When I got into pipe smoking and bought my first pipe, (at least my first as an adult that I didn't try to hide from my parents), I got it from Phillip Trypis whose name is known to most here I expect as a former carver for Brigham pipes back in their heyday. At this time Phillip's health was in decline, he was in the early stages of dementia and his situation and our three meetings caused me to write about my second visit. Here is is. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy remembering it.
Meeting Phillip Trypis for the First Time – Again
I arrived in the little hamlet of Oakwood, just,north of Lindsay, Ontario a little after 12:00 noon. The drive was relaxing and it brought back memories of my days in college there in the late 70's. My canine buddy Casey was along for the ride. I was making the 2 plus hour trip from Fergus to Oakwood to see Phillip Trypis; in his heyday a former master carver for Brigham pipes whom, in retirement started his own line. I was there to pick up a pipe I'd bought for my friend Don about 10 months ago as a going away gift when he moved to western Canada. Unfortunately, he'd broken the stem off while knocking it on something to get the dottle out after a smoke. I was also buying a few more for Don and hopefully another for myself.
I pulled up in front of the Trypis’s home and saw Phillip and his wife sitting in their screened in front porch. A sign on the front lawn advertised “Auction Sale Saturday”. I was somewhat relieved to see them. I had spoken to Phillip this morning on the phone, (about 3 hours ago now) and he had said to come between 12:00 and 2:00 pm but knowing his short term memory had all but disappeared since he fell and struck his head the previous winter, I wondered if he’d forget and go out. I walked up the steps and realizing that he would probably not remember my face from 11 months ago, I reintroduced myself.
“Hi Mr Trypis, I’m Marlowe Sharp.” The intro was returned with a blank stare. Did he not hear me? “HI MR TRYPIS, I’M MARLOWE SHARP” I said a fair bit louder. Blank look again. I SPOKE WITH YOU THIS MORNING AND TOLD YOU I WAS GOING TO COME AND PICK UP DON's PIPE?” I saw in his eyes recognition of that name but he still wasn’t putting it all together. Mercifully Mrs Trypis stepped in. “Oh hello.” she said, “You’re Don’s friend." Then turning to her husband, "Phillip, this is Don Janzen’s friend…Don from Alberta.” I saw the light go on!
“How are you Mr Trypis?” I said much more confidently.
“ I’m peesed off!” he replied glumly in his thick Greek accent. Not a good start.
“Why are you pissed off?”
“This move…I don’t want to move. It’s too much.”
I suddenly felt sad for him. He was being forced, almost to leave a place he loved - a place where he could go to the basement and peeter around his shop and do what ever he liked. The stairs were too much now and Mrs. Trypis had recently been diagnosed with macular degeneration and had her driver’s license taken away. It was time to move into town where she could get around and where Phillip didn’t have to manage stairs. He was losing his independence a brain cell at a time along with all his “stuff” that kept him in a familiar world - sold off to strangers willing to pay the highest bid.
“Can we go into your shop Mr Trypis? I want to buy some pipes.”
At that his face brightened. Familiar territory! Yes let’s go there! At the same time, Mrs Trypis who had disappeared arrived back with Don’s pipe. It had been repaired, (apparently) and was in the box with Don’s original letter wrapped up in a bubble wrap envelope, all ready to go in the mail as he had promised last Sunday…and every other Sunday since October last year. I ran and put it in my van immediately. I didn’t want to take the chance of getting wrapped up in the new pipes and arrive home having left it on the Trypis kitchen table.
We went down to the shop and I pulled the pamphlet of Trypis Pipes from my pocket and told Phillip which ones Don wanted. First the 1/4 bent billiard. I put one aside. Then the 1/4 bent apple. I spent a while over that one because there were a couple of beauties. While I sorted through and put aside some favorites, I asked Phillip what the difference was between a $70.00 pipe and $150.00 pipe. With that question, all the remaining fogginess fell away. He was in his element now, firing on all cylinders as he explained to me about the grain of the wood and spoke about briar, design and workmanship. He pulled out a gorgeous $150.00 bent apple. The grain was lovely and on the stem he had added a piece of yellow lucite. He shoved it in my hand and said, “Here this one is good. Your friend will like this. ”I started to quickly add up the amounts in my head…this could get dangerous. I think Don had said he wanted $300.00 worth of pipes. I was at that price now and hadn’t yet got the Scandinavian pear that I had been eyeing for myself. I was also starting to have difficulty wondering if I might keep that bent apple for me…it was nice!
