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On Christmas Eve 1997, my girlfriend of 2 1/2 years and I agreed to open our gifts from one another. I had picked out a stunning business suit for her and knew it would be perfect, as the wet "thank you" kisses showed. I had given Pam the usual wish list and was unsure of what to expect, but when handed my gift, I should have known by her Cheshire cat smile what was forthcoming.

And what to my wonder-ing eyes should appear as I unwrapped this perfectly wrapped gift? Not just one or two ordinary cigars, but two perfect cigars for the smoking. The first was a Thomas Hinds White Label torpedo, the other a Diamond Crown. I was overwhelmed. But of course my story doesn't end there.

New Year's Eve, the night of celebration and reflection. It was also a night that I had been quietly anticipating the right opportunity to enjoy the delights of my newly acquired cigars. I couldn't think of a better way to bring in the New Year than with my cigar in one hand, Champagne in the other, and the girl of my dreams by my side.

As the countdown to midnight quickly approached, Pam made sure my cigar was lit. After sharing our mid-night kisses bringing in the New Year, she and I shared puff after puff of the sweet Diamond Crown until it was no more. My New Year's resolution: to never be without a fine cigar on New Year's Eve.

Raoul A. Cortez
San Antonio, Texas

* * *

Dear Marvin,

It was the day of the second Tyson/Holyfield fight. My dad and I decided to order the fight from pay-per-view, knowing that anytime Tyson fights, it is worth watching. You never know what is going to happen.

On the night of the fight, my friends and I arrived at my house where we found my mom making us all dinner. We enjoyed a wonderful meal that evening--a gigantic, juicy steak with mashed potatoes and some steamed vegetables--while out on the deck basking in the warm June air.

To top off that wonderful dinner, we sipped cappuccino and each smoked Cohiba Esplendidos; that cigar is as its name describes: splendid. Complemented by the steak dinner, the cappuccino and the company of my father and my two best friends, I must say that I have never enjoyed a cigar more.

As we smoked our exquisite cigars, we entertained each other with speculation on the fight. Nothing we anticipated, however, stood up to the reality of that infamous night. I thank the boxers for one thing, and one thing only: for providing the punctuation that ensured this special evening would never be forgotten.

Aaron Guy Leroux
Amston, Connecticut

* * *

Dear Marvin,

I hope you will allow me the privilege of paying a cigar-related tribute to some people who mean very much to me. I have been a subscriber from the beginning and can think of no better forum to do it.

I am a U.S. Army captain stationed in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division, about 13 miles from the DMZ. I have been in the Army for a little over seven years now, taking the road less traveled and enlisting after graduating from college. I was an infantry- man ("grunt"), was later selected for and graduated from Officer Candidate School and commissioned as an infantry officer, and went through many courses of training such as Airborne and Ranger schools.

Ranger School is one of the nastiest courses in the military, especially during the winter months, and spans 72 days, taking place in desert, mountain and jungle environments, where there is no shelter, no sleeping bag and the luxury of only one MRE (Meal Rarely Edible) a day. This is where my tribute begins.

Between each phase, usually after parachuting into the next location, we sometimes were allowed to open "care packages" from loved ones back in civilization. The contents had to be consumed in a limited time, usually with the result of violent sickness because of shrunken stomachs for those who received the rich foods we craved and requested in the incoherent letters we had scribbled quickly.

I had that experience as well, but the gifts as great as gold were the Macanudos that my future wife mailed to me. Tobacco products were allowed to be taken into the patrolling phase, about 10 days in each environment. They could be smoked only in extremely limited quantities, but the joy of lighting a fine cigar during the medics' periodic foot checks for frostbite was indescribable. The moment of relaxation in between the stress, sleep deprivation and toll of exposure to the elements gave new energy for the next patrol. My wife's steady stream of letters and those cigars helped me make it through that ordeal.

