I hate smoke. I’m not one of those ex-smokers who thinks that all smokers should be sent to Timbuktu, but I like clean air. Smoking was never a part of my fabric, but for many, it was.
I remember my mom smoking L&M cigarettes in the ’50s and ’60s. It seems there was always a cigarette burning, as she went about her daily tasks of trying to manage six kids, a job as a teacher, and no father around to help with the chores. She was thin as a pipe, and didn’t have time to smile. I think cigarettes and a beer were one of her few companions. I can still see that wavy blue haze drifting through the living room as she made the best of what she had, with few complaints.
Three of my siblings smoked. My eldest brother Hal went for Marlboros. I’m not sure which brand my twin sister Teresa smoked, or what Jack preferred, but they all had their affairs with the ashtray, and have since stopped.
My dad tried to deter Jack from smoking by making him puff on an entire pack when he was caught smoking as a kid. I know Jack got very sick, but it didn’t stop him from taking up the habit down the road. No one was going to stop Jack from doing anything.
In high school, most of us were smoking other things besides cigarettes. There was pot; there were brownies, and also the hash pipe. But for many, cigarettes were also part of the drill. Hey, just look at Mad Men and you’ll see that cigarettes were like our iPhones -the crack of the day.
During the ’60s kids often took refuge in the school bathrooms to smoke in secret. At Walter Reed and North Hollywood High, they’d dash their butts into the toilet and wave their arms furiously to clear the air, hoping they wouldn’t get caught. Kids who smoked were often thought of as cool, brazen, and ahead of the curve.
When I smell a cigarette today, my first reaction is one of disgust. I know what cigarettes can do. My mom’s six-month battle with lung cancer was proof of that. Even now, I wonder if my exposure to second-hand smoke for so long might impair me down the road.
But on another level, that smell of a cigarette also brings back fond reminders of my mom. The pungent smell of a cigarette let me know she was nearby, and even though she was emotionally unavailable, she was still around, puffing out her problems, and trying to master the day.
I’m a nervous person, and had I not been so health-conscious, I probably would have ended up smoking. But I went down the gum aisle instead, chewing wads of Bazooka, Trident, and now Extra. I really like chewing when I drive. I think it thins the traffic. At the very least, it calms me down.
But for those of you who smoke, or used to smoke, I’d love to hear your stories. Was Camel your companion? How smooth was Salem? Were you Kool, or did you smoke Kent with the Micronite filter?