The first time I smoked a cigarette, I inhaled. After I stopped coughing and wiped the tears from my eyes, I inhaled again. That’s what seven-year-old children do. Or at least, that’s what my seven-year-old self did. I have a strong compulsion to finish what I start; something I learned at the dinner table. (See here for that story.) Some people think I am persistent; some think I am stupid. I try to see both sides of an issue, so I agree with both.
Although I received a 25-cent weekly allowance, it didn’t usually last very long. To feed our addiction to chocolate, my best friend, Terry B., and I collected coke bottles to redeem for cash. At one or two cents a bottle, we needed just a few to buy a five-cent candy bar. That’s why I cannot speak too highly of chocolate; it made me the recycler that I am today. Persistent, with fluffy hips.
Terry and I were regulars at the local convenience store. I think it was a 7-Eleven, but it could have been a Circle-K. (Ask my sister, she’s the keeper of memories in the family.) At some point, we decided to buy some cigarettes. As impossible as it sounds today, back then children could run to the store to buy cigarettes for their folks. We either pooled our allowances or saved up coke bottle money because we had enough money for a pack. At that time, probably around 25 cents.
One of us lied to the clerk and said the cigarettes were for a parent. I think it was Terry because this is my side of the story and she’s not here to contradict me. She brought the matches and we headed straight for the ditch.
In mid-century America, everyone smoked cigarettes. Movie stars inhaled and exhaled their glamour, neighborhood gossip flamed up as their small fires burned on women’s lips, and their smoke rings floated above our heads like forgotten halos. What was not to like about smoking?
At some point in that ditch, however, I stopped inhaling and put the cigarette out. I much preferred chocolate and still do.
Unprompted, I confessed to my mother that I had tried smoking. The business about how we got the cigarettes was left unmentioned. She seemed unfazed and only smiled when I said, “Don’t worry. It was mentholated.” In my muddled mind, I thought it made a difference.
At 17, I began my five-year smoking career. My father was long dead by then, and mother said she would rather have me smoke in front of her than behind her back. In mother’s muddled mind, she thought that made a difference.
For several years in a row, I got a carton of Winston cigarettes in my Christmas stocking: my reward for being an honest child. Had I shown an honest interest in bank robbery, she probably would have included a stocking cap and possibly a small revolver.
Mother was muddled but she meant well. Like me. And maybe, like you.
(picture on loan from: http://www.mimifroufrou.com/scentedsalamander/)