Although the situation is much different being statiozned in Korea, the separation from my wife; my beloved Doberman Pinscher, Liza; family; friends; and the creature comforts of home all take their toll on the spirit. One truly learns to appreciate the little things, as well as the larger, more profound blessings of our own country, when stationed abroad. And although I am able at times to go south to Seoul and purchase my favorite Cuban cigars, Romeo y Julieta Churchills, the cigars my wife picks out and mails in her care packages are even more special to me.

Another person I wish to pay a cigar-related tribute to is my father, Bill Downs, of Austin, Texas. For as long as I can remember, he was strongly antismoking, but in recent years he has become an aficionado himself. In fact, we went to one of Cigar Aficionado's Big Smokes in Dallas, where we had a fantastic time.

I would like to take the credit for my father coming to appreciate the relaxation and often spiritual times of deep thought that go with smoking good cigars, but I know there were also others from whom he learned the value of a good relaxation-filled hour with a fine cigar. One of my fondest moments with my father was enjoying Cabinet Selection Macanudos on the balcony of our apartment when my wife and I were stationed in Virginia. The camaraderie I enjoyed with my father on a beautiful Richmond evening is something I will always remember.

As can be expected, Christmas spent thousands of miles from friends and family can be a little tough. But one of the presents I received was a box of 1988 Cabinet Selection No. 1 Macanudos from my father. It was great to share several with friends during a Christmas dinner in my quarters, but the memories of that quiet night with my father that they bring back is even more special. Sharing a cigar in the presence of family and friends is truly one of the simple joys of life. I look forward to many more such moments with my father.

I am thankful to all those, such as my mother and stepfather; my best friend, Mark Beadle, who served in the Navy and well knows what mail from home means to those in the military; and all the rest who have sent so many packages and letters to me here.

But I especially want to take the opportunity in this forum to thank my father for all of the cigars and the expression of love they represent, as well as wish him all the best in his upcoming marriage, which I will be unable to attend.

And I thank most of all my beautiful, intelligent and loving wife, Tammy, who deals with the sacrifices of the military better than I do, and puts up with all my foibles and flaws. And who knows the value of cigars to my spirit. Thank you.

CPT Gregory C. Downs
Camp Casey, South Korea

* * *

Dear Marvin,

It started out on a Friday night with a holiday party for about 20 at The Palm in Chicago. We had a private room overlooking Lake Michigan and a great view of the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. The dinner, service and company were excellent, as you would expect, and we capped the night with after-dinner drinks of various Ports and Cognacs.

I had been fortunate enough after searching for a month to locate a box of Arturo Fuente 8-5-8s (any Arturo Fuentes are hard to find in Chicago). As the drinks were being served, I passed the box around to share with anyone who wished to partake.

To my surprise, the box returned with only four cigars left. This was not a group of cigar lovers, save for my wife, me and another gentleman. I spent a few minutes educating those who asked about the cigars and particularly about the Fuente's reputation for excellence. We passed around the cutters and lit up. What a great experience to be sitting with a group in that setting during the holidays.

The following night my wife and I were invited to my best friend's house to christen his new outdoor hot tub. After making all the preparations (drinks and food), it was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside when we finally got settled in. I had brought cigars for everyone. Our wives had their favorite Zinos, my friend had two Avo No. 7s that I had purchased for him, and I had a Moore & Bode corona and a LGC corona gorda that I had brought from my humidor. What a glorious night sitting under the stars with good friends, good drink and great cigars. After three incredible hours in the hot tub we finally decided we had had enough.

After dinner on Sunday, I suggested to my wife that we finish off the weekend with Port and cigars. We adjourned to our garage (it wasn't too cold), she with a Zino and I with a Montecruz, both sipping Port as we looked out at all the homes decorated for Christmas. We relaxed and reminisced about the great weekend we had just enjoyed.

My wife and I have been enjoying fine cigars for about two years (she is my favorite smoking partner) and have had times like this before, but being the weekend before Christmas it seemed extra special to me.

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