and finger the latch that opens it. The latch is the surface that shows the most use. The hinge is spring loaded, and the case snaps open easily, considering its age. The interior of the case is some sort of shiny gold plating. I doubt that it’s real gold, but that’s what it looks like. Inside are six aged filter cigarettes that my grandfather never got to smoke.

This cigarette case lived for decades in a tall, glass fronted cabinet, filled with things from my mom’s life. Lots of those momentos involved time spent with my dad. But the cabinet was clearly my mom’s. The cigarette case had it’s allotted spot.

Several items were stored in the case. There are two business cards, a short phone list, and a small scrap of paper. The contents like a time capsule from my grandfather’s past.

The business cards list my grandfather as “Assistant Secretary” for Garrett and Company, Pioneer American Wine Growers, established 1835. He must have kept the cards for sentimental reasons. At the time of his death, he had been retired for decades.

The winery located in Guasti, California, was called Virginia Dare Winery (I just did a search on the name and it looks like the brand has resurfaced in Geyserville, CA). There was a mansion, complete with a large aviary, and pool, on the winery grounds. When we were kids, we would sometimes visit the winery in the summer, and it was a treat to get to swim in the pool. I remember that the pool had separate dressing rooms for men and women. I thought that was pretty cool.

Sometimes we would get to visit the mansion at Christmas. But my memories are sketchy on this. I only remember that it was large inside and that there were servants. I remember a towering Christmas tree. When the winery closed down, we ended up with some of the furniture from the mansion. Now none of us have houses large enough to allow us to take these pieces from my parents estate. They will be sold off, their histories lost.

It took me some time to decode the faded scrap of paper. It turns out that it chronicles a road trip from Natchez, Mississippi to North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My grandparents loved road trips. Something I have always shared with them.

This is the route detailed on the slip of paper.

They would talk about the trips they took together, and I can visualize the young couple making miles on the highway in their various Studebakers, staying in roadside motels, and eating in smoky diners. Grandfather slipping this very case out of his pocket to have an after lunch cigarette while they finished their wine. There was a lot of wine drinking in that household.

My mom’s parents always drove Studebakers. The last one they had was similar to this Golden Eagle. I loved that car and was heartbroken when they sold it just prior to my 16th birthday. I was really hoping I would somehow end up with it.

I can remember one memorable ride with my grandmother driving that Golden Eagle Studebaker. It is sunny and warm and we are driving with the windows down. I can smell the citrus groves we are driving through. The road is paralleling the railroad tracks, and she decides to race a train she sees ahead. Soon we were alongside, and the train engineer waved and blew the horn for us. We waved back, slowed down, and made the turn for home. She always did like to drive fast.

Bob and Beulah

I have no idea how long my grandfather kept the slip of paper. But it seems clear that he carried precious momentos around in the case. I like to think of him getting the slip out periodically and reminiscing about that trip. Going back to a time when he, and the love of his life Beulah, were wandering free and easy, windows down, rolling down the road.


I have now placed the cigarette case into a spot on the bookshelves in my office. A small treasure for my kids to perhaps find sometime in the future.


Well, that’s it for this post. Have a great day. Resolve to vote the orange monster out of office (and more than a few of the lickspittle Republican senators while you’re at it). Peace.

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