Daddy smoked Camel Cigarettes when I was a kid. Men smoked and Real Men smoked Camels, not one of those sissified menthol filtered brands. Only trashy women smoked. Mother did have one lady friend who smoked, but Miss Frannie also wore shorts and didn’t go to church. I thought there had to be some relationship between those three big sins, but loved going to Miss Frannie’s house, so I hoped Mother continued to overlook her failings. Miss Frannie’s husband hunted with Daddy, so the families’ friendship held fast.
It was manly to smoke, but like drinking coffee, it was a pleasure delayed till adulthood. I hated it when Daddy smoked, especially in the car. We’d all be packed in tight in the backseat and as soon as he backed out, Daddy lit that cigarette. The smoke burned my eyes and made my throat sore. It wasn’t so bad in summer with the windows down, but in winter, we were trapped. Daddy opened his side window vent, so in theory, the smoke didn’t stay in. The actuality was that we all breathed second-hand smoke the whole trip.
My smoking experience lasted two puffs. Daddy told me to toss his cigarette in the toilet, and I took two brief puffs as I walked toward the bathroom. I did enjoy the sizzle as the cigarette hit the water, though. My cousin said he smelled smoke on me and I never tried it again. Something about putting fire in my mouth never appealed to me. It held about as much appeal as poking a stick in my eye.
Daddy started smoking at fourteen or fifteen and often said he wished he’d never started, but never tried to quit. My brother Billy and a cousin swiped some of Daddy’s cigarettes and gave smoking a whirl. They hid in a ditch and were smoking away when a neighbor kid came by and ratted them out. Daddy gave them a lesson in smoking, something that would get him jailed now. He invited them come sit and smoke with him. They were in high spirits and joined him happily. He insisted they inhale so they’d get the full effect. They were sick long before they’d gotten through that first cigarette, wanting to quit.
He reminded them they’d wanted to smoke and insisted they continue. In just minutes they were drooling and starting to vomit. Making them take a few more puffs, they had to endure a lecture on smoking, with a reminder to check back with him next time they wanted a cigarette, he’d be glad to smoke with them. They both held off for a while, but eventually found their way back to smoking. Thankfully, my brother quit before long. My cousin died of tobacco-related disease in his late forties. Daddy put his cigarettes when he was in his forties. My mother never smoked a cigarette in her life, but due to living her first thirty-six years with heavy smokers, has a moderate degree of lung disease today.
I hesitated to write this story, but it illustrates well how things were handled in the past. I’m sure in later life, Daddy would have never done this, but in his thirties, he still had a lot to learn about life, as we all do.