I tried cigarettes when I was in about seventh or eighth grade. I swiped some from Dad’s supply. A few of us slipped off down a trail behind the two-room school house and tried to impress each other with our hoped-for manhood. If inhaling Dad’s Marlboros was a ticket to manhood, I was doomed to stay with Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.
A few years later, I was in the Navy. Cigars – especially big, fat, Bering Plazas, seemed cool and, along with my mustache, they made me look older. Sandy, a.k.a. Travel Partner No. 1, was two years older than I, and would become visibly unhappy when she got carded in some nice wine-and-dine establishments, while I, at 19, was never questioned.
On the other hand, her first engagement ring was the paper ring from one of those cee-gars.
I took to smoking a pipe, and acquired quite a collection – a couple of meerschaums, a long-stemmed clay pipe of the type we see in Revolutionary War era depictions, a calabash reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, and a few I carved myself.
I started chewing tobacco when I was in places where smoking was, at best, inconvenient – in the woods, or working with computers in my Navy job (there was a time when smoking around hard drives was absolutely verboten). I liked Beechnut and Levi Garrett, but my favorite was unprocessed product rolled and twisted on a Tennessee tobacco farm and obtained by a friend from there.
Sandy departed this life in 1999, four months short of 30 years after I put that cigar band on her left ring finger. A year later, a new traveling partner entered my life. It turned out she hadn’t noticed I dipped snuff, but she had made it crystal clear she disapproved of the practice.
So on that sunny and warm summer day, while driving across a creek, I opened a new-bought can of fresh Copenhagen, thought about whether I really enjoyed the stuff anymore, replaced the cover, and tossed the can out the window. (I immediately felt bad for littering, but the odds are slim that can was, or is, findable.)
I’d always figured, probably like a million or so other tobacco users, I could just not do it anymore. Partly that’s true. Partly, it was like not thinking of elephants. Try it sometime, not thinking of elephants. I’ll bet you can’t do it. There was the time, at 2 a.m., when I was up late writing and discovered I was out of dip, and rode the elephants 13 miles to a 7-Eleven to buy a can of Cope.
But the pesky pachyderms have left, and I’m glad. Getting dressed to go to town just for some snuff is a bother, and I’m demonstrably poor at planning ahead.
President Bill Clinton once announced that each year 3,000 teens would try smoking for the first time. Half of them would die, he said. A lot of teens I knew were well aware that all of them were going to die, though not, they hoped, soon.
But tobacco-induced cancer is a messy way to go.
And She Who Must be Loved doesn’t like it, and I didn’t like it enough to fight for it.
I well understand addiction, and how difficult it is to get rid of the elephants.
I’m glad I got rid of mine.