The next box broke my resolve to only get one pipe for myself. Out of the bottom of a box of $150.00 pipes I pulled a beautifully carved Bent Sitter. It had a tobacco leaf carved into each side. “Uhh…do you have two of these?” I said hopefully. “I don’t think so.” said Phillip.” I think one only was made. Maybe another but it could be anywhere in here.”, he said as he swept his hand toward 30 boxes containing about a thousand pipes. In my head I apologized to Don; maybe I won’t tell him about this one. One day years down the road he’ll oogle it on my mantle. “Oh ya, I picked that up from Trypis some time ago.” I’ll say casually.
Finally we got to the Scandinavian pear box. I selected one and looked it over but Phillip took it from me. Actually, he had done this with all the pipes I selected. He would pull the mouth piece out and reseat it several times before giving it back. I was wondering if he did this to make sure it would come out easily so Don wouldn’t break another one. Phillip didn’t give this one back though. He looked at it, thought a bit and said, “I need a pencil.”
“I show you. Come!”
The next 10 minutes was spent looking for a pencil. What was he doing? We went back into his workshop to continue the search. As we entered the small back room I looked around at one of the messiest shops I had ever seen. Tools were everywhere, not to mention hundreds of partially finished pipe bowls of every shape and size. Everything was covered in wood shaving and dust. I picked up an unfinished bowl and immediately recognized the design as Brigham’s 100 anniversary pipe, a large Bent Square Panel with a maple leaf design carved on either side. They came out about 2 years ago. I looked at Phillip. He smiled and said, “My design. I don’t know if it sold well”.”
For the next 10 minutes we again looked for the elusive pencil finally finding a package of new, un-sharpened carpenter’s pencils hanging on the wall. Next Phillip removed the buffing wheel from his lathe and replaced it with a sanding wheel. I was stumped. Was he going to personalize this pipe some how? Transform it to a one of a kind pipe just for me? Another 10 minutes went by as we traced an octopus of extension cords though the shop to figure out why the lathe had no power. Finally everything was in order, the power was on and the lathe screamed to life.
“WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO MR TRYPIS?” I yelled over the noisy machine. This pipe was a really nice piece and I was wondering whether the old master carver still had the skills in him to do what ever he was about to do. He looked at me and smiled again, “You watch”. He was loving this!
Phillip seated himself on his stool, took apart the pipe and looked at it. Then he looked at his lathe and seemed to think about something. I was getting excited. I was about to witness the master at work. He picked up his brand new carpenter’s pencil, steadied himself and….. sharpened it. He turned off the lathe, rubbed some graphite on the tenon of the stem, tried it a couple of times in the shank of the pipe and handed me the pipe saying, “There, it doesn’t stick any more.” That was it!! 30 minutes to sharpen a pencil. I couldn’t help but laugh. Old Phillip thought I was just as proud of his effort as he was...and I was.
After struggling back up the stairs and giving me a whopping 50% discount on the pipes I sat at his table looking at over $500.00 worth of pipes that he had just sold to me for $255.00. He was exhausted. The fall he had a year ago had taken it’s toll and although he was looking and talking better than when I saw him 11 months ago. He had little strength and I think with the pending move from his home, little spirit.
We talked about my family and work as a police officer and then I took a few photos of Phillip holding my sitter. I shook his hand and wished him luck, which I regretted saying because I don’t believe in luck.
“I’ll need it.” he said. “Thank you, It was very nice seeing you too.”
I left with a tinge of sadness but was hopeful that I could visit Phillip once he gets to his new digs, buy another pipe or three, and meet Mr Trypis again…for the first time. January 2018
P.S: I later realized that Don's pipe had not been repaired well and that Phillip had been beyond doing any quality work for a number of years. He hadn't been making pipes for probably 5 years and all the ones I had seen or bought were from before that time.
I did see Phillip once again around 2011 after he had moved in to his son's home in Scarborough near Toronto. I took a friend there and between us we purchased about 7 or 8 pipes, again all at a highly discounted price. He didn't remember who I was that time either.
I spoke with Phillip's son in 2015 I think, and by that time Phillip was in a long term care facility with full blown dementia. I think that all his remaining pipes have been bought up by a couple of vendors. I still see them around occasionally. Get one if you can. They are lovely pipes.