Support Structure and Other Things

Hearth and Home Tobacco creator Russ OuelletteI’m an idiot. I’ve known it for a while, but there’s no denying my idiocy. I’ve been blessed with a great family and a job that couldn’t be better suited to me if I created it myself. I was also granted durability that I did little to earn, due to heredity. And what did I do with it? I paid little attention to it, and jeopardized everything.

You may have heard that, recently, I was ill. It was somewhere between serious and dire. Due to people imploring me to get help, I’m alive and recovering with a newfound vigor. I’m still an idiot. The details? Not important right now, but I will address it at the right time and the right place. The upshot? I’m excited to heal and get back to doing what I love because I’ve been given that precious second-chance.

What’s this got to do with pipes, tobacco and cigars? Nothing, and everything. For a number of years, I’ve had the love of my children and a job that kept me interested every day, but I floated through life. I had the usual aches and pains, but dismissed them as aging. I looked forward to doing things with the kids and doing my job and going to shows, but other than that, I didn’t care to do much else. I didn’t realize that years of gradual neglect had made me sick and was draining me of energy, and outside of the things that meant the most to me, I had stopped caring.

If a pipe show was coming up or we were ready to roll out a new Hearth & Home blend, I’d be in a good mood and would be pretty motivated. If something cropped up with one of my girls, I could find reserves to be able to participate. But if it was something for me, like getting out to play some golf, go to see a movie or ballgame or the like, forget it. I realized, finally, that I felt that way because I didn’t feel valuable enough as a person to want to invest any resources in myself. When I began to heal from my illness, I started to see that part of the problem was how my physical issues affected me mentally. It was as if a fog had lifted, and I finally began to see my life differently. For the first time in over a decade, I had energy to spend on myself, not just on my job or the kids; now all I have to do is regain enough of my health to use it, and I guarantee you that I will…and soon.

You would think that I would have had a positive image of my worth with all the nice things that people have said to me at the shows or through notes, emails and phone calls, but you’d be wrong. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that folks were sincere; it was because I saw the nice comments as praise for my work and products, which I had separated from myself, as if the Hearth & Home tobaccos were entities unto themselves, and, therefore, the compliments were for them, not me. Then I got sick.

I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but it’s safe to say that if I had waited another day or two to get help, I wouldn’t be writing this. A great number of wonderfully talented and dedicated people worked quickly and diligently to pull me back from the brink, and I’ll never be able to properly express my gratitude. As I began to recover, that fog lifted, and I realized that I had had a distorted view of life. My daughters were there every step of the way with love and support that can’t be described. Their love was the reason I got help to begin with, and their ability to circle the wagons is what pulled me through. I can’t say enough about the powers-that-be here at Pipes and I won’t get into all that they have done to help me get well as they would be embarrassed, but suffice it to say that Scott Bendett, the owner, and Bob Gates, the head honcho at P&C have helped greatly with my peace of mind so I can get back up and running quickly.

All of the folks here at our company have contributed so much, as well. Their calls and visits buoyed my spirits and helped me to realize that they didn’t just look at me as a co-worker, but as a friend. That started a groundswell of positive feelings that made me begin to look at things differently.

All of this happened around the time of the Chicagoland Pipe and Tobacciana Show early in May of this year, and I had really wanted to be there as I was one of the judges for the John Cotton’s Throwdown. Scott stepped up to take my place, and I’m sure that the crowd enjoyed listening to him. He and Bob spread the word about my illness during the show, and for me, that was the beginning of a transformational experience that I can only look upon as a miracle.

I started to receive notes, letters, cards, emails, blog responses and phone calls from well-known people in the pipe smoking industry and community, from the friends I’ve made at the show circuit, from customers who I’ve known for a while, and from a great number of people who only knew me because of my blends. I had people contact me from around the world, from places I’ve never been. That’s when the revelation came. I was being sent good wishes, positive energy and prayers by people who I have only reached tangentially, who I’ve made contact with only by the tobaccos, which are, to some degree, an extension of myself. But they did so because my efforts made their lives more enjoyable and so they felt compelled to reach out to me, and for the first time in a long, long time, I began to feel valuable, not as just a Dad or a worker, but as a complete human being.

I’m not ashamed to admit that a lot of happy tears flowed because of this epiphany, and now I wake up every day looking forward to what will come my way. I have energy that I haven’t felt in many years, and though my recovery will still take some time, I don’t look at it with dread for the effort it will take, but with anticipation for getting back to what I love to do, part of which is to see if I can do something to bring something good into people’s lives.

I’ll be back soon, thinner, healthier and smiling a whole lot more than in the past. And if you were one of the folks who contacted me, thought of me, or who just enjoy these little missives I write, my heartfelt thanks go out to you. So if you have a lousy day, just remember that your good thoughts have helped someone get better and that his best wishes for you will always be there.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at or by calling 1-800-494-9144.