Special Times, Special Cigars

By Nancy H. Rosenberg | From Raquel Welch, Jul/Aug 01
Special Times, Special Cigars

My husband, Brian, says he fell in love with me the first time he saw me fire up a Swisher Sweet. We were in college, sitting on logs that surrounded the smoldering embers of the bonfire at Texas A&M. It was 3 a.m., and as we lit our stogies off the dying flames, our faces were illuminated through the ethereal haze. At first I tried to look sophisticated, but soon I gave that up and settled for trying to blow smoke rings. Our laughter rang through the still night air as we cuddled on a log in flannel jackets and muddy boots. It was cold, smoky and terribly romantic.

Over the years, the memorable moments in our lives have been punctuated by celebratory smokes. Our first car, first house, and the arrival of both babies prompted a trip to the tobacconist, though lesser moments have been celebrated as well.

My husband's first promotion? Macanudos. Our first trip to Europe? Cohibas (only Cubans would do). Baby's first tooth? Well, OK, we broke open a bottle of aging Cabernet for that one (but only because the tooth eruption produced hours of howling infant sobs; we needed to take the edge off).

I've come to rely on a good cigar as one of life's finer gifts, as well. My father, uncle and brother have all been the lucky recipients of a good bottle of brandy and a box of maduros. The look on their faces as they unwrap their gifts is priceless, and I've come to relish their appreciation of one of life's finer pleasures. There's no guilt factor; no one can cluck about the reasons why they really shouldn't. It's the male equivalent of giving a woman jewelry; she feels much better about it if it's a gift. It's decadent and delightful, and all the more so if it was someone else's idea in the first place.

My father, in particular, has honed his appreciation of cigars into an art form. A fine cigar is an event that he'll savor all evening, usually outside, watching the sun set, swirling a glass of brandy. It's during those times that we've had some of our best moments together, remembering the past, discussing the present, dreaming about what lies ahead. It's a relaxing, soothing tradition; as the smoke wreathes his head, his eyes take on a faraway look, and as the rest of the world rushes by, we stop and savor the moment. Our conversations are slow and thoughtful, punctuated by long, luxurious draws. The tip of his cigar charges into a fiery orange glow then recedes, changing its mind.
It's hypnotic.

One year my parents, my brother and his girlfriend joined my husband and me for a Colorado skiing vacation. We stayed in a magnificent lodge surrounded by an icy stream and towering cedars. The wildlife was majestic; foxes darted through the trees, eagles soared overhead and an occasional elk wandered by. The lodge had an open cathedral ceiling, crisscrossed by enormous whole-log beams, but the most impressive aspect of the entire setting was the wraparound deck. Soon we found the best feature of all: an eight-person hot tub, on the deck, with a view that included a vista of the Rocky Mountains. We immediately set out in search of a tobacconist; a hot-tub view like that was not to be wasted.

It wasn't until my husband and I moved into a large, spanking-new neighborhood in West Chester, Pennsylvania, that I came to appreciate a good cigar "just for the hell of it." A neighbor, a true aficionado, would sit on his front porch in the evenings and talk about the guestroom in his new house that he was converting into a smoking room, complete with a "kick-ass humidor." I was intrigued.

The humidor, crafted of mahogany, backlit, and moisture- and temperature-controlled, was nothing short of magnificent. It was about the size of a shotgun case, with leaded glass panes that refracted the light into a thousand cigar-filled prisms. The guest bed had been unceremoniously dumped into the basement; an enormous leather library chair and tufted ottoman took its place. A chair rail and leafy ficus rounded out the ambience. This room would make the pope himself want to kick back and light one up.

Soon the whole street was on a cigar kick. We'd meet for weekend barbecues, and before you knew it, someone had broken out a box of Havana honeys. It got expensive, but, hey, what a way to keep up with the Joneses.

One memorable night a few years later, my husband and I headed to Del Frisco's in Dallas to celebrate a recent promotion. At the bar, an icy Cosmopolitan set the stage. Dinner was highlighted by a fork-tender filet that was so good it brought tears to my eyes. We were in no rush, so at about 11 we meandered into the cigar lounge. Feeling mellow, we found an empty chaise and settled in with Davidoffs and a shared glass of Port. The piano man was a dead ringer for Neil Diamond; heads bobbed to "Cracklin' Rosie" while an elegant hostess threaded through the crowd. "Tell me when you're ready to go," my husband said with a gleam in his eye. He's always found women smoking cigars sexy, and as I glanced around the room, I realized he was right. In one corner a tall blonde held a Martini in one hand and a petit corona in the other. She was laughing softly with a friend, a stunning brunette with smoldering dark eyes. We were in good company.

It no longer takes a special event, vacation, holiday or block party to encourage us to enjoy a fine cigar. It's not an everyday occurrence, but on some evenings, when the sun is setting just right, or when a chill is in the air, nothing is better than a good cigar. I relax as the smoke begins to rise, inhaling the rich, pungent aroma, and one thought comes to mind: life is good.

Nancy H. Rosenberg worked as an editor for the Central Intelligence Agency for eight years. A freelance writer, she lives in Frisco, Texas, with her husband and two daughters.