I was reading the paper the other day when the news came. "Sandler Building Scheduled for Demolition," the caption read. I actually drove downtown to see the workmen removing some of the lobby fixtures. "Makin' it a parkin' garage," they said.
I remember the first time I went there as a young boy, with my father. Timers were tougher then, but father worked for the electric company and could always find the means to indulge his favorite passion, the pipe. I stood, looking at the store-front windows, now papered over, where the gold lettering proudly proclaimed in big bold letter "FINE TOBACCOS AND SUCH." Below, in the window just to the right of the front door, read "Elwood Haddox - Tobacconist."
Although the fine tobaccos were the main draw for Dad, it was the "and such" part that intrigued me. For over at the side, next to a stack of tobacco cans, beneath the many popes mounted on the wall, lay a vast new world: the coin cabinet. Encased in glass, row upon row of mystery and imagination stared back, beckoning me to explore their wonders.
The tobacconist, "Woody" to his friends and patrons, also beckoned. His closely trimmed golden tan beard having turned mostly gray, he told of his younger days sailing the South Seas aboard a cargo steamer. Coinage of the Straits Settlements, the Dutch East India Company and British North Borneo evoked tales of tropical islands, warm breezes and Polynesian women, always a popular combination of the men gathered there. As they milled about the counter sampling the various tobaccos, the smoke and great tales formed an ethereal haze, seemingly more powerful than opium. And as the smoke thickened, money flowed from the patrons hands and coins and dreams flowed across the room. Sometimes it was the far off pleasures of a Pacific island. Other times, it was the heroic exploits of some ancient Greek god or Roman emperor. Often the conversation led to the great achievements of the Romans on the battlefield, in architecture and in the field of law. It was my first introduction to the legal profession.
I remember, one day as I searched through the faces of the many Roman Emperors, asking Woody how such a great civilization as the Roman Empire could have fallen. He hesitated for a moment, turning to look through the window at the passers-by with their hats and overcoats as they scurried under the awning, protecting themselves from the rain. He looked back at me and with his warm, fatherly voice, softly spoke, "All things must pass."
In time, I would also sail to the islands of the Pacific, although under a much different set of circumstances. And I too learned of the law, first as a student, then as advocate and finally jurist. My interest in classical architecture has remained to this day.
When I returned from the Pacific, I heard Woody, like other things, had also passed. Throat cancer, they said. What was the tobacco shop became a series of retail incarnations ranging from a jewelry store to a used clothing boutique. I don't remember what the shop finally became. I only knew what I once was. But of all my childhood memories, the one I remember most is the tobacconist.