My mother’s dad smoked at least two packs of Tarreyton cigarettes a day. Raised three kids and retired after spending much of his life as an electrician for the Massachusetts Transit Authority, helping keep the trolley cars running. He was 80-something when he left us.
My dad smoked, mostly Phillip Morris brand, at least three packs a day. He served 20 years in the New York Police Department, split by a tour in the U.S. Marines during World War 2. He dedicated his personal life to paying off the mortgage on the home he build for his wife and four children. He made it 61 years.
I often wonder how much their respective experiences had to do with how long the two men walked among us. How a life spent protecting families from bad guys might have had a different effect than one employed keeping electricity flowing to transport the citizenry.
I tried smoking cigarettes a few times with a couple classmates in the woods behind Roosevelt Grammar School, the two-room schoolhouse where I graduated from eighth grade. It was cool hunkering with the boys, and smoking was the price of admission to the club. What was not cool was inhaling, and coughing myself green.
Several years later, away from home in the Navy, I took up a pipe. No inhaling, and my still young self thought it was cool. My wife-to-eventually-be also seemed to think it was moderately attractive, and she liked the aroma – except when we were in a confined space, like driving slowly in the sports car on a hot afternoon in traffic.
So I smoked a pipe for many years, and I took up chewing – the latter because where I worked, the computer nerds took an emphatically dim view of tobacco smoke getting inside their hard drives – which, in those days, were not sealed. Also, I spent as much off time as possible in the woods, and chewing was a way to have my tobacco and not set Smokey’s habitat afire.
I enjoyed using tobacco, and I never considered myself addicted.
There was that time, when I was writing at about 2 a.m. and found my snuff can full of nothing but air, so I drove 15 miles to a 7-Eleven for a can of Copenhagen. But that hardly made me an addict.
I look back over those experiences and discover at least part of the purpose was ritual. It was something the musculoskeletal part of my being could do when it was otherwise employed in absolutely nothing more gainful than keeping my head from bouncing around the floor.
There also was the part about completing the setting, like packing tobacco into a pipe. Or sliding a butt from its pack, tapping it three times against a Zippo, and then lighting up.
Or making a pot of coffee in the morning, measuring the water into the percolator, then adding three precisely-heaped scoops of coffee ground just right and leveling the results in the basket, followed by the time required to bring the liquid to a musically boiling beat.
The only part missing from the scene would be a campfire and a friendly companion, but most mornings, the Ritual of the Coffee Pot fills the need.
There are mornings when I remember jumping in the vehicle and tooling down to the store for some tobacco, though it’s been most of two decades since I have partaken.
On the other hand, I have freshly-ground beans in the cupboard and the percolator by the kitchen stove, ready for the ritual to set my mental fires ablaze.
Thanks for taking me along. I hope you enjoyed the ride. Comments are welcome, and please feel free to share. Please click the “Share” button to share it on social media, or copy the URL and send it to friends and acquaintances you think might appreciate it.