Monday, October 18, 2010

Smoke If Ya Got Em

As a child I was exposed to smoking by my Mom's side of the family. My Papa smoked. My Aunt Sharon and Uncle Jimmy smoked. My Uncle Ron and Aunt Diane smoked. Most of my cousins smoked as soon as they were old enough to get away with it. I'm sure that there are loads of people out there who would say that greatly increased the chance that I would smoke, but it didn't. For the most part I don't like the taste of tobacco. So, although I may have the occasional pipe or cigar or even cigarette, I have never been interested in taking up smoking as a habit.

However, I will say this, I was probably more interested in the idea of smoking because Papa smoked. He was not only the one who peaked my interest, he was also the one that killed it. I was around the age of ten and as I was walking out of his house one day for some reason we were discussing smoking.

“Any wimp can smoke. There's nothing to it.” I said as I was stepping out of the door.

“Come back in here.” He said before I had completely crossed the threshold. “Perhaps you would like a cigar then, if your Dad doesn't care.”

“That's up to him.” Dad said smiling.

“Sure, if you don't mind, then I'll have a cigar.”

“Let me get you one.”

Papa brought me one of his cigars and helped me get it lit. After a puff or two I decided that perhaps cigars weren't for me.

“I've had enough I think.” I said as I reached for the ash tray.

“Oh no, no. You can't waste a good cigar. You lit it, now smoke it.” Papa replied with a smile.

Papa let me off the hook before I had finished half of it. He wasn't really trying to make me sick, he just wanted to leave a bad taste in my mouth as it were. He succeeded. Although I have smoked here and there socially I never became a smoker.

Even though I was never personally tempted to pick up the habit I still found smoking interesting. One day I got the idea that we grandkids needed to make Papa a pack of cigarettes. Josh, Tara and me talked it over and decided that we would make him ten cigarettes or so and a pack to put them in. We went to work immediately. We took dried cherry tree leaves, bits of grass, a little pine straw and whatever else we could find that would burn. We used plain white notebook paper to roll our cigarettes up in and we used Elmer's Glue to seal the edges.

When we were done we had a nice little pack, that Josh and Tara had illustrated, full of the cigarettes we had made. We had been at Nana and Papa's while we made them, so when we were done we walked up to the trailer to give them to Papa. He was very touched that we had gone to the effort. To please us he stood there and coughed through one of the smokes he had just been presented with. All things considered they smelled nice. However, if one could judge by his face they didn't taste very nice though.

I was old enough that I considered the fact that Papa was probably just humoring us. I figured that the rest of them would be stuck in a drawer somewhere as a memento of us being young. I didn't care, we had made them for him to enjoy. If he enjoyed them in a drawer more than in his lungs who was I to complain. It was years later when I found out what had actually happened to the rest of that pack. I was asking Nana if she remembered us giving Papa those cigarettes. She laughed and said that she did. She also told me that he had smoked every one of those cigarettes, it took him a while to get through them, but he smoked every last one. It takes a lot of love to smoke through a pack of pine filled cigarettes, but Papa had plenty to spare.

When I was just a little older Nana had started taking me to a magic shop that was up in Aiken. She would buy me little things with which to practice the art of illusion. I actually had a few tricks that were worth seeing, but none that were worth talking about. However, the magic shop also sold things like flash paper and, you guessed it, cigar loads. I thought it would be great fun to put one in one of Papa's cigars.

Nana bought me the loads and then explained that I couldn't possibly use one on Papa. He had been in world war 2 and any sudden loud noise put his nerves on edge and she could never tell what he might do. She would often underline that warning with the story of how Papa had run out of the house with a German Luger in hand one night shortly after coming home from the war because some fireworks went off too near their house. We were never allowed to shoot fireworks near him either, so that point had been made. She also went on to explain that Papa's heart wasn't in the best shape (He had triple bypass surgery. Twice, in fact) and that a sudden noise like that could kill him.

Disheartened I had to admit that she was right. However, she gave me hope. All I had to do was ask him if I could put one in his cigar and see what he said. I felt like I had a good chance, so as soon as we got home I asked. Papa put a cigar in my hand and helped me get the load pushed into it. He then walked outside with Josh, Tara and me and smoked the cigar until it blew up in his face. We all cheered! We had gotten Papa to smoke a loaded cigar and we hadn't killed him! It was win/win.

Of course smoking cigars can lead lead to ill health. At least, that's what they say. I don't know that they have much in the way of pre-smoking medical history to go on, but we'll let that go for the moment. I have seen at least one cigar that I am certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt was bad for the health of the smoker. It was one Chris made himself.

He was probably twelve or thirteen at the time and was down at Nana and Papa's with Tara, Josh and me. For whatever reason he decided he was going to make himself a “Man's cigar”. To start with he took a paper grocery bag (Yes, there was a time when groceries came in paper bags. I mention this for some of my younger readers who have never heard of such a thing.) and slit it down the side. Then he filled it with leaves and pine straw. In truth, it was mainly pine straw. He wanted to make it fast and didn't take the time to search around for leaves. Papa's trailer was parked in the middle of a pine wood, so pine straw was always readily available. Once it was loaded down with combustible material he rolled it up into a giant cigar and sealed it with scotch tape.

The finished product was probably an inch and a half in diameter. Had it been made of pure tobacco I still don't think “Man's cigar” would have covered it. “Eight hundred pound guerrilla's cigar” might have truly represented it. Of course, when you keep in mind that it was probably ninety percent pine straw by weight the title “Cigar of death” springs to mind. Whatever you choose to call it the bizarre brown paper smoke-able was complete.

Now all Chris needed was a light. We all headed to the door of the trailer. Chris held his giant, ugly cigar behind his back. Nana came to the door as soon as we had knocked and asked us what we wanted. Chris said we needed a match and Nana asked why. (We were always allowed to have a match, we just had to explain why and bring the box of matches back as soon as we had lit whatever it was.)

“I want to light my stogie!” Chris said as he proudly pulled the cigar from behind his back.

Nana smiled and said “Alright, wait right there.”

She came back in a flash with the box of matches. Chris lit his monster and pulled as much pine smoke as he possibly could into his lungs in one long draw. Needless to say an eruption of teary eyed coughing immediately followed. Chris threw his wonderful creation on the ground and stamped it out. We all had a laugh at his expense and he learned that not everything that burns is worth smoking.

All in all my experience with tobacco resulted in humor, which I must admit is habit forming. Still, it is important to keep in mind that we, as children, watched the adults around us and imitated them. We in turn are being imitated by our children. That is why I try to make certain that the things I do are worth doing. Whatever you do you always have to keep in mind that there's a good chance your children are going to do it to. So save money! There's a thought!

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